by Reginald Maher
I NDIA is a vast country. -1Spread over an area of 1,269,640 square miles, it covers a fifth of the world's circumference. It supports a population of over 439 million people. who speak M5 different languages and dialects.
Dominating the population picture are the Hindus with a figure of well over 300 million. to be followed by the Muslim contribution of about 35 million. Lagging far behind are the Christians—a mere 8 million or so—of which the Catholics would make up the majority.
Yet this land has a history of Christianity that goes right back to the Apostles themselves. Two of them came to India, preached the Faith and died martyrs here. The first of these, strangely enough lesser known, was St. Bartholomew, one of the Twelve. He worked and died on the western coast, roughly around the area of Bombay. The better known person is St. Thomas—remembered for his doubt of Christ's resurrection. He is reputed to have reached India in 52 A.D. St. Thomas' Mount in Madras stands today in memory of his martyrdom there twenty years later. Thus it was that, before St. Augustine got across to Britain or St. Boniface was converting Germany, there w as already a flourishing Christian community in Malabar on India's west coast.
The Church built up slowly, aided by immigrants from Syria. But there was the pressure of the millions around, there was Hinduism. a growing Buddhism and then the coming of the fanatical Muslims. And since the blood of martyrs has ever been the seed of the Church, four Franciscans were martyred and others followed, The seed bore fruit and by 1490. there was a population of about 20,000 Catholics along the south-west coast and the entire clergy was Indian.
The Faith. however, was concentrated in just one area of about 207.009 square miles and the millions who lived in the rest of this immense country had yet to hear of Christ and his message of redemption. But the India of those days was not the single vast country it is today. Besides the area where Christianity had been established was nearly four times that of England and a little less that of East and West Ger
many together. But Christianity will never be bound by terrestrial limits and the Church had to spread.
The Portuguese arrived. They brought with them goods and money for trade. They brought arms for whatever the purpose be. And they brought priests. A new era opened for Catholicism in India. Apart from the missions that were established, they set about consolidating the position.
Following a policy of intermarriage they brought into being a mixed community, who would trade for Portugal, fight for Portugal and, as frontiers were pushed back, would carry the Faith to other parts of the land and provide a Catholic community to take it down the generte Lions to come. The plan succeeded.
Significantly enough a member of this mixed community St. Gonsalo Garcia—is the first (and till now only) son of India to be raised to the altars. Within a century of the coming of Vasco de Game, the Portuguese explorer, a Catholic mission was at the court of the Great Mogul, Akbar, centres had been established in Delhi and other places of northern India. Missionaries were busy on the eastern extremity of the cotintry, in Bengal.
Thus, with Catholicism already in the south and the new missionary field spreading across the north. India was spanned.
In the meantime the French, the Danes, the Dutch and the British had also arrived and proceeded to enter into trade cornpetition and political rivalry with each other. The other European Powers fell leaving Britain dominant in the field. Unlike the Romance nations, however, intermarriage with the natives was not so popular with the British.
As .a result, and also because of an affinity of culture and religion, they began to form matrimonial alliances with the mixed population. As, however, these persons were Catholic and the Church insisted that the offsprings be baptised Catholics. there was soon the odd phenomenon of Protestant fathers founding Catholic families and thus perpetuating Catholicism in India. England, very Puritan at the time, looked on this with much dismay. The Portuguese policy of inter-marriage was won emulated to counteract this spread of the Catholic Faith.
The East India Company. believing that "the marriage of their men to Indian women a matter of consequence to posterity"— and prosperity, one may addtook steps, which included monetary encouragement, to create yet another mixed community. The elite of British society in India, marrying Indian women of their own status. set the fashion.
The purpose was two-fold. Not only was the new mixed corn rapid growth of the Catholic
Church but it was also to provide the soldiers to defend the forts that were springing up, and the traders equipped with a blood relation to the natives and a "knowledge of the language and 'he people".
Thus, not only would Protesantism flourish but trade would xpand. The latter purpose sueceded remarkably. The former impose failed. It failed because he descendants of the Portuguese vere already serving in the British anks. They were Catholics. In addition to the Catholics among the English, there were the children of the earlier marriages to Catholic women. With the British was an appreciable number of Irishmen. They were Catholics. The other rival for power in India were the French and their descendants in India were Catholics.
Eventually all these surmounting national barriers gathered together to emerge as a single Indian group. Today they are known as the Anglo-Indians and, with a community that is 80 per cent. Catholic, are no negligible factor in the Church today.
History moved on and, in 1947, India became independent. The Christian churches which till now had enjoyed a certain sense of security under a Christian government, found themselves in a new situation. But the beauty of Christian principles, the work of devoted missionaries and the products of Christian education as evinced in the Anglo-Indian cornmunity, were not without great influence. The Constituent Assembly had both Christian and Anglo-Indian representation a n d the Indian Constitution emerged as a document based on Christian principles.
The very composition of the Constituent Assembly indicated this fact of Christian influence. It is not without significance that the Scheduled Castes— persons who would have no standing whatsoever under the caste system — were not only represented by Dr. Ambedkar but that he should have been one of those chosen to draft the Constitution.
To him is credited the sage observation that the true value of a Constitution is to be found in its implementation. There were. and there still appears to be, difficulties in the way of implementing the dictates of a Christian spirit in a non-Christian land But the Constitution began by cutting across much that had prevailed in India for centuries.
