Was blind, but now I see.

2 : 10 September 2003


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Copyright © 2001
M. S. Thirumalai


M. S. Thirumalai


The Abbé J. A. Dubois was born in 1765 and was ordained in the diocese of Viviers in 1792, at the age of twenty-seven. He left France for India in the same year. It is said of him that "he met the problem of the poverty of the people committed to his care by founding agricultural colonies. ... He used his influence to such good effect in preventing epidemics of small-pox by promoting vaccination (then, be it remembered, a comparatively novel idea) that he was afterwards granted a special pension by the East Indian Company." The natives considered him as 'the prince's son, the noblest of Europeans.'

Dubois' magnum opus was his work, presently titled Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies. The Abbé Dubois was greatly admired by both the officials of the East India Company and the natives, the commoners as well as the princes.

Dubois was an insightful observer of men and their customs. His book on Hindu manners and customs, published in 1817 is still in print, with so much information valid even today. He was also a keen observer of the historical trends in missions and an excellent descriptivist of the social factors in operation. "He left India, never to return, on January 15, 1823, his passage having been paid by the East India Company and a special pension settled upon him for life in recognition of the many services which he had rendered in India... He lived for no less that a quarter of a century after returning to Europe, and died in 1848 at the patriarchal age of eighty-three." "He lived retired from the world, and retired even from his fellow-labourers."


In his first letter addressed to a European gentleman, who lived in Mysore, the capital of a princely state with the same name in south India, J. A. Dubois argued that the question of converting the Hindus could be reduced to two basic questions:

  1. "Is there a possibility of making real converts to Christianity among the natives in India? Are the means employed for that purpose, and above all, the translation of the Holy Scriptures into the idioms of the country, likely to conduce to this desirable object?" (p. 1. Page references of quotations from Dubois' letters refer to Dubois 1824 (1977.))
  2. His decided opinion was that "under existing circumstances there is no human possibility of converting the Hindoos to any sect of Christianity, and "that the translation of the Holy Scriptures circulated among them, so far from conducing to this end, will, on the contrary, increase the prejudices of the natives against the Christian religion, and prove in many respects detrimental to it" (p. 1).


Dubois narrates how the early Jesuits contextualized their own ways of life to those of the natives, strictly following 1 Cor. 9:20-21. "In order to fix the attention of these people, gain their confidence, and get a hearing, it was indispensably necessary to respect their prejudices, and even to conform to their dress, manner of living, and forms of society; in short, scrupulously to adopt the costumes and practices of the country" (p. 3). "There were conversions taking place in large numbers all over the country, particularly in the west and east coasts, and the interior adjoining the coastal regions. However, the friars of other religious orders accused the Jesuits of tolerating and winking at all kinds of idolatrous superstitions among their converts. Jesuits were also accused of having become converts to the idolatrous worship of the Hindoo, rather than making Indians converts to the Christian religion" (p. 4).

"The Pope Benedict XIV finally intervened and condemned and all the superstitious practices till then tolerated by the missionaries, and required that the whole of them, of whatever order or dignity they might be should bind themselves by a solemn oath taken before a bishop, to conform to the decree and that the decree should be read and published every Sunday in all churches and chapels in the presence of the congregation, and a promise of submission to it be required from all converts" (p.6). "A great number of proselytes preferred renouncing the new religion to abandoning their practices" (p. 6).


As another cause for the growing apostasy, Dubois pointed out that while the internecine quarrel as to the correctness of contextualization continued within the Catholic church with detrimental effect on the rate of conversion and the retention of the converted, "the European invasion, and the bloody contests for dominion between the English and French" revealed to the Hindus that the missionaries and the European rulers were of the same stock, culture and religion: "their country, their religion, and original education, were the same with those of the vile, the contemptible Fringy, who had of late invaded their country" (p. 6). "Christianity became more and more an object of contempt and aversion, in proportion as the European manners became better known to the Hindoos" (p. 7). Dubois concluded that the degradation of Christianity in the eyes of the Hindus "must be imputed in a great degree to the immoral and irregular conduct of many Europeans in every part of the country" (p. 10).


The next stage in the degradation of the Christian religion occurred in the eyes of the natives "when a national black clergy was formed" (p. 7). As the Jesuits were being suppressed in Europe, the congregations in India were entrusted to the care of the native missionaries, "not having the advantage of a proper education, and many amongst them shewing themselves more attached to their own interests than to those of religion" (p. 7).

Dubois, writing in 1815, declared: "The low state to which it (the Christian religion) is now reduced, and the contempt in which it is held, cannot be surpassed. There is not at present in the country (as mentioned before) more than a third of the Christians who were to be found in it eighty years ago, and this number diminishes every day by frequent apostasy. It will dwindle to nothing in short period; and if things continue as they are now going on, within less than fifty years there will, I fear, remain no vestige of Christianity among the natives" (p. 7). In his opinion, the Christian religion was once an object of indifference, then it became an object of contempt, and finally it has become almost an object of horror.


Dubois also pointed out that "the Lutheran missionaries have had no sensible success during more than a century" (p. 10). When the Catholic mode of worship, which appealed to all the senses, and which had closely resembled the items of worship such as processions, images, statues, fasts, feasts and prayers practiced by the Hindus, did not make much headway among the Hindus, it was but no wonder that the Protestants could not succeed even to the extent of the Catholic missionaries, Dubois declared. Moravian brethren labored in India for over a century without much success and finally left the country in 1793, Dubois pointed out. Christianity in India had become "an assemblage of the offals and dregs of society" which tended to increase the contempt and aversion entertained by the Hindus against Christianity.

Despite the pompous reports of the new missionaries (from the Protestant denominations), the efforts to make converts among the Hindus till now proved to be abortive, in the words of Dubois. Thus, right from the days of the Apostle Thomas, and through the sects of Nestorians and others, Dubois noted, there had not been any success of note as regards the conversion of the Hindus. "Behold the Lutheran mission established in India more than a century ago . . . Behold the truly industrious, the unaffected and unassuming Moravian brethren! . . . Behold the Nestorians in Travancore . . . Behold the Baptist missionaries at Serampore! . . . if they are asked an answer upon their honor and conscience, they will all reply in the negative" (p. 14). Dubois's conclusion was: "There are in the actual circumstances of the case no human means to introduce Christianity among the natives with any well-founded hopes of success" (p. 15).

Another reason for the small number of adherents of Christianity among the natives, Dubois pointed out, was the common practice of "the natives who successively pass from one religion to another, according to their actual interest" (p. 11).


The second major question raised by Dubois was whether the translation of the Bible into native tongues, the chief means of propagation of the gospel in the hands of the Protestant missionaries, would help in any way the evangelization of the Hindus. Answering this question also in the negative, Dubois asserted that "the naked text of the Bible, exhibited without a long previous preparation to the Hindoos, must prove detrimental to the Christian religion, and increase their aversion to it, inasmuch as this sacred book contains in almost every page accounts which cannot fail deeply to wound their feelings, by openly hurting prejudices which are held most sacred" (p. 15).

In support of his claim, Dubois cited several episodes narrated in the Bible such as the killing of a calf to entertain the three angels who visited Abraham, slaughtering of 22,000 oxen by Solomon for the consecration of the new Temple, etc. The high caste Brahmin would conclude that the people and God of the Bible are no better than the pariah, the lowest ranking caste among the Hindus and would lead him to conclude that "a religion which derives its tenets from so impure a source is altogether detestable, and that those who profess it, must be the basest and vilest of men" (p. 17).


Now in the gospels too there are things which would be jarring to the ears of the upper caste men and women: "The Christian religion had for its founder a peasant of Galilee, the son of a humble carpenter, who took for his assistants twelve ignorant and illiterate fishermen." Because the castes of carpenters and fishermen did not have any higher social rank in the Hindu caste system, the mere mention of the professions of Jesus and his disciples would ascribe to them a very low social status in the eyes of the Hindus. On several occasions, Dubois was asked by the early Hindu converts, fruits of Dubois' labor, to tell others that Christ and his disciples were from the caste of Kings! The Bible was full of information where the lowest of the social strata was highly praised and assigned importance that it was better not to translate it into various Indian languages and make the Bible available to all and sundry.


