The story was no different in the Punjab. When the United Presbyterian Church of America had founded their mission work in Sialkot in 1855, they witnessed a slow rate of growth of the congregation. But this changed with the conversion of a man named Ditt from a Dalit family. He faced a severe threat from his community, which could have meant death for him. Even he was aware of this danger, he still insisted of going back to his family to share his newly found faith. Ditt was asked to stay at the mission compound by Rev. Samuel Martin who feared that Ditt will not be able to bear the brunt of the persecution (Dogar, 2001). If Ditt would have chosen to stay back in the mission compound for the rest of his life, he would have alienated himself from his family and his community. He was different from all the previous converts and remained a part of his social context and brought many to faith in Christ by living out his Christian life in his local context.
The Protestant educational missionaries who had come to India, demanded that their converts must negate their caste fully, but as a result of this action they found that these young men were rejected by their community and now had no home of their own, rather were dependent on these missionaries. So, they gradually formed a community, that on one hand was isolated from the Hindu world around them and on the other hand was neither fully comfortable in nor fully accepted by the European society in India. Such groups tended to become introverted, more concerned with their own integrity and survival than with visions of outreach into the non-Christian world (Neill, 1985). This can be termed as “extraction approach” (Douglass, 2012) where a person is totally separated from their family, their relatives, and their social context. The primary reason for such a practice to be adopted is that it is much easier and faster than discipling a new believer in their own social context.
The missions later on felt the necessity to recognize the existence of caste to some extent and to adapt themselves to its reality. But a number of them were mistaken in this adaptation to assume that caste distinctions are social and have no religious implication. Thus, they decided to tolerate them within the Christian church. The Roman Catholic church had gone way further than any other denomination in this process of adaptation. As a consequence, churches were divided by a wall in the twentieth century, so that Christians of the higher castes might be safeguarded against pollution by those lower in the social scale (Neill, 1985).
The story took a different turn in the Khasi hills, where Presbyterians were opponents of drinking and smoking, as well as betel-nut chewing, dancing, and theatre (Frykenberg, 2008). It is well understood that drinking, smoking, and chewing betel-nut could not be tolerated in the Church, but by objecting on the participation of the Khasi Christians in cultural dances like Ka Shadsuk Mynsiem, which is mainly a thanksgiving dance of the Khasis of the Khasi Hills, Longhai, Laho and Shurnai dances of the Pnars of the Jaiñtia Hills, and the Shad Lukhimai of the Khasis of Ri-Bhoi (Jyrwa, 2018), theatre and archery, the national sport of the Khasis, a wall of alienation was erected among the Christian Khasis and the non-Christian Khasis.
Such practices which were either adopted intentionally or otherwise, have hampered the cause of Christ in the Indian context. Thus, to become a Christian should not mean to abandon one’s culture and thus to alienate oneself from those among whom one is living (Balia and Kirsteen, 2010).
As mentioned earlier that the missionaries who came to India belonged to educated urban middle class, they were taken by surprise when they witnessed the pitiful condition of the tribal people, Khasis in particular. Mr. Thomas Jones arrived in the Khasi Hills on June 22, 1841 and could not believe his eyes. He wrote in his first letter from the station headquarters that this pitiful and lamentable place suited best for the Christian missionaries. He also mentioned in his letter that “here are multitudes upon multitudes of untutored heathen, naturally lazy and sluggish, living in filth and rags, afraid to wash a rag lest it wear out the sooner” (Morris, 1910). Mr. Jones might have written this letter with genuine concern for the locals, but one can smell the malodor of cultural supremacy in the words chosen by him. If it were not the case today the Khasi Christians women would have been wearing Ka Dhara and Pansngiat rather than a white wedding gown and a Tiara, and Khasi Christian men would have been wearing Jainspong Khor, Jainboh, and Ka Jymphong rather than a suit and a neck tie on their weddings. The similar things can be said about the other special occasions.
This can even be seen in one of the many requirements placed for a new Khasi convert to be initiated, which was that only those who became literate were allowed to become baptized (Frykenberg, 2008). Literacy is one of the basic human rights for all societies across the world. And Christian missionaries have played a crucial role in this endeavor around the world. One cannot thank enough people like Mr. Thomas Jones, who not only brought the Gospel to these hills, but also gave them a script, which proved to be a turning point in the history of the Khasis. But keeping literacy as a requirement to be baptized is unreasonable.
Such attitudes have also stifled the willingness of many Hindu intellectuals to engage in dialogue with Western Christianity (Pani, 2001). No culture is superior or inferior to another. Jesus does not require a person to change or abandon their culture to become his follower, neither does he ask any of His disciple to impose their culture on others, just because they feel that it is superior to them.