Indian Christians led social reforms and fight for Independence

book release

A few weeks ahead of the Christmas Celebrations, hundreds of people gathered at the community centre of New Delhi’s Sacred Heart Cathedral. The occasion was the book release function of Aadhunik Bharat Nirman mein Esaiayat ka Yogdan (The Contribution of Christianity to the Making of Modern India). Archbishop Anil Joseph Thomas Couto released the book on Monday.

The book is the fruit of the decades-long research and fieldwork of veteran journalist and author Joseph Anthony Gathia. Born in  Khandwa district of Madhya Pradesh, seventy-six year old Gathia has worked in several newspapers. He is also an author of several books on media, human rights and religious freedom.

The necessity of such a book has been long felt due to the prevalence of massive propaganda against Christian missionaries and the Christian community of India. The misinformation is being spread by communal forces. The above-mentioned book, the author says, has been written to counter the hateful campaign against the Christian community and present the truth before people, particularly Hindi readers.

The book, comprising 420 pages, is written in Hindi. However, the English version and its translation in various regional languages are being done to reach out to larger audience. The book, divided into 11 chapters, discusses several crucial aspects of historical, social and political history of the Christian community and the communal threats being posed to them. A brief history of Christianity, the social reforms of the 19th century, the role of Christian missionaries, the contribution of the Christian community to education, women empowerment, and the making of modern India are some of the important themes discussed in the book.

The book also challenges the narrative of the Hindu Right and argues that the history of the Christian community is much beyond conversion. Against the propaganda of the Hindu Right, the book argues that the history of the establishment of the rule of law in India, the social reforms and the freedom struggle cannot be complete without acknowledging the crucial role played by the Christian community.

Speaking at the book release function, Dr John Dayal, a veteran journalist, author and human rights activist, said that the author Joseph Anthony Gathia was an appropriate person to conduct such research as he had been an activist and journalist for a long time. Dr Dayal said that such a work should have come out much earlier. “I saw the manuscript when he was writing the book, such a book should have been written 25 years back, if not 50 years ago. In troubled times when we are all stressed. We are facing threats including attacks on Church property. At this troubled time, to tell the Indians and the world about what role Indian Christians have played including the health, social reforms and freedom struggle is a great effort”. He asked the audience to buy and read the book to tell the young generations about the role of Indian Christians as proud citizens of this country.

Speaking on the occasion, Joseph Anthony Gathia told the audience about the background of this work. “In 1974, there was a tense situation in Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh. As a journalist, I went there. At that time, Hindi newspapers published several reports, stating that Christian missionaries had illegally converted Adivasis into Christianity by offering them a lure (pralobhan). On visiting the place, I found that there was a silent revolution happening there. I saw with our own eyes that the Christian Missionaries are making them self-sufficient by training them in vocational training. They were being trained as nurses, teachers and radio mechanics. As a result of the empowerment of Adivasis, the local Hindu traders perceived that their interests were now becoming harmed. This is how i discovered the real context of the propaganda against the Christian missionaries”.

Gathia said that his visit to Jhabua made him realize the danger of propaganda against Christian missionaries. However, another critical movement was the work of Hindu-right journalist Arun Shourie about the Christian missionaries in 1994. “The book of Arun Shourie was very damaging and it brushed aside all the contributions of the Christian community in India. His book did great damage. This event made me think about writing a book to counter such hateful propaganda”.

In the 1990s, Joseph Anthony Gathia began collecting information about the history of the Christian community in India. However, the most critical moment was in 2018 when a BJP MP stated that there was no contribution of the Christians in the freedom struggles. These all events, according to the author, had bearing on him in the making of this book.

(Dr. Abhay Kumar is a Delhi-based independent journalist and writer. He did his Ph.D. (Modern History) at Jawaharlal Nehru University. He also teaches Political Science and Urdu. You may write to him at [email protected].)

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