In present-day Bharat the Church is appropriating every cultural aspect of Hindu Dharma to lure Hindus to Christianity; their outright hatred for Dharma is kept hidden and cloaked. But in pre-independence Bharat, everything related to our Dharma evoked inherent hatred and was out-rightly called as evil and terrible by evangelists.
Having realized the ordinary Hindu’s deep faith in Dharma and its empirically proven practises, they started with pounding the wall surrounding the Dharmik society; the wall built with trust on the ancient knowledge passed down across generations, the customs and practices refined to the point of leading a totally self-sufficient satisfactory life; the wall they needed to bring down to bring Hindu society on its knees to accept the One True God.
How they went about the job and how they hated the wisdom that even ordinary people possessed, regarding the missionaries’ ‘Way’ with contempt, can be understood from the books written by a rabid evangelist Amy Carmichael (1867–1951) from Millisle, Northern Ireland, sponsored by the Church of England Zenana Mission, founded to evangelize women segregated in zenanas (female quarters).
This is how Ruth Tucker, a professor of missiology who has written several books on Christian missionaries like ‘From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions, describes her –
“Amy Carmichael has long been the Evangelical Virgin Mary—and one of the most celebrated Protestant missionaries of all time. She served in India without home leave for more than 55 years. She founded the Dohnavur Fellowship, an independent mission (including orphanage), as well as the Sisters of the Common Life, a community of women who made vows of celibacy. In addition to all of that, she authored more than 30 books. Her most well-known—and most controversial—activity, however, was that of rescuing Indian girls from temple prostitution. This work was criticized by other missionaries and Indians alike who believed she was exaggerating the problem—and in some cases making it worse. Nevertheless, her stories inspired millions of Christians around the world.”
She built an orphanage, Dohnavur Fellowship, in Tiruneveli, Tamil Nadu for children she claimed to have rescued from devadasi life. It was named after a Count Dohna who funded the place. About the kids who would follow the band of missionaries, Ms. Carmichael writes in her book “Things As They Are – Mission Work in Southern India” –
“They would hardly let us go, and begged us to come back and “teach them every day,” not the Gospel— do not imagine their little hearts craved for that— but reading and writing and sums!’
People of that time craved knowledge and so they listened to them for the sake of being polite and to hear their point of view. But they did so with a smile which irked Amy very much as she knew they were intelligent and were mocking her beliefs.
She called Bharat a dark heathendom and a continent where Satan has constructed his strongest fortresses and displayed the choicest masterpieces of his skill; the villages of South Bharat (now South TN) were, for her, unworked jewel-mines of heathendom. In her eyes, the houses in one of the villages where she was welcomed were ‘literal little houses of literal heathendoms’ whose residents were not praying for her to come rescue them.
Pure unadulterated hatred oozes out of her words whenever she talks about temples, deities and festivals. She describes an old woman who was initiated into the Shaiva tradition as ‘stripped of all God meant her to have when He made her, deep in the mire of the lowest form of idolatry, a devotee of Siva.’
There are many ancient temple towns in the region where Dohnavur fellowship is located, importantly Nava Tirupathi and Nava Kailash which are more than 1000 years old. Amy Carmichael had no love lost for the culture of these Hindu towns, their residents and the majestic temples. She narrates this about a temple town, two hours from Dohnavur. ‘There are 38 stone temples and shrines in and around it, and 500 altars. No one has counted the number of idols; there are 200 under a single tree near one of the smaller shrines.’
We come to know that there were 200 recognized Devadasis, and 200 annual festivals at that time. How glorious would it have been!
Once she happened upon a woman possessed by the gods and writes about the experience as ‘had been very near where Satan’s seat is’. She vividly describes the incident from her memory of how she felt that satan itself was in the room with her. She recounts that ‘the mother is a devotee. She has received the afflatus. Sometimes at night it falls upon her, and she dances the wild, wicked dance.’
