Subaltern Movements before and after the Independence of India and the Impact of
Roman Catholic Mission
(from 1910 to 2009)
In this essay, the meaning of „Subaltern Movements‟ is restricted to the understanding of
conversion movements of the oppressed castes and classes of people in Tamilnadu, India, from Hinduism to the Roman Catholic Church. I try to present here some concrete historical moments of conversions of subalterns to the Roman Catholic Church before the Independence of India and prevention of such movements and their growth after the Independence. I also try to explain the reasons, cultural impacts of conversion including the opposition to conversion, finally pointing out some movements towards revolutionary change. The conversion in one place affects the conversion of the same caste people in another village and therefore we can call it conversion movements. Such conversion movements flourished in Tamilnadu only before the Independence of India. Thinking of the prospects of conversion in 1928, in his parish Periyakulam, Tamilnadu Fr. Munch said the following: “…the three requisites for
conversion: (are) grace, good will, and money, the first is beyond our calculation, the second is so far not much in evidence and the absence of the third is, alas! only too evident. Let us, then, be toiling patient and patiently toiling and trust that God will do the rest in His wisely 1appointed time”. Indeed the sweat and toil of the Catholic Missionaries did bring abundant fruits in different parts of India particularly in South India. Such was the situation before the Independence of India.
After the Independence the situation of conversion among the Indian masses, totally changed. Conversion was not any more reported as movements in Tamilnadu. There had been reports of only a few conversion of individuals here and there. Mahatma Gandhi was not in favour of conversion, specially the conversion of the oppressed castes whom he called Harijans. He was 2in favour of even legislation to stop it. Though the Indian Constitution, art. 25. allows every
person freely to profess, practise and propagate religion, the Christians are often accused of converting people by force and inducement. In addition to all these there came a strong opposition from the Hindu religious leaders that made the whole process of conversion to dwindle in Tamilnadu and in India.
Here I must confess that it was not easy for me to find relevant materials for the past one hundred years of the mass conversion movements. Whatever material I could get for this essay, I owe to the help of Frs. Joseph Antony Samy, S.J., and Edward Jeganathan Anthony, S. J., who are the Director and Assistant Director respectively of the Madurai Jesuit Province Archives at Schembaganur, Kodaikanal. I thank them immensely for all their help.
Conversion and Ongoing Formation
When we read back into the history, we understand that the missionaries of different churches not only converted people into Christianity but also constructed church-buildings for the Christians to come together, to pray together and participate in the Eucharist. They established a number of educational institutions to educate them, constructed boarding houses, orphanages and hostels to feed the Christian students, organised binding workshops to provide 3opportunities for works, appointed catechists to take care of the catechumenates, and the flock with an on going faith formation. Sometimes Christians expected the priests to settle
1 Fr. Munch, S. J., “The Mission ad Paganos of Periyakulam” Caritas I (January 1928), p. 5. 2 Fr. Julian Saldanha, S. J., Conversion and Indian Civil Law (Bangalor: Theological Publications in India, 1981),
pp. 144-45. 3 Fr. Augustine Saulier, S. J., “Central District” Vol II, Rewritten in May 2000, this record is kept in the Jesuit Madurai Province Archives, Shembaganoor, Kadaikanal, Tamilnadu, India, p. 271.
their disputes, and to help them to form a cooperative credit society among themselves that 4can help them financially. Retreats were preached both for men and women separately. For
the first time, the feast of the Blessed Sacrament with the solemn procession around the 5Church of Suranam (which is a parish today in the diocese of Sivagangai) was held.
Although the western missionaries baptized people in the name of one God who is the Father of all, they had not confronted the fact of caste that remains a “diabolic” factor of division,
separation, hatred and oppression among people even today. After converting them they had 6also registered their names according to their castes. Till recently the baptismal registers
included the caste of the baptized Christians. It looks in the area of ongoing formation of Christians that the missionaries did not organise either programmes of critical consciousness against caste system and its dehumanising factors or to unite people in Christian churches beyond castes. Some efforts had been made to bring the Christians of different castes into the same church building. But there had been practices of taking the unsolved caste-problems of 7the churches to court in order to find an amicable solutions.