Then comes the next obstacle. "But should the translation of the Bible into the various languages of the country, and circulated among the Hindoos, be able, through their intrinsic worth, to overcome, by little and little, all their prejudices, and fix their attention to this divine book (which supposition I am far from admitting), a great difficulty would yet remain; that is, a close and accurate version of the work" (p.19).

The languages of India are so different from those of Europe; Dubois declared, "a literal translation of the Holy Scriptures into any of them is impracticable" (p.19). Even with enlightened criticism, and long standing biblical scholarship, translation of the Bible into any European language was a mammoth task. With no such history behind them, it was practically impossible to make an accurate translation into the Indian languages. The low translations of the Serampore missionaries, a project of five or six individuals, without the assistance of any (scholarly) criticism whatever, would expose "the Christian religion and its followers to the ridicule of the public, soon stagger the wavering faith of many hundreds of those now professing Christianity, hasten the epoch of their apostasy, and accelerate the downfall of the tottering edifice of Christianity in India" (p.20).


Dubois offered a standard for the translation of the Bible into Indian languages: "A translation of the Holy Scriptures, in order to awaken the curiosity, and fix the attention of the learned Hindoo, at least as a literary production, ought to be on a level with the Indian performances of the same kind among them, and be composed in fine poetry, a flowery style, and a high stream of eloquence, this being universally the mode in which all Indian performances of any worth are written. As long as the versions are executed in the low style in which we find these, you rest assured that they will only excite contempt, and tend to increase the aversion already entertained by the natives against the Christian religion" (p.22).

"Let the Bible be made available in every village, in every cottage, in every family, let the Christian religion be presented to these people under every possible light, … the time of conversion has passed away, and, under existing circumstances, there remains no human possibility to bring it back," concluded Dubois (p.23).

Did it mean the failure of the gospel? No, argued Dubois. Although the gospel has been preached without much success, "the oracle of the Gospel has been fulfilled with respect to the Hindoos. The Divine Founder of our religion has, it is true, announced that his gospel should be preached all over the world, but, to the best of my knowledge, he has never affirmed that it should be heard, believed, and embraced by all nations" (p.23). Thus Dubois implied the mandate given to the Christian missionaries had already been accomplished as regards the Hindus.


Dubois declared that he was against the awful doctrines of predestination and election. However, the awful and unfathomable mystery of predestination, could not be scrutinized, but "the thing is so, therefore there must be reasons for its being so" (p.23). Note again "Christ had nowhere promised that his divine religion should be unexceptionably embraced by all nations" (p.24). Jesus had foreseen opposition to the evangelical truths on the part of several nations (Matt. 10, and Luke 10).

Dubois wrote that although his "most earnest wishes have always been to see it (the Christian religion) believed and professed by all mankind, and extend its dominion, its mild and genial influence, all over the world, and among all nations," he had to accept the reality as it existed among the Hindus.


Would the situation be different if the government (the British India government) had given proper support and encouragement to the Christian religion? Would that support rescue the Christian religion from the state of contempt and degradation into which it had fallen? Answering it in the negative, Dubois felt that the time had indeed passed even for this, for such an interference would rather prove detrimental to it (the British India Government, then run by the Honorable East India Company) by increasing the jealousy and distrust of the natives. (p.26).


Would the intercourse of Europeans with the natives ought sooner or later to bring about a revolution in the religion and manners of the Hindus? The relationship between the two had never been close, intimate or confidential. Even with a thousand year rule of the Muslims over Hindus, the prejudices of these people (Hindus) against all foreign institutions did not change and the Muslims could convert sections of the Hindus mainly by coercive and violent measures, concluded Dubois (p. 26).

Last but not the least was the fact that "it is precisely those of the Hindoos who are most familiar, and most connected with the Europeans, who manifest the strongest disgust and aversion for the religion and manners of the latter" (p. 26).


Such was the strength of Dubois' conviction that he declared: "The Hindoos will remain the same in this respect, after another thousand years, as they were a thousand years ago. Their reserved and distant intercourse with Europeans will always continue the same, and their abhorrence of the religion, education, and manners of the latter, as well as their leading prejudices, will continue undiminished" (p.27). Dubois did not mention anywhere or could not visualize the possibility that India one day could be an independent nation, and, as a result, the Hindus may chalk out a different course of relations with a different attitude towards the Christian religion.


And yet Dubois made a very significant observation which will now be seen true for the elitist, western educated Hindus: "should the intercourse between the individuals of both nations, by becoming more intimate and more friendly, produce a revolution in the religion and usages of the country; it will not be to turn Christians that they will forsake their own religion; but rather, (what in my opinion is a thousand times worse than idolatry,) to become perfect atheists; and if they renounce their present manners, it will not be to embrace those of the Europeans, but rather to become what are now called pariahs" (p.27).


In his second letter, dated December 1815, Dubois turned his attention (or ire!) towards the native Christians. He pointed out in his second letter that "prejudices to be met with everywhere among the Hindoos, and which at every period proved an insurmountable obstacle to the introduction of the Christian religion in India, were still more deeply rooted in the provinces bordering upon the Ganges than elsewhere" (p.33).

Dubois found the native Christians to be only namesake Christians: "The greater, the by far greater number, exhibit nothing but a vain phantom, an empty shade of Christianity. In fact, during a period of twenty-five years that I have familiarly conversed with them, lived among them as their religious teacher and spiritual guide, I would hardly dare to affirm that I have anywhere met a sincere and undisguised Christian" (p 34).

Dubois observed: "In embracing the Christian religion, they very seldom heartily renounce their leading superstitions, towards which they always entertain a secret bent, which does not fail to manifest itself in the several occurrences of life; and in many circumstances where the precepts of their religion are found to be in opposition to their leading usages, they rarely scruple to overlook the former, and conform themselves to the latter" (p.34). If the product of missionary effort thus far had been of this quality, then where was needed to proceed further, one might easily ask following the line of Dubois' argument.

"The Hindoos are a people so peculiarly circumstanced, that I consider it next to impossibility to make among them real and sincere Christians; to all excesses (against them) they will perhaps submit; but if you speak of changing any of their principal institutions, either religious or civil, you will find a quite ungovernable people, never to be overcome on this point" (p.36). Because of their Hindu background, the native Christians "shew in all their religious concerns an apathy or insensibility, a dullness bordering in most instances on stupidity" (p.36).

Dubois did not find any Hindu Christian who was willing to die, rather than renouncing his religion, in the face of forced conversion to Islam by a Muslim ruler of Mysore where the Abbé himself labored for the Lord. In 1784, 60,000 native Christians were converted to Islam by force by Tipu Sultan, ruler of Mysore. After the fall of the ruler, however, most of these apostates came back to their religion. Dubois argued that if this were to happen now all Indian Christians would behave the same way, "so dastardly an apostasy, unexampled in the annals of Christianity" (p.40).


How about that class of Christians in India, the offspring of European men and Indian women? "Most of them possessed the vices and bad qualities, both of Europeans and Hindoos, with but very few of the virtues and good qualities of either, ... destitute of the spirit of temperance and sobriety, self-command, patience and forbearance of the Hindoos, and also of that dignity and independence of mind which characterizes Europeans in the several circumstances of life" (p. 41).


What was the remedy, then? Or was there any remedy at all? Would the introduction of the Bible remedy the situation and bring about a new brand of Hindu Christian? "It is not bibles which are wanted, but rather elementary works, such as catechisms, short and familiar instructions, plain explanations of the creed, of the ten commandments, simple lectures upon Christian duties, upon the principal virtues, upon charity, temperance, self-command, the forgiveness of injuries, &c. &c."(p. 42).

Although Indian Christians had many deficiencies of character, Dubois was not willing to condemn them totally as worthless: "I am still farther from admitting the bold opinion of many prejudiced or misinformed Europeans, who contend that the native Christians are the worst of all Hindoos. There is something savouring of blasphemy in this assertion, for, should that be the case, it would tend to nothing less than to prove that the Christian religion, so far from improving the condition of man, renders him on the contrary worse than pagans" (p. 44). On the contrary, "the low state of Christianity among the Europeans living in this country" should be considered as the main cause for the low state of Christianity among the natives, Dubois declared.


