August 2021 | Resurrection Hope

Patriotism and Nationalism of Indian Christians: A Historical Retour
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Patriotism and Nationalism of Indian Christians: A Historical Retour

Dr. Rajeevan M. Thomas

India, as the largest democratic nation in the world celebrated the platinum jubilee of our national Independence Day.

There is no better time to reflecton our patriotic and nationalistic perceptions and concerns. As responsible citizens of the nation, we should respect and keep up nationalism, patriotism, and its ideological and pragmaticelements at all times. It is our Fundamental Duty as per the provisions of the Indian Constitution. We should be proud of our nation and respect our national Constitution, National Symbol, National Flag, National Anthem.Religious faith, political ideology, social identity, or similar other factors should not mess up with nationalism. Nevertheless, there are several times in the history of the world nations which saw the dilapidation of historic nationalism.

Nationalism or patriotism is a political feeling of the people of a particular nation.  The systematic and organized concepts of nation and nationalism is a modern derivation. From an Indian point of view, it emerged as a reaction to western colonial rule. Here, one should ask certain basic questions related to the issues of nationalism and patriotism: what do you mean by nationalism? What is patriotism? What is the difference between these two? What is the perception of Christians towards these concerns? What does the Bible say about it? Do we have extra-territorial integrity as alleged by few others?  This short write-up would decode such concerns abruptly to showcase our antiquity and continuity in the general historic nationalistic and patriotic traditions.

Patriotism and Nationalism: Terminological Discourse 

Before we understand nationalism and the role and contributions of Indian Christians towards nationalism and its movements, we must have a basic idea about the Nation and State. 

The nation denotes the people with or without a nation. But the state is not only the people but includes a particular geographical territory, government with the sovereign in authority. The state is an association of people living in a particular territory with a proper government, Constitution, law, and order, clear national boundaries, etc. Thus, the state is a part of the nation. So, a nation can exist without a state or a geographical territory but a State cannot exist without people. According to Earnest Cellner, the status of nations can be affirmed that two persons are of the same nations, if and only if they share the same culture. Two persons are of the same nations, if and only they recognize each other as belonging to the same nation(1983,7). Nationalism is an ideology, sentiment, a form of culture, or a social movement that focused on the nations (L.K. Garg,2009,1).Nationalism is love, devotion and loyalty to one’s nation. Nationalism is a theory of the study of a particular nation. Nationalism is regarded as a theory regarding the personality of a nation, a strong group sentiment, and the self-consciousness of a particular nation (AJS,1929,68-70).

Patriotism is a very old phenomenon but nationalism and Nation-State is a modern innovation. But patriotism and nationalism are synonymous on the ground of unity and love towards a particular nation but different slightly that nationalism goes beyond the love of the nation to the level of power and authority. We should maintain a balanced patriotism and nationalism. When it crossed permitted boundaries, it became a threat to the total life of people within and without. In other words, when patriotism became extreme, it became jingoism. It may lead a nation to aggressive actions and wars and create xenophobia (dislike of foreign nations). It also creates chauvinism (some sort of blind nationalism), fanaticism, imperialism, destruction of peaceful coexistence of other nations,etc. A healthy and unadulterated patriotism and nationalism are very vital for the unity, security, progress, and integrity of every nation. It surpasses all narrow ways of religion and similar others factors. It should be secularistic in nature and function. The emergence of mono-cultural and religious nationalism is a danger to democratic and secular nations like India.

Biblical Basis of Patriotic and Nationalistic Sentiments

What does Bible say about patriotic and nationalistic sentiments? What does Jesus teach about the same? The Bible is the story of human beings and God. It commenced its political history as Theocracy (the Rule of God). Later, it gave way to monarchyand further slipped into despotic monarchy. God depicted in the Bible always respects the freedom of human choice and the free will of humanity. Sin itself is the manipulated byproduct of it.

From past to present, Bible and its message never discredit nationalism and its derivations.God explicitly advises His people, “Do not oppress a foreigner…” (Exodus 23:9). It implies that we must respect each nation’s sovereignty and its ethos. New Testament teaches us to respect and care for the good of others (Phil.2:3). It never extols an exclusive nationalism. Jesus said we should give due respect to each ruler and also exhorts his disciples to pay proper taxes as the part of their national obligation and affinity (Mathew 22:17-21). He never tried to overrule any existing political powers, though He got a request from the people. Similarly, Apostle Paul very clearly teaches everyone that we should be submissive to one’s respective national government and its violation is a punishable offense as per the norms of divine mandates (Romans 13:1-2). Besides these pro-nationalistic and patriotic teachings, the apostle urges to pray for not only national rulers but all of its subordinate authorities. Here, he deliberately used four main terms to stress this need: supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanks (1. Timothy 2:1-2). All these biblical principles show strong support forthe nationalistic and patriotic perspective of Christians.

As per the biblical vision, the ultimate notion of the nation is not confined to this earthly or political kingdom or nation but supernatural or metaphysical orientation. Jesus very explicitly stated that His kingdom is not a worldly nation (John 18:36).  All Christians have to pursue two citizenships: one in their political nation and the other is the heavenly domicile. Apostle Paul exhorts that, “…our citizenship is in heaven…’’ (Phil.3:20). Apostle Peter also conceives a broad spiritual version of a nation that all Christians all over the world as a ‘holy nation’ (1 Peter 2:9). But the same Peter exhorts that we should respect the respective rulers of our nations (1 Peter 2:17). The demand for the love towards the Kingdom of God and its visible manifestations and organizations never gives anexcuse to Christians for denying the love towards their nation. Thus,the Bible is auniversal holy religious book that respects the nationalism and patriotism of every nation healthily and moderately and also urges its adherents to keep up the same without harming others. The very core teaching of Jesus ‘love your neighbor’ (Mathew 22: 39) has not merely a local space but has a national scope too.

