The author of this
article Shri Ravindra Kelekar is an octogenarian literary giant of
Konkoni language. The readers of daily papers might have come
across his name as one of the recipients of the prestigious Padma
Bhushan award conferred on him by the President of India on Republic Day 2008.
Though I have begun my introduction by describing Shri Kelekar as a literary
figure, he is also a devoted life-long Gandhian activist. He had
set before himself three main objectives. Firstly, to liberate Goa
from Portuguese rule. Secondly, to develop his m other tongue
Konkoni to great heights and get it adopted as the State language of
Goa. His third objective but not the least important was to
interpret Gandhi to his people in particular and to the entire
country in general. God has been kind to him and he has been able
to see the fulfillment of two of his life’s objectives during his
own lifetime. The third objective is such that it has to be pursued
non-stop till the last breadth of his life. It will please the
readers of Ishani to know that this untiring interpreter of Gandhi
and Gandhian thought is continuing in his persuasion even in his
early eighties. May god grant him longevity and good health to
ceaselessly pursue this objective.
The article below, is in fact an abridged version of his talk on the subject, ‘Harmony
of Religions’ that he had delivered at a Roman Catholic Seminary
known as Pilar Seminary in Goa. A word is necessary to dwell on the
spread of Christianity as it was followed in Goa. Almost the entire
Christian population of Goa belongs to the Roman Catholic branch of
Christianity. The background and the nature of the working of
missionaries in Goa was different than the nature and background of
spread of Christianity in the North-east. When the author of this
article refers to Christian missionaries and their works, he refers
to the working that took place in Goa. It is necessary to draw
attention of the readers in the North-east to this difference.
The author rightly concludes his paper by explaining the Gandhian approach to the
question of harmony of religions. Mankind has reached a stage where
the Gandhian approach to the co-existence of religions harmoniously
seems to be unavoidable.
I wish to begin by
telling you an incident narrated to me by niece who lives in Margao.
He daughter Asawari has a friend called Jeanne, living in a flat
next door to hers. Good friends as they are, they never miss an
opportunity to keep chatting. On a Friday, which happened to be a
holiday, Asawari found Jeanne’s house shut unusually for a long
time. As Jeanne returned home with her mother and brother, she met
Asawari and her mother on the stairs.
“Where had you gone?” Asawari asked Jeanne. “To the church”, Jeanne said. “Do you
know what we did in church today? We all cried because on this day
our God was crucified by the Jews.”
“Who is your God, Jeanne?” asked Asawari’s mother. “Our God is Lord Jesus Christ, the
English God, you know.” “Really!” exclaimed Asawari’s mother.
Indeed Jesus was neither English nor European. But those who brought him to India
were Portuguese and English, both Europeans. They ruled over this
country for long years; until one fine day their rule came to an
end. And foreigners as they were they had to leave this country,
keeping behind Christ as English God, and Christianity as a foreign
religion not only in the eyes of the Hindus, but also in the very
eyes of those who claim to follow the English God and Christianity
as in the case of Jeanne.
To wipe out the stigma of ‘foreign’ is the biggest challenge the church faces
today. The impression that Jesus was an English God has become the
greatest impediment to make Him acceptable to all Indians,
especially the Hindus. The impression of Jesus being an English God
is a consequence of the acts of early European missionaries. They
came to India believing that they had come to a country of
uncivilized people who did not know God nor did they know the way to
realize him-Indians who worship idols of the monkey-like or
elephant-like faces, with four hands, etc. So the missionaries felt
that it was their paramount duty to convert them to Christianity.
The Christianity they gave to the Indians was one that was flavoured
with European culture, and those who accepted it had to change their
names, surnames, food habits, undergoing a total change in their
lifestyle, their customs and even their language. It was this
missionary zeal that resulted into a sort of dislike for
Christianity in the Hindu mind; as a result the attitude of the
Hindus towards Christians to brand them as ‘foreigners’ is still
sustained even after centuries of co-existence.
Centuries before the Christian missionaries set out on their mission to spread the
Gospel of Christ all over the world, the followers of Buddha, born
in India had gone out to spread Buddhism in the neighbouring
countries. They spread the teachings of Buddha throughout Asia
without interfering with any of the cultural aspects of the local
people; the food habits, lifestyle, dress or language. Thus the
Tibetans became Buddhists, yet remained culturally Tibetans; Chinese
became Buddhists, yet continued to remain culturally Chinese and
Japanese became Buddhists and remained Japanese. To continue the
parallel further, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Indo-China may be cited
as examples of the success of Buddhist missionaries.