Dubois asserted in his third letter that "as long as we are unable to make impression on the polished part of the nation, on the leaders of public opinion, on the body of Brahmins in short, there remain but very faint hopes of propagating Christianity among the Hindoos; and as long as the only result of our labours shall be, as is at present the case, to bring into our respective communions here and there a few desperate vagrants, outcasts, pariahs, horse keepers, beggars, and other persons of the lowest description . . . "

On the other hand, Dubois also felt that the Brahmin was "a kind of moral monster, as an individual placed in a state of continual variance and opposition with the rest of the human race; ... (who) is obliged to shun, to scorn, and to hate" (p.55).


The contrast between the two -- the Christian and the Brahmin -- was very clear, Dubois argued: "The leading feature of the education of a Christian is an universal charity and benevolence towards all his fell-creatures. The leading feature of the education of a Brahmin is a universal hatred and contempt towards all the human race. A Christian is taught to love even his enemies, and to return good for evil. A Christian is taught to love even his enemies, and to return good for evil. A Brahmin is brought up in the indelible idea that he is the only perfect being on earth, a being of by far a superior stamp to that of all other mortals; that all other men are nothing but barbarians" (p.55-56). "The leading precept of the Brahmins is this, Thou shalt love brutes like thyself, instead of Thou shalt love thy neighbour like thyself "A pious Hindoo Brahmin, who will make it his imperative duty share his frugal mean with fishes, snakes, monkeys, and birds of prey, will on the other hand, behold, with the coldest indifference, a poor wretch starving at his door, without thinking of assisting him" (p.61). The modern educated Hindus, especially the Brahmin reformer Rammohun Ray, talked of "the advantages of religious and political freedom. To see a Brahmin turn the apostle of freedom was a shocking anomaly" (p. 88).


When viewed in the broader history of the progress of Christianity among the nations, Dubois did not see the rejection of Christianity by Indians as anything about which we should be specially worried: "Notwithstanding its early amazing progress, the revealed religion has to this day been that of only the minority of mankind; and that if we except the spiritual conquest it has made in modern times in the new world, and in the Philippine Islands it has, from a period of about a thousand years, remained stationary in the old, making no sensible progress among the heathen nations during so long a period, and rather losing than gaining ground" (p. 58). There had been no compensation "for the heavy losses the religion has sustained in several other countries, from Mahometan invasions, and other causes" (p. 58).

An interesting question is now raised by Dubois: "Who has told us that Christianity shall not remain stationary in like manner, and continue to the end of the world to be the religion of only the minority of mankind? Has he (Christ) told any one that all nations, or even the majority of them should be brought under the yoke of the Gospel?" (p. 58-59).

"In several of the books of the Old Testament, and chiefly in the Psalms of David, in which frequent allusions to the coming of the Messiah are made, he is represented as extending his spiritual dominion over all the earth, from one end of the world to the other; but most of the expressions used by the inspired writers in those passages of Holy Writ either have a mystical meaning, or are mere metaphors which cannot be taken in their literal import, and whose true meaning cannot be perfectly understood by us" (p.59). Since "the dispositions of God, and above all, his hidden system of election and reprobation, are quite out of the reach of our weak understanding" we cannot really fully understand the reasons for the Hindu's refusal to accept Christ. However, "by obstinately refusing to listen to the voice of the heavens, which 'declare the glory of God,' they have forever endeared themselves unworthy of the divine favours" (p.61).


"The intercourse of the Hindoos with the Europeans has proved the last blow to the interests of Christianity in India, and that the repeated invasions of the country by the latter, have put a stop to all further conversion, and only contributed to make apostates among the old converts, by rendering them objects of universal contempt among all classes of Hindoos" (p. 62). The European colonization in the new and old world "proved rather a curse than a blessing, and have, on the whole, produced more evil than good they have, in general, by their bad examples, polluted their (natives') minds, and vitiated the simplicity of their manners I have visited places inhabited by Europeans (in India). In none of those places have I been able to remark any amelioration or improvement in the morals and religion of the natives. Any changes I have observed in this respect, were rather for the worse as long as we have no warmer promoters of the cause of Christianity than the existing race of Europeans of any nation whatever, we can entertain but very faint hopes of Christianity gaining ground in India" (p. 63-65).


Unfortunately the European exhibited greater contempt to the native Christian than to the Hindus: "As long as a native Christian, who happens to fall in the way of an European, shall (after having been surveyed with a stern and scornful countenance) be welcomed by him with this insulting reproach, 'why hast Thou forsaken the religion of thy forefathers to embrace a foreign worship?' so long as the name of a native Christian and a rogue shall sound as synonymous in the ears of a prejudiced European so long as the natives shall behold the precepts and morals of that holy religion openly violated without shame or scruple by those who were educated in its bosom; in short, so long as the Christian religion shall have to struggle with so many domestic and foreign obstacles, it would, in my humble opinion, be perfect nonsense to flatter ourselves with the hope of its ever gaining any solid footing in the country" (p.65).


As regards the exposure to the Bible and its impact on those who read it, Dubois had this to say: "It appears to me, that we are a little too much disposed to over-rate the effects that we fancy the naked divine work ought to produce on the mind of an ill-disposed heathen nation. We judge of the effects it ought to produce on them, by those it produces on ourselves, who have been brought under its instructions; who received it in our early years from Christian parents; and who have perhaps made it our principal study in our maturer age" (p 66).


Then, when should the Bible be given to the converts or exposed to the Hindus? The answer given by Dubois was: "To start in the work of proselytism by exhibiting at once to the view of the pagans of any nation whatever our holy books, is in my opinion to commence our labours where we ought to finish them (p. 66), . . . to exhibit the Scriptures to an unprepared pagan, to build up his faith upon a desire to know the truth, is, in my humble opinion, an absurd proceeding" (p.67). Dubois would suggest that short catechisms be prepared for the guidance of the newly converted and the seekers, rather than going to the Bible straightaway: "Of what utility can the Holy Scriptures be to persons unable to understand a short catechism of ten pages, composed in the plainest style? ... the money spent for the purpose (of translation) would be better and more meritoriously employed in feeding the hungry and clothing the naked" (p.68).


The problem was compounded by the fact, asserted Dubois, that the translations into various Indian languages had been very pathetic. So, "as long as they shall be translated into the almost unintelligible style in which we see the versions already executed, there is not the remotest hope of their being of the least utility even to the best disposed persons, and that those loose and spurious versions will only tend to increase the contempt of the prejudiced natives against Christianity, and prove on the whole detrimental to its interests" (p.68). One should remember, Dubois cautioned, that the first missionaries who came to India in fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries gained some ground and got a hearing "not by circulating amongst the natives spurious, and almost unintelligible versions of our sacred it was chiefly by scrupulously conforming themselves to the usages and customs of the country" (p.70).


Dubois bemoaned that even after living in India for 30 years, and living like the Hindoos, he could make "in all between two and three hundred converts of both sexes. Of this number two-thirds were pariahs, or beggars; and the rest were composed of sudras, vagrants, and outcasts of several tribes, who, being without resource turned Christians, in order to form new connections, chiefly for the purpose of marriage, or with some other interested views I do not remember any one who may be said to have embraced Christianity from conviction, and through quite disinterested motives those who continued Christian are the very worst among my flock" (p.72-73).

To make his point, Dubois predicted something in a lighthearted fashion to challenge his readers, which, unfortunately, has come true in the 20th century: "I am firmly persuaded, that if (what has never been the case) the Hindoo Brahmins were animated by a spirit of proselytism, and sent to Europe missionaries of their own faith, to propagate their monstrous religion, and make converts to the worship of Shiva and Vishnoo, they would have much more chance of success, among certain classes of society, than we have to make among them true converts to the faith in Christ" (p.73). Many Europeans who went to India ended up stating that "all religions are equally acceptable to the Deity, and conduct to the same end" (p.74).

Dubois declared that any announcement to the effect that these fields were white already to harvest (a reference to the declarations of several Protestant missionaries of his day) was only pompous, exaggeration and misrepresentation, and was untrue (p.75-76).


The next letter is a criticism of a reverend, presumably a Protestant pastor, who, the Abbé accuses, was overly prejudiced against the Hindoos, making such statements as "in ignorance, in vice, and immorality, the Hindoos are far below the most savage nations, a chaste female is almost unknown among the Hindoos, the Hindoo females have not a spark of maternal tenderness towards their offspring," and so on. Now it is the turn of the Abbé to adumbrate the virtues of the Hindoos.