The music of bells and drums at temples that sound delightful to us is just cacophony to Amy. Once she was leaving an ancient temple town at the time for evening puja, heading towards a Christian hamlet. The words she uses to describe the different environments:
“Behind was the heathenish clash and clang of every possible discord, and here the steady ringing of the bell for evening service; behind was all that ever was meant by the “mystery of iniquity,” and here the purity and peace of Christianity”.
When her band was caught in the middle of a procession, the idol she saw was a ‘hideous creature, red and white’. She was relieved that the ‘bullocks trotted as fast as they could, and we soon got out of it all, and looking back saw the great square of the devil temple.’ One evening she was standing in the shade of the temple walls and she thought ‘those great walls seemed a type of wall Satan has built round these souls’.
She couldn’t stand the simple way of worshiping of the innocent villagers either. She describes a beautiful village scene which for her was ‘spoilt’ by the sight of villagers worshipping their deities under a tree –
“Under the tree there were numbers of idols, and piles of oleander and jessamin wreaths, brought fresh….There is something in the sight of this ordinary, evident dethronement of our God. which stirs to one’s inmost soul. We could not look at it.”
If you hear a wannabe elite parent teach their kids about Ganesha and Hanuman as the ‘elephant God’ and ‘monkey god’ or a writer/ journalist use these names, know where they stand in the spectrum of Hindu haters. Because loving nature and respecting it as Gods is hated by evangelists the most and Amy is no exception as she writes
“A huge old doubletree, the sacred fig tree of India, intertwined with another—a religious symbol to this symbol-loving people. Underneath is a stone platform, and on it the hideous elephant-god.”
Not even the animal vehicles of gods are spared from their hate. On seeing a temple dedicated to Aiyyanar she thinks –
“the shrine of the demon steeds, the god and his wife who ride out at night to chase evil spirits away. Nearby was an old tree, also in shade, with an idol under it. It was all in shadow, and full of shadowy nothings, all dark”
Anything except what the white evangelist believes in is ‘dark’. But one can see Tamils arguing that small temple gods and kula devtas are not Hindu gods based on the atrocity literature created by the same missionaries.
Ruth Tucker says –
“Amy seemed to purposely challenge cultural norms and at times to provoke violent incidents with Hindus…..these stones in “honor of the false gods, in the midst of the true God’s beauty. . . . We knocked them over and down they crashed.”
She had utter contempt for anything unchristian. She had to check her temper and seethed within in public places but freely expressed the hate when alone.
For missionaries, every god other than Jesus is Satan; everything that is not possessed by Jesus is dark; every person alive or dead is a seed, small plant, tree or fruit based on the level of influence they’ve had on him/her. Amy and her band of missionaries, Indians and whites alike, happened upon a serene temple pond with old stone walls, wide steps and the water full of rain washed beautiful pink lotus flowers. When one of the Indians quipped that he would pluck the flowers for her, someone reminded that he must not do so as the pond belongs to the temple. Her line of thought goes like this,
‘The Lotus-pool was a Temple pool; its flowers are Temple flowers. The little buds that float and open on the water… these Lotus buds are sacred things—sacred to whom?’.
Apparently it was going to be finished with ‘the Hindu God’s’ for she concludes that it was a false thought. Because there is a bible verse—”All souls are Mine.”
The thought continues and presents itself as –
‘All souls are His, all flowers. An alien power has possessed them, counted them his for so many generations, that we have almost acquiesced in the shameful confiscation. They belong to the Lord of all the earth, the Creator, the Redeemer. The little Lotus buds are His—His and not another’s. The children of the temples of South India are His—His and not another’s.’
Amy is admired for her so called rescue of devadasi children from a terrible life where the children are forced to live as prostitutes. She doesn’t give any proof for this slanderous claim even though she did get familiar enough with Hindus to write elaborately on their intelligence and evolved thought process.
As a missionary, she couldn’t have found trouble in getting the help of British officers either. That she only leaves some spaces blank and says it’s too horrible to be written in words only proves that it’s her own imagination to establish herself as a hero back home.
As missionary historiographer Ruth Tucker writes about Amy’s ‘work’ with devadasi children – ‘This work was criticized by other missionaries and Indians alike who believed she was exaggerating the problem—and in some cases making it worse.’
