Socio-Cultural Changes: Contacts with Christian Missions, coming of English education and the Press

Missionary activities in India

There are two views among scholars about the origin of Christianity in India. According to one, the foundation of the Christian church in India was laid by Saint Thomas, one of the twelve Apostles of Jesus. The other view would ascribe the arrival of Christianity in India to the enterprise of Christian merchants and missionaries belonging to the East Syrian and Persian churches. But it has been widely believed that India was St. Thomas’ sphere of work. As Cardinal Tisserant says there was a very ancient evangelization started by St. Thomas, the Apostle and mainly in South India.

The Charter act of 1833 approved the permanent presence of missionaries in India and made provision for Anglican hierarchy at Calcutta. With the expansion of the British Empire missionaries began to arrive and Christianity began to spread by establishing dioceses at Madras and Bombay. Ever since there existed a renewed cooperation between the missionaries and the colonial power in helping one another in their missions.

By the end of the eighteenth century a new wave of the spirit of evangelization permeated Protestant Churches. In 1792 the English Baptists organised the first Anglican mission Baptist Missionary Society.

Later Protestant missionary operations were undertaken on a large scale by LMS ( London missionary society) and CMS ( Church mission society). Alongside the older societies there have come into the field a bewildering number of missionary organisations. The characteristic feature of nineteenth century missions was the enthusiasm for the multiplication of missionary efforts. The priority of the colonial missions was conversion. Conversion of individual souls was considered the sole end of mission. To a European missionary non-Christian religions and Eastern cultures were non-slavific and that Christianity alone would redeem them. The British rule had provided favourable atmosphere and necessary infrastructure for the missions to work even in the remotest mountain villages without confronting much opposition. Julius Richter says that, it would be hard to find any land possessing so great an attraction for the missionary societies.

After the Charter of 1833 was renewed, missionaries were allowed freely to come to India. Missionary teams became powerful and their style of work changed. By this time a new set of missionaries rooted in ‘the iconoclastic zeal of extreme Protestantism’43 began to arrive. These missionaries, soon through letters, reports and stories, created a very distorted image about the people and culture in India. They were imbued with the western ‘imperial sentiments’ and the sense of cultural superiority and agreed with Charles Grant, the spokesman of the Evangelicals in England, that it was not any inborn weakness that made Hindu degenerate but the nature of their religion. For the evangelicals India was in darkness and would need the light present in the western world.

The Evangelicals and other mission societies made a combined attempt to change the policy of the British Government and demanded the introduction of legal and social reforms in India. It was thus that William Bentick in March 1835 issued his resolution intended mainly to promote European literature and science and utilize funds mainly for English education. The study of Indian literature and oriental works was admitted to be of little intrinsic value and the opinion was that these literatures inculcate the most serious errors on the subjects. Also the customs and traditions and the religious beliefs of the subject people were considered by the missionary educators and their societies in England as a sign of depravity and futility. The remedy was the introduction of English education.

Alexander Duff, Scottish missionary and leading educator whose ideas can be considered representative of the majority of missionaries in the nineteenth century, thought that though Hindu philosophical discourse contained lofty terms in its religious vocabulary what they conveyed were only vain, foolish and wicked conceptions. According to Duff, Hinduism spread like a dark universe where all life dies and death lives. The Christian task for him was to do everything possible to demolish such a gigantic fabric of idolatry and superstition. Needless to say, such an attitude prevented any positive encounter between Christianity and Indian culture. Duff, Buchanan, Trevelyan, Macaulay and others had great influence on the missionary thinking. The missionaries and civil servants who came to India were so prejudiced that they did not see anything good in India society.