The caste system. for instance, was the casuality when the Fundamental Rights guaranteed equality of status to all citizens and still more pointedly when untouchability was made an offence. Religious freedom was al so granted with the right to establish institutions and most important, the right to propagate. The Constitution indicates the direction in which India seeks to travel. Customs, habits —and traditions — are not, however, changed overnight by fiat. For the Indian Constitution to be imple mented, there will be need for vigilance on the part of Christians and those who think along Christian lines. Moreover, there will be the need for courage to guide and even suffer for principles.
The Church at present is in a position of some strength. There is much goodwill for her and most of the progressive minds in the country regard and respect her. As a result Church-State relations can be described as happy,
Special Government grants are paid to many AngloIndian schools run by missionaries, Government officials can always be found presiding over Catholic functions. The present President of the Indian Union, Dr. Radhakrishnan, addressed a meeting of Catholics at the Marian Congress in Bombay a few years back and the Indian Cardinal Gracias is a respected figure.
This, however, is a position that will need not only to be sustained but developed. And that can only be done by standing as firmly by Christianity as the early Christians did in Rome. For there is the other side of the medal. There is, for instance, so widespread a belief that Christianity is a Western imposition on India that the Prime Minister, in a speech was obliged to point out that this religion was even older than Islam in India.
But with Independence there has been some resurgence of Hinduism and traditionalism in some quarters. As a result a somewhat confused and even contradictory pattern emerges.
On the one hand, the country se eks so introduce Western methods and techniques, but on the other there are agitations that show a desire to return to old traditions.
While certain elements decry the use of English and press the claims of ancient Hindu culture, others have no greater ambition for their children than that they be educated in missionary schools in the English medium. While birth control is being lauded as a cure for India's population problem, Indian tradition regards children as blessings.
Indian textiles f rom mills developing all over the country capture the world's fancy but the symbol for India still remains the home spinning-wheel.
This, however, is only to be expected in a transitory period and it is here that the Church has her best opportunity. For she is the repository of the truth and, since the tendency of the progressive would appear to be towards a society based on Christian principles, she could well take a bold lead.
The Citizens of India, bidding farewell to Dr. Rajendra Prased, who had been President of the Indian Union since the country became a republic in 1950, de clared in their address that "New India seeks that path in which she can bring about a fusion of the best in Western culture with the best in her own".
What better offering from the West than the philosophies of Aquinas and Newman, what better platter on which to make this offering than an Indian people strongly Catholic, themselves a blend of the West and India— the Anglo-Indians ?
Apart, however, from the external dangers of Communism, which did succeed in setting up a Government in the strongly Catholic State of Kerala, and the anti-Christian elements. such as those which produced the in famous Nyogi Report, the Church faces grave threats to her perpetuation in India and these threats are from within herself.
By the very nature of things nations enjoying a new political independence tend to be very political-minded. And it is in this swirl and conflict of politics that they who control the Church's administration may find themselves in danger of rendering to Caesar the things that are God's There is, for instance, the tendency to accept the ridiculous assertion that Catholics and particularly Anglo-Indians are not nationalists. As a result, these people are advised to "go Indian". What is being overlooked is the fact that the preponderance of the Hindu population naturally gives to Indian culture a strong Hindu bias.
On careful analysis, what advisers are asking Catholics to do is not so much to "go Indian" as to "go Hindu". The conununities of India retain their communal cultures and remain good Indians. Exactly the same would apply to the Catholics and the advice is not only misplaced but even dangerous.
What many consider an even greater threat concerns Catholic schools in India. A recent survey in West Bengal, for instance. revealed that while there were some S uch schools making valiant efforts to educate Catholics, these institutions were in a minority.
None of the others had even a majority of Catholics studying in them. Some had a mere sprinkling and some Catholic schools in India have none at
all. This in the long run must prove disastrous for the Church. As Catholics are obliged to make place for others, their educational standards naturally fall and with them their economy.
If they are reduced to hewers of wood and drawers of water, not only will there be no more priests to keep the Church alive but Catholic influence, in a land where prestige has much value, will wane into nothing. Catholic schools themselves can, after a while. find it impossible to function, for there may be no Catholics qualified enough to keep them going. The large number of non -Catholics on the teaching staffs of Catholic schools is an indication of what might be the shape of things to come. Foreign missions, particularly with the wise efforts now being made to Indianise the Church in this country, would be powerless to help. Nationalisation of these schools could then easily be affected and Catholic schools would disappear.
Though the Constitution does guarantee the rights of Catholics to run their own institutions it would be extremely difficult to convince any one that a school, which has a sprinkling of Catholics on its rolls and a majority of non-Catholics on its teaching staff. is a Catholic school.
There is even a more alarming aspect to this unfortunate situation. If lack of education drives Catholics into the mire of pauperism, the Faith itself is endangered. This is even now being proved in more than one Catholic country of the world.
With the gnawing pangs of hunger, the ravages of disease and privation which poverty brings, immorality can become rife and Catholic souls lost. The odds against the Catholic are heavy enough.
There is the pressure of the millions around, with its threat of leakage, and bitterness can develop if the feeling grows that Catholics are being denied their heritage as Catholics, With nonCatholics obtaining the be st education in India in Catholic schools and Catholics themselves finding it difficult to obtain an education at all, the dice grows even more heavily weighted.
The result could be that where they are not lured into other faiths, they may be forced into Communism — and the phenomenon of Catholics turning Communists is unfortunately no new one for this world.
If the Church is to grow in India. the emphasis will need to be on consolidating its position by a greater and urgent attention to the Catholic flock. That is the only logical way to the conversion of India.