Dr Balram Misra
Conversion has often given shelter to those trying to justify their disproportionate property, or socially unacceptable marriage bonds. How does it help in cases of sedition, albeit retrospectively, will be evidenced by a decision of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) to recommend beatification of an 18th century Hindu turned Christian, Devasahayam Pillai (or Dev Sagayam Pillai). In its annual convention at Thrissur (Kerala), the CBCI has unanimously decided to recommend beatification for Devasahayam Pillai, said to be the army chief of Travancore, Hindu king Martanda Varma. According to Catholic sources, Devasahayam Pillai was executed by the king because the former had embraced Christianity. Catholics treat Pillai as a martyr on the basis of a story invented by historian Mackenzie. Prof. A. Sreedhara Menon, the noted historian and author of many books on the history of Travancore says: “Leave alone execution, not even a single case of persecution was recorded in the history of Travancore in the name of religious conversion. It is a concocted story and figment of imagination.” According to Prof. Menon, during the 29-year regime beginning from 1729, Martanda Varma had executed several people, irrespective of caste, even some members of his royal family, not in the name of conversion but on charges of treason. He pointed out: “How can you say that the erstwhile Travancore rulers persecuted Christians when history records that they had even permitted the dewans like Colonel Munroe to take over the administration of Devaswoms?”
M.G.S. Narayanan, a former chairman of Indian Council of Historical Research, said that he had never come across anyone named either Neelakantan Pillai or Devasahayam Pillai as army chief of Martanda Varma in Kerala history. The head of Vivekananda Kendra, P. Parameswaran has rightly pointed out that the CBCI'smove is an attempt to hurt the Hindu sentiments. He says: “The CBCI'sact of unanimously passing a resolution to canonise a traitor to the state simply because he converted to Christianity shows a very low level of decency and patriotism. How can such an august body pass a resolution without fully ascertaining the facts?” Quoting from the Travancore State Manual, he said that Devasahayam was not an army chief of Martanda Varma, as CBCI claims. He was an employee of the royal Varma household. Parameswaran insisted that Devasahayam Pillai was executed because he had tampered with the official palace records and passed them on to De Lannoy, commander of the Dutch army. Raja Martanda Varma executed him only after confirmation of the act of sedition. The Raja had right over the life and property of his subjects?in terms of the then prevalent laws. “To attribute this punishment to religious vendetta or intolerance is the height of injustice”, said Parmeswaran.