The missionaries and their societies subscribed to the view that civilizing the Indian people would prepare the primitive religious people to embrace Christianity. Nineteenth century Protestant missiology could be understood against the background of Christianisation and civilizing as two sides of the same coin. Missions were unwilling to understand the complexities of Indian cultural variants. Deeply entrenched in them was a sense of superiority of European civilization and that coloured their approach to people of other cultures and religious faiths. The missions and colonial administrators asserted that Hinduism would die away soon and the whole nation could be civilized and Christianised. English education was a means towards this goal. That is to facilitate change from exterior to interior, from trade to religion, a cultural revolution for the betterment of the natives by disseminating knowledge of Christianity and make them loyal to the British  The comment of Arthur Mayhew is worth mentioning: “The evangelical supporters of Anglican mission were far more interested in the dissemination of the Bible and baptismal statistics than in any measure for the general enlightenment of India”50. The primary interest of the Raj was to keep control over India. The dominant interest of missions was to work for the conversion of Indians to Christianity. But in the colonial situation they found themselves in need of one another and so mutual support was but natural.

Although the missionaries worked hard and suffered a lot for bringing education and awareness of social justice to the people living in the rural areas of India, as they were associated with the colonialimperial powers, the significance of their selfless service was either overlooked or misunderstood.

Spread of education by missionary and voluntary bodies in modern India

Role of Christian Missionary Education in India during British Colonial period

  • Education in India was a privilege of elite upper classes. It was limited to gurukuls where upper caste young boys would go to study under the tutorship of a guru. Even women from the upper caste families were not provided opportunity to learn. Common people were aliens to this elite education system.
  • When missionaries arrived they began to start schools for common people, generally in the vernacular language. Moni Bagchee writes critically about “Christian Missionaries in Bengal”.
  • Though, written with the negative attitude, the author acknowledges the contribution of missionaries in Bengal to the cause of mass education. Missionaries educated children in local language, raised the standard of education, trained teachers and improved methods of teaching.
  • Missionaries were ahead of their times. Women empowerment would be possible only when women are educated. So, they began to open schools for girls. Upper caste men used to ridicule missionaries requesting them to educate their cows instead of girls.
  • Some times missionaries had to pay incentives to families for sending their girls to school. Modern Indian women have entered in almost all fields in the nation should be grateful to missionaries who created opportunities for their empowerment.
  • Education that was window to the world, key to knowledge, wheels for progress was made available widely for all children irrespective of their caste or economic status or sex.
  • Today, India aspires for a superpower status in the globalized world for which missionaries sowed the seed more than two hundred years ago.
  • The tribal people in Northeast India and in Chotanagpur region are prosperous and progressive. S.K. Barpujari, University of Gauhati writes the teaching of Christ changed the evil practices of Nagas like practices of head-hunting and bloody warfare.

Missionaries in Bihar: Educational Activity

  • Ever since the passing of the Charter Act of 1813 the Christian Missionaries had stared participating actively in the field of Indian education. In Bihar, the Christian Missionaries opened a school for the children of Indian converts at Bettiah in the year 1816.
  • The children were taught to read and write and commit to memory selections from the Gospel translated into Hindustani by the Catholic clergy. The school was under the supervision of a Christian lay teacher, and it had twenty students on its rolls. The Missionaries also opened one such school at Digha, Patna, in 1819.
  • Around the year 1832 Rev. W. Start, a clergyman of the Church of England who had settled at Patna, founded a mission and brought to India, a considerable number of men from Germany.
  • Gradually these assistants of Rev. Start moved to Gaya, Arrah, Hajipur, Chhapra and Muzaffarpur in connection with missionary work. There were a number of missions which came from time to time and made remarkable contributions in the field of education in Bihar.
  • These were: The Roman Catholic Mission, Baptist Missionaries, The Gassner Evangelical Lutheran Mission (later Church) in Chotanagpur, Anglican Mission in Chotanagpur, The Santal Mission of Northern Churches, Roman Catholic Mission in Chotanagpur, The Santa] Mission of the United Free Church of Scotland in Bihar, The Methodist Church in Bihar, the Dublin University Mission in Chotanagpur, the Catholic Mission in the Bhagalpur District and adjacent Santal area in Bihar, The Fellowship of Christian Assemblies Mission 11 Bihar, The Seventh Day Adventist Mission in Bihar, The Zenana Bible and Medical Mission in Bihar, British Churches of Christ Mission in Palamau, The Brethren in Christ Mission in Bihar, The Assembly of God (A.G.) Mission in Bihar, The Catholic Mission to the Santali land of the districts of Pumea and Santal Parganas.
  • These Missionaries continued their work throughout the State. But it was from 1846 onwards that their work started more vigorously, when the Patna-Bettiah sector of the Mission in North India was separated from Agra Vicariate and constituted into new Patna Visceral.


