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Chapter: 11th History : Chapter 19 : Towards Modernity

Christian Missionaries

The official religious policy of the East India Company was one of neutrality towards the native religions.

Christian Missionaries

The official religious policy of the East India Company was one of neutrality towards the native religions. Their reason for continuing this policy was the belief that the earlier Portuguese rule had come to an end because of their attempts to forcibly convert people to Christianity. As a result of this concern, the Company government prohibited the entry of missionaries into the territories under their control.

In 1793 two English missionaries, William Carey and John Thomas, both Baptists, set out to India with the intention of starting a mission. In view of the ban on missionary activity they settled down in the Danish Colony of Serampore, north of Calcutta. Carey, along with two other missionaries, Joshua Marshman and William Ward established the Serampore Mission in 1799.

The Serampore missionaries were the first evangelical Baptist missionaries in India. They were followed later by other missionary groups belonging to different Protestant denominations. Before the arrival of the Serampore missionaries, several centuries earlier, there were Christian missions in the Portuguese territory of Goa, and also on the Malabar Coast and the Coromandel Coast. The work of the earlier missionaries was limited both geographically and in terms of the number of conversions to Christianity. Thus major attempts at proselytization began during the nineteenth century.

The missionaries organised schools for the socially and economically deprived and pleaded for their economic improvement through employment in the state service. They also fought for their ‘civil rights’ that included access to public roads, and permission for the women of these groups to wear upper garments.

The missionaries gave shelter to orphaned children and other destitute widows in their missions and provided education for them in their boarding schools. Particularly after the famines which were quite common during the nineteenth century, about which we discussed in the previous lesson, the missionaries organized relief. Providing shelter and succour gave these an opportunity to convert people to Christianity. In Tirunelveli district many villages took to Christianity during famines, especially in the last quarter of nineteenth century. The same phenomenon was witnessed in Andhra  where Malas and Madigas embraced Christianity in a big way.

The Company government did little to provide modern education for the native population. For a long time, the provision of elementary school facilities to the native population, especially in the interiors for the disprivileged and the poor people, was a responsibility willingly accepted by the Christian missionaries. It must be noted that the Christian Missionaries took the intiative of establishing Hospitals and Dispensaries. 

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