She shielded her fellowship from public access to prevent any negative aspects getting out. She didn’t allow other ministries, saying that she feared the fellowship will get contaminated due to interaction with the outside world.
In one of her books while narrating about an incident where she ran over a man while riding a horse, she says with contempt ‘Once I ran over a man. I did not mean to—he wouldn’t get out of the way and one can’t stop short in mid-gallop.’ She proudly says she and her associates were called ‘the mad riders of Kotagiri.’
One of her fellow missionaries said that she didn’t know the truth about sex and never cared to learn. Then how was she able to discern that what was happening inside the walls of temples was prostitution, one wonders.
Ruth Tucker quotes another book about Amy Carmichael –
“Someone suggested her efforts to save temple children were nothing more than a stunt, meant to draw attention to herself….she was a dictator, she opposed marriage, her Indian girls worshipped her.”
Amy’s most hated aspect of the Indic society was caste system. She doesn’t really belittle the caste system in her books, rather appreciates its strength for what it is and so despises it. Here is an account of how caste played in the lives of converts in the view of Amy
‘This, then, is Caste viewed as a Doer. It does strange things, hard things, things most cruel. It is, all who fight it are agreed, the strongest foe to the Gospel of Christ on the Hindu fields of South India. Just now this system is in full operation in the case of a lad of the brassworker Caste. He is a thoughtful boy, and he has come to the conclusion that Christianity is the true religion; he would like to be a Christian; if the conditions were a little easier he would be enrolled as an inquirer tomorrow.
But here is the difficulty. His father is not strong, his mother and little sisters and brothers are his care; if he were a Christian he could not support them; no one would sell him brass, no one would buy the vessels he makes. He knows only his inherited trade. He can make fine water-pots, lamps, vases, and vessels of all sorts, nothing else. He is too old to learn any other trade; but supposing such an arrangement could be made, who would support the family in the meantime?
Perhaps we might do it; we certainly could not let them starve; but it would not do to tell him so, or to hold out hopes of earthly help, till we know beyond a doubt that he is true. This is what is holding him back. He reads over and over again, “He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me,” and then he looks at his father and mother and the little children; and he reads the verse again, and he looks at them again. It is too hard.’
The Bible says,
“For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”
Hence the caste system had to be demonized; more families had to be broken; for all but One True God.
Amy writes about the criticism her methods receive back in Britain
“We should not like strangers to come and interfere with our religion,” write the friends who object, “and draw our children away from us; we should greatly resent it. No wonder the Hindus do!”. And one reader of the letters wrote that she wondered how the girls who came out ever could be happy for a moment after having done such a wrong and heartless thing as to disobey their parents. “They richly deserve all they suffer,” she wrote. “It is a perfect shame and disgrace for a girl to desert her own people!”
She acknowledges the effect her methods bear upon the families as well when she says,
‘the Indians are, to a nature so affectionate as the Indian nature is, this cutting across of all home ties is a very cruel thing’.
Yet there are numerous incidents mentioned in her books where daughters, sons, daughter-in-laws, mothers, fathers were separated from their loved ones.
Missionaries took painstaking measures to understand the intricacies of Indic familial system and it did help in pre-planning to destroy the wall protecting the Indic society stone by stone. Amy was as astute as any other successful missionary and concluded that
“They have not had to fight for their freedom, in the sense at least our forefathers fought; there is no Puritan blood in their veins; and so they are willing to follow the lead of almost anyone, provided that lead is given steadily and persistently; which surely should make those in authority careful as to those in whose hands that lead is placed'”
No prizes for guessing how the likes of E.V.Ramasamy and Jawaharlal Nehru found their way to eminence as great leaders.
About Bharat being won for the One True God, Amy predicted –
“According to the present rate of advance, it will be more than twenty thousand years before the Hindu towns of this district are even nominally Christian. thirteen hundred thousand years must pass before the Brahmans in this one South Indian district are Christianised‘.
That was how rooted our ancestors were, and how deracinated we have become today.
