As my friends, particularly Christian friends, have been stunned and surprised over Gandhi’s virulent rhetoric on conversion (refer my post गांधी, संघ परीवार और धर्मांतर in सेक्युलर गुजरात http://gujaratandsecularism.blogspot.in/2012/06/blog-post.html) I have been compelled to reproduce Master’s original thought on the subject (from Dr. Babsaheb Ambedkar Writing and speeches, volume 5, unpublished writings, Untouchables or the Children of India's Ghetto and other essays on Untouchables and Untouchability social-Political-Religious, P. 446-450). It is soul searching, scintillating and sparkling directly coming from heart of a great man:
Mr. Gandhi's opposition to Christian conversion is by now quite well known. And since 1936 he has become quite a virulent adversary of all missionary propaganda. He particularly objects to the missionaries spreading the Christian Gospel among the Untouchables. His antagonism to Christian Missions and the conversion of Untouchables to Christianity is based on certain propositions which have been enunciated by him in quite unmistakable terms. I think the following four propositions may be taken to sum up his position. I give them in his own words. He says:
1. “My position is that all religions are fundamentally equal. We must have the same innate respect for all religions as we have for our own. Mind you, not mutual toleration but equal respect." (Harijan, 1936. P.330)
2. “All I want them (the Missionaries) to do is to live Christian lives, not to annotate them. (Harijan, 1936. P.353). Let your lives speak to us. The blind who do not see the rose, perceive its fragrance. That is the secret of the Gospel of the rose. But the Gospel that Jesus preached is more subtle and fragrant than the Gospel of the rose. If the rose needs no agents, much less does the Gospel of Christ need agents" (Harijan, April, 1937. P.330)
As to the work of the Christian Missions he says:
3."The social work of the missions is undertaken not for its own sake, but as an aid to the salvation of those who receive social service.4 while you give medical help, you expect the reward in the shape of your patients becoming Christians.” (Harijan, 18th July, 1936. P.178)
As to the Untouchables he says—
4. " I do maintain………that the vast masses of Harijans and for that matter of Indian humanity, cannot understand the presentation of Christianity, and that, generally speaking, conversion, wherever it has taken place, has not been a spiritual act in any sense of the term. They are conversions of convenience. (Harijan, 1936. P.140-141). They (the Harijans) can no more distinguish between the relative merits (words omitted?) than can a cow. Harijans have no mind, no intelligence, no sense of difference between God and no-God.” (Harijan, 1936. P.360)
Gandhi advises the Christian Missions in the following somewhat offensive terms as to what would be proper for them to do. He says—
"If Christian Missions will sincerely play the game…….they must withdraw from the indecent competition to convert the Harijans…
"Just…...forget that you have come to a country of heathens and (to) think that they are as much in search of God as you are;
"just....feel that you are not going there to give your spiritual goods to them, but that you will share worldly goods of which you have a good stock. You will then do your work without mental reservation and thereby you will share your spiritual treasures. The knowledge that you have this mental reservation, i.e. you are expecting a man to be a convert in return for service, creates a barrier between you and me."
“The history of India would have been written differently if the Christians had come to India to live their lives in our midst and permeate ours with their aroma, if there was any."2 This hostility of Mr. Gandhi to Christian Missions and their work is of very recent origin. I do not know if it can be traced beyond the Yeola Decision.
It is as recent as it is strange. I do not know of any declaration made by Mr. Gandhi expressing in such clear and determined manner opposition to the conversion of the Untouchables to Islam. The Muslims have made no secret of their plan to convert the Untouchables. The plan was given out openly from the Congress platform by the late Maulana Mohomed Ali when he presided over the annual session of the Congress held at Coconada in 1923. In his Presidential address the Maulana pointed out in clear terms that:
"The quarrels (between Hindus and Musalmans) about Alams and pipal trees and musical processions are truly childish; but there is one question which can easily furnish a ground for complaint of unfriendly action if communal activities are not amicably adjusted.
This is the question of the conversion of the suppressed classes, if Hindu Society does not speedily absorb them. The Christian missionary is already busy and no one quarrels with him. But the moment some Muslim missionary society is organized for the same purpose there is every likelihood of an outcry in the Hindu press. It has been suggested to me by an influential and wealthy gentleman who is able to organize a (Muslim) missionary society on a large scale for the conversion of the suppressed classes, that it should be possible to reach a settlement with leading Hindu gentlemen and divide the country into separate areas where Hindu and Muslim missionaries could respectively work, each community preparing for each year, or longer unit of time, if necessary, an estimate of the numbers it is prepared to absorb, or convert. These estimates would, of course, be based on the number of workers and funds each had to spare, and tested by the actual figures of the previous period. In this way each community would be free to do the work of absorption and conversion, or rather of reform, without chances of collision with one another".
Nothing can be more explicit than this. Nothing can be more businesslike and nothing can be more materialistic than this pronouncement from the Congress platform. But I am not aware that Mr. Gandhi has ever condemned it in the way in which he now condemns the endeavour of Christian Missions to convert the Untouchables. Nobody from Gandhi's camp protested against this outrageous suggestion. Probably they could not because the Congress Hindus believed that it was their duty to help the Musalmans to fulfil what they regarded as their religious duty, and that conversion is a religious duty with the Musalman nobody can deny. At any rate the Hindu leaders of Congress, as stated by George Joseph in 1920, held "that it was the religious duty of the Hindus to help Muslims in the maintenance of the Turkish Khilafat over the Arabs in the Jazirut-al-Arab because Muslim theologians and political leaders assured us that it was their religious duty. It went against the grain because it meant the maintenance of a foreign Government over Arabs; but Hindus had to stomach it because it was urged on them as part of the religious duty of the Hindus. (Harijan, 8th February, 1936, P.415) If this is true why should Gandhi not help the Christians to carry on conversion because conversion is also a fulfilment of their religious duty.