Having listened to the Gospel preached by the Missionaries, people of different castes embraced Christianity. But what is conspicuous is that the majority of the converts came from the oppressed castes of the subaltern movements (the Dalits, the Shanars). Just to give two examples from the letter of Fr. Keller to his Bishop and Superior in 1925: “There are now 29
Christians (at Avudeiapuram) and over 60 Pariah catechumens (Dalits),. Moreover two families of Maravers and one of Nadars and five families of Pallers (Dalits) have just come to give me their names. … (moreover) the 92 Catholic Pallers (Dalits) of Kunjumpatti who wish me to build them a chapel in stone and mortar instead of the mud-walled chapel which goes to 8ruin”. Fr. Keller had remembered to mention that the Dalits at Kunjumpatti borrowed Rs. 100 from one Nayakker and gave it to him for the same purpose.
On February1926, the writer to Caritas explains how the ongoing pastoral visit of the Bishop helps people to grow in faith, piety and attachment to the hierarchy. The Bishop himself administered 879 confirmations in Kamanayakenpatti and Pannikulam and another 700 confirmations, 100 solemn first communions and over 3000 communions at Avur. Moreover he listened to the problems, difficulties and disputes that arose from different caste-Christians and brought amicable solusions and peace amomg them. To cite an example, in an old cerntre of Cayetar, which St. John de Britto and Fr. Beschi hsd visited, had two churches, one for the Vellalers and the other for the Nadars. During the visit of the Bishop, he stayed one day in the Vellalers‟s church and on the following day in the Nadars‟ church. By the teaching and 9guidance of the Bishop, both the castes agreed upon the construction of a common church. It
was really a mirracle.
Collaboration with Other Religious Congregations and Other Religions
4 Fr. Agniswami, “Kalugumalai” Caritas, II (March 1926), p. 5. 5 Saulier., p. 410. 6 Ibid., p. 411: “Fr. Vincent Vignon is the first panguswami in charge of Salaigramam. There are 3841, Christians in the pangu, divided as follows:
Agambadiars 150 Pariahs 40 Uddayars 2150 Vellalas 30
Pallers 720 Idayars 30 Sanars 480 Mudalis 20
Kammalars 110 Nayakars13 Paravers 60 Vanniers 3
Maravars 45 7 ----------, Caritas, II, (May 1922), p. 5. 8 Fr. Keller, S. J., “Kalugumalai. – From Fr. Keller to His Lordship and to the Superior” Caritas, VI (November
1925), pp. 17-18. 9 ……, “His Lordship‟s Pastoral Visitation” Caritas, III (May 1926), pp. 6-7.
Although missionaries opened boarding houses for the Christians, they were always open to accommodate students of other churches and other religions in our schools and colleges. For example in 1911, the total number of boarding boys residing in St. Mary‟s Madurai were 241
and among them only 100 were Christians. So also a school for girls that was started by the Sisters of Viagulamada had 112 girls, 80 of them being Christians and the other 32 Hindus 10belonging to the families of (Pattunulkarars) weavers. This practice is maintained even
today in almost all the institutions run by the members of the Roman Catholic Church, in admitting students of other religions and other Churches in their schools and colleges and providing them rooms in hostels as well. Thus we see that the missionaries were open to other religions and people and helped them in educating their children.
The Challenges of Mission
The missionaries first and foremost met the challenge of accommodating themselves to a new climate, food, clothes and cultures. They did not have good and well organised medical and health facilities. In 1911, two sisters belonging to the order of St. Joseph of Lyons died of cholera, and two others left for France and a quite a number of them were seriously affected 11by the disease. To cover such a vast area and population of the Mission Area, to construct schools, chapels and churches, the missionaries needed a lot of financial support from Europe and the US. Such a financial dependancy on others both locally and abroad was another 12challenge that controled the works and expansion of the mission.
