Facing the India Problem

Facing the India Problem No. 1

India presents such a variety of conditions—geographical, economic, sociologic, and religious—that it is well-nigh futile to attempt any general statement about the country which would apply accurately to all parts or to all classes of people found there.

By E. M. MELEEN, Missionary on Furlough, From India

India presents such a variety of conditions—geographical, economic, sociologic, and religious—that it is well-nigh futile to attempt any general statement about the country which would apply accurately to all parts or to all classes of people found there. However, there are two great groups of peo­ple—the Mohammedans and the Hindus—with which Christian missions are chiefly con­cerned, the former numbering about seventy-eight millions and the latter about two hundred forty millions.

Hinduism is generally referred to as a reli­gion, but probably it would be more accurate to refer to it as a system of philosophy, and a sociological organization of those within its fold. Our mission problem in India is so tre­mendous that one is at a loss to know how to define it in adequate, comprehensive terms. However, it may be resolved into a number of major divisions, among which are the estab­lishment of a self-supporting, self-propagating work, and the devising of ways and means to take advantage of an ever-increasing number of openings.

The maintenance of a missionary family in India is, for various reasons, more costly than the maintenance of the same family in the homeland. Therefore, the burden of sup­porting a worker would be heavier for our members in India than for those in the home­land, even if their incomes were equal. But in view of the fact that the income of the average Indian family of the low class, or outcaste community, is not above a dollar a week, it is clear that it would be absurd and unreasonable to expect our Indian constitu­ency to support the workers who are sent over to them. In looking forward, therefore, to the upbuilding of a self-supporting work in this field, we must have in mind a constituency from which a sufficient income may be de­rived to support indigenous workers and in­digenous institutions.

The work should also be self-propagating. By this I mean we should eventually have an organization comprised of workers and laity sufficiently strong to advance, without Euro­pean aid, into new enterprises. The attain­ment of these two objects—making the work self-supporting and self-propagating—consti­tutes a major factor of our problem in India, toward the solution of which but very little progress has yet been made.

Both the resident and the casual traveler in India are impressed by the almost incredible poverty in evidence everywhere. Yet India is a land of fabulous wealth, and if this wealth were only available, it would be more than ample for all gospel needs. But Christian missions have as yet reached only the poor, depressed classes and but a few of the Sudras or low castes. In this respect our Adventist missions are no exception, for our membership has frequently been drawn from the poorest of the poor, the most deeply depressed of the depressed, and the most untouchable of the untouchables, with but few exceptions. Two or three communities among whom we have a few hundred members are outstanding ex­ceptions and furnish our nearest approach, distant though it still be, to the solution of the problem before us.

The Basis of Self-Support

Unless a plan of organization and support different from any hitherto adopted can be devised to maintain and develop the work among these classes, it does not seem that much progress can be made in the direction of self-support. Growth and progress will necessarily continue to be more or less in pro­portion to the increase of our annual budget appropriations. At present, the income from our native churches is so very small in propor­tion to the cost of maintaining indigenous workers as to be almost negligible. So the burden on the budget is increased with every new church that is organized, the expenses mounting at a higher rate than the income. This is a most unsatisfactory state of affairs to those who see multiplying opportunities to advance.

The meager income is not necessarily due to indifference in the matter of tithes and offerings, though without doubt there is room for improvement in the matter, here as in other lands. The simple fact is that the in­come, cash or otherwise, of the great ma­jority of our lay members is so scanty that the acme of faithfulness in tithes and offerings can produce but a pittance for the church. There is no possibility of stating precisely the per capita income of India's population, but the highest estimate I have yet seen is that of Professor Gilbert Slater, made in 1928, which placed it at 100 rupees, or thirty-six dollars a year.

It must be borne in mind that this is only the estimated average, which takes into ac­count the income of the very rich as well as of the poor, and doubtless the average income of the poor for whom our work is conducted would be much less for each family. In fact, it is more than likely that their income would be only about half that amount. Assuming that there is an average of three church mem­bers to a family, even the higher estimate would give an average of only twelve dollars yearly per capita, or about one dollar a month. But we know of churches in which not a single family has so large an income.

