Paul, K. T.

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PAUL, K. T. (1876–1931), cofounder of the National Missionary Society (1905). Kanakarayan Tiruselvam Paul was the first Christian statesman in India. Born in Salem, Tamil Nadu, of Christian parents, he studied in the London Mission High School, where one of his friends was Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, who became South India's greatest nationalist leader. In 1892 K. T. went to Madras Christian College; after graduating, he took an appointment with the Government Secretariat, studying law at night.

In December 1905 K. T. Paul and V. S. Azariah established the National Missionary Society, the first indigenous missionary society, organized to represent all Protestant denominations Azariah was elected general secretary and Paul the treasurer. Paul also contributed to the formation in 1908 of the South India United Church, a union of Presbyterian and Congregational churches. He longed for a truly Indian church.

In 1912 Paul accepted an invitation to become a national secretary of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA). Extensive travel on behalf of the YMCA and the National Missionary Society made Paul deeply conscious of the economic plight of rural Christians. In 1905 the government had passed the Cooperative Securities Act, with the aim of providing credit for poor village farmers. K. T. Paul realized that the most sensible way to liberate village Christians and others from poverty was to extend the work and effectiveness of Cooperative Credit Societies.

Paul's plan was to foster habits of prudence and thrift, to increase the earning power of villagers, to enrich the pleasure of village social life by means of festivals and excursions, and to provide facilities for healthy and cheap Indian sports and gymnastics. To help finance his dream, Paul set up a Christian Central Cooperative Bank in 1916; its object was to provide loans for Christians and the rural poor. In the 1920s Paul coined the phrase "rural reconstruction."

K. T. Paul was involved in India's nationalist movement from its earliest phase, following the lead of Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Mahatma Gandhi. He often met with Viceroy Lord Irwin, an ardent Christian. He deeply regretted the Christian community's aloofness from the freedom struggle. In March 1920 he resigned his offices with the National Missionary Society and the YMCA to allow himself the freedom to speak on matters of political concern. He was invited to the first Round Table Conference held in London, representing Indian Christians.

The conference began on 12 November 1930, but Paul was generally exasperated over the outcome, and the stress proved too much for him. He returned to India early, only to arrive in Salem completely broken in health. He died on Saturday, 11 April 1931, aged fifty five. Mahatma Gandhi wrote, "I had the privilege of knowing K. T. Paul. The nearer I came to him the more I respected him." It would always be remembered to his credit, Gandhi went on, "that he stoutly opposed the demand for any special concessions for Indian Christians in the forthcoming constitution, believing ..that character and merit would always command not only proper treatment, but respectful attention" (Eddy, p. 175).

Graham Houghton


Eddy, Sherwood. Pathfinders of the World Missionary Crusade. New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury, 1945.

"Indian Christian Leadership." Harvest Field, March 1913: 94–104.

Popley, Herbert A. K. T. Paul. 1938. Reprint, Chennai: Christian Literature Society, 1987.