Moreover the missionaries had no proper rooms and housing facilities to stay, no proper roads laid among the villages and no proper conveyance to travel. For example, Fr. Mahé explained about the residence at Sarugani: “Narrow rooms badly ventilated, dark, hardly sufficient for
one inmate each and where, however, two and even three had to be lodged.” Moreover they undertook many difficult journeys to reach out to people, to celebrate the holy mass, to administer sacraments and to serve them in many other ways. To illustrate this we have an example from the writings of Fr. Mahé in 1925: “As we begin our journey, we have to cross a
river; the horse refuses to move, and the (people) have to push both coach and horse across it. But even on the road, the horse takes its time; we spend five hours for going over eight miles. What a journey under the scorching sun of July! We reach atlast, when it is already pitch 13dark.”
The association of the Missionaries with the high castes brought them respect and honour, and with the downtrodden and the oppressed, illtreatment and humiliation in the society. Once the bishop was accompanied by Pallers (Dalits) and had to travel through a village called Rajasingamangalam in Tamilnadu, the majority of Muslims who lived in the village stoped him. Whereas on the following year the same bishop was accompanied by a group of a high caste persons and that time the same Muslims showed great interest, and respect to the bishop. It looked thus that even the Muslims of that time were not free from the caste culture and the 14Missionaries had to face such challenges coming from caste discrimination.
Most of the Christian communities were made of landless labourers or persons with small 15land holdings. They lived in huts and houses with thatched roofs which were at times
10 Fr. Augustine Saulier, S. J., p. 261. 11 Ibid., p. 270. 12 Fr. Keller, S. J., “Kalugumalai. - From Fr. Keller to Rev. Fr. Superior” Caritas, V (September 1925), p. 7. 13 Fr. J. Mahé, S. J., “Correspondence” Caritas, VI (November 1925), P. 4. 14 Ibid., p. 8. 15 ….., “Cholera at Illupur” Caritas, V (September 1926), p. 5.
16destroyed by fire. The new converts were so poor that the Missionaries had to help them financially to construct churches, schools, hospitals and other infra structures to improve their living conditions. It was the Missionaries who had to travel for miles to save people from epidemic like cholera. Fr. Revilla wrote a report of Cholera at Illupur near Avur, “Before my
arrival, 23 persons had died; after my coming only two old women, already much weakened by the epidemic, succumbed and the other 37 patients were now all doing well.”
Another challenge of the Catholic Missionaries was a day-to-day encounter with the Missionaries of other churches and the Hindus. For example when we read the mission work in the Kallanadu, there were 25 Catholic schools in the taluk of Tirumangalam. But then almost in all the areas of the Mission, the other churches like the American Mission and Swedish Lutharans had also started schools and boarding houses both for the boys and girls. Moreover in Usilampatti, the Kallar Police department built its own school and with its influence started nearby a High school by the Local Board. In the presence of other schools, the Catholic missionaries had a number of challenges like getting the needed strength of 17pupils, good food in the boardings and quality education in the school.
Taking a religious procession by Christians in a street where there was already a Hindu Temple was not easy. The Hindus protested such efforts by throwing stones at the Christians. Sometimes the Missionaries organised such processions with the help of the police force and 18the Sub-Magistrate of the place.
Conversions from One Church to Another
During and after the first World war many non-Catholics became Catholics. Especially in France, many British soldiers loved to visit French churches and participated in the services being held there. Such movements echoed in India and other places. For example, in 1914 an Anglican clergyman was received into the Catholic Church and in his turn he baptized his 19mother and father Mrs. and Mr. Dudley of Redhill and gave them first communion.
