Who, or Where, are the Toxic ‘Missionaries’?

August 26, 2018

“If a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner.” H L Mencken (1880-1956), American journalist and satirist.

Missionaries are no more a joke. In some African countries where cannibalism was prevalent, when they killed and roasted a person, they used to beat the drums at high pitch to drown the cries of the victim. A similar charade is going on India in the case of rapes in children’s homes, especially in Bihar and UP. But first the facts as reported in the media on August 14, 2018.

The Jharkhand government will cancel the licence of seven children's homes run by Missionaries of Charity in Ranchi, said an official. "The Social Welfare Department has accepted a proposal of the Ranchi Deputy Commissioner recommending cancellation of the licence of seven children's homes run by Missionaries of Charity," an official of the Social Welfare Department told IANS. "A notification is likely to be issued after Independence Day," said the official.

The Ranchi DC had ordered a probe into the children's homes run by Missionaries of Charity. The district officials inspected the homes and recommended action as these homes did not follow the norms, the official said. "Of the seven children's homes, one had no building, another was not following the guidelines prescribed under the Juvenile Justice Act. The third home kept 43 children in two rooms and the address of another was found wrong. The fifth home's licence expired, while some discrepancies were detected in other two homes," said the official.

This is akin to beating the drums while cannibalisation is in progress, as cited above, to drown the noise over extensive rapes in children’s and women’s homes in Bihar and UP. This is a diversionary tactic to avoid focussing on the rapes over which the Supreme Court anguished on August 11:

According to media reports, the Supreme Court expressed serious concern over recent cases of rape and sexual abuse of women at shelter homes in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and asked when these horrific incidents would stop. The top court's observation came while hearing a matter relating to sexual abuse of children at orphanages.

"Tell us what is this happening?," a bench of justices Madan B Lokur, S Abdul Nazeer and Deepak Gupta said while referring to the recent incident at Pratapgarh in Uttar Pradesh where 26 women have been reported to be missing from shelter homes. "Yesterday, I read so many women have been raped in Pratapgarh. How will these things stop," Justice Lokur asked, adding "When it is going to stop?"

It may be noted that besides Pratapgarh, incidents of rape and sexual abuse of women and girls at shelter homes run by NGOs have also surfaced recently in Muzaffarpur in Bihar and Deoria in UP.

So, apparently, tweaking norms by ‘Missionaries’ attracts swift action while cases of rape are downplayed and linger. The fault lies in the ‘Missionary’ tag of Christians, though there is a long history of missionaries in the Indian-origin Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh religions for which a brief reference is made below.

According to Wikipedia, Hinduism was introduced into Java by travellers from India in ancient times when the early Javanese princes accepted Hinduism. Several centuries ago, many Hindus left Java for Bali rather than convert to Islam. Hinduism has survived in Bali ever since. Shantidas Adhikari was a Hindu preacher from Sylhet who converted King Pamheiba of Manipur to Hinduism in 1717. Historically, Hinduism has only recently had a large influence in western countries such as the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Canada. Since the 1960s, many westerners attracted by the world view presented in Asian religious systems have converted to Hinduism. Swami Vivekananda, the founder of the Ramakrishna Mission, is one of the greatest Hindu missionaries to the West.

As to Sikhs, one morning, when he was twenty-eight, Guru Nanak Dev went as usual down to the river to bathe and meditate. It was said that he was gone for three days. When he reappeared, it is said he was "filled with the spirit of God". His first words after his re-emergence were: "there is no Hindu, there is no Muslim". With this secular principle he began his missionary work. He made four distinct major journeys, in the four different directions, which are called Udasis, spanning many thousands of kilometres, preaching the message of God. Currently there are Gurdwaras in over 50 countries. Of missionary organizations, the most famous is probably The Sikh Missionary Society UK.

