Hideaway Communalism In The Indian Express – Ishwar Sharan

The letters that follow were exchanged between us and the Madras Indian Express resident editor K.V. Ramanathan in June 1990. Up to this time we had firmly believed that our essay on the myth of St. Thomas, written in reply to C.A. Simon’s article, would receive due consideration at the Indian Express and would appear in some appropriate form in the newspaper. When this did not happen even three months after submission and when a query sent to the assistant editor C.P. Seshadri[1] was ignored, we sent a registered letter to K.V. Ramanathan on June 1st:

Enclosed is a copy of the article on the St. Thomas myth which I sent by registered post on March 9th to Mr. Seshadri. A query concerning its publication was sent later and never replied to.

This article has been accepted by a respected publisher and will appear in a few months time as a book entitled Saint Thomas: The Man, the Church and the Mylapore Shiva Temple.[2]

I am currently expanding the material, and on page four of the revised script will add the footnote, “This article was written in reply to C.A. Simon’s article ‘In Memory of a Slain Saint’ which appeared in the Express Weekend of 30 December 1989. It has not been published to date nor has the Indian Express resident editor at Madras replied to the author’s queries.”

It is not my wish to be unfair to you or the newspaper, and your comments or advice concerning the above note are welcome.

On the other hand, if you do intend to publish the article, or rather a summary of it as the full text cannot appear in a newspaper, then the same should be indicated to me within the next two weeks as I have a deadline to meet.

After months of silence, this letter elicited a response from the Indian Express. K.V. Ramanathan replied to it on June 11th:

Your letter dated the 1st of June.

I find that Express Weekend carried on 13th of January a letter from you commenting on Mr. C.A. Simon’s “In Memory of a Slain Saint”. We have also published letters from Swami Tapasyananda[3] and Mr. Veda Prakash on the same subject. It is not as if, therefore, the Indian Express refused to give space to your point of view. The availability of space being a severe constraint, Express Weekend finds it very difficult indeed to publish long articles. You yourself concede in the last paragraph of your letter that the full text of your article cannot appear in a newspaper. We believe that having published your letter there is really no need for us to publish a summary of your article also.

Now it is a fact of newspaper publishing that the editor has the prerogative of rejecting material that he does not wish to publish, and this right is strictly exercised in India where the editor usually seeks to mold public opinion rather than inform it. But given the reputation of the Indian Express as a fair-minded newspaper, we decided to do some plain speaking to this editor who equated a letter to the editor with a grossly misleading front page article and would thus absolve himself of further responsibility to the public. Opening our reply with the verses of Jnanasambandar and Arunagirinathar quoted by Swami Tapasyananda―who rightly maintained that the Christian ecclesiastics contention can be proved to be fraudulent with this single evidence―we wrote on June 25th:

As you have bothered to reply to me with your letter of June 11th, I have asked Voice of India to alter the footnote[4] in my essay on St. Thomas and the Kapaleeswara Temple. But I do not know where the book is in the press and you may be too late with your sorry letter of rejection.

Your contention that I have had opportunity to have my say in a letter to the editor of the Express Weekend published on January 13th, is not acceptable. I need hardly tell you that a front page article presented as true history in a trusted newspaper is not refuted simply because a reader writes to the editor. Moreover the important last paragraph of my letter was cut out, which caused Swami Jyotirmayananda to write a letter which carried a serious mistake in meaning, which in turn caused Mr. Veda Prakash to write a correction. Those last two letters and the confusion caused by them would not have been made had the Express Weekend not deliberately tried to suppress the truth about the original Kapaleeswara Temple and the St. Thomas Church.

I am aware that you have a shortage of space in the Indian Express. That is exactly why my essay has been written as it is. Any sub-editor can pick out the material wanted and summarise it without distorting my point of view or conclusions. You may not consider this point of view to be of any value, but it is supported by over forty references named in the article itself.

Aside from poor Marco Polo, where are Mr. C.A. Simon’s references? And was his article only a point of view too? And why are you hiding this Mr. Simon so that nobody can write him an opinion?[5]

I note that you did not lack any space in the Indian Express when he decided to tell his lies about the Hindus. It may be the truth that the Roman Catholic Church can buy the space she needs from you. I of course cannot. I can only write letters to the editor.

Mr. Harry Miller stated in his column of January 29th that St. Thomas came to India. You did not lack space for this point of view but you also did not publish the letters refuting it. At least two letters were sent to you and him with supporting material. Again on April 23rd you carried an item about a cross planted in Kerala by St. Thomas, and again at least one letter was sent to you pointing out that this was not possible. This letter, too, was not published.

So the truth of the matter is that you do indeed have space to promote this ancient lie about St. Thomas coming to India to get killed by the wicked Hindus and especially the very wicked Brahmins, but that you have no space at all in your newspaper when somebody tries to unmask the fable (except for the three letters already referred to).

Swami Tapasyananda did not get a letter published in the Express Weekend as you have stated, but he has written his own article in The Vedanta Kesari.[6] What he says cannot be ignored. And what Dr. R. Nagaswamy said in The Hindu on April 30th cannot be ignored either. Both are respected authorities in their respective fields.