There had been innumerable cases when the faithful were not happy with their pastors or when they had problems and resentment with them. Then the Catholics decided to become members of other churches and the members of other churches, to become Catholics. The 20case of Vadakenkulam is an example for this. A magnificiant Church was built by the Jesuit
priests at Vadakenkulam. The congregation consisted mainly of two caste groups. Although Shanars (the oppressed) are the majority, they were not respected and treated as fellow Christians by Vellalas (the high caste). Hence a wall was built in the Church dividing the two communities. As the Shanars flourished, they found the wall causing inconvenience to them. Being aware of this, Fr. Caussanel. S. J., broke it. There was a prolonged litigation over it. Initially the Vellalas got a judgement favourable to them from the Sub court that the partition was to be maintained. But the case was taken to the District court and the court then decided
16 ….., “His Lordship‟s Pastoral Visitation” Caritas, III (May 1926), p. 9. 17 Fr. Prince, S. J., “Centre-The Mission work in the Kallanadu” Caritas, I (January 1928), pp. 9-13. 18 Fr. Keller, “Kalugumalai. – From Fr. Keller to His Lordship” Caritas, VI (November 1925), pp. 14-16. 19 ---------, Caritas, V (September 1917), A bimonthly family record for the use of The Madura Missionaries. (English Supplement to “La Gerbe du Madure.”): In this issue, it is pointed out that many non-Catholics loved to
join the Catholic Church and had the desire to know her faith and practices, pp. 23-24. 20 Leon BESSe, S. J, La Mission Du Madure – Historique De Ses Pangous, Vol. 1. Trichy, 1914. Also refer The
Madurai Mission – Hitsorical Account of its Pangus, Translated by Fr. L. Moumas. S. J. (It is kept in the Jesuit
Madurai Province Archives, Shembaganoor, Kadaikanal, Tamilnadu, India, pp. 478 – 90: a) Read the extract
from the Indian Review (October 1915) viewed from a non-missionary standpoint by J. Chartres Molony, I. C. S. stb) Read the extract from the Madras Times, Sunday January, 21 1917, by Bede. c) Read the extract from the
Hindu paper of Madras – no date or year mentioned.
in favour of Fr. Caussanel and the Shanars, stating that the priests were at liberty to make reformation in connection with religion, suppressing former customs. That decision was further upheld by the High court as well. But what happened afterwards was that nearly 300 Vellalas left the Catholic Church and Rev. Lutz of Nagercoil admitted them all into the
American Mission Church. Moreover the Vellalas built another Church for them and started a 21separate school for their children.
At Vagaikulam which was the central place of the Lutheran Pastor, Fr. Keller wrote to his Jesuit Superior, that there were ten Lutheran families joined the Catholic Church and they 22expected some financial help to construct a new chapel for them. He also mentioned to his
Superior on 08. 10. 1925 that at Pandavaramangalam two „Protestant‟ families have given
their names to join the Catholic Church and “during the last quarter we have baptized sixty 23pagans and four Protestants”. In January 1926, Frs. Keller and Agniswamy visited seven
villages in 17 days and baptized 102 persons, of which 46 were Hindus, 26 were Protestants and 30 were children of Catholic parents. And as they just passed through a village called 24Rajaramapuram, eight Paller families (Dalits) wanted to embrace Christianity.
In November 1928, Fr. Kueny wrote from the parish of Hanumandampatti, saying that 29 Protestant Pariahs of Thevaram had moved out of their mission and were baptized in the Catholic Church. On the same day about 20 apostates were also reconciled to the Catholic Church. He further wrote that even the caste pagans and the local Zamindar encouraged such 25a movement of Pariahs joining the Catholic Church. In the last thirty years (1979 - 2009)
there are Catholics who had joined many other churches. This is because their pastors did not visit them for a long time and did not care for them. Such a pathotic situation of the sheep
without shepherd paved the way for the pastors of other churches to visit them and to admit them into their churches.