The first Buddhist missionaries were called ‘Dharma Bhanaks’, and some see a missionary charge in the symbolism behind the Buddhist wheel, which is said to travel all over the earth bringing Buddhism with it. The Emperor Ashoka was a significant early Buddhist missionary. In the 3rd century BCE, Dharmaraksita—among others—was sent out by emperor Ashoka to proselytize] the Buddhist tradition through the Indian Maurya Empire, but also into the Mediterranean as far as Greece. Gradually, all India and the neighbouring island of Ceylon were converted. Then Buddhism spread eastward to the present lands of Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Indonesia.

So missionary work and religious conversion are not the sole monopoly of Christians. Yet, the words ‘Missionaries’ and ‘Conversion’ evoke toxic negative emotions against Christians in India the same way ‘Cow’ has a strong emotive image for Hindus. Cow can be called female bovine even as a bitch can be called she-dog. There is a lesson in this for this for Indian Christians.

The Catholic Church authorities in India should dump the terms ‘Missionaries’ and ‘Conversion’ as these terms evoke toxic negative emotions among non-Christians.

A bit of background is relevant. Historically missionary is a member of a religious group sent into an area to proselytize or perform ministries of service such as education, social justice and health care. The best example of this is Jesuit missionaries coming to India, starting from1598, and working in the field of education. But, now much of such work is done by Indian national priests and nuns. Perhaps Missionaries of Charity now do not have anyone of foreign origin since the death of Mother Teresa. Much contemporary Catholic missionary work has undergone profound change since the Second Vatican Council of 1962-1965 with increased push for indigenisation and inculturation, along with social justice issues as constitutive part of preaching the gospel.

In this historically changed context, the words ‘Misssionaries’ has no relevance as the church service is offered by national priests and nuns. Therefore, “Missionaries”, which evokes strong toxic negative emotions among non-Christians, should be dumped forthwith - with Christians taking the lead in this process. This also applies to “Conversion”. The church now should put conversion on the backburner and concentrate on improving the lot of the faithful already in its fold. If a bee is attracted to suck the spiritual nectar from the flowers in Christian gardens, it is its choice and problem and third parties should accept this gracefully.

Even so, dumping of “Missionary’ and ‘Conversion’ should be consciously done and replaced by local terms like ‘Save’ and ‘Sevaks’ – ‘Sevaks of Charity’, for instance. Changing names to ‘Indianise’ them (Sanskrit, Hindi or any Indian language) should be consciously done by the church leadership. Corporates change their names to reflect change in their business focus. They also change names for political reasons as noted below.

The Rajasthan government on August 9 formally notified the change of names of three villages, three days after the Union Home Ministry gave clearance to the proposal. From now on Miyon ka Bara village in Barmer district will be known as Mahesh Nagar, Narpada in Jalore district as Narpura and Ismailpur has been renamed as Pichanwa Khurd. The rechristening of the three seemingly ‘Islamic-sounding’ names comes on the heels of the controversy surrounding the renaming of the Mughalsarai railway junction to Deen Dayal Upadhyay junction in Uttar Pradesh.

The Bishops Conference of India and lay bodies like All India Catholic Union should launch competitions to suggest substitute names for ‘Missionaries’ and other foreign-sounding names for religious organisations in the spirit of indigenisation and inculturation. This will enhance the public image and acceptance of Christians in India.

I invite and urge readers to respond to this, including suggesting indigenous names.

By John B Monteiro
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Comment on this article

  • John Monteiro, Bondel Mangaluru

    Mon, Sep 03 2018

    This one is to make it a round quarter century of responses, including my own interventions. I thank all the respondents for their insightful submissions and also Daijiworld for giving me this prestigious platform.

  • John Monteiro, Bondel Mangaluru

    Wed, Aug 29 2018

    Robin, Baindur: You have an interesting point there. Her coming to India could be out of a sense of adventure or curiosity. It is apt to remember that she came to India and started as a teacher in Loreto Convent school and shifted to her humanitarian work later and founded Missionaries of Charity. As to scope for charity at home, that is there everywhere and we can't fault her for coming to India.

  • Robin, Byndoor

    Wed, Aug 29 2018

    Nice points and nourishing article.

    Mother Theresa was a great saint acknowledged by everyone on earth. Kolkata people may not forget the services of Mother Theresa.

