ndian Christians played an important role in the early phase of the Indian National Congress, especially at the third session of the Congress in 1887 where, out of 607 participants, there were fifteen Indian Christian delegates who actively participated in the deliberation. Some of the outstanding Indian Christian delegates were Madhu Sunder Das of Odisha who addressed the Congress on the question of expansion of legislative councils and N Subramanian, who proposed and pleaded for a complete separation of judicial and executive functions by the government officials. The Indian Christian delegates continued their contributions in the four subsequent sessions of the Congress. Special mention should be made of Pandita Ramabai Saraswati and Kali Chandran Banerji too.
Pandita Ramabai Saraswati (1858-1922) was an outstanding Indian Christian woman. In the 1889 Congress session, there were 10 Christian delegates of which Pandita Ramabai Saraswati was one. She was one of the first Indians who championed the right of women to participate in national politics, eloquently articulating the pitiable history of Indian womanhood. Ramabai also played an important role in the third session of the National Social Conference in 1889 at which she supported a resolution condemning the practice of disfiguring the Hindu widows.
Kali Chandran Banerji is considered one of the great leaders and founders of ‘The Movement for Emancipation’. A writer of the third session of the Congress in 1887 had this to say: “Perhaps, the finest orator in the whole assembly was Babu Kali Chandran Banerji, who is a Bengali Christian.”
In the 1889 session, Babu Kali Chandran Banerji was responsible for a resolution demanding improvement in the educational systems particularly university education. He was also instrumental in 1889 in protesting against the prohibition imposed by the government on teachers participating in the political movements. In 1896, he again presented a resolution demanding improvement in the educational system, especially the university education in the country.
Brahmabandhab Upadhyay (George Thomas), the ‘Hindu Catholic’ sadhu and theologian was a leading player in the Swadeshi movement, and he was prosecuted on a charge of sedition in 1907.
- C. Kumarappa (original name John Jesudason Cornelius, 1892-1960) was a veteran Congress leader. On May 9, 1929, he met Mahatma Gandhi at the Sabarmati Ashram and that resulted in their becoming close associates. He was a strong supporter of Satyagraha and encouraged Christian participation in the national movement.
Paul Ramasamy (born in 1906) was another important Christian who took part in the Indian freedom movement. In the year 1930, he joined the freedom movement during the Salt Satyagraha days. He picketed the Bishop Herber College, Tiruchirappalli. He was arrested and sentenced to six months of imprisonment and was kept at Tiruchirappalli and Allipuram jails in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka respectively.
In the freedom and pro-democracy movement in Travancore in the 1930s and 1940s, prominent Christian leaders like T. M. Varghese, A. J. John, Anne Mascarenhas and Akkamma Cherian were pioneering forces. Philoppose Elanjikkal John (1903-1955) was another prominent member of the Travancore State Congress. Joachim Alva (1907-1979) was another outstanding personality in the history of the freedom struggle.
Then was Joseph ‘Kaka’ Baptista (1864-1930) too who was a close associate of Lokmanya Tilak. He belonged to the East-Indian Catholic community of Mumbai. He was also elected as the Mayor of Bombay in the year, 1925. It was Joseph ‘Kaka’ Baptista who coined the slogan ‘Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it’ and not Lokmanya Tilak as our history books tells it.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)