  • The Northeast accounts for 7.7 % of the total geographical area, and 3.88% of the population of India. It is a home to over 400 scheduled tribes. There are few places in the world where such a variety of peoples live in close proximity to each other as in Northeast India. The tribals constitute 80% of the population of Northeast India.
  • The earliest known Christian presence in Northeast India goes back to 17th century. We have the three Tibet bound Portuguese Jesuit missionaries, Stephen Cacella and John Cabral, and Fontabona from Italy who reached Hajo and Pandu near Guwahati, Asom, on September 26, 1626. They visited parts of Goalpara and Kamrup districts on their way to Tibet.
  • The Chronicles of the Augustinian monks at Bandel, near Hoogly, in West Bengal provide detailed information about the visit of Francis Laynez, the Jesuit bishop of Mylapore, to Rangamati, in the kingdom of Cooch Behar in 1714, a large Christian Community of 7000 people live there. A small Portuguese Catholic community at Bondashil in the Cachar district of Assam, the remnants of another Mughal Army, and a similar community at Mariamnagar in Agartala which was in existence since the eighteenth century goes to show the significant presence of Christians.
  • The earliest nineteenth century missionary interest in the Northeast was shown by the Baptists of Serampore from 1816-1837.
  • In 1811 an Assamese pundit, Atmaram Sarma of Kaliabari in the Nagaon district was employed by the mission to translate the Christian scriptures into Assamese and an Assamese New Testament was published in 1819.
  • In 1813 Krishna Chandra Pal, the first convert of the Serampore mission spent eight months at Pandua, under the Syiemship of Cherapunji . As far as Garos are concerned the first contact with education came in 1824, when David Scott sends three Garo boys to Serampore to study.
  • The whole of Northeast India had other associations with Christianity prior to the Treaty of Yandabu and the British annexation of Asom in 1826. This would mean that Northeast India had Christian presence even before the Ahom Raja, Rudra Singh. Encouraged by David Scott, and Major Jenkins, the Serampore mission opened a school at Guwahati in 1829; just three years after Asom had come under the control of the British. Soon Alexander Lish, opened schools at Cherrapunji, Mawsmai and Mawmluh and made a beginning in the development of Khasi literature.
  • In 1836, the two American Baptist missionary couples came to Sadiya, but soon would move to the hills.
  • Since its establishment in 1834, the whole of Northeast India was under the jurisdiction of the Vicar Apostolic of Calcutta. Fathers Huc and Gabet, French Lazarists visited Mangaldai on their way to Tibet in 1846. From 1850 the Foreign Missionaries of Paris ministered to the scattered Catholic Communities in the Asom Valley.
  • Asom became part of the prefecture of Bengal in 1870 under the care of the Foreign Missionaries of Milan (PIME).
  • In 1890 the whole Asom was entrusted to the care of the then newly founded German Society of Catholic Education known as the Society of the Divine Saviour, or German Salvatorians.
  • The JesuitMissionaries looked after the mission from 1915 to 1922. From 1922 the Salesians of Don Bosco (S.D.B.) or the Don Bosco Fathers and brothers and later on the diocesan Clergy and members of other religious congregations and committed laity made their contribution to development of education.

Education of Women

  • A century ago education of women was practically unknown, especially in the plains of Asom. The Adivasi tribal women were illiterate. Among the Assamese women too education was totally neglected.
  • The first attempt towards the education of women in Northeast India were made at the turn of the century with the beginning of St. Mary’s School, and college, by the Sisters of the Queen of the Missions (RNDM) for the education of girls and women has rendered yeomen service in this field.
  • The Salesian Sisters (FMA) began their work in Asom with the education and empowerment of poor Adivasi tribal girls.
  • Their example of commitment to this cause was followed by the Missionary Sisters of Mary Help of Christians (MSMHC) whom they formed at the initial stages of the congregation.
  • The visitation sisters of Don Bosco (VSDB) founded by late Archbishop Hubert D’Rosario, SDB, in 1983 are doing great amount of work among the village and rural women.
  • The qualitative and quantitative growth of the congregations has brought greater vitality to the tribal churches of Northeast India. This same commitment and dedication through their educational institutions is visible every where they work.
  • The government of Asom sought the help of missionaries in this effort. As Becker says, “The real problem was to arouse interest among the local women for the education of girls”.
  • The beginning of education of women was a major breakthrough in the transformation of society in the region.
  • Today it is taken for granted that girls too should be educated. Though it is heartening to note that women in general enjoy better status in the Northeast compared to the rest of the country, much more can be done to promote their dignity and self worth especially through education.