    I have a doubt - why Mother Theresa chose to come to India and serve the people here at the time when her own country is in turmoil of war and other problems which very much required her service there ? Kindly light on that matter please...

  • Ruben Pinto, Mangalorre/Australia

    Wed, Aug 29 2018

    It was a scholarly article and written with no bias. I wish to add a foot note.
    For us Christians the clarion call by Jesus is to love a fellow human which has to manifest by way of taking care of the needy and downtrodden. Only then he promises us paradise. So, the main reason to serve by the missionaries has been live by the teaching of the good lord.

  • KS Mayya, Mangalore/Bangalore

    Tue, Aug 28 2018

    India in many ways is the only country having exposure to most religions under the Sun for extended period of time. Religion and its associated teachings, commonalities in teachings amongst religions, sheer volume of knowledge that India got exposed to, should have made India a society where people from other parts of the world should have visited to gain knowledge and emulate.

    But look at the reality. Chronic use of religion for identity based politics (it's history is much older than British and Muslim rule); most flag bearers of religion in public domain know little about the religion they represent or have vested interests; blatant use of religion for war, violence etc, while in fact religious teachings are to inspire knowledge, wisdom and help oneself to be a important member of a thriving society with a healthy "Manomayakosha".

    What else can we expect when history textbooks and history departments (for that matter all of human science discipline) are given little importance. Even religious scriptures have undergone unwelcome changes over the period of time, thereby the proclamation from Madhwacharya "Texts are edited, meanings are reinterpreted, pronunciations are wrong, what will happen to the original truth?"

    It is really sad state of affairs. This is yet another "calling spade a spade" type of article from Mr. Monteiro published in Daijiworld. Thank you!!!

  • Ovi, Udupi

    Tue, Aug 28 2018

    Well said!

  • anthony, Mangalore

    Tue, Aug 28 2018

    This is nothing but witch hunt against the minorities.

  • Juliana Braggs (D Zouza), omzoor (mayyadi), Mumbai

    Tue, Aug 28 2018

    Dear Mr. John

    The article is with real facts and truths, but i disagree with the name change. why should the word Missionaries to be changed? We have to face the world and the criticism. Let us not put our heads down instead let us try to mean it to them. Word missionary comes from Mission - work on certain work (project). Don't they understand the word and its meaning. From years now we have been taught about Mission Sunday and its work. We used to keep a small box with a coin hole to put out small offerings and give it on that Sunday to the respective church. Also we used to have neelam (sale) of foodgrains, vegetables, fruits coconuts from our own farmayards and collect the money and send it to the missions. This will automatically disappear from the new young generation mind.

    My humble request is please find a way to solve the problem amicably and try not to change the word Missionaries


    Tue, Aug 28 2018

    Good and Thought Processing article for all Catholics specially our Catholic leaders to understand bitter truth about our missionaries. Thank you Mr. John Monteiro.
    What is in a name after all? If we have to survive, if we need to continue our Missionaries job in a so called Hindu Rasta that present Govt is focusing on, we will need to start thinking towards what Mr. Monteiro has written in this article. We have experienced the worst of attacks on our churches, places of worship and on our youth just because they think " Christians Convert " . We do not know what will come next? Unfortunately common man suffers and leaders survive, so our attitude in Konkani goes this way : " amkha kithyak ? Amkha khaii problem na zallayarr, ami kithyakh mukhar podezey? " This happened during our Church attacks unfortunately.
    So if it is survival of the fittest, we have to show the world that we are fittest and work towards it. Let us think from our heads, than through our hearts..!! Let us think through our intellectuals, than through leaders without thinking capacity. let us work towards our survival with dignity for what good we are doing.
    Unfortunately what people fail to understand is, basically what good our Missionaries have done? They have gone to remote villages to create awareness about education, about cleanliness, about awareness of their basic rights. Quality life comes with all this. People start thinking when they get access to these basic requirements. May be this thinking is posing threat to our Governments? May be voting results will get influenced if we are dealing with educated people..!! So there are various aspects attached to these attacks on our Missionaries.
    Use names as : People Seva Kendra, Kanya Seva Kendra, Ssthree Seva Kendra etc??

