St. Thomas And Anti-Brahminism – Koenraad Elst

The true prophets of the anti-Brahmin message were no doubt the Christian missionaries. In the sixteenth century, Francis Xavier wrote that Hindus were under the spell of the Brahmanas, who were in league with evil spirits, and that the elimination of Brahminism was the first priority in the large operation of bringing Salvation to the wretched Pagans of India. In this endeavour, he strongly advocated and practiced the use of force. Unfortunately for him, the Portuguese government could not always spare the troops which he so passionately asked for. Still, the destruction wrought by Francis Xavier was impressive, and he has described the joy he felt on seeing idols being smashed and temples demolished.[1]

Within the Portuguese territories, physical persecution of Paganism naturally hit the Brahmins hardest. Treaties with Hindu kings had to stipulate explicitly that the Portuguese must not kill Brahmins. But in the case of Christian anti-Brahminism, these physical persecutions were a small matter compared to the systematic ideological and propagandistic attack on Brahminism, which has conditioned the views of many non-missionaries and has by now been amplified enormously because Secularists, Akalis, Marxists and Muslims have joined the chorus. In fact, apart from anti-Judaism, the anti-Brahmin campaign started by the missionaries is the biggest vilification campaign in world history (emphasis added).

While the Portuguese mission establishment was unanimous in branding the Brahmins as the chief obstacle to the Salvation of India, there was some dissent concerning the tactics to be employed against them. Robert de Nobili believed in fraud rather than force. He dressed as a Brahmin, and taught the Yesurveda, a fifth Veda which had been lost in India, but which the emigrant community of Romaka [Roman] Brahmins had preserved. He seems to have had a few followers, but after his death, nothing remained of his infiltration movement. Recently he has been declared the patron saint of the theology of inculturation,[2] and his method is being actualised and perfected in the Christian ashrams.[3]

De Nobili’s approach was one possible application of the Jesuits larger strategy, which aimed at converting the elite in the hope that they would carry the masses with them. This approach had been tried in vain in China, in Japan, and even at the Moghul court (today, it is finally meeting with a measure of success in South Korea). A practical implication of this strategy was that Christianity had to be presented as a noble and elitist religion. This came naturally to the Jesuits, who (unlike, for instance, the Franciscans) styled themselves as an elite order.

Most importantly, that stage of missionary endeavour did not make use of any populist or democratic rhetoric of equality. At that time, political equality was not yet on the ideological agenda. On the contrary, even when in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, equality became a political hot item, the Church opposed it tooth and nail, and supported the aristocratic ancien regime and its restoration after the fall of Napoleon. Only in the late nineteenth century, when atheist socialism lured the urban masses away from Christianity, did the Church evolve what is known as the social teachings of the Church, formulated in encyclicals like Rerum Novarum. Before that time, any opposition of the Catholic Church (and of most Protestant Churches) against the caste system and the Brahmin caste had strictly nothing to do with a concern for social equality.

Recent claims that equality is an intrinsic and cardinal virtue of Christianity, and that the apostle Thomas came to India in AD 52 with a message of equality, abolition of caste, and women’s rights, are so many lies. Thus, C.A. Simon writes: “The oppressed and downtrodden followed [St. Thomas] and claimed equal status in society as it was denied them by the prevailing social norms. He condemned untouchability and attempted to restore equal status for women.” That St. Thomas ever came to India is already a myth, only kept alive in India with a lot of Christian-cum-secularist media effort; that he came with an Ambedkarist and feminist message is just ridiculous.

The source of the Thomas legend is an apocryphal text called the Acts of Thomas. If the [Jesuits and other Christian] missionaries want to continue to present it as history rather than legend, they should accept the consequences. In that case, they must tell the public about the way in which Thomas’s journey to India started, according to the very same text: he left Palestine because his twin brother Jesus sold him as a slave (Thomas is also called Didymus, “the twin brother”). They must give details of the destructive sorcery which Thomas practised, as in his first miracle, when he made a lion devour a boy for being impolite. They must tell the public that Thomas was put to death not by the ugly Brahmins but by the king who, after having had a lot of patience with him, and after offering him a safe exit from the country, decided to put a stop to his practice of luring women away from their homes and putting them in sackcloth and ashes behind locked doors, etc.

Briefly, if it is true that the apostle Thomas came to India, then the following is also true:

  • Thomas was an antisocial character;
  • Jesus was a slave trader;
  • Thomas was Jesus’s twin brother, implying that the four canonical Gospels are unreliable sources which have concealed a crucial fact, viz. that Jesus was not God’s Only Begotten Son. In fact, Jesus and Thomas were God’s twin-born sons. In other words, accepting the Thomas legend as history is equivalent to exploding the doctrinal foundation of Christianity.

