Mission and Vision of the Christian Missionaries of Colonial Kerala

via Dr. C. I. Issac. published on October 7, 2006


Protestantism penetrated into the life of the Afro-Asian countries along with colonial enterprises. Here the missionary ventures were functioned as a department of colonial endeavor. “The theory of imperialism did not remain an insulated political position in Britain; it became a religious and ethical theory and an integral part of cosmology”1. At the same time the missionary bands of these colonial spaces functioned with clear mission and vision. To see the depth, extent and nature of their task and dream, a closer look in the entire missionary affairs is inevitable. Rt. Rev. Richard Congreve, Bishop of Oxford, commented that the God has entrusted India to English to hold it for Him, and we have no right to give it up2.

 This statement is sufficiently competent to prove the approach of the missionaries towards the colonial people.

Mission of education.

Any way colonialism as well as missionary enterprises all over the world has had a clear vision. Here the centre of the study is missionary. Let us examine their plan of action. In a highly jati hierarchical society like ours, it is quiet difficult to convert those at the apex of the jati to missionary fold. Above all it is difficult to advocate an ideology of equality of all before god in a society that negate it. They were well aware of this Indian observable fact. Therefore they cast their eyes at the lower levels of the caste hierarchy, which forms sizable number of the Hindu society. The missionary interest made use of the traditional social disabilities attributed by the society over the lower levels as the stepping-stone to pierce into the heart of Hinduism. Their ultimate vision is to build fit to be imitated [emulated] superior Christian/western social models in the lower strata of jati framework of the Hindu society3. So the evangelicals explained the nineteenth century English Utilitarian modernity in India in terms of Christian morality4. Thus their mission was not only for mere social transformation but to enhance the kingdom of providence in the pagan land along with societal reforms. Let us see the resolution of the Church Missionary Society (CMS); “That it is a duty highly incumbent upon every Christian to endeavour to propagate the knowledge of Gospel among the Heathen” 5. Notwithstanding the differences between colonialism and missionary enterprises, both traveled together and were one in the propagation of Gospel for the promotion of the Christian (Western) Knowledge. Here in this contest their reform programme turned as their vision to fulfill their mission6. 

          Nineteenth century colonial masters of India were enthusiastic for the schooling of the Indian youths in order to transform the future Indians as the colonial subjects. With this intention Lord Macaulay prepared his future education porgramme of the natives. Still the education pattern of India is sharing colonial views of instruction without much difference from that of the old colonial master. During the British period “much of the educational field was in the hands of Christian missionaries whose ultimate aim obviously was not to strengthen the Hindu race but to convert their pupils to a superior religion, Christianity”7. The native attempt to neutralize missionary effect resulted in the establishment of indigenously managed schools. But they also followed the colonial curriculum and shared the protestant views of education lavishly. Through this native educational exercise they were succeeded in checking the conversion programme of the missionaries. Nevertheless they were forced to familiarize their youths with western protestant models and rationality8.

In food, dress, habits, rationality, games furniture, nature of dwelling and other major as well as minor aspects of the general social life, the natives began to mimic the westerners. It was a process of cultural shift in which a minority who got western system of education transferred the said merits and advantages they already attained to their subordinates in the society.


          Thus they started to teach, “Christian values are ultimately human values”9 through the new schooling system. Consequently they introduced a two-tire pattern of discipline. As a result it functioned in two directions, i.e., “the evangelicals reached out to the lower classes (avarna jatis) in Sunday Schools, missionary schools targeted the Indian elites”10. The new schools became the centres imparting the human values such as equality and freedom and gradually it penetrated in to the native societal structure.

Thus they strived to attain the message of the gospel that is to find out the imperfect man to make him perfect11. It can be summarized in the words of Macaulay, “to create a class of persons who would be Indians in blood and colour but in English in taste, in opinion, in morals and in intellect”12. Accordingly the education becomes the primary instrument of religious conversion as well as the extension centres of Christian ways of life in the Orient. Thus it reflected in the nineteenth and early twentieth century Hindu reformation movements. “They borrowed their fundamental values from the Western world view and, in spite of their image as orthodox revivalists, were ruthlessly critical of the Hindus”13. This was really in a strict sense, a cultural encounter in which modernity of the west received recognition amongst the natives. Here English schooling system functioned as agent of colonial modernity. Every aspect of social life then began to be explained by the educated Indians in non-Indian terms14.