The Abbé finds that "the new reformers," a term he used to refer to the Protestant missionaries and lay Christians who had a great zeal to reform the Hindu nation with the preaching of the gospel, came to India very strongly prejudiced against the Hindoos: "On their arrival in the country they continue to look at these people with European eyes, and European prejudices, and to act accordingly; but finding themselves disappointed in all their attempts to make an impression upon them on the score of religion, or otherwise, they, in their fiery zeal, or rather in their despair, avenge themselves by lavishing every kind of abuse and insult not only on their religion, but also on all their institutions both public and private, sacred and profane" (p.79).

The new reformers had failed miserably not only because of their prejudice against the Hindus but also because of "the methods devised by the new reformers to make an impression upon these pagan nations" (p.79). They all thought "in order to convert the Hindoos to Christianity, it was only necessary to lay the Bible before them" (p.79). The translations of the Bible done by these reformers with such intention and with unseemly haste were all "made extremely incorrect and almost unintelligible" (p.79). Again, "alas! It is not Bibles the poor Hindoos want or ask for. It is food and raiment" (p.79).... I will not fear to declare, that it is to me a subject of scandal to observe, that while so much anxiety is evinced to supply the Hindoos with Bibles which they never asked for, and which cannot be to them of the least utility, no voice is raised to supply their actual necessities, and procure them food and clothing, which they ask so clamorously" (p.80).

Then again the new reformers had begun "to be sensible of the impossibility of making an impression on these pagan nations with respect to religion" (p.81). Now their ambition as "to remove the clouds of ignorance which hang over these people, and instill into their minds principles of civilization, morality, and pure manners" (p.81). Once again, the new reformers were bound to fail, for the relevant question to be asked was: "is it the Hindoos or ourselves who stand in need of reform on these several matters?" (p.81). If we looked at the Hindus with some degree of impartiality, the Abbé declared, the Hindus "are nearly our equals in all that is good, and our inferiors only in all that is bad" (p.82).


The evils that one noticed among the Hindus could not be solely ascribed to "the perversity of character peculiar to themselves; and, in my humble opinion, these vices have their origin only in the extreme poverty common to the great majority of the Hindoos" (p.85). Civilizing the Hindus and enlightening them through the education of the European sciences and arts would not lead to any better improvement of their character. "It is not always the best civilized and most enlightened nations that are the most virtuous and the most just" (p.85).

That English education and public schools would bring a change of religion and character, a position of the Protestant missionaries of the time, was not acceptable to the Abbé: the Hindus "go to those schools for the sole purpose of attaining a competent acquaintance with the English language, in order to be able, by this means, to gain a livelihood" (p.88).

Imparting western education to the Hindus and trying to eradicate their superstitions such as widow-burning, infanticide, and so on, would encourage rebellion among the Hindus against European rule: "I observe, with sorrow, that the interference of the new reformers to improve the condition of the Hindoos has thus far produced more evil than good" (p.92). "The effect produced by the interference of the new reformers with the prejudices of the Hindoos" would result in "explosion, which may make all India a theatre of confusion and anarchy, to which it will be in the power of no government to apply a remedy" (p.93). The new reformer "is not, perhaps, aware, that owing to their abrupt attacks on the most deep-laid prejudices of the country, the zeal of the Hindoos had been roused to a determined spirit of opposition and resistance, when they saw their most sacred customs and practices publicly reviled, laughed at, and turned into ridicule, by words, and in writing, in numberless religious tracts, circulated with profusion, in every direction, all over the country" (p. 105).


Finally, Dubois knew for sure as to the support base for all the activities of the new reformers in India - the charity and compassion of the British families and especially the pious ladies in Britain. Without their help the missionaries would not have come to India. So his appeal and advice to these ladies of Liverpool and all the cities in Britain was that they would spend their hard earned income better if only they would first help their own poor countrymen; "If I were to make an appeal to the charity and compassion of the ladies of Liverpool, or of any other town in the United Kingdom, I would advise them to look around themselves, and behold the distressing spectacle of misery which most unfortunately prevails to such an alarming extent among the lower classes of their countrymen, and represent to them, as an imperative duty, the obligation of employing all their savings to assist their neighbours, and alleviate by all the means in their power the evils of the distressed persons who live around them. But I shall certainly never call on any lady, or other individual whatever, to engage him or her to squander way the money in contributing to the (in my humble opinion) absurd project of establishing schools for the purpose of enlightening the Hindoo females, or of circulating Bibles and tracts which are perused by no one, and are above the comprehension of all" (p.110).


Rev. James Hough, Chaplain to the East India Company in Madras, published a book of 322 pages in London in 1824, replying to the charges of the Abbé Dubois. The book was titled A Reply to the Letters of the Abbé Dubois, on the State of Christianity in India.

Rev. Hough was no mere chaplain. The book shows his missionary heart, rare among the chaplains at that time. From the book we come to know that he had widely traveled in India, especially in south India, and was actively promoting missionary work among the natives. He was also a witness to the budding mass movement towards Christianity among some Tamil and Malayali castes in south India. (For some interesting details and conclusions regarding these movements, see Hough was full of information as to the progress of Christianity and missionary-initiated social reform in India, had an insight into the Hindu society which matched the knowledge of the Abbé Dubois, and was quite positive about the nature and character of Indian converts.


At the outset, Hough maintained the possibility of converting the Hindus to Christ: "for the Gospel has been proclaimed to as bad a people, and that with success," (p.9. Page references are to the book by Hough 1824). "Easy were it to prove, that the Hindoos are less culpable before God, than" most other tribes who had been won over to Christ: "Then, will any uninspired mortal be so presumptuous, as to pronounce any other nation under heaven to be irrevocably doomed to eternal misery, and that for crimes of inferior magnitude, and committed under less aggravating circumstances? Or, will he be so unfeeling as to act upon that presumption, by ceasing to labour, and by exerting his ability and influence to dissuade others from labouring, to bring them to the knowledge of 'the only true God,' and to the faith of the only 'Mediator between God and Man' (1 Tim.2: 5)."


  1. Hough made a clear distinction between the methods adopted by the Roman Catholic missionaries and those of the Protestant faith.
  2. M. Dubois might be correct in charging those Hindus who had rejected the Roman Catholic mode of faith with committing the unpardonable sin, "yet, by what Scriptural authority or precedent does he turn his back upon all the other natives of India, and doom them to the irrevocable curse of Almighty God? A revelation from Heaven can alone justify such conduct!" (p.16).


  1. The interpretation placed on Matt. 10, Mark 6, Luke 9, and 10 by Dubois was totally wrong: "The Abbé Dubois seems to think that the instructions given by our Lord to His Disciples, when He sent them forth to preach, (Matt. 10, Mark 6, Luke 9, and 10) are sufficient to vindicate his (the Abbé's) abandonment of the Hindoos. The Abbé assumes that the modem Missionary has precisely the same duty to perform, and is placed in the same circumstances, as those Disciples of our Lord; for without this, his argument falls to the ground. But I protest against his assumption. In those chapters, our Lord is not (as the Abbé affirms) investing His Disciples "with full powers to preach His divine Religion to all people." He merely charges them with a temporary office; viz. To announce that the kingdom of heaven was at hand" (p.16-17) they were forbidden to stay in order to convince gainsayers Their time was very limited: consequently, they were not to suffer themselves to be detained unnecessarily, but to move on with the greatest possible speed, in consistency with the fulfillment of their commission" (p.18). Hough argued that Dubois called the doctrine of election as a gloomy tenet, but at the same time he held a position similar to that of election: "How can he possibly make this quadrate with his own use and application of that doctrine to one hundred millions of human beings?" (p.21). The Abbé's writing can be described only as "an endeavour to deter others from embarking in the Missionary Cause" (p. 22).
  2. In reply to Dubois' assertion that there was no injunction against Christianity remaining stationary and also against its continuation to the end of the world to be only as a religion of the minority, Rev. Hough cited Psalm 2:8, Isaiah 11:9, Daniel 2:44, 7::13,14; Hab. 2:14; and Zech. 9:10. The Kingdom of God has been compared by the Lord to the leaven and to the tiny mustard seed (Matt. 13:31-33): "What other signification can be attached to these parables, but that they are intended to teach that all nations shall be enlightened by the doctrines, influenced by the principles, and seek refuge from the wrath of God under the peaceful shadow of the Gospel?" (p.24).