The original Christian doctrine on equality has been expressed by St. Paul, who opposed attempts by slaves to free themselves because we have all been freed in Christ and that should be enough. St. Paul’s Letter to Philemon [in the New Testament Bible] is actually a covering note which he sent along with a runaway slave whom he returned to the legal owner, the Christian convert Philemon.[4]

A Christian Bible commentary, The Lion Handbook to the Bible edited by David and Pat Alexander, admits: “Slavery was such an integral part of the social structure of the day that to preach freedom would have been tantamount to revolution. Paul’s brief was not to engage in political campaigning but to preach a Gospel capable of transforming human life from within.” This is a poor excuse: religious pluralism was also an integral part of the dominant culture, and yet Christianity confronted and destroyed it. Why should God make compromises with the world? The fact of the matter is that St. Paul wanted to convert people to his own belief system, and that he was not interested in other, non-Salvationist pursuits such as social reform.

If the missionaries were sincerely unhappy with the institution of caste, it was not because of its intrinsic inequality. The problem with caste was that it offered a lot of communal togetherness, social security and a certain pride in one’s caste identity. Through the missionary propaganda, we have come to see caste as an exclusion-from, but in the first place it is a belonging-to [a community]. Even for the lowest castes, humiliation by higher placed people on account of caste did not outweigh the considerable benefits of belonging to at least some caste. This caste cohesion is an important reason why Hinduism could survive where the cultures of West Asia disappeared under the onslaught of Islam. The missionaries found that people were not willing to give up their caste by converting to Christianity, which implied breaking with a number of caste customs. The only way to convert people, was to convert entire caste groups and allow them to retain some of their caste identity.

Therefore, far from abolishing caste, the Church allowed caste distinctions to continue even within its own structure and functioning. Pope Gregory XV (1621-1623) formally sanctioned caste divisions in the Indian Church. This papal bull confirmed earlier decisions of the local Church hierarchy in 1599 and 1606.

It is therefore not true that the Church’s motivation in blackening the Brahmins had anything to do with a concern for equality. The Church was against equality in the first place, and even when equality became the irresistible fashion, the Church allowed caste inequality to continue wherever it considered it opportune to do so. As a missionary has admitted to me: in Goa, many churches still have separate doors for high-caste and low-caste people, and caste discrimination at many levels is still widespread. Commenting on the persistence of caste distinctions in the Church, a Dalit convert told me: I feel like a frog who has jumped from one muddy pool into another pool just as muddy.

Whenever the Church feels it should accommodate existing caste feelings in settled Christian communities, it accepts them; and whenever it thinks it profitable to take a bold anti-caste stand before a Dalit public, it will do just that. It is true that contemporary missionaries, who have grown up with the idea of social equality, mostly have a sincere aversion for caste inequality, and are more dependable when it comes to conducting Church affairs in a caste-neutral way (as opposed to Indian Christians who insistently claim descent from high-caste converts). But when considering the missionary machine as a whole, we must say that the missionary commitment to equality and social justice is not sincere, but is an opportunistic policy motivated by a greed for conversions.

In the past century, the Churches one after another came around to the decision that the lower ranks of society should be made the prime target of conversion campaigns. Finding that the conversion of the high-caste people was not getting anywhere, they settled for the low-castes and tribals, and adapted their own image accordingly. One implication was that the Brahmins were no longer just the guardians of Paganism, but also the antipodes of the low-castes on the caste ladder. A totally new line of propaganda was launched: Brahmins were the oppressors of the low-caste people.

In the proliferating mission schools, the missionary version of Indian history, including its view on caste, was taught to Indian pupils, and many interiorized the hostile and motivated story which they had been fed. One of them was Jotirao Phule of Maharashtra, the first modern leader to be called Mahatma. His position, while not yet all-out anti-Hindu, was strongly anti-Brahmin. He wrote: “The Brahmin’s natural (instinctive) temperament is mischievous and cantankerous, and it is so inveterate that it can never be eradicated.”

Then again, the Aryan Invasion theory was the alpha and omega of the version of India history spread by anti-Brahminism.[5] Phule’s book Slavery starts out with this view of history: “Recent researches have shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Brahmins were not the Aborigines of India…. Aryans came to India not as simple emigrants with peaceful intentions of colonisation, but as conquerors. They appear to have been a race imbued with very high notions of self, extremely cunning, arrogant and bigoted.”

For Phule, there could be no progress for the low-caste people without taking harsh anti-Brahmin measures, e.g.: “Let there be schools for the Shudras in every village, but away with all Brahmin schoolmasters.” This is exactly what the missionary school-builders wanted him to say. Through Phule, the missionary indoctrination has influenced all twentieth century anti-Brahmin leaders.