  • Mangalurian, Mangaluru

    Tue, Aug 28 2018

    Great thoughts Mr Monteiro. Thank you.

    There have been several cases of some fresh thoughts creeping into the Indian Catholic church. For example, some nuns - who previously wore the non-Indian habits - adopting Indian clothing. But, as your article rightly suggests, on many matters people are yet to wake up.

    But, let us face it.

    Is the big hue and cry of foreignness of Christians/Catholics made by Hindu religious leaders, or political organisations? In my opinion, the Hindu religious leaders hardly indulge into it. The negativism is almost always from the political leaders. The reasons, of course, are painfully obvious. So, will the changes Christians make, make any real difference?

  • Jossey Saldanha, Mumbai

    Tue, Aug 28 2018

    These little children will now be on the roads at the mercy of ...

  • Joseph F. Gonsalves, Bannur, Puttur / Mangalore

    Tue, Aug 28 2018


    History is evident to this effect.

    No humans can protect a human's faith in God or a particular religion.
    Humans greed is that they are the custodians or the protectors of their own faith or religion.



    After all a Good write up by John B Monteiro and thanks

  • john Monteiro, Bondel Mangaluru

    Tue, Aug 28 2018

    Thank you Smile, Mlore. You brought a rare smile on my face and made my today.
    Your reference to names and surnames is apt and calls for a supporting comment. The change to Sanskrit names goes back to the days of our freedom struggle. Thomas and Helen Alvares had settled down in Colombo where they had a branch of their tile business. The couple was converted to the cause of freedom by Gandhiji himself whom they once entertained to tea. Helen changed her name to Alva Devi.
    Another supporter of freedom movement was Maurice Shresta, a govt. servant under British Raj. According to Dr. Michael Lobo, the erudite chronicler of Canara Catholics: “ Throughout his career he wished to be identified as Indian and he adopted the surname Shresta (meaning great in Sanskrit) – a daring move for a British civil servant at a time when the other civil servants were, if anything, attempting to anglicise their names”.
    Now there is a trend among Catholics to give religion-neutral names to their children. My own first-born was named Primrose, shortened as Prima and can migrate to Prema, if necessary. My son is named Mohan and his daughter is Maya. One of my nephews is named Sushant and his sister is Suman. Another nephew is Deepak (Deepu) and his sister is Divya.
    As for surnames, many have gone back to the original Prabhu and Pai – including
    many in my family and friends circles.

  • Anita Britto, Mangalore/Auckland

    Tue, Aug 28 2018

    Very interesting article providing ample food for thought and constructive discussion. As rightly said, the word “ Missionary” conjures images of people who were not always driven by an altruistic purpose. While there is no doubt that missionaries were driven by their implicit faith and risked their lives and do some amazing work by campaigning to abolish slavery and drawing attention to violation of human rights, they have also been perceived as people who arrogantly assume that they know what’s best for others.
    As pointed out by your other readers, it was so refreshing reading an article which is impartial and explores ideas with the sole purpose of creating a better society.
    Thank you for the brief introduction about yourself, Mr Monteiro. Heartening to read about your efforts to reach out to little children.

  • Eric Castelino, Kulshekar Mangalore

    Tue, Aug 28 2018

    This article is a very educative and researched one . The author has done deep study on the subject . I appreciate this as well his other articles.

  • Prescilla Fernandes, Mangalore

    Mon, Aug 27 2018

    Sir, your articles with facts and figures are hard to digest, may be, because I am an average reader. The learned scholars and voracious readers are in our midst.

    You are saying that the Catholic Church authorities in India should dump the terms ‘Missionaries’ and ‘Conversion’ as these terms evoke toxic negative emotions among non-Christians.
    Renaming the foreign sounding names for ‘Missionaries’ and religious organisations in the spirit of indigenisation and inculturation is 0k but, then we may have to re-write the history of India and Indians. I feel that this will be the tragedy of the future.