  1. Dubois was some sort of a prevaricator: "He can represent the Hindoo as entirely destitute of charity, if his purpose be to shew the impracticability of converting him from his depraved condition," while in order to discredit others when they made some similar remarks he would assert that they were more charitable than Europeans. If Europeans were indeed bereft of charity, and if at least some Europeans were converted to Christianity, Dubois should admit the possibility of converting the Hindoos as a fair and natural conclusion. "The only legitimate inference from these remarks is - not that of M. Dubois, that the Hindoos cannot be converted, but - that since, by his own shewing, they are no worse than our own ancestors were, the same 'infinite mercy' and 'bright light of Divine Revelation,' which were vouchsafed to these, may, in the day of God's power, be extended also to the idolaters of Hindoostan." (p.26)
  2. Dubois contended that the Hindu converting to Christianity lost all and that this suffering was not found to this great extent in conversions from other religions or societies. Hough pointed out that "there is nothing whatever, in the case of the Hindoo Convert, so bad as what our Lord candidly led his Disciples, of every age and country, to expect, as the consequence of their fidelity to His cause.
  3. Hough, being a missionary from Britain, asserted that the British laws in operation in India would protect the life and property of the Hindu converts: "M. Dubois himself knows, that, whatever losses, or privations, or reproaches, the Hindoo may have to encounter on embracing Christianity, his life is protected by the British Laws, which would condemn to the gibbet the murderer of the humblest individual" (p.29). On the other hand, Hough himself would confess later on that the British officers in India treated the Hindu converts with greater contempt than what they would do to the Hindus.


Hough made a very significant and insightful observation as to the relative importance the Hindus place on their gods and family: "Hindoos would persecute a relation embracing the Christian Faith, more out of regard for the reputation of their family and caste, than for the honor of their gods." Since "persecutions arising from religious bigotry have always been more obstinate, furious, and cruel, than those which have originated in other causes, the Hindoos on embracing Christianity have less to fear than most of the earlier converts" (p.29-30). Moreover, the church history was full of persecutions against Christians, conducted with a greater severity of torture. Persecutions were calculated to deter the natives from professing Christianity, unless they be sincere. Hough cited several instances "in proof of the possibility of even the Hindoos bearing sufferings and reproach for the sake of Christ" (p.33).


  1. Hough agreed with Dubois that "the Brahmins keep from the other castes all religious and scientific knowledge" (p. 38). "But I never yet heard of their prohibiting the study of European arts and sciences." This opened up a great opportunity to reach out to the Hindu castes, according to Hough. However, Hough was wrong on this point. Several instances had been recorded by other missionaries which spoke of the hindrances placed against the low caste boys and their parents who dared to send their children to newly founded western schools. However, Hough recognized "instances of an intolerant spirit among the Brahmins, to prevent their circulation and perusal (of Holy Scriptures and other religious publications); but such is very far from being the general disposition. I mean not to affirm, that the Brahmins are not as much attached to their peculiar institutions as the interested priesthood of any other nation: but I do say, and repeat it, that, as a b, they have hitherto never come forward to impede the progress of Christianity among the other castes" (p.42). The result is that "the Hindoos have begun to examine into the literature and religion of Europeans, without waiting for the sanction of the Brahmins, or deferring to their judgment and authority" (p.43).
  2. The Brahmins did not possess that control over the people which the Abbé Dubois attributed to them, Hough concluded: "I maintain, that the command which the Brahmin caste may be supposed, at one time, to have held over the rest, is now greatly diminished And, as far as I know of the present of the public feeling towards them, I do assert, that their conversion is not a sine qua non, in our calculations and exertions upon the other castes" (p. 46). In opposition to the general Roman Catholic assessment of the time, Hough took the position that the conversion of the Brahmins "would not be in any degree essential to the actual conversion of the other castes. It is the Holy Spirit, which must convert the soul to God. He is free in his operations; and influences the heart of one man, without any inference to the character or station of another" (p.47).
  3. "In short, Jesus Christ neither rejected nor gave a preference to any that sought Him in sincerity of heart. He came to seek and to save that which was lost. All were lost." (pg. 71-72). Jesus did not court the Sadducees and Pharisees, the Brahmins of his day in the Jewish society. Likewise, Apostle Paul "paid no more respect to the Pharisees, as such than to the most illiterate, vulgar, and disreputable part of the Jews, or even the Gentiles."
  4. The object of St. Paul, like that of Christ, was to preach the Gospel with such simplicity, that it might commend itself to every man's s conscience by its own intrinsic merits. Were it clothed in classic language, and promulgated by a person of eminence, it would, doubtless, render it more acceptable to the higher classes: but for that very reason he divested it of human decorations, knowing the propensity of the mind to be attracted by a fair exterior of Religion, and to mistake an approbation of Preacher and his style for an approval of his sacred message" (p.74). "The Brahmin has no more claim to the regard of the Christian Teacher than the Pariah: (James 2:1-9). I would not have the Missionary do violence to the prejudices of any one: but he betrays his trust, if he flatters the vanity of sanctions the superstitions of any description of men, for the sake of obtaining for the Gospel a more extensive circulation" (p.76).
  5. As the time marched on, the Brahmins and other castes had recognized the need to give up their superstitions and to accept the rules framed by the British Administration as regards the burning of the widows, and killing of female infants, etc. In addition, the Brahmins had even joined the British Indian Army and stood side by side with the untouchables. Hough made a special mention of the acceptance of the use of leather products in the army both by the Brahmins and non-Brahmins as proof of the growing tendency to give up their religious prejudices. He was writing in 1824. The first ever all-India sepoy mutiny (called by the Indian historians as the first war of independence) took place only in 1857. One of the reasons for this mutiny was the suspicion that cow fat was used as lubricant for the rifles! Hough cited various instances to prove that the "prejudices" of the Hindus were not insurmountable.
  6. A major condition for the elimination of their religious prejudices depended upon the improvement of the moral state of European society in India, Hough concluded.


  1. Dubois maintained that it was impractical to abolish practices such as suttee (burning of the widows in the funeral pyre of their husbands) and that any attempt to abolish Hindu practices would result in rebellion. However, Hough maintained that "it betrays an ignorance of the native character, to suppose that the Hindoos are capable of being 'roused to a determined spirit of opposition and resistance,' by such means as have been hitherto employed to wean them from any of their 'sacred customs and practices." Hough also maintained "the natives of India are not composed of such active and irritable materials" (p.60)!

    Both Dubois and Hough appear to be correct here. As I mentioned earlier, one of the causes identified for the first large-scale sepoy mutiny related to the Hindu and Muslim religious prejudices. The Hindu soldiers suspected that they were asked to use the cow fat as lubricants for their rifles, and the Muslim soldiers thought that they were asked to use the lubricant made with lard. On the other hand, the Indian struggle for independence from the British under the leadership of Gandhi was largely peaceful, and it adopted non-violent means in stark comparison to such struggles elsewhere. Even now the change of governments in India is accomplished through peaceful means of democratic elections, whereas in many non-Christian, particularly the Muslim nations, bloodshed is an integral part of that process.
  2. Hough concluded that "the Hindoo's entrenchments are not impassable, nor the moral impediments of his character irremediable; since they are not more vicious than others, and even less culpable in the sight of God than many who have been converted to the Faith of Christ. Hence the possibility of their conversion, also, must be conceded by every ingenuous mind: and while that possibility exists, we have not the shadow of authority for excluding them from all hope of obtaining the divine mercy provided for apostate but repenting creatures in the Gospel of Jesus Christ" (p.60-61).


  1. Means employed by the Roman Catholics for the conversion of the Hindus stood in stark contrast with those maintained by the Protestant missionaries, claimed Hough. And this contrast in the means explained the failure of the Roman Catholic Jesuits and the success of the Protestant missionaries, according to Hough.
  2. The Jesuits adopted the very means that were calculated to strengthen the prejudices in the minds of the people, and to foster brahminical pride, declared Hough. The early Jesuits announced themselves as Brahmins coming from Europe, and imitated all the Brahminical traits of life among the natives. This led to the toleration of all kinds of idolatrous superstitions among their proselytes. They excused themselves by saying that such tactics were needed to attract the Hindus to Christianity by citing the example of the Apostles. They said that these were only temporary measures and that when Hindu converts matured they would slowly give up these practices.