Why there should be a different measuring rod today because it is the Christians that are involved is more than one can understand. Mr. George Joseph was well within bounds when he said:
"The only difference is that there are 75 millions of Muslims and there are only 6 millions of Christians. It may be worth-while making peace with Muslims because they can make themselves a thorn in the side of Nationalism: Christians do not count, because they are small in numbers."
That Mr. Gandhi is guided by such factors as the relative strength of the Musalmans and Christians, their relative importance in Indian politics, is evident from the terms he uses in condemning what he calls "propaganda by vilification". When such propaganda emanates from Christian missionaries he uses the following language to condemn it. (Quotation is not there in the MS.—Ed.).
On the other hand when he comes out against a propaganda emanating from the Muslim all that he says: (Harijan, August 8, 1936)
"It is tragic to see that religion is dragged down to the low level of crude materialism to lure people into mission which the most cherished sentiments of millions of human beings are trodden under foot.
“I hope that the pamphlet has no support from thoughtful Musalmans who should read it to realize the mischief such pamphlets can create.”
“My correspondent asks me how to deal with the menace. One remedy I have applied, viz, to bring hereby the vilifying propaganda to the notice of the responsible Muslim world. He himself can claim the attention of the local Musalman leaders to the publication. The second and the most important thing to do is purification from within. So long as the position of untouchability remains in the Hindu body it will be liable to attacks from outside. It will be proof against such attacks only when a solid and impregnable wall of purification is erected in the shape of complete removal of untouchability."
The ferocity of the former and the timidity and softness of the latter are obvious enough. Surely Gandhi must be regarded as an astute "respecter of persons".
But apart from this difference in his attitude towards Muslim and Christian propaganda, have Mr. Gandhi's arguments against Christian Missions, which I have summarized above, any validity? They are just' clever. There is nothing profound about them. They are the desperate arguments of a man who is driven to wall. Mr. Gandhi starts out by making a distinction between equal tolerance and equal respect. The phrase "equal respect " is a new phrase. What distinction he wants to make thereby is difficult to recognize. But the new phraseology is not without significance. The old phrase "equal tolerance" indicated the possibility of error. " Equal respect" on the other hand postulates that all religions are equally true and equally valuable. If I have understood him correctly then his premise is utterly fallacious, both logically as well as historically. Assuming the aim of religion is to reach God— which I do not think it is—and religion is the road to reach him, it cannot be said that every road is sure to lead to God. Nor can it be said that every road, though it may ultimately lead to God, is the right road. It may be that all existing religions are false and) the perfect religion is still to be revealed. But the fact is that religions are not all true and therefore the adherents of one faith have a right, indeed a duty, to tell their erring friends what they conceive to be the truth. That Untouchables are no better than a cow is a statement which only an ignoramus, or an arrogant person, can venture to make. It is arrant nonsense. Mr. Gandhi dares to make it because he has come to regard himself as so great a man that the ignorant masses will not question his declarations and the dishonest intelligentsia will uphold him in whatever he says. Strangest part of his argument lies in wishing to share the material things the Christian Missions can provide. He is prepared to share their spiritual treasures provided the Missionaries invite him to share their material treasures "without obligation".* What he minds is an exchange. It is difficult to understand why Mr. Gandhi argues that services rendered by the Missionaries are baits or temptations, and that the conversions are therefore conversions of convenience. Why is it not possible to believe that these services by Missionaries indicate that service to suffering humanity is for Christians an essential requirement of their religion? Would that be a wrong view of the process by which a person is drawn towards Christianity? Only a prejudiced mind would say, Yes.
All these arguments of Mr. Gandhi are brought forth to prevent Christian Missionaries from converting the Untouchables. No body will deny to Mr. Gandhi the right to save the Untouchables for Hinduism. But in that case he should have frankly told Missions "Stop your work, we want now to save the Untouchables, and ourselves. Give us a chance! "It is a pity that he should not have adopted this honest mode of dealing with the menace of the Missionaries. Whatever anybody may say I have no doubt, all the Untouchables, whether they are converts or not, will agree that Mr. Gandhi has been grossly unjust to Christian Missions. For centuries Christian Missions have provided for them a shelter, if not a refuge.
This attitude of Mr. Gandhi need not deter either the missionaries or the Untouchables. Christianity has come to stay in India and, unless the Hindus in their zeal for nationalism misuse their political, social and economic power to suppress it, will live and grow in numbers and influence for good.
What Christianity has achieved in India therefore becomes a proper subject for examination from the points of view both of Christian Missions and of the Untouchables.
That Christian Missions have been endeavouring to provide the corpus sanum for the people of India and to create the Mens Sana among those who have entered the fold is undeniable. It would be difficult in this place to describe all the activities carried on by Christian Missions in India. The work done by the Missionaries falls under five heads: (1) among children, (2) among young men, (3) among the masses, (4) among women and (5) among the sick.
The work done is vast. The following figures will give an idea of the scale on which the work for education and relieving sickness is being carried on........