Missionaries and a Pandit


Christian missionaries have remained actively involved on Kashmir’s health and education fronts. But in all regimes, they were accused of using their influence for managing conversions. Author-historian Khalid Bashir Ahmad offers a detailed account on the issue that coincides with the 150th anniversary of formation of Kashmir Medical Mission in Srinagar

Patients being  brought  to hospital in house boat made ambulance in this file pic of nineteenth century.

Patients being brought to hospital in house boat made ambulance in this file pic of nineteenth century.


Khalid Bashir Ahmad

Two Christian missionaries came to Kashmir on a reconnoitering task to assess the field for their activities during the reign of Gulab Singh in 1854. Rev. Robert Clark and Colonel Martin found the first Dogra ruler quite willing to allow them to preach in Kashmir for which he had his own argument. “The people were so bad already that the Padris [Christian priests] can do no harm to them”, the Maharaja believed and was curious to see if they could do them any good.

One could not have expected a better opinion of his subjects from a ruler who had attained the throne through the foulest transactions in the history of the mankind.

In 1864, Clark founded the Kashmir Medical Mission in Srinagar under the aegis of the Church Missionary Society. Clark incidentally was one of the three Englishmen including Rev T R Wade and the then British Resident against whom some locals later allegedly performed witchcraft to get rid of them.

Next year, Dr W J Elmslie came to Srinagar and started his medical work. He introduced the use of chloroform and, therefore, painless surgery in Kashmir. His successors carried on his work after his demise and in 1882 Dr Arthur Neve arrived in Srinagar. In 1880, educational work had been started by Rev J H Knowels which was further developed by, now famous, Rev C E Tyndale Biscoe in 1890 and beyond.

Did the Christian missionaries come to Kashmir for providing health and education facilities only or was the social service a cover up for engineering conversions?

“Among the depressed classes there are unlimited openings for Christian teachers”, wrote Ernest Neve, brother of Arthur Neve, in his ‘Crusader in Kashmir’. Kashmir indeed was a land of the depressed during the Dogra rule. Side by side with imparting modern education and medically treating the sick, the missionaries preached Christianity. In 1926, more than 3300 Gospels were sold to patients and their friends. This we have straight from Ernest Neve. “If our methods are sound and our lives at all adequately emphasize our teaching, there should be no room for doubts as to results”, he wrote about the sale of the Gospels. What else one would understand by ‘results’ other than conversions?

Known for their good work in education and health sectors, the Christian missionaries have often courted controversy in Kashmir for their alleged trespass into the area other than of their pronounced activity. Ever since their arrival in the Himalayan valley there have been allegations against them of converting people for the lure of money. On several occasions there have been protests against the role of the missionaries and at times things have snowballed into a major storm.

As recently as in 2012, there erupted a huge controversy about the role of the Christian missionaries in Kashmir and the alleged conversion of a large number of youth at their hands. A video appeared on Youtube in October 2011 showing baptism of Muslim youth at the All Saints Church in Srinagar resulting in huge public uproar and resentment.

Four pastors, CM Khanna, Gayoor Massi, Chandra Kanta and Jim Borst, were accused of luring Muslims to Christianity. Police in Srinagar filed a criminal complaint against Pastor Khanna for “promotion of religious enmity by conversions”. He was arrested and spent 40 days in jail before granted bail by the court. While the Mufti Bashiruddin ‘ordered’ expulsion of the four Pastors from Kashmir, the Chief Cleric of Kashmir condemned Christian missionaries for “clandestinely enforcing conversions in lieu of money and other privileges”.

The complaints of conversion by allurement against the Christian missionaries in Kashmir, are not new. While some could be exaggerated not all can be dismissed as untrue. Media reports suggest that there has been a sharp increase recently in the number of neo-Christians in Kashmir even as there are “over a dozen Christian missions and churches based in the US, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland operating in the state.”

Pastor Khanna may have landed up in jail for allegations against him which are serious [Apostasy Unveiled! Greater Kashmir, January 20, 2011] but there have been famous missionaries like Dr Arthur Neve and pioneer of modern education in Kashmir, Tyndale Biscoe, who have also had allegations leveled against them for enticing people to conversion in the past.