Reasons for Conversion
Although some Hindus accused the Christian Missionaries of converting Hindus forcibly with all kinds of inducement, there are many reasons for conversion from Hinduism to Christianity. One of the reasons for conversion of the depressed classes was the oppression, hatred and ill treatment they received from the high caste Hindus. Another reason for conversion was that the children of Pallars, Parayars and Nadars were denied admission in the schools run by Hindus. Yet another reason for conversion is the charitable works undertaken by the Jesuit missionaries. In general, for other castes, other than the oppressed, conversion to Christianity meant an upward mobility through education and other socio-economic helps. Many such 26reasons account for the conversion from Hinduism to Christianity. In 1925 cholera raged in
many villages in the southern part of Tamilnadu. Fr. Dhür from Michaelpatnam in Madura 27district wrote that out of 1, 175 Christians 66 died of cholera. Another priest wrote from
Avur that the people of two villages near to it suffered from cholera and he built his tent in their midst and visited house after house distributing medicine. All the patients were healed. Finally the priest concludes his letter to his Superior that St. Joseph might lead the people a 28step further to the conversion of the whole village.
21 Ibid. 22 Fr. Keller, “Kalugumalai. – From Fr. Keller to Rev. Fr. Superior” Caritas, V (September 1925), p. 7. 23 Fr. Keller, “Kalugumalai. – From Fr. Keller to Rev. Fr. Superior” Caritas, VI (November 1925), pp. 17-18. 24 Fr. Agniswami, “Kalugumalai” Caritas, II (March 1926), pp. 5-6. 25 Fr. Kueny, S. J., ?Trichy. – Movement of conversions“ Caritas, VI (November 1928), pp. 2-3. 26 Leon BESSe, S. J., p. 481. 27 Fr. Dhür. S. J., “Michaelpatnam, Madura Dt.” Caritas, II (March, 1925), p. 12. 28 --------, (then Parish Priest of Avur) “Cholera”, Caritas, V (September 1925), p. 6.
When Fr. Agniswami visited Elavendoor, he was informed that there were 30 C.M.S Protestants families who wanted to become Catholics. Why did they want to become Catholics, asked the Fr. Agniswamy. Their reply was this: “… The Padre had no sense of 29justice and that the Protestant religion did not satisfy them.” The Christian school or college
environment at times provided opportunity for the students to become Christians. Fr. Pappayah, S. J., wrote from Tinnevelly. – Tenkasi, saying a boy named Selvam studying at
Vaikalipatti School, wanted to become a Christian. He was from a well-to-do Hindu family and was a serious and good student. He was very much drawn to our ways of praying and worship. After baptizing him, Fr. Pappayah hoped that he would bring about the conversion of 30his family in the future.
Family quarral amomg brothers and sisters at times was one of the reasons for conversion. A story by Fr. Prince from the Center of Kallanadu illustrates this. There were two Kallar brothers at Chockathevenpatti. The younger brother fought with his elder brother and took over the family property. The elder brother who felt cheated, with his entire family and 31several of his reletives became Christian.
Conversion Accounts in the Catholic Church
The Jesuit Major Superiors asked the Jesuit missionaries periodically to submit the accounts of conversion in their respective parishes or mission station. One can understand it from reading the following details submitted by Fr. Keller to his Major Superior in 1925: “Lastly,
while I was on the hills, Your Reverence asked me for some details regarding the conversions made in this Pangoo (Kalugumalai),
Conversion of Pagans Adults Children 1922 55 10
1923 288 123
1924 102 41
1925 (to July 1st) 67 21
Total 512 195
(and) Catechumens: 300. – Conversions of Protestants: 12. I must soon go to visit
Avudeiapuram, where there are some 30 families of catechumens, whom I have not seen for 32six months.” Sometimes a parish priest wrote to his Bishop giving the details of conversion in his parish.
