Indian Christians are believers in the divinity of Jesus Christ. Despite the persisting idea in South Asia that Christianity is the "white man's religion," it has a massive following today in the subcontinent. Still, it is very much a minority faith, accounting for nearly 8 percent of the Sri Lankan population but less than 3 percent in each of the other South Asian countries. In 1991 India had an estimated 21 million Christians, and the other South Asian countries together had another 3 million.
The idea that Christianity was introduced by the colonial powers—Roman Catholicism by the Portuguese and then Anglicanism by the English—is not strictly true. Kerala and some other parts of the west coast had certainly been evangelized by Nestorian missionaries since the sixth century, and many in south India believe that the apostle Thomas came to Tamil Nadu and was martyred and buried in what is now Madras city. These early religious connections were with Syria (cf. Syrian Christians). The Portuguese brought Portuguese and Italian priests with them, and in 1557 Goa, their major Indian colony, became an archbishopric. With the founding of the East India Company in 1600 the English introduced the Anglican faith, and as time passed other Protestant sects appeared. The years 1850-1900 were the high point of Protestant mission activity in South Asia, with ministers from America and virtually every country in Europe vying for converts, especially among the Untouchables, Tribals, and downtrodden slum dwellers. In some areas they were dramatically successful at gaining converts: the Mizos of northeastern India are nearly all Christians today, thanks to the somewhat obscure Welsh Baptist mission. At the other end of the country, though, the Badagas are 97 percent Hindu after seventy years of concerted effort by the Basel Evangelical mission, followed by another seventy years of other missionary activity. The Roman Catholic missionaries have not fared any better among the Badagas; but elsewhere there are large Catholic congregations in many towns and cities. By the Congregation de Propaganda Fide (1622) the Catholic church encouraged the training of Indian priests, and also brought in large numbers of European Jesuits in a supervisory capacity.
The year 1947 marked a landmark in Protestant church history, not just because this was the year of independence for both India and Pakistan but also because it was the year when the Church of South India came into being—the first unified Protestant church anywhere. It of course absorbed the former Anglican, Methodist, and several other sectarian institutions. In 1970 there followed a unified Protestant Church of North India and a Protestant Church of Pakistan.
These churches, both Protestant and Catholic, are now entirely in the hands of South Asian bishops and archbishops, with very few of the former European missionaries remaining. In Sri Lanka and south India, the greatest growths have recently been seen among the Roman Catholics, not primarily because of new conversions but rather because of a calculated avoidance of family planning. In Nepal Christian and Muslim missionary activity is prohibited by law.
The history of Christianity in South Asia has indeed been a checkered one, but it has been an important instrument of Westernization. The first printing presses and the first modern colleges were introduced by European missionaries. By the middle of the nineteenth century these people were making important contributions to the general social uplift of the country (and not only for Christian converts) by their promotion of rural and urban schooling, adult literacy, female education, colleges, hospitals and clinics, and modern urban careers. As a result the Christian population has wielded a disproportionate influence in modern Indian and Sri Lankan life. Little conversion is still taking place.
Indian Christians today tend to be urban, are always monogamous, and form nuclear families upon marriage (which takes place in a church). They usually follow Westernized professions, becoming teachers, nurses, bank clerks, and civil servants.
See also Europeans in South Asia; Syrian Christian of Kerala
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