Even among the champions of the Hindu cause, anti-Brahminism acquired a following. The Hindu reform movement Arya Samaj rejected Brahminism and its heretical brainchildren, idolatry and the caste system, as utterly non-Vedic. Brahmin temples were desecrated in the name of Hinduism. Orthodox Brahmins were attacked as the traitors of Hindu interests.

Thus, it was said in those circles that when in the 1880s the Maharaja of Kashmir wanted to reconvert the forcibly converted Muslims in his domains, the Brahmins rejected this timely proposal, arguing from their obscurantist shastras that one is only a Hindu by birth. This well-known allegation has been argued to be unhistorical (though of course nobody denies that mindlessly scripturalist Brahmins do exist, in dwindling numbers): it cannot be traced farther back than 1946, sixty years after the facts which it claims to describe. Admittedly, this argumentum e silentio is not strong in itself, but it is strengthened by the fact that Brahmins have reconverted ex-Hindus ever since the forcible conversions by Mohammed bin Qasim in AD 712. The ritual effecting conversion into the Arya fold has been available and in use since Vedic times.

There is ample Christian testimony from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century that the majority of converts were taken back into the Hindu fold, and that those who remained Christian were mostly the individuals who, driven out of their castes on account of their vices or scandalous transgressions of their usages, are shunned afterwards by everybody (quoted by Jeevan Kulkarni in Historical Truths & Untruths Exposed). The people affected by this conversion and reconversion process were mostly, but not exclusively, from the lower castes.

Just as well, the missionaries knew whom to hold responsible for their failure: “The Brahmin is therefore well worth looking at! We have more to do with him than with the Czar of all the Russians. The battle we have to fight with him is not against guns or rifles, not against flesh and blood.” This assessment, written in a mood of vexation by Rev. Norman MacLeod in 1871, was comparatively mild next to what Abbe Dubois had written (and of which MacLeod approved) in 1820: “And there is no stronghold of evil so impregnable as Brahmins”.

The well-spring of anti-Brahminism is doubtlessly the Christian missionaries greedy design to rope in the souls of Hindus. From there onwards, it spread through the entire English-educated class and ultimately became an unquestionable dogma in India’s political parlance. Communist historians and sociologists have been fortifying it by rewriting Indian history as a perennial struggle between Brahmin oppressors and the rest. When defending the Mandal report in 1990, the then Prime Minister of India V.P. Singh could say that Brahmins have to do penance for the centuries of oppression which they inflicted on the Backwards, without anyone questioning his historical assumptions. Anti-Brahminism is now part of the official doctrine of the secular, socialist Republic of India.[6]


1. Francis Xavier’s greatest success, though he didn’t live to see it, was to have the Holy Inquisition brought to Goa. The extraordinary perversions and cruelty practised by this Church tribunal against the native Goan population have been recorded in The Goa Inquisition by A.K. Priolkar.

2. Not only Robert de Nobili, but St. Thomas is being roped in as a mascot of inculturation. Ivan Fernandez, in “Hindu-Christian Dialogue Produces Results”, in the Jesuit magazine Jivan, May-June 1994, New Delhi, writes, “Hindu scholars have for the first time accepted Christian contribution to Indian philosophy and conceded that Indian philosophy does not necessarily mean Hindu philosophy…. Some of the issues raised [in the symposium organised by the Indian Council of Philosophical Research and the Jesuit Philosophical Research Institute, Madras,] asked if there actually were Christian thinkers in the country. If so, what were their framework and concerns?… It is important to raise these issues since the Christian presence in India dates back to the beginning of the Christian era itself. Tradition says, St. Thomas the Apostle, who visited and preached in Kerala … was martyred in Madras. This seminar is not just meant to prove Christian contribution but to demand one’s membership in society as a grown up….” says Anand Amaladass. “Indian philosophy today cannot be considered the property of any one particular community in the country, even if its major contribution has come from, till now, the Hindu community”.

3. See Catholic Ashrams: Sannyasin or Swindlers by Sita Ram Goel, New Delhi, 2010

4. For St. Paul on slavery see Ephesians 6:5-9, Colossians 3:22-25 & 4:1, 1 Timothy 6:1-2, and Philemon. See also 1 Peter 2:18-25, which begins: “Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the forward.”

5. It should be understood here that the theory has been proved to be false. See Shrikant G. Talageri’s Aryan Invasion Theory and Indian Nationalism and K.D. Sethna’s Karpasa in Prehistoric India: A Chronological and Cultural Clue.

6. Excerpted from Koenraad Elst’s Indigenous Indians: Agastya to Ambedkar, Voice of India, New Delhi, 1993.

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