In India Christianity is a minority religion. This status has not undermined its output in the society, it had always been the main instrument in building up the Indian nation through centuries in the field of economy, education, social services, health care etc. The Christian religion enlightened the Indian nation not only in the area of spirituality but in all aspects of the Indian people.
The spread of Christianity in India came with the advent of the Europeans from the early 16th century onwards. Among the earliest missionaries were the Portuguese followed by the Dutch, the French and the British. It was a contact between a pre-modern and a modernizing cultural system.
CHRISTIAN CONTRIBUTION TO EDUCATION
The 19th century saw the consolidation of British rule and the impact of western ideas on the social, political and religious life of Indians through the medium of English language. Christian missionaries were pioneers in education. The missionaries preached in the mother tongue and also used English to adapt them to Christian civilization. This lead to the growth of vernacular languages as well as English.
The Santa Fe School in Goa, founded in 1540 by the Franciscans was the first formal Christian educational enterprise anywhere outside Europe. In 1542 it was taken over by Francis Xavier and in 1548 it was raised to status of college and renamed St. Paul’s College.
The western ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity began to attract the educated youth. By 1818 the Serampore Missionaries established more than 100 schools with about 10,000 boys. Some of the outstanding Christian collegescame into the forefront in India — St. Xavier’s College in Kokatta (1835), the Madras Christian College(1837), Robert T. Noble at Masulipatnam (which later was named as Noble College) (1843), HislopCollege at Nagpur (1844), and St. John’s College in Agra (1853) are highly reputed to this day.
The missionaries were the first to promote women education in India. Women’s education led to the enlightenment of Indian women of all religions, castes, and regions in modem times. The first ever Girl’s school in India was opened by the missionaries at Kottayam in 1819. The inception of women’s education was major breakthrough in transformation of society at large.
INDIAN LANGUAGES AND LITERATURE
Christian mission at large played a unique role in the growth and development of the languages and literature.
SOCIAL SERVICE AND HEALTH CARE
The census report of 2001 points out that Christians in India is just 2.3% of the total population. Despite the small percentage of the population of this minority community, their contribution in the field of healthcare is unique and praise worthy. The exemplary and the excellent service provided by the Christian agencies through hospitals and dispensaries, orphanages and destitute home have to be recognized. For instance, the Portuguese missionaries initiated the Holy Houses of Mercy inCochin and Goa around 1513. Eventually various Religious congregations started their missions in different parts of the country. Christian Missions & Churches also have a number of Care and support centres for the people living with HIV/AIDS.
The serene presence of Mother Teresa in India for more than half a century was another unique feature ofChristianity’s identification with the Indian Society. The remarkable contribution of the Christian minority community in the field of health care has some unique and specific characteristics –
- 1)options for the poor and reaching the unreached,
- 2) holistic outlook on health,
- 3) respect for life and regard for Christian ethical principles and
- 4) Pastoral care and spiritual assistance.
ERADICATION OF SOCIAL EVILS
Christian missionaries from the beginning of their mission work attempted to abolish the social evil practices and anti-social systems in India – sati, strangling and robbery of travelers, female infanticide and human sacrifices, purdha and polygamy. Missionaries realized that only social reforms could not help the people in their plight, and they convinced that education would be the most effective and lasting instrument for the liberation of people. Serampore mission attempts in this regard are highly appreciable. Christian missionaries tried to abolish caste discrimination in society .
GROWTH OF INDIGENOUS MOVEMENTS
By nineteenth century there were some efforts to build up an indigenous church independent of missionary control with a gradual introduction of Indian music and Indian lyrics in worship, indigenous Church architecture, and indigenous means and methods of proclaiming Christ. Some of indigenous movements were: The Hindu Church of the Lord Jesus (Tinnevelly 1858), National Church of Bengal,The Bengal Christian Association (1868), The Bengal Christian Herald (1880), The Christo Samaj of Calcutta (1887), and the National Church of Madras (1886), the National Missionary Society (NMS) of India, Bharat Christya Sevak Samaj and the Christian Ashram Movement. Moreover, the attempts were made to indigenize the theology – Indian Christian Theology. The work of `Madras Re-Thinking Group’ (Prominent among them were P. Chenchiah, V. Chakkarai, A.J. Appaswamy, J. Jesudasan, A.N.Sundersanam , G.V. Job.and P. Chenchiah) in the 1930s and 1940s is to be appreciated. Brahmabandab Upadhyaya was the first Indian Christian thinker who laid the foundation for a Vedanta-based Christian theology.
Impact of Christianity on Indian Society
- Christianity has also helped to lay the foundations for a wider and deeper fraternity based on love, justice, forgiveness and solidarity.
- The Christian message has helped to unite the different peoples of the Indian Subcontinent, made them aware of their self-worth, opened up a wider horizon as large as the globe.
- An area where the church has made notable contribution is the education of the indigenous people-the Adivasis and Tribals.
- Due the dedicated service of the Christian mission/church in the field of education and productionof literature, the literary rate in most parts of the subcontinent specially South and the North East India are commendable compared with the national average.
- Statistics reveal that 85 percent of the health care institutions run by Christian Church / Mission are in the villages. This is the real means of the Christian life and mission to be at the service of the last, the least and the lost.
- For the tribal people Christianity became a liberator from spiritual and social demons.
- Christian mission/church India has played a unique role in contributing to the Indian culture. As India is composed of various cultural traditions, their contribution to the Indian culture varies from one state to another.
- One of the important things that the Christian missions emphasized was the humanization of life in all aspects of all people regardless of caste, religion, race and region. Hence Christian gospel is a source for humanization.
- Christian missions were instrumental in the cultural revitalization of the county for which theSerampore Mission played a pivotal role.
- It has been one of the earliest agencies of social welfare. Through the vast network of social services, it has been able to provide educational and medical facilities to the relatively isolated regions of India.
- The cultural renaissance of Bengal in nineteenth century marked the beginning of the awakening of the people of India to a new sense of human dignity and the emergence of a new cultural identity.
- Christian-Hindu encounter challenged Hinduism to re-emphasize the complex tradition of Hinduism as depicted in the Upanishads.
- It was mainly women belonging to the bhaki tradiditon who stepped forward in self-expression of Indian Christianity. The contribution of Bhakti poets represents a permanent treasury of devotion and theology for the Indian church. H.A. Krishna Piker (1827-1900) in Tamil Nadu, NarayanVaman Tilak (1862-1919) in Maharashtra, Purushothan Chowdary in Andhra Pradesh and others were some of the prominent poets.
- Christianity attacked the evils of caste system and contributed immensely to loosening up the system through preaching the formation of an egalitarian society based on self respect and social justice. It helped in uplifting the victims of the oppressive caste system.
- In matters of legal justice and civil rights, it encouraged the values of equality, equity and universalism as opposed to those of status and hierarchy.
- In India, Christianity has been one of the important factors of modernization and economic development. The existing value structure was rendered more open, liberal, egalitarian and humanistic.
As per National Demographic survey Christian population in India is just 2.3 percent. But the contribution of this minority community in the field of education, health care and various social, political and cultural upbringing in India is unique and praise worthy. Right from the beginning of the Christian presence in India, it offered a unique and profound impact on the society as a result of the compassionate care and preferential option that members demonstrated to the sick, suffering and the less privileged and marginalized of the society.