Professional and Technical Education

  • Training schools and colleges for the preparation of teachers were also set up by the Christian Churches. Technical schools were first introduced by the Church, particularly by the Catholic Church.
  • This has been a specific contribution of the Salesian religious brothers through Don Bosco Technical Schools and now the Montfort religious brothers and others.
  • Thousands of tribal youth have been introduced and trained in shoe making, book binding, tailoring, furniture making, general mechanics, motor mechanics, welding, composing and printing, computer, typing, shorthand, photography, and embroidery making.
  • This movement has radically changed the tribal way of life and served as a catalyst for others to enter into similar pursuits.

Theological Education

  • Theological and pastoral education introduced and developed by the various churches in Northeast India has also quietly brought about major changes in the region.
  • There are many philosophical colleges and theological colleges that impart ecclesiastical education to future church leaders in the Northeast India. They are the primary agent of social change in many areas of life.

Medical Education

  • Promotion of Medical students through scholarship has brought about a great change in tribal society. As a result today there are hundreds of doctors, nurses, laboratory assistants, technicians and auxiliary nurses from among the tribal population.
  • Homes for the orphans and the aged established by the Churches have totally changed the situation of the poor and marginalized elements of society. Care of the differently abled has made many tribal families aware that there are new areas of life that need attention. Often corrective treatment, surgery, physiotherapy can do much to make life normal or at least tolerable to the differently abled especially children and youth.
  • The schools for the differently abled in Tura, Shillong, Umiam Khwan and Agartala bear witness to this side of Christian education that has transformed the tribal society.
  • What I want to stress here is the fact that the real achievement of Christian Education in these hills in the early years is not necessarily the setting up of medical institutions but the impact of mere education on the health consciousness of the people, thus making them healthier individuals

Choice of Roman Script for Tribal Languages


  • The use of tribal language in education necessitates its development as an educational tool. The first step in its development is developing a writing system for it. One aspect of developing a writing system is the choice of a script.
  • In the Indian context the choice of script may be 1) the script of the official language of the State in which the tribal language is spoken; 2) Devanagiri; 3) Roman and 4) invented script.
  • Each has advantage and disadvantages from cultural, social, political, economic and technological points of view. The generally favoured view in India is the script of the state language with necessary modification to suit the needs of the tribal culture.
  • The second aspect of the writing system is devising an alphabet – a set of symbols- to represent the meaning of differentiating sounds of the tribal language.
  • Here also cultural and political considerations intervene with purely linguistic considerations. The aspect of the writing system is spelling of words identification of word boundaries and punctuation marks. The last aspect is technological applications like printing, computer key board.
  • The Choice of the Roman script to reduce the languages of the tribals to writing with the exception of Assamese was an important decision taken after much discussion. This step had far reaching benefits.
  • First the tribals learned the art of reading and writing. Naturally, the missionary had the intention that their people should be able to read the sacred scripture. Language played a very important meeting point between the missionary and the people.
  • The Assamese people irrespective of their religious affiliation and historians of all hues credit the American Baptist mission for having helped to preserve the autonomy of the Assamese language. So too, many other tribes.
  • Language and literature enabled the tribals towards breaking out of isolationism. It opened up new vistas of cross cultural communication and enabled the people to cope up with the new socio-economic and political situation in which they found themselves.