Through our training schools we are de­veloping a well-trained corps of evangelists and other indigenous workers. In some cases their salary rates are not quite as high as those of men with equivalent educational qualifications in secular work, though there is not nearly as much difference in this respect here as in other lands. But wages in general in India are so low in comparison with other countries that it has not always seemed right to our responsible leaders and committees to adjust all wages on a sacrificial basis. It is felt that our workers should maintain homes of a higher level than the miserable hovels of the average poor families. They are expected to feed and clothe themselves a little above the average, to be able to offer the hospitality of their homes in a small degree to others, to provide themselves with certain denomina­tional books and periodicals, all of which costs more than the average family found in India can afford.

In most parts of India the cost of main­taining the average worker is about 500 ru­pees, or 18o dollars a year, which represents tithe from aggregate family incomes of 5,000 rupees, or from about fifty families having the higher income estimate of 36 dollars. Hypo­thetically, then, the tithe income from about fifty families should support a worker. But except in two or three outstanding communi­ties, such is not actually the case. In some missions, the tithe income from four or five times as many lay members as are represented by fifty families does not equal 500 rupees a year, or the average salary of a worker; and other offerings are in proportion.

Caste System Complicates Situation

Someone asks, "Inasmuch as the great ma­jority of Indians are debarred from sharing to any appreciable degree in the wealth of the country, why do you confine your missionary activities to the poorer classes? Why do you not work among the higher-caste population, and among those who could contribute finan­cially to the support of the work ?"

The caste system of India, I would respond, very radically affects the distribution of wealth. The economic potentialities of indi­viduals and groups is controlled to a- large degree by the assignment of functions and occupations to caste communities. Therefore, the people's economic condition is pretty well determined by the caste to which they belong. Because of the social restrictions of the caste system, members of one caste group cannot become members of another group, and thus change their possibility of economic improve­ment. This not only interferes with economic improvement and development, but also ren­ders it well-nigh impossible for members of one caste to associate to good advantage with members of another caste. In this respect, economic status is not a consideration, for a poor member of a higher caste would not defile himself by association with a wealthy member of a lower caste. A marriage be­tween two castes would be absolutely contrary to Hindu order. Nor can there be any ex­change of hospitality, such as dining together. Even within any one of the four main castes there are infinite divisions and subdivisions which impose similar restrictions, and which shut the people up, as it were, in innumerable impenetrable compartments.

Caste is hereditary. A priest's son is a priest, a carpenter's son a carpenter, a weav­er's son a weaver, etc. For a father to start his son in any calling but his own is against his caste. The principal laws of caste demand that one shall marry within his own caste, eat with none but his own caste, eat food cooked by a "caste fellow" or by a Brahmin, that no superior shall allow an inferior in caste to touch his cooked food, or even to enter into the room in which it is being cooked. The higher caste must not touch a person of lower caste, or an outcaste. Even the shadow of an outcaste is unclean.

The punishment for embracing another re­ligion is exclusion from caste, and social boy­cott. The backslider's friends and relatives become his enemies. They will not eat, drink, or smoke with him. They will not offer him any hospitalities, or accept any from him. Priests, barbers, washermen, certain mer­chants, and other essential functionaries re­fuse to serve him. Neither will they assist at the funeral of a member of his family. In some communities he is debarred by law from sharing his inheritance in the family estate. He is completely socially ostracized. No doubt the power of these laws is weakening under the impact of Western education and Christianity, but the penalty for violation is still incredibly severe, and the price to be paid for becoming a Christian is tremendous.

The outcaste and the low caste also occa­sionally pay dearly for becoming followers of Jesus, but they have less to lose than their caste fellows, and often gain more than they lose. These outcastes have been taught that their misfortunes are due to their misconduct in a previous life. Their belief in this doc­trine has led them for centuries to acquiesce their assignment of menial work and their lot of social degradation. This has produced numerous inhibitions to a normal response to the stimuli of nature, environment, and teaching. Christian teachings, followed by Christian worship, have in many cases intro­duced a new force into their lives which is sufficiently strong to overcome the old inhibi­tions and to release powers of which they were not aware. They see new opportunities, and find courage to take advantage of them.

______ To be concluded in December

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By E. M. MELEEN, Missionary on Furlough, From India

November 1939

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