Who is a real Christian in Amy’s book? ‘
“If you never offer to demons (no, not when your children are sick, and the other faithless Christians advise you); if you never tie on the cylinder (a charm frequently though covertly worn by purely nominal Christians);”
She narrates occasions where the people missionaries tried to lure were allegedly drugged, poisoned, kidnapped to faraway places and sometimes murdered. Then she justifies frightening a boy, who was the only son to his mother, to not stay with his family after he confessed to profess Christianity in public by saying any of this could happen to him if he goes back to his family. A classic use of propaganda and atrocity literature.
They baptized the boy a year or so later, and after a few weeks he died of cholera. How his mother would have cried her heart out; his father unable to even express his grief in those times. But for Amy, it was nothing more than a soul saved for her so-called saviour.
As Amy forbade any information passing from Dohnavur orphanage to the outside world and didn’t allow anyone who wouldn’t agree with her to stay inside, very less information of the lifestyle at the orphanage is available unless from her own books. This is what she tells in her own words about the babies’ life in the orphanage
“for we insist that when the babies feel obliged to cry, they shall smother the sound thereof as much as may be.”
All the inmates were taught Bible and groomed to be evangelists. Everything and anything they were taught was intertwined with Christian Scripture, hymns, and children were taught to nurse nothing but contempt for the ‘heathen’ Hindu. Amy Carmichael was called as the ‘child-snatching woman’ and was brought to court many a time on the accusation of kidnapping children – her modern-day corollary would be someone like Pastor Gideon Jacob, arrested founder of Mose Ministeries children’s home in Trichy.
It may not be wrong to observe that Amy Carmichael could have been one of the people who wrote the first words of atrocity literature on Devadasi system. Christophe Gillissen in his book Ireland: Looking East says –
‘Carmichael undoubtedly played an important role in raising the profile of this issue in international as well as Indian circles. The story of young girls in imminent moral danger from exotic heathen deities generated considerable publicity both in Europe and beyond.’
However, initially the officials of the colonial government thought her claims were exaggerated. But even with her own people being critical of her actions, she received constant financial support for her methods. So she was included in the Royal Birthday Honours list and awarded the Kaiser-i-Hind medal for her so called service to the people of Bharat.
Amy claimed that she didn’t care for ethics, or rules of writing, and just poured her heart out from the heat of the battle. She prided herself in not asking for any support from anyone except for prayers, but those who have researched her life point out that her ‘lengthy letters that formed the basis for her books were in fact carefully contrived and designed for massive circulation and publication.’ They were written in a manner to evoke emotional, spiritual and financial reaction among the Christians of the globe. Again, a striking similarity to how fraudulent modern-day evangelists milk public sympathy in West.
Gillisen notes –
‘With her own moral and religious culture thus given as the ideal standard, and the desired personal and social transformation of the indigenous people measured by Christian, Protestant ethics her relationship with the ‘Other’ remained problematic.‘
Converted Bharatiya women weren’t really treated as equal but as inferior to Amy. Till she lived, no Bharatiya was given a leadership position even though she was bedridden for more than 20 years towards the end of her life. Europeans ate separately in a dining room accommodated with western comforts with local villagers serving them.
Despite her co-missionaries, her readers and British officials being critical of her actions, she was hailed almost as a saint. Her books are still prescribed for new comers in the soul harvesting field. Her books are referred to Christian youngsters for ‘inspiration’. One can imagine the effect it would have on them about how to treat indigenous cultures and religions. Elizabeth Elliott, one of Amy’s biographers, and her husband Jim Elliott drew inspiration from Amy’s life. Jim Elliott was killed on an evangelical mission to convert the indigenous people of Ecuador.
It is necessary to notice the similarity in the actions of Gideon Jacob, founder of Mose Ministries, who claimed to save girl children from infanticide and groomed them for evangelical work. The effect of his brainwashing is still restraining the girls from reuniting with their parents and they are still under his influence, going against their parents, government and judiciary at every turn.