          The history of the land had proved that proselytizes a Hindu is a quiet difficult task. To the Hindu, “every religion is a path that leads to God–realization. There is only one God which is called by various names and which is attainable to genuine seeker by sincerely following his own path. All the Hindu scriptures have upheld this view”.15. That is why to a Hindu the question of conversion is immaterial.

On the other hand it is easy to make a Hindu a non-committed Hindu through his schooling. Missionary enterprises through ages moved in this direction. Educational vision of the missionaries in pagan lands not only confined to modernization of its social fabric but to “get acquainted with the person of Jesus Christ and His Gospel” by the youths outside the Christian faith16.  This is nothing different from the ‘Pauline’ strategy of the first century that successfully experimented in Athens. It can be made clearer by quoting St. Paul, “For I walked through your city and looked at the places where you worship, I found an altar on which is written, ‘To an Unknown God’. That, which you worship, then, even though you do not know it, is what I now proclaim to you”17.

The obsessive eyes of the missionaries are always in search of the weaker aspects of the targeted society and people. This is an observable fact that operates from the first century to the present day with some morphological difference only.


Legitimization of missionary transaction by the company.

          Along with the East India Company several Christian Protestant missionaries landed here in India under the guise of Company chaplains. Simultaneously, with a vision of evangelical ends they started a missionary organization in England named “The Church Missionary Society for Africa and the East”, at London on 12th April 1799 with royal patronage18. Eclectic Society founded in 1783, later renamed as Church Missionary Society (CMS), much discussed about the heathen conversion. The centre of their discussion was “With what propriety, and in what mode, can a Mission be attempted to the Heathen from the Established Church?”19 The Charter Act of 1813 is very important when we study about the arrival of the English missionary enterprises in Kerala as well as in other parts of India. The year 1813 is sometimes said to mark the beginning of the policy shift of the British East India Company. English missionary activities in India were legitimized by this legislative procedure.  Thus the British Protestant Missionaries got a freehand in the earmarked mission fields of India.

This enactment of 1813 can treat as a cutoff point or a point of policy shift by the Colonial Masters of India. Further more the Charter Act of 1833 opened the doors of India to other European missionary bands. Earlier it was the exclusive privilege and right of the British missionaries20. Missionary bands occupied several large cities of India like Meerut (1815), Benares (1817), Gorakhpur (1823), etc. before 1857. After the War of Iindependence of 1857 they extended further their work to other cities like Jabalpur (1854), Allahabad (1859), Degra Dun (1859), etc.21

Economic factors of religious policy.

The economic changes (industrial revolution) brought forth upon the Great Britain forced them to the creation of an extensive market for their industrial production22. Earlier they counted India as only a centre of spice production. But the changed situation compelled them to draft new strategies. With this vision the East India Company began to see India and they began to think about effecting socio religious changes in the Indian subcontinent to fit it for the consumption of British industrial products23. They believed that it would lend a hand to the local person to familiarize with European goods and lifestyle, which helps them to consume more European goods. Then again in the eighteenth century the Court of Directors of the East India Company refused to take on itself the responsibility for the education of the people of India24. 

Several eighteenth century English officers in India made proposals for the Indian education. The pioneer among them was Charles Grant, a civil servant. But in the nineteenth century the Christian Missionaries and the Government gave all encouragements to the new education system that was framed under the western line25.  It is said, “What Grant failed to do through Government, the Christian missionaries undertook to accomplish in Madras and Bengal”26. Thus in the opinion of Anup Chand Kapur, the spread of Christian ways would promote the flow of Christian made commodities27. At the same time the compulsions of the administrative organization and need for cheaper clerks to man the lower treads of the Company administration forced to frame new educational policy for India28. To attain this end they shaped the administrative as well as the religious and educational policy for India. In short they lifted their old policy of ‘subordinate isolation’ and opened the new policy of ‘subordinate cooperation’.