Dr-Arthur-Neve-&-OthersIn March 1915, a complaint was made to the then ruler, Maharaja Pratap Singh, by a “forlorn Kashmiri Pandit”, Gulab Ram Gigu, against the two Englishmen for allegedly converting his son, Madho Bhan, to Christianity. Gigu wrote a long petition and managed to deliver it to the ruler in person.

“I am a forlorn Kashmiri Pandit, and approach your Highness’ presence in the extreme anguish of my heart, and beg to lay before your Highness the tortures and troubles to which I have been put to”, began the petition. Gigu alleged that he had sent his son to the Christian Mission School, Srinagar where Mr Biscoe wanted to convert him to Christianity along with two other boys. He accused Biscoe of deceiving him by saying that he would teach medicine to Madho and pay him ten rupees per month.

Dr Arthur Neve engaged Madho in the Mission Hospital Srinagar on the promised monthly pay and Gigu had no objection, as “there were many Hindus serving there”. On March 15, Madho left his home in the morning telling his mother that she should not expect him back tonight. When he did not return the second day too Gigu was alarmed. He went to all his relatives to look out for his son but found him nowhere. At this time, he heard that Dr Arthur Neve had taken Madho to the Plains and had converted him to Christianity.

Gigu along with his brother and father-in-law of Madho went to see Ernest Neve and enquire about his son. He was told that Madho had gone “to learn” with Dr Arthur Neve and will not return as he was ill treated at home. “What pain did he experience at our hands”, asked Gigu of Ernest Neve adding, “You pay him rupees ten per month the clothes he has on cost Rs. 50”.

Ernest Neve, Gigu alleged, did not share the address of his brother with him and told him if he wanted to write a letter to his son he must hand that over to him which he will post himself. Gigu wrote a letter to Dr Arthur Neve requesting him to “return me my son within eight days” or else “I would be compelled to go to Jammu Railway station to lay case at the feet of His Excellency the Viceroy”. “I would take along with myself my brother, Madho Bhan’s young wife and her parents”, he wrote to Arthur Neve and handed the letter over to Ernest Neve. He did not get any reply. Then he sent a registered letter which also remained unanswered.

The dejected Gigu then approached the Maharaja for taking “pity on our deplorable condition and the hapless state of the poor and forlorn Hindu girl [Madho’s wife], who cannot remarry according to the Hindu laws, and for the sake of God to direct Dr A. Neve to send my son back to me”. He informed the ruler that he had stopped to personally go to Ernest Neve as he was followed by a large majority of Hindu population who demanded justice and feared that if he went to Neve he might accuse him of causing a “riot or rebellion”.

Pratap Singh marked the representation to his Chief Minister in whose presence it was submitted to the Maharaja. He had also discussed the matter with him and called for a report as to “how the matter stands”. Ernest Neve was asked by the Governor of Kashmir to give his version of the story. He wrote back, “Like the German War Reports Gulab Ram Gigu’s petition is a skilful mixture of falsehood and truth”.

According to Ernest Neve, Madho Bhan was indeed a student of Mission School at one time and subsequently on the staff of the Mission Hospital where he was trained as a dresser and assistant in the pathological laboratory and also passed the first aid examination of the St. Johns Ambulance Society. He alleged that Madho was ill treated at home for “he was enquiring into the Truth of the Christian Religion”. According to Ernest Neve when his doctor brother was leaving Kashmir for Punjab for hospital inspection duty and before going to the War, Madho Bhan expressed his desire to accompany him and did not inform his relatives about leaving Kashmir lest they prevent him and subject him to ill treatment.

Ernest Neve’s argument was that Madho was of age and responsible for his own actions and that he had made a statement on affidavit before a Magistrate at Amritsar as to his reasons for wishing to leave Kashmir. He accompanied Dr Arthur Neve to Lahore and subsequently went to Agra from where his friends received his letters and his uncle went there to “forcibly” bring him back.

The reply of Ernest Neve was submitted to Pratap Singh who disposed the file by writing “Seen”. The matter rested there.


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