In 1930 there was a new wave of conversions. For example Fr. David. S. J, wrote from the parish of Rayappanpatti saying that there is a village called Kamatchipuram where 150 families of Nadars (900 persons) and 50 families of Panchamas (250 Dalits) were ready for baptism. These are all the Subaltern people of Tamilnadu. The Father gave them first catechism books to study and prayers to learn by heart. Later when the people were ready, they were all baptised. It was also hoped that all the Sub-altern people of the neibouring 33villages also would follow their example soon.
Effects of Conversion
The people who belonged to the so called depressed classes like Christian Pariahs, Pallers and Shanars, lost all the benefits and scholarship from the Government as a result of embracing
29 Fr. Agniswami, S. J., “Kalugumalai” Caritas, II (March 1926), p. 6. 30 Fr. Pappayah, S. J., “Tinnevelly.-Tenkasi” Caritas I (January 1928), pp. 7-8. 31 Fr. Prince, S. J., “Centre – The Mission work in the Kallanadu” Caritas I (January 1928), p. 11. 32 Fr. Keller, “Kalugumalai. – From Fr. Keller to Rev. Fr. Superior” Caritas, V (September 1925), pp. 7-8. 33 Fr. David. S. J, “Rayappanpatti – A new Vein for Conversions” Caritas, V (September 1930), pp. 5-9.
Christianity. Moreover the then Government planned to suppress the grants to private schools gradually and absorb them all within the school system of state. That was the way they planned to control the various activities of Christian Missionaries who were busy in promoting education among different people especially among the oppressed and depressed 34casts.
Those days the Jesuit Missionaries did not have a clear cut option for the Subaltern people as the Jesuits of today. Therefore people of different castes including the Subaltern come under the category of „Catholic students’. The statistics of Jesuit Colleges and High schools in 1930:
Catholics Others Total
St. Joseph‟s College, Trichy 210 783 993
St. Joseph‟s High School, Trichy 464 727 1191
Loyola College, Madras 52 663 715
St. Xavier‟s College, Palamcottah 44 232 276
St. Xavier‟s High School, Palamcottach 258 619 877
St. Mary‟s High School, Madura (Apos. 42/Orps. 64 in 560) 260 560 820
St. Mary‟s High School, Dindigul 152 461 613 St. Francis Xavier‟s High School, Tuticorin 202 132 334
When we read the above statistics of the educational institutions run by the Jesuit Missionaries in 1930, we can see that the Catholic students are more in comparison to the others only in Tuticorin and in all other cases the others are more than the Catholic students. Moreover it is not stated clearly how many Catholic Subaltern students were educated in the High Schools and Colleges. Exceptionally among the 560 other students studying at St. Mary‟s Madura, 64 of them were orphans. One thing is clear that other than the Catholics and the Subalterns in general, people of other castes and religions have made use of the 35educational facilities offered by the Jesuit Missionaries of that time.
Cultural Impacts on Conversion
The missionaries have converted people of different castes from Hinduism to Christianity but for a long time without critically saying or doing against the oppressive caste-structures in India. One may say that there are good elements in Indian culture but one cannot deny the diabolic face of caste-structure pervading through every walk of indian cultural life, ruining human dignity and freedom and destroying equality based on sisterly and brotherly love and peace based on justice. The missionaries were aware of scriptural passages like: “You are all
children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3, 26-27). But due to various circumstances
of their time, they failed to bring about a counter culture against caste structures. However one should make mention of persons like Fr. Caussanel, S. J, who had consistantly fought against caste oppression in his parish and tried to bring justice to the oppressed Christian Shanars (Nadars) from the clutches of Vellala Christians in Vadakenkulam. And mention must be made also of Arch bishops Leonard, S. J and Casimir, S. J, who during their pastoral visits and through pastoral letters spoke against caste oppression and showed the ways to practise equality among Christians.