          Missionary urge for Christianization of India was fermented in England long before the 1813 Charter Act. In 1793 William Carey reached in Bengal, at Serampore, with missionary spirit without proper permission from the Company. Originally he was a cobbler by profession and turned out to be a Baptist missionary and became instrumental to the general missionary spirit that prevailed over England during this period29.

Thus he laid the foundations of English education and Bengali prose tradition. It was the commencement of Indian vernacular prose tradition that was a necessary condition to the popularization of the Bible to the Hindu race. All intellectual movements in the subsequent period of Bengal were considerably influenced by the western ideas and Serampore model.

The process of evangelization of Bengal was not extinguished with William Carey but it poured inspiration to several others like David Hare, Ward, Marshman, etc30.

In the case of Kerala, particularly of the princely state of Travancore the missionaries had spent their time and energy in establishing parochial schools in order to spread the gospels and popularize western ways of life through the language of common man at every nook and corner of the society31.

 If truth were told, they hoped the total conversion of the land into the western ways of life and the attainment of maximum souls for the Kingdom of God32. Since the early agents of modern education were the Protestant Missionaries, literacy mission and evangelical missions were one and the same. To reflect the tenets of Christ in more refined, impressive and simple vocabulary was the first and foremost object of the missionaries here. Thus the missionaries started the work of improving the prose literature of the vernacular.


Women education. 

          Another thrust area of the protestant missionaries was the Indian women33. They attempted to convert them but produced skimpy output only. Opening up of exclusive women schools was the subsequent step taken up by the missionaries. In this field of formal education to women, CMS pioneered. Their chief target was the upper class women. But it proved to be a failure, because they feared religious instruction. But lower class and Christian girls occupied the space of school34. By the early decades of the twentieth century in the princely state of Travancore, an exclusive area of CMS missionary activity, where literacy rate of women is very high among the Pulaya community, an avarna section, as compared to the social status of Brahmin women35. General social response to women education was poor. The society never felt it as essential. The particular social situation that prevailed over this land satisfied with the traditional knowledge that transmitted from mother to daughter and is sufficient to meet the household needs. Above all the educated women had nothing to do with the general politico-socio-economic relations of the land.

On the other hand missionaries realized the need of women education. In their attempt to restructure the traditional society, education of women has seen an essential condition. This was the part of their general policy of influencing Indian women. In 1822 Miss. M. A. Cooke started first girls’ school at Calcutta. In the following years several cities of India has witnessed opening of exclusive girls schools. The first of its kind was opened at Alleppey in Kerala prior to the year 182536. Thus Kottayam also became the epicenter of women education in Kerala, where the Baker family concentrated in this specific area. They started the first women exclusive school at Kottayam still it functioning as Mrs. Baker Memorial Girls Higher Secondary School. Behind this there was missionary as well as colonial compulsions37. Through women education they were able to influence the kitchen as well as kith and kin of the natives. The syllabi of school contained not only textual knowledge but also the knowledge of cooking, needlework and family management.38. Thus the colonial modernity found one of its ways to enter into the households of the native life through the site of women education.


The missionary enterprises considerably influenced the native architectural structural designs. The missionaries raised several buildings as ‘model’ of new pattern constructions along with the parish popularly known as mission bungalows. In the effort of their construction activity they utilized the native knowledge of carpentry. They started industrial schools to introduce and popularize western architectural models to the natives. But these models were targeted to suit to the nuclear families, not for the traditional joint families. This gave way to the replacement of the traditional all wood model of house construction to the new bungalows. Along with the new house pattern they succeeded in the destruction of the age-old family structure. In addition to it they had broken the monopoly of jati specialization to various architectural functions by introducing it to various other non-conventional jatis through the newly started industrial schools. Above all through new pattern house models that are suited to the western Christian ways of life, they were able to convert natives as the subjects of Christian Protestant discourse39.

Alternative transport system.

