The argument for conversion never ceases in India. This is because Hindus are tolerant. But how tolerant can we be when Hinduism is called a religion of the Devil? I thought that the correspondence between Gandhiji and Rajkumari Amrit Kaur will shake the certainties of those who argue for the superiority of their the faith.
RAJKUMARI Amrit Kaur was a Christian by birth (Catholic) and a close friend of Gandhiji. It was natural that she exchanged views on Christianity with Gandhiji, perhaps the most knowledgeable man on Christianity in the Congress Party. Gandhiji admired Jesus, but he was a fierce opponent of conversion of Hindus to Christianity. According to him, Hindus were getting denationalised in the process of conversion. He says: “As I wander about throughout the length and breadth of India I see many Indian Christians almost ashamed of their birth, certainly of their ancestral religion. He was emphatic that “conversion does not mean denationalisation.” More need be said on why Hindus object to conversion.
Rajkumari once wrote to Gandhiji on why she objected to conversion. She says: “To me conversion or the desire to impel another person to change his faith has always savoured of an arrogance, tantamount to a violent turn of mind, which must surely be against that very doctrine of love, for which I believe Gandhiji lived and died.
She says, the Christian missionaries have wronged the Indian Christians in more ways than one. Many converts have been denationalised; e.g. even their names have been changed to those of Europeans. They have been told that there is no true light to be found in the religion of their ancestors.” In order to close the ranks of the Indian Christians, they were told they would be massacred when the British left India. Not this alone, she bemourn that the West planted seeds of its own sectarian strife in India. No wonder, she says, it had become the cause of strife among the Indian Christians. She points out that “the taint of untouchability in Hinduism has been exploited to the extent of attempted mass conversion to “so-called” Christianity. I say “so-called” advisedly because I know that not one of those poor people to whom I have spoken-and I have spoken to many-has been able to tell me the spiritual implications of their change of faith.”
“That he is equally ignorant of the faith of his forefathers … does not mean to me to be ample reason for transplanting him on alien soil where he can find no roots.” She is firmly of the opinion that the “spiritually minded intelligentsia of Indian Christians have to evolve for themselves a religion which will be purged of the impurities that exist in institutional Christianity as it stands today.” What is more, they will have to purify their own hearts of the arrogance that denies salvation to all who do not happen to be labelled “Christian.”
Rajkumari asks: “Are we not all Hindus inasmuch as we are all the children of Hindus?”
At the end, she invites Gandhiji to help Indian Christians to realise the message of Jesus. “You can” she assures him “because you have drawn inspiration from Jesus’ undying teachings as embodied in the Sermon on the Mount. They assuredly stands in having guidance, she pleads.
In reply, Gandhiji says: “I do not feel competent to give advice to Indian Christians… I am on safer ground when I say that there is a room enough in Hinduism for Jesus and Mohammed, Zoroaster and Moses.” He says religions are like flowers in a garden, that “it is impossible for me to reconcile myself to the idea of conversion after the style that goes on in India today.”
Why should a Christian want to convert a Hindu, he asks, when he should be satisfied if the Hindu is a good and godly man?
“Insistence” he says “on a particular form of religion may be a potent cause for violent quarrels, leading to bloodshed and disbelief in God.
An English lady, who read the Gandhiji-Amrit Kaur correspondence, wrote to her saying that “the work of the missionaries was all wrong.” (She was associated with the missionary work in India) She was also wondering “if we the British people had any right to be ruling India.” At the end she says “what you said needs saying by someone who is a Christian.”