National Movements of India: A Thumbnail Sketch

 As I already stated that the nationalism is a modern endeavor historically manifested in India on the eve of western colonialism. Thus, the modern nationalistic and patriotic movements emerged in India with the target of the emancipation of India from the British colonial masters.Nationalism and patriotism would rise in a nation when a foreign nation tries to attack or oppress the freedom of that particular country.  The history of Indian nationalism that emerged during the 19th century is a classical example. Besides the oppressive colonial rule, there were a lot of contributory factors which paved the way for the rise and growth of Indian nationalism. The political unification of India, socio-religious reform movements, western education, Indian renaissance, western political and philosophical ideologies, unemployment and poverty, the rise of the educated middle class, the introduction of English language, anti-Indian reforms and policies, the introduction of Press, railways, etc., contributed for the rise and spread of Indian national movements.The exploitation and the oppressive British colonial rule caused the sprouting and spreading of anti-colonial national freedom movements. It took its historic manifestation with the formation of a national organization named the Indian National Congress (INC) in 1885. It was the official agency of the Indian national movement. It achieved the goal of complete freedom in 1947 after the long and varied national freedom struggle.

Role of Christians in national movements of India

The Revolt of 1857 is regarded as the real historical beginning of the anti-colonial national movements-the first war of Indian Independence. The history of the national movements in India under the INC can be broadly divided in to three periods: (i) the Period of Moderates (1885-1905) (ii) the period of Extremists (1905-1919) (iii) the period of Gandhian or mass nationalism era (1919-1947). Nevertheless, the most important milestones of Indian national movements are the Non-cooperation Movements, the Civil Disobedience Movements, and Quit India Movements. Here, we need to examine whether Indian Christians participated in these movements or not? Are they simply supporting the British rule, abstaining from freedom struggles and national movements? The role and contributions of Indian Christians were not properly recorded in the history of freedom movements due to several reasons such as the lack of political power   (empires and dynasties like Hindus and Muslims), low percentage of the population, etc.  Nevertheless, it is untrue to believe that Indian Christians did not participate in these movements. It is documented that the Indian Christians took active participation during the early conferences of INC at Madras. Accordingly, out of 607 delegates, 35 representatives were Indian Christians. The missionary and para-church organizations like National Missionary Council, National Christian Council, YMCA, etc. Directly or indirectly participated in the Indian national movements. The British and other Christian missionaries were supported the national movements. Later, they were officially presented by the British with a warning Letter (British Memorandum of 1919). Nevertheless, few missionaries and Indian Christian leaders of both men and women participated in the various sections of INC. They participated in the Non-Cooperation Movements and other movements.

The Indian Christians who actively participated in the national movements through INC during the moderate period became passive during the extremist period due to several reasons: the intruding of religious or communal elements, the employment of violence, strong opposition from the colonial government, etc. even when missionaries like C.F. Andrews and others had withdrawn their support to the national movements due to the opposition from British Raj, it was the enlightened Indian Christian leaders who supported these movements. The important Indian Christian leaders who participated in the various national movements were K.T. Paul, S.K. Detta,  Agustin Ralla Ram, Sunil K. Rudra, R.S.N. Subramania, K.C. Banerji, Pandita Ramabhai, Rajakumari Amrit Kaur, S.M. George,  V.S. Azariah,

V. C hakkarai,  Akkamma Cherian and others are few among them. During the Civil Disobedient Movements and Quit India movements, a large number of Christians including students were participated in it and were jailed. 

 In one sense, the Indian Christians fought double freedom struggle movements. They involved and supported the general anti-colonial struggles led by the national freedom fighters. They also fought against the western colonial masters in the ecclesiastical fields to transfer the power and leadership of the Indian Church. So, they were not blind supporters of British colonial rule. They decided to put an end to the western colonial rule both politically and ecclesiastically. The Indian Christians rejected the proposal of a separate electorate. It shows their common love and affinity for the selfless desire for the unity of Indian nationalism. This is the classical token of Indian Christians' unadulteratedpatriotism and national spirit. Thus, Indian Christians are truly patriotic and nationalistic citizens of India.

Concluding remarks

The Indian Christians are true nationalistic and patriotic people from past to present. The absence of a definite political party both in the pre-and post-independent period to attain maximum benefit with communal interests. They abide by the constitutional orbits of the nation. The very life and culture of Indian Christians show the peace-loving and integral development of the nation. But they were misinterpreted as anti-national and anti-patriotic on the ground of the conversion issues. Here, the words of Mother Teressa are apt to refute this allege, “I convert you to be better Hindu, a better Christian, a better Muslim.’’ 

The philanthropic service of Indian Christians is not targeted on the motive of mere conversion. The voluntary conversion of the people to one religion, particularly to the Christian faith would not change their nationality and patriotic feelings. Our sincere, life, witness, humanitarian services, peaceful co-existence are within the limit of our national Constitution. Our daily prayer for the blessings and security of our nation India is a divine and human obligation. 

Our selfless service for the empowerment of the poor and underprivileged sections of our co-citizens through educational, medical, and similar institutions are the dynamic tokens of our patriotic and nationalistic anticipations. We have to respect and obey our spiritual Constitutions (Bible for our personal spiritual life) and national Constitution (Indian Constitution for our political or national life). Let our nation India, the biggest democratic nation in the world, be happy and prosper with sound peace and harmony.  

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