There had been innumerable conversions from subaltern masses. However a section of high caste Christians had wished the subaltern people to remain pagans so that they could
34 --------, Caritas, II (May 1922), p. 7. 35 J. Castets, S. J., “Statistics of Our Colleges and High Schools” Caritas, V (September 1930), pp. 1-2.
successfully manage to exploit them for their own economic development. The high caste Catholics built their own churches and refused entry for the subaltern when they were converted. Therefore the missionaries were forced to build separate churches for the subaltern 36people. Some other time they said there was not sufficient place to accommodate the oppressed castes. To cite an example in Agilandapuram near Pannikulam Parish, during the pastoral visit of the Bishop, it was found that the Christian Reddis did not allow the Christian Nadars to enter their Church, although there was sufficient place to accommodate the 37Subalterns. There had been cases of fight and oppression among the Subalterns like Pallers and Nadars. To cite an example, there had been 300 Pallers (Dalits), in one of the substations of the parish Pannikulam, who organised a reception to the Bishop. But the Christian Nadars did not allow the band to go there. Later on the parish priest asked the Nadars to beg pardon 38and forgiveness both from the Bishop and the Pallars and brought peace and reconciliation
among the Subalterns.
Though the new converts tried their best to follow the new religion that they had embraced, they were forced to fall back to the old religion at times because of marriage alliance. In 1926, Fr. Münch wrote from Periyakulam: “The great obstacle to conversion … is that the Hindu Pallars (Dalits) refuse to give their daughters to Catholics, and as a sufficient number of Catholic girls are not available, even young Catholics return to Hinduism for the sake of their 39marriage.” In the same way and in the same year, during the pastoral visit of the Bishop, Fr. Mahé wrote: “Around Satarasampatti are found several villages of Kallars, descendants of those who received and harboured in their woods Bl. John De Britto. Alas! every year sees the 40number of those Christian Kallars dwindle away, through the pest of pagan marriages.”
Unfortunately, even today in the Catholic Church in India every one can see the caste oppression and discremination being practised among the Catholics, especially at the time of marriage in choosing the partner of the same caste and in some places discriminations are imposed even at the places of burial. All over India caste based settlements exist almost in all the villages.
Opposition to Conversion
During the twentieth century one can observe that the conversion to the Roman Catholic Church in India was more in the first 30 to 40 years than later years. The reasons were on the one hand, a strong protest from the Indian Independence movements all over India against the then ruling Government of England which happened to be Christian and on the other hand, the opposition came from the Hindu religious leaders. After Independence one could notice that the number of conversions from Hinduism to Roman Catholic Church very much dwindled.
36 Fr. J. Mahé, S. J., “Correspondence” Caritas, VI (November 1925), P. 7: Fr. Mahé writes that somewhere in
Irudeyaburam parish, “This church has been built and the centre chosen for the sake of Pallers, very numerous all round, who are not very welcome in the churches of the Udeyars.” Moreover he explains that “… these
Catholic Udeyars have generally pagan Pallers or Pariahs as their servants; but though often a single word from them would suffice to bring about their conversion, that word their Udeyar masters will never even think of uttering. They rather prefer those poor people to remain pagans, because they can thus manage them more easily.” 37 ……, “His Lordship‟s Pastoral Visitation” Caritas, III (May 1926), pp. 5-6. 38 -------, “His Lordshp‟s pastoral Visitation” Caritas, III (May 1926), pp. 3-9. 39 Fr. Münch, “A first stock-taking of a pangoo ad paganos” Caritas V (September 1926). P. 8. 40 Fr. Mahé, “His Lordship‟s pastoral visit in the Marava” Caritas V (September 1926). P. 15.
The effective missionary work of Mother Teresa expanded in 1950s and 60s in Calcutta and in different parts of India. But it did not lead to mass conversion. The reason was conversion by that time, had become a political issue. The good works that she did along with her sisters for the poor, the needy and the dying, fetched her the nobel prize in 1979, and India‟s highest
civilion honour, the Bharat Ratna in 1980.
