Staff Reporter

Indologist says they had attempted survival tactics in British India

KASARAGOD: If the missionaries of the Basel Mission who were engaged in spreading the Gospel in north Malabar and Canara districts in Kerala and Karnataka denigrated local religion and culture in some of their works, it was just because they wanted to survive in British India and, for that, wanted to please the imperialist government, says Albrecht Frenz, scholar and Indologist.
Mr. Frenz is incidentally the husband of the granddaughter of Herman Gundert, a German missionary who made immense contribution towards the growth of Malayalam language, literature and journalism.
He was presenting a paper, “The discursive traverses of linguistic minorities” at a seminar on “The mission and the vision,” organised by Vasudha at Kanhangad Town Hall on Sunday.

Referring to the observations in two papers presented at the seminar by the historians Kesavan Veluthatt and Dennis Fernandez that the Basel missionaries, including Dr. Gundert, had made vituperative attacks on the culture and religion of the natives of Malabar and Tulunad and believed in the superiority of western civilisation, Mr. Frenz said there were two conflicting aspects in the personality of those missionaries.

Points raised
On the one hand, they were highly appreciative of oriental culture and spent a lot of time studying it. There were times when they even defied the church on certain issues. But their upbringing, especially the authoritarian and rigid education they had received, attracted them to the mission of proselytising, Mr. Frenz said. During their missions in India, there were many occasions when they did not easily accede to requests for conversions.
While acceptance of an alien culture by a group was a live possibility during interactions between civilisations, using force to impose an alien culture was wrong, Mr. Frenz said. He said the English translations of Basel Mission records were not reliable and the original manuscripts in German had to be studied to get a real picture of missionaries.

Kesavan Veluthatt, Head of History Department, Mangalore University, said though contribution of missionaries of the Basel Mission towards development of Malayalam and Tulu languages was notable, they had the ultimate aim of religious conversion. Missionaries, including Dr. Gundert, portrayed the religion and gods of natives in a highly offensive way, Dr. Veluthatt said. The missionaries used works of Buddhist religion to fight against Hinduism, he said. When Dr. Gundert translated Vajra Soochi, a work of the Buddhist scholar Aswaghosha, into Malayalam, he inserted his own opinions in the translations to achieve his aim, Dr. Veluthatt said. The pattern of works of missionaries was that they tried to uphold imperial power by establishing superiority of their religion through denigration of the local religion, Dr. Veluthatt said.

Dennis Fernandez, Professor of History, St. Aloysius College, Mangalore, said the protestant missionaries tried their best to convert upper castes and Brahmins but were not very successful. An occasional conversion of a Brahmin was celebrated. A majority of converts were from Thiyya and Billava castes. Though the protestant missionaries were against caste, they did not approve of new converts claiming equality with western missionaries.

A German missionary who the Basel Mission doubted to have fallen in love with a local woman, was immediately deported, Dr. Fernandez said.

Jayaprakash Raghaviaah, Professor, Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikkode, in his paper, noted that the Basel Mission entered into management of crafts and industries as it wanted to provide jobs to those converts who sometimes lost jobs following conversion. The missionaries came from a crafts background rather than a scholarly background and, naturally, they went for establishment of industries, Dr. Raghaviaah noted.
Though they tried their hands in many areas, success came mainly in tile manufacturing, he said.

The influence of the Church often extended to workplaces, and the converted people were under constant surveillance, he said. Sixty per cent of the converts were from Thiyyas, 30 per cent from Scheduled Castes and five per cent from Nairs. The efforts of Basel missionaries to convert Muslims were met with a protest. Many of the Basel missionaries had later joined the Nazis, Mr. Raghaviaah said.

 courtesy-The Hindu