Benedict’s interpretation of Gandhi’s message of
non-violence is false.
Gandhi’s non-violence doesn’t stand for a cowardly acceptance of injustice and unprovoked violence. Gandhi viewed proselytisation as cultural invasion and a hindrance to peace
October 26 this year, Pope Benedict invoked Mahatma Gandhi’s name in an
appeal to end “violence against Christians” in Orissa. It would
have been ridiculous if only it had not been so ironical. This reminds us of a
proverb about pinching the baby and pacifying it.
a few facts would be in order. The Pope has chosen wisely when he chose to
invoke Gandhi’s name. While Gandhi’s relevance and legacy in
is debatable, he is still much revered by millions of people. Equally, he is
deeply respected in Christian countries because he comes close to the
Christ-like figure that those countries are intimately familiar with.
Gandhi’s life, and writings and speeches show him to be a moralist in the
Christian mould: An overt emphasis on suffering, heartfelt compassion for the
poor, and a non-violent fighter against oppression. Yet, he was a
self-proclaimed, “proud staunch Sanatani Hindu.” Whatever his
understanding of core Hindu philosophical tenets, Gandhi’s attachment to
Hinduism was so steadfast that it is touching at different levels. He
unequivocally upheld his opposition to all attempts at destabilising Sanatana
Dharma. In the August 1925 issue of Young India, he wrote:
am unable to identify with orthodox Christianity. I must tell you in all
humility that Hinduism, as I know it, entirely satisfies my soul, fills my
whole being, and I find solace in the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads that I
miss even in the Sermon on the Mount… I must confess to you that when
doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me in the face, and when I see not
one ray of light on the horizon I turn to the Bhagavad Gita, and find a verse
to comfort me; and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming
sorrow. My life has been full of external tragedies and if they have not left
any visible and indelible effect on me, I owe it to the teachings of the
more assertive proclamation of Gandhi’s firm Hindu moorings is not
required. Gandhi rightly recognised proselytisation as a problem and condemned
it as fiercely as he upheld Hinduism. He discerned that the psychology that
drives conversion is innately flawed and dangerous. We only need to look at a
few samples from Gandhi’s copious writings to learn his stance vis a vis
“Why should a Christian want to convert a Hindu to Christianity? Why should he not be satisfied if the Hindu is a good or godly man?’ (Harijan, January 30, 1937)
“I hold that proselytisation under the cloak of humanitarian work is unhealthy to say the least.” (Young India: April 23, 1931)
I had power and could legislate, I should certainly stop all proselytising. It
is the cause of much avoidable conflict between classes and unnecessary
heart-burning among missionaries…”
And here the Pope invokes Gandhi’s name in utter ignorance of the Mahatma’s stand on Christian proselytisation. Pope Benedict’s message is addressed to all Hindus on the occasion of Diwali (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/interelg/documents/rc_pc_interelg_doc_20081028_diwali_en.html). We are immediately struck with wonder at the sheer presumptuousness of this singular Diwali greeting: The subtle subtext seems to reprimand the Hindus for attacking Christians while completely omitting any mention of the root cause for the communal/social unrest! More fundamentally, the Pope has no authority to interfere in what is exclusively an Indian social problem. In this context, is he prepared to admit that the remote control for missionary activities in India lies in his hands?
The Pope’s message confirms the fact that selective quoting is not merely restricted to media and mischievous rhetoricians. While it self-righteously assumes these attributes to itself, it doesn’t come clean on its own record. Pope Benedict’s predecessor’s triumphant announcement during his 1999 India visit is a good instance. Till date, not one soul in the entire Christendom has condemned his intent to “harvest souls”. One wonders what gives these religious leaders the right to arrogate to themselves such licence. Are non-Christians — in the Indian context, this primarily means Hindus — a harvest waiting to be reaped? It is precisely against this form of mischief that Gandhi raised his voice.
Pope’s interpretation of Gandhi’s message of non-violence is false.
Non-violence in the Gandhian doctrine does not stand for a cowardly acceptance
of injustice and unprovoked violence. In that light, Gandhi’s call to
oppose proselytisation is — like his freedom struggle mantra — but
opposition to any form of oppression. He viewed proselytisation as not just a
form of cultural invasion but a hindrance to world peace. At the microcosmic
level, he observed how a Hindu family is disrupted if just one member converts
Hindu households the advent of a missionary has meant the disruption of the
family coming in the wake of change of dress, manners, language, food and
drink. (Harijan, November 5, 1935)
“It is impossible for me to reconcile myself to the idea of conversion after the style that goes on in India and elsewhere today. It is an error which is perhaps the greatest impediment to the world’s progress toward peace.” (Harijan, January 30, 1937)
If we observe the social conditions of mostly-poor nations that have been
weaned away from their native traditions, Gandhi’s remark becomes
is a Christian-majority country now, but was torn by civil strife for over 27
tensions exist till date between the native Bantu tribal traditions and the
‘Christian network’ of villages. Numerous African countries are
torn by strife, thanks to missionary activity. Philippines, the Christian-majority
state has mostly lost its native traditions thanks to centuries-long Spanish
colonisation followed by aggressive evangelism. Papua New Guinea’s former
Chief Justice, an outspoken Pentecostal, urged legislative and other bridles on
the activities of Muslims in the country. Although it is home to some very
diverse cultures and faiths, 96 per cent of its population is Christian. Its
native, animist tradition is all but lost.
clashes between Christians and followers of native traditions in South Korea
still make headlines. Evangelist leaders openly call for political activity
against North Korea
by accelerating the spread of Christianity. This is not dissimilar to
evangelists-backed secessionist movement in India’s North-East States.
This list is just a sample but is sufficient evidence to show the truth in
Gandhi’s astute observation more than 70 years ago that evangelical
activity poses a threat to peace.
If the present Pope wanted to spread the Mahatma’s words, he should have presented the whole story instead of just a twisted interpretation. Besides, we do not need to take lessons about Gandhi from the Pope. Not at least when the lesson is fraught with frivolity.
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