Christian missionaries who spread Christianity in different countries of Asia
and Africa should have rather preached and put into practice the
teachings of Christ first, without interfering with the local
cultural ambience in the name of religion. They should have rather
helped to flourish the local socio-cultural climate, whereby they
could have avoided being the focus of dislike by the locals. But,
it seems, missionaries were more concerned about spreading the
European culture rather than the teachings of Christ. To the
missionaries, Christianity was only the means to achieve the ends of
European cultural expansionism. They only succeeded in converting
the locals into what we call in Konkani ‘Gaunti Saib’-neither proper
Christians, nor proper Europeans, turning them into strangers in
their own land.
One may see hare a parallel to the art of ‘Bonsai’ that he Japanese have mastered. By
chopping off the roots of a giant tree or a coconut palm they can
turn it into a miniature dwarf. Such dwarfs are ditto miniature
copies of the normal tree or palm. Yet they do not produce nuts
however small. All the same they are useful to decorate the living
room, providing thereby a topic for conversation.
Those in Asia and Africa who came under the spell of the missionaries, abandoning
their culture started to imitate the Europeans. They may be
regarded as ‘Bonsai Asians’ or ‘Bonsai Africans’, useful only for
chairing international meetings in their countries. They contribute
hardly anything to the uplift of their countries.
Hindu society does have many a custom that are useless and indeed worth eradicating.
Enlightened Hindus are aware of this bitter truth; and since the
time of Raja Ram Mohan Roy upto Mahatma Gandhi, many reformers have
strived to purify the Hindu society. Dr. Radhakrishnan has a piece
of advise to the Christian missionaries; he says, “Help if you can
help these reformists. Your task as missionaries is not so much to
make Christians of Hindus but rather to Christianize Hinduism.” But
to Christianize Hinduism here in India, we need to first Indianize
Christianity. And if you take into account the conservative nature
of an average Indian, the Church may not achieve the objective
easily. However, there is another way well within the reach of the
average Indian and this was put forth by Mahatma Gandhi.
Gandhi was the topmost leader of the freedom movement, but one must not forget that
at the bottom of it all he was a religious man. “I can do without
food for a number of days, but not a single moment without prayer.”
This he has said more than once; and he always said what he meant.
When he launched himself into public life in South Africa he came into close contact
with deeply religious Christians. Many earnest Christians went so
far as to make honest attempts to induct him into their faith. As a
result Gandhi had to dwell deep into the study of his own
religion-Hinduism, and then the study of the religion of his
Christian friends. Many of his associates in the struggle against
‘apartheid’ were Muslims. This led him to study the ‘Quran’. Thus
a profound study of the three religions-Hinduism, Islam and
Christianity led him to conclude that:
“When we study the mystic experiences, all these three religions speak the same
language. They have had the same experience. As such on mystic
experience they do not differ.” This led Mahatma Gandhi to conclude
that all religions are true.
On ethical level also they speak the same language. All the three religions work
hard to make their followers generous, kind, pure, honest and
truthful. Here at this level too they do not differ from each
other. This led him to say: “all religions are good.”
Then he asked himself “why the three religions are fighting among themselves?” He
found the answer: the followers of these religions did not come
closer together. They did not interact; instead they stayed
distant, apart from each other. As a result they failed to
understand each other. Thus the three religions still remained imperfect.
Gandhi says that “…..if we are imperfect ourselves, religion as we conceive cannot be
perfect. Religion of our own conception being thus imperfect is
subject to a process of evolution and re-interpretation. Progress
towards truth, towards God is possible only because of this
evolution. And if all faiths practiced by men are imperfect the
question of comparative merit does not arise….Looking at all
religions with equal eye, we would think without hesitation as our
duty to blend into our faith every acceptable feature of other
faiths.”* The leaders of the Catholic Church that have worked for
the last few decades to open dialogue and interact with other
religions would not find it hard to follow this advice of Gandhiji.
I venture to make here a suggestion. This dialogue need not be confined to the four
walls of Pilar Seminary. It should be taken up by all the Churches
in Goa; and lo and behold within a few years this great country of
ours ridden with religious fanaticism will be free from this evil
and will be enlightened with new vistas.
This paper is the abridged text of a speech delivered by the author at an
inter-religious-meeting organized at the Pilar Seminary in Goa run
by a Goan Roman Catholic group on the theme of “Harmony of
Source: Extract from the book, ‘From Yeravda Mandir,’
published by Navjivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, Reprint Nov. 2005, page no. 23.