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Perceptions of Christianity


Y. Vincent Kumaradoss

CHRISTIANS AND PUBLIC LIFE IN COLONIAL SOUTH INDIA, 1863-1937: CONTENDING WITH MARGINALITY
By Chandra Mallampalli
Routledge, London, 2006, pp. XXIV 305, Rs. 675.00

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 5 May 2008

The theme of the formation of Christian identities and the nature of its implications in politics during colonialism has been a much-neglected area in Indian history. Many reasons can be adduced for this neglect. A few of the most plausible among them are the treatment meted out to Christians as a ‘negligible political quantity’ due to their numerical smallness and the colonial construction that tended to recognize the Hindus and Muslims as the major contending communities of India; and the failure of Indian Christians to organize themselves politically in the postcolonial period. Nevertheless, the growing Hindu Right wing mobilization in India during the past two decades, and its systematic militant manifestations that unleashed sporadic violence on Christians, has opened fresh vistas to explore this theme. As a result, there is now a growing number of scholarly works on Indian Christians that have begun to appear in the wake of an increasing interest in Hindutva perceptions of Christianity as foreign, alien and anti-national. This book under review offers us yet another fresh, valuable and exciting addition to this slowly growing pile of literature.   Mallampalli’s book has 12 chapters neatly grouped under 3 broad parts. Drawing on historical, legal, political, print media and archival sources, he seeks to examine the dominant question that pervades his work—whether there was ever a ‘single Christian community’ within the Madras presidency which had a high proportion of India’s Christian population. He sets out on this search by exploring the British legal interventions in defining the native Christians. In the first part of the book, he convincingly argues that from the Caste Disabilities Removal Act of 1850 that ensured the ‘natural rights of individual converts’ in matters of property, guardianship of children and conjugal rights, British law treated them as if they were Hindus. In this, British law was driven by ‘a desire to privilege Hindu institutions and their religious underpinnings had taken priority over any commitment to individual rights or freedom of conscience’ (p. 22). However, in contrast to the Act of 1850 which recognized the ‘diverse and highly indigenous cultural practices of native Christians’ (p. 38), the Indian Succession Act (X of 1865) placed them with the Europeans under a single law of inheritance. ‘By the 1870s, the imperial courts had come to define the Native Christian community according to European cultural standards and in opposition to the customs of indigenous caste society’ (p. 2) and attempts were made to ...


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