  1. Dubois' major claim was that the Hindus were a sensual people and that "they are quite insensible to all that does not make a strong impression on the senses." Hence "the necessity of disguising the Christian Religion, under images, pictures, procession, etc. resembling, as closely as possible, those of the people we would convert!" Hough, on the other hand, took the position that "the constitution of the human mind is the same everywhere. The peculiarity of its attachments is quite accidental, and is formed by education and habit. We are all creatures of sense, and too prone to be allured by sensible objects: and in proportion as we are thus led away by the vanities around us, the thoughts, the affections, are drawn from God. To deliver us from this thralldom of the senses, is one of the practical designs of Christianity: and until the soul shall be thus enfranchised, we can never become spiritual, and, consequently, acceptable worshippers of the Only True God, nor faithful believers in Christ (p.66) are we, then, to be told by these men, that the Hindoos' prejudices are insurmountable? They have never attempted to overcome them!" (p.66-67).
  2. Apostle Paul "did consult the infirmities of the weaker Brethren; feeding some with milk, others with stronger food, as he found them able to bear it (1 Cor. 3:2). He did not instantly demand the renunciation of customs, in their nature indifferent, when he perceived that such strictness might wound their feelings, and thereby retard their progress in the Faith. He knew that they would discontinue them of their own accord, when further light had exposed their inutility … did he, like the Jesuits in India, allow Converts from Idolatry to incorporate Pagan Rites and Ceremonies with the simplicity of the Christian Mode of Worship?" (p. 78).
  3. "I have never witnessed any attempt, on the part of the Roman Catholic Missionaries, to improve the character of their converts." They change their idols indeed, "substituting the Crucifix and the images of the Virgin, etc. to those of the Hindus ... No wonder, then, that their character is as bad as the Abbé Dubois describes them" (p.83). In spite of all their efforts to integrate the mode of worship of the Hindus with that of the Roman Catholics, "the Abbé Dubois himself acknowledges, that they have totally failed of their object" (p. 85). But then they attributed their failure not to the methods they had adopted but to the peculiar character of the Hindus and to the nature of their superstitions and prejudices. They also claimed that the very same methods were successful in Japan, but not among the Hindus. Truly speaking there was nothing to gloat over the success of the method adopted in Japan. They could offer nothing "in proof of the efficiency of the means they used to propagate Christianity, or in support of his inference, that, since the same means have been employed in India without success, the conversion of the Hindoos must be a hopeless undertaking" (p.94).


As regards the bad elements among the European settlers affecting the fair name of Christianity in India, Hough thought that if only the Jesuits had lived a true Christian life among the Hindus, the Hindus would have easily distinguished the Christian from the non-Christian among the Europeans: "I admit that the immoralities of Europeans have always produced a bad effect, in various ways, upon the Natives of India. But had the Jesuits acted with Christian integrity; and, instead of assuming the character of Brahmins, appeared among them as faithful Preachers of the Gospel, no misconduct of the English or French army would have diminished the respect they had commanded prior to the invasion of India by those Powers" (p.96).


Hough suggested steps that the missionaries and the East India Company should take for the propagation of the gospel among the natives: The decline of the Catholic faith in India was due mainly to the fact that the Jesuits did not insist upon their followers to read the Bible. "After all, however, if we inquire into the expedients used by the Roman Catholic Missionaries to preserve Christianity among their Converts, its decline will be found to have arisen more from their own negligence, than from any other cause: for it requires as much care, if not more, to cherish a love and reverence for the Gospel, as to produce it" (p.97). "They withhold from their converts the Word of God! for the infallible guide, they substitute Images, Pictures, and unintelligible ceremonies to substitute Images, etc. for the Scriptures, is an imposition upon the human mind, it is denying to man that instruction which God has expressly revealed, for the purpose of teaching us the knowledge of Himself and His gracious will" (p.97-99) "if, at the same time, they would teach and exhort them to read the Word of God, they would soon experience the revival of the interests and spirit of Christianity in the East" (p.103).


  1. Dubois said that instead of circulating the Bible among the natives, the missionaries should reproduce small books on morals for the benefit of their congregations. Dubois accused the new reformers of neglecting the publication of easily understandable tracts. However Rev. Hough said the very same thing about the Catholic missionaries: "Another means for the preservation of Christianity is, the publication of small Treatises and Elementary works on Religious Subjects. The Roman Catholics have published a few works of this description; but they are seldom to be met with, except, here and there, one or two in the possession of the Native Catechists (these) treat much more upon the ceremonies and superstitions of their church, than upon devotional exercises, or the graces and duties of the gospel" (p.104).
  2. "A third indispensable requisite, if we would preserve the spirit of godliness among our converts is a pious and well-educated Ministry" (p.105). Roman Catholics in India do not want Seminaries for the educating of their (black) Priests. "Equally essential is it to the welfare of Christianity, to educate our children in the precepts and principles of the Bible. But the Roman Catholics have very few schools in India of any description" (p.105). (As of now, however, Catholics have well-established seminaries for the training of their clergy. They run the largest number of schools run among all the Christian denominations in India.) Thus, Dubois "ought to attribute the diminution of their numbers, and the degeneracy of those who continue to profess the Catholic Faith, to the neglect of their Priests to adopt proper means for their mental and religious improvement" (p.108).
  3. On the other hand, the main instrument used by the Protestant missionaries happened to be the Bible. Hough declared that "though the Abbé seems amused at the idea of giving the Scripture to the Hindoos, and thinks it the least likely instrument to effect their Conversion, yet I maintain, that it is the most effective that ever was, is or can be employed" (p.113). "Indeed, until the Papal Supremacy was established-when means more characteristic of Mahomedanism than Christianity were used to convert Infidel Nations; when Cardinals and Bishops were seen leading armies to the field, to extend the dominion of Christ by fire and sword--till then, the translation of the Bible into the language of a country, in order to effect its conversion, was considered a measure of primary importance (there was) the necessity, and the duty, of giving the precedency to this, among the various means used for the Conversion of the Heathen" (p.114).


  1. The Abbé Dubois objects to the introduction of the Bible to the Heathen on the ground that it would wound their feelings as several incidents portrayed in the Bible would be in conflict with the Heathen's culture and religious belief Hough replied: "I grant these accounts are calculated to wound the prejudices of the Hindoo, whose mind is unprepared to receive them. But doe not M. Dubois know, that in every Nation, and every age, the Natural Man has taken offence at the peculiarities or the simplicity of the Divine Religion?" (p.116). Apart from that, even the Hindus have animal sacrifices offered to their gods, which were held in several places with Brahmins officiating as priests. Hough contextual zed the agony and torture of crucifixion to a common practice indulged in by the Hindu ascetics: "Sufferings and Crucifixion of Jesus are calculated to exalt him in the opinion of the Hindoos unlike the Muslims, for among the Hindus "the more painful the tortures to which their own Sanassees (Sanyasins) submit, the more holy do they esteem them: and they will readily apply this prepossession to the suffering Jesus" (p.119).
  2. Hough argued that the Bibles were not distributed among the Hindus indiscriminately, and without preparation, as alleged by the Abbé.
  3. The Abbé asserted that the native Christians in general are as unprepared to read the Scriptures as the Heathen. However, Hough replied that "I know many Protestants and some Catholics educated in our Mission Schools, who are as capable of reading and understanding the Word of God in their vernacular tongue, as the same class of persons in any Christian country" (p.124).


  1. Next, Hough dealt with the criticism the Abbé made against the character of the translations hitherto made into the Oriental Languages. Dubois maintained, "they are so very imperfect, that they cannot be understood" (pg.124). Hough pointed out that "accurate Translations of the Holy Scriptures, into the various Languages of India, are difficult to be obtained: but First Versions require, and will receive, indulgence from all who candidly consider the great obstacles with which the Translators have to contend" (p. 133). The Bible Society of India had taken abundant precaution to ensure that the translations were accurate before these were published. "It were unreasonable to expect the First Translation of the Scripture into any language to be perfect." As pointed out by Ward, the Protestant missionary criticized by the Abbé, "These versions are not offered as perfect performances; but, I doubt not, they will bear to be compared with any other First Versions which have at any time been given to the world. Every First Version of such a book as the Bible, in any language, will require, in future Editions, many improvements, and all the aids possible, to carry these Versions to perfection" (p. 136). The individual items shown by the Abbé as examples of inaccurate translations, Hough claimed, could be accounted for by the fact that the Protestant Missionaries did not follow the Vulgate versions of the Bible as basis for their translations. They used the originals for the purpose.
  2. The Abbé demanded that "a translation of the Holy Scriptures, in order to awaken the curiosity, and fix the attention of the Learned Hindoo, at least as a literary production, ought to be on a level with the Indian performances of the same kind among them, and be composed in fine poetry, a flowery style, and a high stream of eloquence; this being universally the mode in which all Indian performances of any worth are written." Hough raised the question: Then, why have not some of the Jesuit Missionaries performed this work?" Even the best qualified among them such as R. C. J. Beschi, alias Vira-maamuni, did not undertake such a translation of the scriptures as the Abbé described. Almost always these savants chose to translate in fine poetry popish tales "to give authenticity to Popish Legends, and encourage the practice of superstitious mortification." The language and style they adopted in their tales in poetic form were such that it was impossible even for the highly educated among the Hindus to understand what these were all about, and this led Hough to conclude that "the lowest Translation of the plain Text of Scripture is more likely to convert the Hindoos to Christianity than such a substitute as this" (p.144).