Role of voluntary bodies in modern India

“The diversity of NGOs strains any simple definition. They include many groups and institutions that are entirely or largely independent of government and that have primarily humanitarian or cooperative rather than commercial objectives. They are private agencies in industrial countries that support international development; indigenous groups organized regionally or nationally; and member-groups in villages. NGOs include charitable and religious associations that mobilize private funds for development, distribute food and family planning services and promote community organization. They also include independent cooperatives, community associations, water-user societies, women’s groups and pastoral associations. Citizen Groups that raise awareness and influence policy are also NGOs” ~ World Bank

Some Famous organization and Their role in Complete Development of tribal or other social groups including Education

Rajasthan Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad (RVKP)

  • Tribal development is central objectives in their constitution as well as function. It is established as a regional center of Akhil Bhartiya Vanvasi Kalyan Parisad (1952) but it has also separate and local identity like locally registered rather a branch office, local leadership, local resources and local tribal concerns.
  • It is inspired by Hindu ideology and indigenous culture. Its emergence is, as leader’s claims, to protect local tribal culture from external forces through developmental programmes- siksha, swasthya, swablamban aur sanskar (education, health, independence and culture).
  • The work of RVKP spread in 27 CD blocks of eight tribal districts namely Udaipur, Dungarpur, Bhilwara, Banswara, Chittoregarh, Sirohi, Pali, Baran. Major programmes of this organisation are health centers, educational institutions, sports center, hostels, Satsang Kendra and Sanskar Kendra.
  • Tuberculosis control programme is most important and popular initiative taken by this organisation started in 1992 from Jhadol and Kotra Block of Udaipur district. Till 1999 it benefited 1053 and 555 patients respectively in Jhadol and Kotra tehsil alone. Health care programmes also include permanent health center and mobile van for interior tribal villages.

Vidya Bhawan Society

  • Vidya Bhawan Society is the initial voluntary effort which continues even today. This was established in 1931 with dedicated efforts of Dr Mohan Singh Mehta and a group of like minded people.
  • The thrust of this organisation was to educate the rural masses of that region where the percentage literacy rate was only 4.9.
  • It started with a middle school and today twelve different institutes are running under this society and all are concerned to rural development with professional expertise.
  • These institutes not only comprises formal education but also entrepreneurial training, professional courses suited to the local needs.
  • For instance, Anganwadi Workers Prasikshan Kendra, Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Cellulose Waste Recycling Education, teachers training etc all focussed to local requirement. The people’s commitment reflects through Dr. Mehta writes about the social condition ofVBS.

Rajasthan Vidyapith Kul (RVK)

  • This is one of oldest voluntary institution which has now partly changed to deemed university with numerous institutions. It started in 1937 by a local social reformer Pandit Janardanray Nagar and like minded people of Mewar144
  • Rajasthan Vidyapith is the initial steps in tribal education by establishing the schools in tribal pockets before independence such as Jhadol, Davok, Pratapnagar.
  • Other institutions of Rajasthan Vidyapith have also given priority and privileges to tribal students in that region.
  • Besides these, Lok Sishan Sansthan (a unit of RVK) started in 1939 and continue even today for rural development of South Rajasthan.
  • Community development is the core objective of this unit through adult education and extension programmes among tribes. The constitution of this organisation clearly mentions the tribal interest as core issue and their development through educational programmes.
  • Now, RVK is a registered society (1992) and also executes various governmental projects, like child schools in two villages along with 29 local NGOs.

Rajasthan Bal Kalyan Samiti (RBKS)

  • This is also a voluntary organisation registered in 1983 and managmg several educational institutions of Udaipur district. This has established by a local resident of Jhadol tehsil who is by profession a primary school teacher.
  • Unlike the other NGOs it is completely village based and totally devoted for tribal development. RBKS is located in Jhadol tehsil, a scheduled tribe area, and later on spread to other areas such as Gogunda, Kotra and Girwa.
  • It provides the formal education through school and college education with special focus to tribal masses. Jhadol tehsil has very few high schools and not a single college for further education except one college recently established by RBKS.
  • It also provides hostel facilities for exclusively tribal boys and girls separately with minimal charges because they receive the grant from Ministry of Tribal Affairs (Govt. of India) and other sources. Tribal girl education is the major thrust ofthis organisation.

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