From creating atrocity literature to inspiring new evangelical bigots, Amy Carmichael has effected a lasting damage on Indic society. Yet she still finds so much respect in missionary circles that a slightly critical article on her was killed as recently as two months before.
The ‘neutral, secular’ arms of the modern West like media giant BBC, ably supported by ‘friends of India’ like Mark Tully, still fete bigoted figures like Amy Carmichael and present them as saviours of ‘oppressed Hindus’ –
(Featured Image of Amy Carmichael: Source)
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Amy was not a journalist. Objectivity was not her goal, though I solute those who are able to remain objective. Any one clingintg to any faith is likely to embrace their own faith. Every faith sets out to evangelize. Some are more clever than others. I don’t want it concealed in some other activity. Don’t invite me to a yoga class if in fact the goal is to indoctrinate me to Hinduism. Don’t invite me to a “holiday party” if it is a celebration of Jesus Christ because then it is a Christmas party. I prefer a more direct discussion and am more likely to accept the invitation when my intelligence is not insulted. If you think you have the only set of keys to salvation, I would be downright insulted if you did not try to share those keys with me. It is an urgent matter since few of us know when our last breath will be taken in this realm. So when evangelists from any faith appear desperate, they are & rightly so depending on their beliefs. Evangelism has a negative connotation. We are looking at it all wrong. I am honored when someone speaks to me about their faith (whatever that is), because that is what you should be doing if you truly believe that without this belief system I am destined to an eternal existence of unimaginable darkness and loneliness. Of course with the latest eastern influence over the last 70 years or so, much of the West is moving more toward the multiple paths theory. Every culture gets to have their own “truth” with their own tailor made God, gods or atheism to fit their lifestyle. It certainly seems kinder and more “evolved” (to our limited human brains & experiences) to think that everyone can be right simultaneously. It takes the pressure off everyone. It is overwhelming to entertain the idea of only one true religion. What are the chances of any one of us selecting the correct one? Whatever that is, it also means compromising pieces of our culture that have been in place for thousands of years. Faith is not easy and it certainly is not for whimps.
During Amy’s time people were for more cloistered and isolated as was evidenced among white people alone. Irish were expected to marry Irish, Polish to Polish and so on. Even within this Catholics & Protestants were discouraged from intermarrying (same race/same nationality/same religion). Why would anyone be shocked about her perspective? She was a trailblazer for her time. FOR HER TIME is the key phrase. The fact that she was a woman living in a foreign land with a very different culture was brave in and of itself no matter what was taking place in those temples. It was a cultural shock to Amy even if every young girl or woman was part of a long running system that normalized any practice.
Fast forward to 2022 and now we can stand in judgment of Amy’s “backward” & ignorant ways. Again there are not many people who did not fit Amy’s description back then. Old fashioned is not part of the new-age thinking. We gain more knowledge and understanding of various cultures as centuries pass but it doesn’t mean we are gaining wisdom (though we mistakenly think that is the case). Amy snubs her nose at India and you snub your nose at Amy, the west, Christians and evangelists and the pattern continues. Nothing really changes or improves. 150 years from now every bit of open-mindedness will seem archaic and laughable to the most recent generation of 2172. Kind and loving prayers to everyone that the truth is revealed to us all and that we not place earthly things above that truth.
So what was going on in the temples? How did the Hindu priests earn their money? What were the ages of the girls or women? I don’t know anyone who would think that the caste system was a fair & just system unless they were reaping the monetary & prestige-related benefits from that caste system. I don’t know anyone who would think slavery was fair and just (true brutal slavery ( not the old system of employment for a time period of 6 years) but for those who were the alleged “masters” and benefited economically, politically and socially from this system.
Objectivity also encompasses understanding that just because I tie horrible and immoral people as well as horrific acts to a particular religion or to atheism, none of this defines the religion itself and as such it certainly does not discount that religion. In a perfect world every representative of every religion would be morally perfect, but even that would result in countless battles because none of us can agree on what is and what is not moral. Only God and Amy know her heart but I don’t know anyone who would willingly subject themselves to a nation that differed so much from what they were accustomed and put their life in danger if they did not want to serve.