  • Smile, Mlore

    Mon, Aug 27 2018

    With facts and figures its a great article Sir. I couldn't agree with you more.
    Portuguese made a grave mistake by killing our age old native culture . Conversion was alright, but they even changed our names and surnames. Prabhu became Sequeira & Pai became D'souza.
    Montero itself is a Portuguese name i believe. Many reports even suggests, there was heavy handedness during conversion, so definitely Portuguese were politically motivated. As per Christianity we din't need any of these things to go to Heaven.
    So for whatever reasons conversions happened in the past, today's Christians are no responsible for it, and they are doing a yeomen service to the society, especially in education.
    So change in names could bring more Indianness to all the Christian Institutions. After all our Priests and Nuns are working selflessly without any ulterior motive.
    Sanskrit names would bring more profoundness.

  • David Pais, Mangalore

    Mon, Aug 27 2018

    rss manipulating & manufacturing videos at nagpur.

  • john Monteiro, Bondel Mangaluru

    Mon, Aug 27 2018

    Thank you, Truth, Mangalore for suggesting a brief intro of myself. It used to be tagged at the end of articles for many years. Then it was stopped to save space at the end of longish articles. Here is a brief intro for you.
    John B. Monteiro (b.1938), MA from Bombay University (1960) drifted into journalism and has written three books – Corruption - Control of Maladministration (1966), Some Current Issues for Debate (2001) and Corruption - India’s Painful Crawl to Lokpal (2013). He has written, and is writing, extensively for websites, newspapers and magazines. His current mission is to be a link between “haves” and “have-nots”, garnering used toys and books from those who have and willing to donate them to present them to deprived and deserving kids under the banner of Johnlyn Toy & Book Exchange (M 9886276608).

  • Phil, canada

    Mon, Aug 27 2018

    You made a valuable point. It should be given serious thought in Indian context.

  • DON, Udupi

    Sun, Aug 26 2018

    Concern of huge proportion is that the even EDUCATED NRI Hindus settled in the west are still deeply rooted in fundamental ideology and strongly support the followers in India in cash and kind. For Example - Recent call by some to help only Hindus or non beef eaters during Kerala floods.

    Conversions happen even in the west by Hindus. Its now a global phenomena of choice over force.

    To understand the works of selfless missionaries one need to have analytical mind not the mob mentality.

  • A L Mendonca, Mangalore

    Sun, Aug 26 2018

    Trying Times require tough measures. Together with a name change, church orders in India should have strict internal audits and appraisals not only for the ordained but also for lay people whatever their position. Audit should not only be about people but also about records of activity and fiscal accounts. Societal changes should not only noted but "orders" have to anticipate change and adapt accordingly without losing sight of their church duty .

  • sense_shetty, Mangalore

    Sun, Aug 26 2018

    Opinions are opinions ..it can't be bias free ..But this writing seems to be unexpectedly neutral..
    Discipline ,honesty,simplicity,integrity and a prudent man is always closure to god ..and leads to a healthy and mature society ...but that will not make you into another jesus christ or krishna or other great saints from the past.
    True liberation is possible when we are devoid of all concepts ..be it hindu ,christian..sikhs ..islam ..etc.. According to me all religions are just pointers ..but the ultimate liberation is inside of you ..probably waiting in disguise for each one of us to reach it.

  • Truth, Mangalore

    Sun, Aug 26 2018

    "If a bee is attracted to suck the spiritual nectar from the flowers in Christian gardens, it is its choice".

    Please do not trap the bee which has come to suck the nectar. Do not enhance the fragrance of the flowers artificially with money and healthcare.

    Though differ with the views, I really like the writing. A brief introduction of Mr. John B Monteiro would be a good idea.

  • Ronald D, Udupi

    Sun, Aug 26 2018

    Its Hinduthwa agenda in India now to gain power and wealth! It may take a decade for people to realise the truth and to get their brain unwashed! Why not these political activists and some hard core journos take up the job of providing shelter to the homeless children rather than barking about cow???

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