Another area that newly evolved under the missionary impact was road network system. Before the arrival English Protestant Missionaries the natives used waterways for transport of men and materials. No doubt Kerala was blessed with navigable back waters, forty four west flowing rivers and innumerable small as well as big streams. This altogether catered the transportation requirements of the natives before missionaries. The missionaries required access to the hinterlands that was not connected with waterways due to geographical reasons. The most important reason was economic, i.e., the hinterlands of the state are good for plantation industry. The colonial interest in the plantation field turned them into this direction. Another reason was that the entire land in the state was in the position of savarna [upper caste] Hindus. New Christian converts from lower castes were in need of fresh lands and it was a necessary condition of their well-being. Above all for economically viable occupation of the hinterlands, farming, were in need of an alternative transport system. In the year 1342 the Arab traveler Iban Batuta had rightly verified the absence of transport system as well as road system in Malabar. There fore goods were transported to the market places from hinterlands as headloads.40.  Barbosa testified the same state of affair, while he was narrating the occupation of Ezhavas of Malabar. He remarks that the absence of pack animals and transportation of the agricultural products by head loads to the destinations was the main occupation of the Ezhavas 41. All these factors compelled the English missionaries to popularize another means of transport system. During 1780 – 92 periods Tippau Sultan was on track of the construction of road network in the Malabar region of Kerala in order to fulfill his ambitious designs of military expeditions. Along with the concept of road network British introduced European models of carts here42. The aristocracy of the early decades of the last century Kerala used such oxen ridden luxury bullock carts, known as ‘villuvandi’. The princely states of Kerala also followed European models and constructed several long distance roads like M.C road, K.K road, and etc.43.

The space, which the British used to conceptualize modernity, was mainly Roman. The England before the Common Era [CE] was a land of barbarians. They were tamed and brought to modernity through the Roman conquest. So all techniques that experimented in India, particularly in Kerala in the name of modernization of this land, were somewhat similar and resemble that of their Roman encounter in the early centuries of the CE. In 55 BCE Romans under Julius Caesar invaded England and its regular occupation started since 43 CE onwards. During their occupation they started to civilize the people of England through certain strong measures. Of them the important measures were Christianizing the natives, construction of roads, building of towns, teaching of the Latin [the language of the Roman rulers], introduction of Pax Romana, etc. Here in Kerala the English in the form of colonialists introduced derivatives of their Roman encounter after sixteen centuries. Even the seventeenth century ‘coffee house culture’ of England was transplanted to Kerala by the English planters of this land through the establishment of chain of coffee houses. Later it became a model widely imitated by the Kerala people had its origin London from the practice of Abyssinian coffee drinking habit. In the seventeenth century coffee drinking and visiting the coffee houses became a status symbol to the English social living. Above all the coffee houses in London became the centres of social life in the city. Likewise they were able to transform the coffee houses [teashops] and grantha saalas [reading rooms] Kerala as the ‘faith homes’ of the reading public and the centre of social dissemination knowledge. This remarkable feature of the Indian society was positively well pictured by Smt. Santha Rama Rau while comparing the social life of the erstwhile Soviet Union in the following words. “An Indian coffee-house, like an Indian bazaar, has its own peculiar atmosphere. It is a cheerful, unpretentious place in which to dawdle, encounter friends, talk, discuss, gossip.   ……………….. The actual drinking of coffee is the least important part of the whole affair”44.



          Missionaries were able to transplant a conceptual framework of modernity to a land where archaic system was the order. All these above told are the strategies of the yester years. Now they moved further more with new vision and mission. Their mission always is the spread of Christianity and their vision is helping the same.  They are now under the guise of service, charity or what ever colour they want to misguide others. Earlier they want to carve out full Christians from the Hindu fabric. Now they are in search of crypto Christians. Crypto Christians are no doubt Christians although they are in Hindu names and costumes but in faith, rationality, ways of life and behaviors are not much different from other traditional Christians. No doubt most of the prominent Marxists now in Hindu names are, beyond doubt proved their commitment to Christianity/Christian ways of life. The international Christian community is looking for such 30, 000,000 Christian from the Hindu social fabric by about 2025 CE45.  At present, World Christian Encyclopedia claims that, India has 21,500,000 crypto Christians. Similarly they are waiting to spread their wings over the unorganized Hindu society and going to carve out 68,200,000 true/direct Christians d

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