Why this ‘Indian Christian’ Nomenclature (from the archives)

newspaperIn continuation with the effort (in this space) to resurrect some hidden gems from The Guardian, here’s a short article by V. N. Sharma (a Christian writing in 1951) who critiques the use of the term “Indian Christian” and vociferously calls for abandoning it altogether. I especially liked the part where Sharma says, “we… are Indians first and Indians last and our faith in the Lord paves the Way to behold the Truth and gives us the courage to live That in our own daily life.”

Why this ‘Indian Christian’ Nomenclature?

I have been wondering why the followers of the Christ in India allow themselves [to be] called ‘Indian Christians’ when we see such a nomenclature is unknown in other lands, Christian or non-Christian. A Christian living in Germany does not call himself or herself a ‘German Christian’, and the same rule applies to the followers of the Lord in other lands either in Europe, America or other continents. This nomenclature is particularly peculiar to our own people in India; the historical origin of this might be that the Christian missionaries who propagated the Gospel of our Lord wanted that the sons of the soil would come under the category of ‘Indian Christian’ as apart from their own kith and kin. Those historical events do not exist now and there is no necessity to follow this ancient path at present, if I dare to call this an ancient path at all. Whether we follow the Catholic way or the Protestant way, we are only Christians, born in this ancient land of India and working for the realisation of the eternal truths which this great land of our birth proclaimed in the world at large and for which the Lord stood in His earthly life. As such we, the humble followers of the Christ are Indians first and Indians last and our faith in the Lord paves the Way to behold the Truth and gives us the courage to live That in our own daily life. This, I feel, is our mission ins this life and through this alone we can secure His blessings for His glorification on this earth.

Let us not be enamored with false classification of ‘Indian Christians’ as if we are different form others that we need the state legislation to uphold this slavery of false nomenclature. I have been discussing this question with a number of friends and most of them agree with my thesis that this is a state of false protection so as to separate ourselves from other communities in India. Let us, if you all agree, raise up against this ante-diluvion classification. Let us ask the Government in power to classify us only ‘Christians’, and not ‘Indian Christians’. There are no ‘Indian Hindus’, ‘Indian Jains’, ‘Indian Buddhists’ as they go only under the denomination of their own religion. I know even the Muslims in India prefer to call themselves as Muslims and not ‘Indian Muslims’ even though some of our Muslim friends prefer to call themselves on reasons which I need mention on political grounds etc.

I do hope the elders of the Christian community will bestow some thought on this fundamental matter and set right the greatest harm this artificial designation so far done to us all.

Mylapore. V. N. Sharma

Source: “Why This ‘Indian Christian’ Nomenclature?” V. N. Sharma, The Guardian, October 18, 1951, 477.


2 Responses to “Why this ‘Indian Christian’ Nomenclature (from the archives)”

  1. 1 charles September 24, 2009 at 1:59 am

    Hi, it was quite thought provoking to read the passage from archives. I am not sure if a similar phrase to “Indian Christian” is not used in other places as well, e.g. “Chinese Christians.” Probably, it is not used in places where Christianity as a ‘religion’ is majority. Another reason may be that because the “colonized Christians’ do not want to share their Christian identity with their “colonizing Christians.” Also, the former may not want share the mistakes committed by the latter and the consequences thereof, hence the prefix “Indian.” It may also be a reaction to those who consider Christianity a Western religion. At the same time, there seems to be a desire to maintain their separate religious identity in a culture where they are ‘minority.’ Hence, “Christian.” However, I seem to agree that our desire for such unique identity, divides us more than unites us with other Indians, as well as the global Christian community. Do we need such a title to prove our ‘Indianness’ that is the question perhaps we should ask. What say?

  2. 2 NAyK September 24, 2009 at 3:20 am

    Hi Charles; thanks for your comment. you’re right about the idea of “national” christian nomenclature being used elsewhere, though for Indians without exposure too much exposure to other countries, who were similarly “young”, such an observation is not surprising.

    I too feel that “Indian” need not be a deterrent, because it does have some positives. But this article helps draw attention to some of the possible negatives.

    Certainly something interesting to think about! :)

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Philippians 2:11-13 (NIV) (12)Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, (13)for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

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