In 1958 the Madhya Pradesh Prevention of Religious conversion Bill was prepared to be introduced in the Legislative Assembly but it was rejected by the Assembly. Later many State Governments had passed anti conversion laws, making conversion very difficult. In 1968 41Orissa was the first State to enact legislation to control conversions and that became “a
model for many States, namely Madhya Pradesh (1968) Arunachal Pradesh (1978) Gujarat (2003) Chhattisgarh (2003) Rajasthan (2005) Himachal Pradesh (2006) and in Tamil Nadu a 42law was enacted in 2002 but it was repealed in 2004.” In October, 2008 Mr. Advani himself
had called for a national debate on conversion.
However the Dalits in India have openly come forward and protested against such laws saying that these are planned to keep them untouchables and to block their growth, freedom and independence. Bishop Devasahayam commented on the Tamilnadu Ordinance saying that it „scuttled the hopes of the Dalits for social liberation and justice and it justified untouchability 43by denying them (Dalits) religious freedom‟.
In 1981 there was a mass conversion of the Pallars (Dalits) to Islam at Meenakshipuram in Tamilnadu that drew the attention of the whole nation. Later the RSS, the entire Sang Parivar with its polical party called the BJP, systematically organised their attacks first on Muslims and then the Christians in different places in different States of India. They accuse Christians of converting the Hindus by force or fraud or inducement but the Christians deny it. They continue to propagate “hate Muslims and hate Christian politics” all over India and they also call them outsiders. One of the recent attacks of the Sangparivar against Christians was in Orissa.. The violence that started on August 23, 2008 continued unabated for more than two months. It was very unfortunate and unjust that the Centre and State Governments were only onlookers. What is important to note here is that most of the Christians in Kandamal happen to be Dalits.
Revolutionary Changes Now
Knowing fully well the plight of the oppressed Christians in the Catholic Church, the Dalit Christians have started a few peoples movements in the late 1980s, to fight for their rights and human dignity in the Catholic Church. And moreover a few religious congregations like St. Anns of Madavaram (for women) and the Jesuits of Madurai Province (for Men) have taken since late 1980‟s, the option for the poor, especially the option for the Dalits in all their mission-activities. I wish such a sprit spreads in all our religious Congregations and Dioceses in Tamilnadu and India. As the Dalit Christians are the majority in Tamilnadu, it is right and just that they have their share in different areas of management and administration of the Dioceses and religious Congregations. Such a step will be a sign of the Reign of God in our midst (Lk 6, 20). Such a consciousness is something new in the Indian Church. For example in Tamilnadu, now we have three Bishops and one Arch Bishop from the Dalit community to lead four Catholic dioceses in Tamilnadu. Although one may expect more number of Bishops from the Dalit community to lead the Catholic Church in Tamilnadu, it is already and
41 Ibid., p. 146. 42 http://www.hinduonnet.com/fline/fl2519/stories/20080926/251902600.htm 43 http://www.rediff.com/news2002/oct/30tn2.htm
undeniably a work of God in our midst. Because salvation takes place here and now in the history of our Salvation.
We witness in the past few years as well as this year (2009), more and more attacks on Christians. The main reason is that the tribals and the Subaltern people are being educated by the Christian institutions and more and more Subaltern people come up in their life all over India. This is not welcome or acceptable to the Hindu fundamentalist groups. But being fully aware of the special option that Jesus took in his life for the poor, the needy, the widows, the lame, the blind, the crippled, the daily wage earners and the Samaritans of his time, we too as the true followers of Jesus Christ, in a context of threats, attacks, blood shed, suffering, loss of life and property and even persecution, shall continue more prophetically, vigorously and courageously our mission of helping, educating, liberating and saving the tribals and the people of the Subaltern groups in Tamilnadu and in India.
Dr. A. Alangaram, S. J.
136. Santhome High Road
Chennai – 600 028