  1. Roman Catholic Missionaries did not pay much attention to the establishment of schools for all classes of people, argued Hough. On the other hand the Protestant missionaries always used schools as an instrument of change. "It is not pretended that these Schools have effected many conversions, yet, if we recollect the strong prejudice that existed in the minds of the Natives We may reasonably look to them as so many Nurseries for the rearing of a more intelligent and less-prejudiced race of Hindoos than those of the present or any preceding age. And that the preaching or reading of the Divine Word will be more likely to affect their minds than it does those of their parents, who possessed none of the advantages which they enjoy in the Mission Schools, is too obvious to need further remark" (p. 160). (Although this hope was fulfilled in some measure, the schools run by the Catholics and Protestants, do not generally evince much interest in the evangelization of the Hindus and Muslims now.) The Protestant Missionary schools "are rapidly removing that 'wall of partition,' which has for ages separated the Brahmin from all other castes and descriptions of men. Though these schools produced no immediate conversions, Hough argued that the kind of education imparted in these schools warranted "the anticipation of a result, at no distant period, equally glorious, from this wide diffusion of Religious and Scientific knowledge" (p.168). This hope remained largely a fond hope. Conversions through the introduction of western arts and sciences were few and far between. A few here and there embraced Christianity, but more often than not while the Hindus accepted the western knowledge, they largely ignored the Christian teaching that went along with it in these schools.
  2. Hough considered establishing Schools for Females an important branch of Missionary Labour in India whereas the Abbé considered the entire project impracticable. The Abbé considered that the state of poverty of the women and their numerous avocations would not allow them to attend the schools. On the other hand, Hough argued that the "line of demarcation between the sexes and the austerity of manners on the part of the male towards the female is contrary to all Christian principle and precept: and it be out duty to attend to the moral, mental, and religious improvement of the former, we are bound to devote an equal share of attention to the latter" (p.171). The Abbé was a keen observer and his description of the plight of Hindu women of his time is still largely valid for a multitude of women even today: "At least five-sixths of the Hindoo Females live in such distressed circumstances, that, from the age of eight or ten years, to the end of their lives, they are obliged to labour without intermission from morning till evening; and that, notwithstanding their incessant labours, they are hardly capable of saving enough to purchase a coarse cloth of the value of five or six shillings, to cover themselves." Note, however, that what the Abbé considered impractical has become possible in many ways, although much progress is yet to be achieved. Whereas the Abbé ably described the plight of Hindu women, and did not call for any bold remedial measures from the missionaries, Hough wanted us to press forward and inaugurate ameliorative measures for the benefit of Hindu women. Hough's assessment of the Abbé's declarations is an excellent call to us, the present day missionaries: "The Abbé Dubois ought to have known, that, in Christian benevolence, as well as in Philosophy, the age of conjecture is gone by, and that we are now living in an age of experiment: and such results of charitable and Christian experiment as have been adduced, when weighed against his volume of conjectures, or rather unproved assertions, are perfectly satisfactory to all candid minds" (p. 175). Note also that Hough continued to stress the importance of western literature and science and scientific methods. "An age of experiment in contrast to an age of conjecture."
  3. Christian duty is based on the "principle of love, which constrains them to promote, with so much zeal, the eternal welfare of mankind: That is how Hough adumbrated the missiology of the Protestant missionaries of his day.


  1. In conclusion, Hough declared that 'the principal means upon which Protestant Missionaries in India calculate for producing an immediate effect upon the Native Mind, is, the preaching of the gospel. It is not much that they can do in this most important department of Missionary Labour; the climate, the languages, the habits of the people, being all against them. Though there are some, whose strength of constitution, correct pronunciation, and intimate acquaintance with the Native Tongues, enable them to preach almost as constantly and intelligibly s they could do in Europe, yet this is not often the case: consequently, they feel the necessity of qualifying pious and intelligent Native Christians for the Ministerial Office" (p.177).
  2. No means devised by men would be successful without God's blessing. "The power and promise of God, and the design of the Gospel Covenant, justify the assertion that the Hindoos may, and ultimately will be covered to the Christian Faith," Hough wrote that his "conclusion is fortified by the actual commencement of the work of Divine Grace in Hindoostan" (p.189).


  1. The apostasy of the Roman Catholic converts was not to be found among the Protestant converts, according to Hough. He cited several instances of cruelty perpetrated upon the new converts by the Hindus, but the converts did not swerve from their worship of the Lord.
  2. The statement of the Abbé that the Protestants consisted half of Catholic apostates was not true. While it was true to some extent that the converts came from low castes, this fact alone did not minimize the importance of the ongoing process of conversion among the Hindus. "But does their humble origin and occupation affect their Christian character?" (p.193).
  3. "Had the Abbé resided amongst them, he would found something more than 'vain phantom, an empty shade of Christianity' (p.196). Hough declared that the Dubois' charge of poor moral character, apostasy, and other demeaning characteristics were not applicable to the Native Protestants (p.200). "Any one who has read with candor the description, given in these pages, of the means which they have employed to convert the Hindoos, or to establish them in the faith when converted, will not be surprised at their failure" (p. 202).
  4. While the Abbé would like to characterize the small number of conversions until that time as a drop in the ocean, as the small dust in the balance, "when compared with the One Hundred Millions of Souls in our Eastern Dominions" Hough would describe these conversions as the first sprouting of that grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field: which, indeed, is the least of all seeds; but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof It is the beginning of that leaven to ferment What the Holy Spirit has accomplished in one case, He can accomplish in another, and in all...The Abbé Dubois, like the Ten Spies from Canaan, would discourage us, by reports of the stupendous difficulties in the way of evangelizing the Inhabitants of the East; and he predicts the destruction of Christianity within the space of fifty years. I, though in spirit and faith inferior to Caleb and Joshua, am yet returned from the same land that the Abbé has visited, and brings a similar report of the obstacles to be encountered. I do, however, with those two faithful Israelites, encourage Missionaries to go up and possess the land" (p. 213).


Many had claimed in the past that the missionaries would bring down the British rule in India, because their actions encouraging conversions would provoke the natives to rebel against the British. Dubois also used the same argument against the attempt to convert the Hindus. Hough, on the other hand, sounded a different type of alarm: "Instead of predicting the ruin of the Honorable the East India Company's dominions, as the consequence of Missionary undertakings, I hesitate not to assert, that it were better to abandon all their Eastern acquisitions, than to discourage the propagation of Christianity; or even to stand neuter, and use no means to promote that object, throughout their extensive Empire" (p.249).

Hough approved the justification offered by the British authority as to why they went on acquiring Indian Territory. He quoted Sir John Malcolm approvingly: "We have been reluctantly compelled, by events far beyond our power to control, to assume the duties of Lord-paramount of that great Continent." In Hough's judgment, the acquisition of Indian territories by the British was forced upon them by the Native Princes: "God has often seemed to permit the Wicked Spirit to inspire the Counselors of Native Princes with the spirit of infatuation which has urged them on to provoke hostilities against themselves, until the British have had no alternative, but to deprive them of all power in future to disturb their peace. In this way has the major part of our Indian Territory been transferred to our hands, contrary to our expectations, and often against our wish" (p.251-252).

His argument was that God had given India to Britain for a specific purpose: "There is not the shadow of a reason to conclude that His object is different from what it has generally been, in permitting one nation to triumph over another. That object is to prepare a way for the Ambassadors of Peace, and to extend the boundaries and blessings of His Kingdom. To deny this, or to suppose that the case of the British Power in India forms an exception to the Almighty's general design, is to provoke Him to subvert that mighty Empire. We glory in the achievements of our arms: but soon will their splendor be tarnished, soon shall our Indian Possessions be taken from us, and given to a Nation more zealous for the honor of our God, unless we inscribe on our banners, "Holiness to the Lord" and follow up our successes by rendering them subservient to the promotion of His glory in the East But if they use no means to promote this object, still it shall be accomplished - for it is the Almighty's purpose" (p.252-253).

"What is wealth of the Indies, without the favor of God? -- We should soon find it more worthless than dross. If in order to preserve our Eastern Dominions, we deny to the millions of our Indian Subjects, that "Light" which was revealed for the express purpose of enlightening the Gentiles - the God who has bestowed upon us the vast Continent of Hindoostan, may soon be provoked to recall that costly acquisition" (p. 254).

Hough quotes Sir John Malcolm, 'an able officer,' approvingly: "Let us, therefore, calmly proceed in a course of gradual improvement; and when our rule ceases - for cease it must (though probably at a remote period), as the natural consequence of our success in the diffusion of knowledge -- we shall, as a Nation, have the proud boast that we have preferred the civilization to the continued subjection of India. When our power is gone, our name will be revered; for we shall leave a Moral Monument, more noble and imperishable than the hand of man ever constructed!" (p.255).


  1. Hough offers several arguments for the active involvement of the Honorable East India Company in the conversion of the Natives; 1. The enlightening of the Natives with the knowledge of European literature and sciences was very important as the paramount duty of the British. 2. However, we should consider the vast superiority of Christian Knowledge over every human science or natural acquirement and this should not be denied to the Natives upon the plea that the propagation of Christian knowledge would endanger the British dominion over the Natives. 3. On the other hand, "to impart to your Indian subjects merely secular knowledge may be to supply them with weapons against yourselves. Certainly the most dependence can be placed upon their allegiance, after they shall become better instructed, when they are brought also under the influence of the precepts and principles of the Gospel" (p.257). 4. "If this reasoning be correct, we see that Christianity, instead of endangering our Empire in the East, will tend to increase its stability. So far then from it's being impolitic to promote its diffusion through that Pagan Land, I am prepared to maintain that it is the most politic measure that could be adopted" (p.258).
  2. "But while I argue thus for the policy of propagating Christianity in the East, I must not be understood to recommend the Government to take an active part in the work Not because I think, with the Abbé Dubois, that it would 'prove detrimental to' the Cause, 'by increasing the jealousy and distrust of the Natives'; but because I am persuaded that it would occasion the Church to be crowded with multitudes who would prove a disgrace to our Religion" (p.268). "It is not the object of Protestant missionaries to extend the name of Christianity, without its spirit; and, therefore, they studiously withhold from the Natives every secular inducement to embrace our Holy Faith" (p.270).
  3. Hough would, however, recommend two or three measures to be undertaken by the Honorable East India Company: "First, the Missionary may, in various ways, be assisted in his humble, laborious, and self-denying task, at little or no expense to Government. While he behaves with prudence, and refrains from interfering with Civil or Military Affairs, the Company's Servants might receive express orders to shew him that respect which they pay to each other ... When a Missionary is scowled upon by the Gentlemen at his Station, it tends to degrade him in the eyes of the Heathen, and impedes the influence which his character and exertions might otherwise command of all European Residents in India, the Protestant Missionary is the truest friend to Government" (p.270-272). All others labored for reward from the Company.
  4. "It would greatly facilitate them in the prosecution of their work, were the Collectors instructed to furnish with a piece of ground, on which to build their schools and churches, where they do not interfere with public buildings or private property" (p.274).
  5. "There have been, and may be again. Europeans in the Service, who treat the Native Christians with contempt, and dismiss their complaints in a manner that appalls them; gives their enemies occasion to triumph over them, and to repeat the vexatious and unjust persecutions; and leaves them without the hope of redress. This would, I have little doubt, be prevented, by the issuing of express orders, requiring that the same protection be afforded to the Christians as to every other class of Natives. The Converts might, and ought, to have the same advantages as their countrymen in the Public Service, where they are found to possess equal abilities. This would be affected, by simply abolishing those Regulations which require, that all the highest Offices which Natives can hold, shall be filled by Mahomedans and Hindoos" (p.275).
  6. The next "point for consideration is the Establishment of Schools throughout the Company's Dominions for the education of their servants in the English and Native languages, 'The vices of stealing and bribery in the country are beyond description; and thousands of poor people become objects of severe distress, by the dreadful of the Native Public Servants' Sir John Malcolm had correctly written. "Nothing, humanly speaking, can remedy these evils, but the establishing of Free Schools." (p.277). "The knowledge of the English language acquired in these schools would prove another bond of attachment on the part of the Natives towards the Government" (p.279).
  7. Another "subject deserving attention is the abolition of every practice that outrages the feelings and sympathies of human nature, and of which British Law would take cognizance" (p.281).
  8. The next point recommended by Rev. Hough was that "every practicable effort be made to improve the Moral Character of the Honorable Company's Servants" (p.289). "The Natives know very well that all Europeans regard their idolatries as irrational and absurd; and, therefore never give us credit for sincerity, whatever respect we may pretend " to show towards their superstitious beliefs. Most irreligious of the Company's European servants were most indulgent towards their superstitions, but the natives did not give them any extra respect for this act of theirs. On the other hand, "gentlemen of the opposite character, though they evince a perfect indifference about the foolish ceremonies of the natives are yet the objects of their admiration" (p. 292) "Much of the immorality and infidelity among the Company's Servants, complained of by the Abbé Dubois and others arises, I am persuaded, from, the habits of indifference to Religious Exercises, acquired by a long residence among the Heathen, at a great distance from the Ordinances of Divine Worship, with every possible facility for the gratification of their passions" (p. 294).
  9. In order to inculcate morals of Christianity, the Company should insist on the due observance of the Sabbath The Company's Servants not only should observe the Sabbath themselves but also ensure that their own servants themselves are given the day off during the Sabbath. "First, Divine Service should be publicly performed on the morning and evening of the Sabbath, at every Station. All Servants should be required to attend all the services. Secondly, for the due performance of Divine Service, a Chapel should be built at every Station. The Third point for consideration is the supplying of every Chapel with a large Bible and Prayer Book, the Book of Homilies of the Church of England, Religious Discourses, and such other Publications, as Government or the Bishop of Calcutta may think proper to select. Fourthly, particular orders should be issued against the transacting of public business on the Sabbath. Fifthly, all kinds of Diversion should be prohibited on that Sacred Day. Sixthly, even the natives in the Service of Government should be required to pay some respect to the Sabbath. These Regulations should be published in the vernacular language of every Station, for the information of all classes of Natives the inhabitants should at length know how to distinguish between the Acts and Regulations of the Rulers, and the misconduct of their Agents; otherwise the character of the former will continue to suffer from the delinquencies of the latter."

    These measures, Hough predicted, would help to retain "our possession of India... .to a period far beyond the most sanguine expectations, on the nicest calculations, of the Statesman or Philosopher. But if no such means are adopted to improve the British Character in India, and ingratiate the English with the Natives, then will there be equal grounds to anticipate the down fall of our Eastern Empire, at a period not very remote. The Natives cannot be expected to submit to the government of Foreigners whose irreligious character they despise, when they shall once possess the power of delivering themselves from their rule" (p.303).


Dubois, J. A. 1817. Description of the Character, Manners, and Customs of the People of India, and of their institutions, religious and civil. London: Longman Company. Subsequent editions and reprints with the title Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Dubois, J. A. (original date not clear, but certainly before 1824). Letters on the State of Christianity in India, in which the Conversion of the Hindoos is considered as impracticable to which is added a Vindication of the Hindoos, Male and Female, in answer to a severe attack made upon both by the reverend ****. New Delhi: Associated Pub. House, 1977. Ed. by Sharda Paul, 1977.

Hough, Rev. James. 1824. A Reply to the Letters of the Abbé Dubois on the State of Christianity in India. London: L. B. Seeley & Son.


M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Bethany College of Missions
6820 Auto Club Road, Suite C
Bloomington, MN 55438, U.S.A.