Your letter of the 11th is disappointing for me. I did believe that I would eventually get fair treatment at the Indian Express. But this aside, what is really distressing is that it appears that you not only connive at this vicious lie being published in your paper to malign the Hindus, but that you actively support it by suppressing the truth no matter how often or in what form it is presented to you.

The resident editor K.V. Ramanathan was not the only one at the Indian Express to hear from us. We had also sent letters to the Madras assistant editor C.P. Seshadri and to the editor-in-chief Arun Shourie at New Delhi. To C.P. Seshadri we wrote in part:

When Mr. Shourie can expose the sordid history of Muslim iconoclasm, why is the same Christian history always covered up in your newspaper? After all, Muslims borrowed their violent ideology from the Christians and Jews. Aurangzeb is nobody in comparison to St. Francis Xavier when it comes to temple-breaking and bloodshed. Yet Muslims today must bear public criticism for their past while the Christians get off free. Why is that?

And to Arun Shourie we wrote in part:

It seems clear from a number of articles published and from the letters of protest or criticism sent to the Madras editor and suppressed (of which I have knowledge; obviously many more letters were received by the editor), that the editor responsible for the material published in the Express Weekend has consistently pursued a policy of promoting Roman Catholic doctrine at the expense of historical truth. … The manipulation of history and the suppression of facts is a major issue in this country. … Christians, Muslims and Communists know how to write history and then how to rewrite it to suit their current ideological needs. When the Indian Express covertly supports one of these parties―in this case the Roman Catholics―in rewriting Indian history, the affair becomes a matter of grave concern to everybody. … The Roman Catholic Church is the richest, largest and most sophisticated private publisher in India and the world. But this is not enough for them. They need the name of a fair-minded and respected daily to give their lies … credibility―and unfortunately for the people of Madras they have found this in the Indian Express.

Arun Shourie had written about historical evidence and those who conceal it in “Hideaway Communalism” in the Indian Express on 5 February 1989. In the context of the myth of St. Thomas, his questions could be directed at journalists and he could be defining the self-interest of Roman Catholic bishops. He asks, “Will we shed our evasions and concealments? Will we at last learn to speak and face the whole truth? … To see that these leaders are not interested in facts, not in religion … but in power, in their personal power, and in that alone? That for them religion is but an instrument, an instrument which is so attractive because the cost of wielding it falls on others, on their followers, and not on them?”

In an earlier paragraph he could be writing about the editors of our national English language dailies when he says, “That is the significant thing; they have known [the evidence] and their impulse has been to conceal and bury rather than ascertain the truth.”

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Arun Shourie lost his job at the Indian Express because he told the truth.[7] And, what he wrote in 1989 in “Hideaway Communalism” is as true today―March 2018―at The New Indian Express as when we quoted it in the first edition of this book in February 1991. C.P. Seshadri is now retired and S. Sapru has also disappeared off the map. But on 1 January 1994 they gave a prominent place to the following letter from S. Chandrasekaran of Cheyyar:

The Bible says, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the King, behold, Wise Men from the East came to Jerusalem saying where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him. They saw the young child … and fell down and worshipped Him … they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense and myrrh.’ (St. Matthew 2:1-11.)

Western scholars argue that the Wise Men were Persian Magi, the members of a priestly class or the magicians. However, they cite no evidence, probably not knowing that the more appropriate country in the East from where they proceeded to Bethlehem should be India.

The Wise Men were definitely the brilliant astronomers of India.

Among the eastern countries only in India Wise Men were found with astronomical talents. Also, the availability of gifts presented by the Wise Men to infant Jesus is abundant in India and not Persia.

The last but not the least proof is that in corresponding to the onward march of Wise Men from India to Judea, within not less than half a century, St. Thomas a disciple of Jesus Christ, made a downward march from Judea, superseded Persia and reached India to sow the seed of Christianity.

The Wise Men who went to Bethlehem to see Jesus were in all probability Indians and not Persians or any others. Is there anything to counter this possibility?[8]

This letter was obviously a plant, i.e., the covert dissemination of an idea, usually placed in a newspaper with the connivance of the editor. It was written by a mischief-maker or clever Christian propagandist. S. Chandrasekaran would prove to be a shameless negationist as well―and we replied to it that same day, as did K.V. Ramakrishna Rao. As our letters are long and repetitious of arguments already presented in this book, only the edited versions which appeared in the Indian Express on January 4th are reproduced here. We wrote:

Dr. Chandrasekaran may be right in his proposition that the three Wise Men who went to Palestine to offer gifts to the infant Jesus were Indians (IE, Jan. 1). But the onus lies on him to provide proofs for his thesis and not pretend that it stands proved until somebody comes along and refutes it.

Citing the legend of St. Thomas as a “last but not least proof” for the Wise Men’s journey west, is unacceptable because there is no proof that St. Thomas came to India.

Dr. Chandrasekaran’s letter, which is obviously a plant, is apparently part of the effort to establish this anti-Hindu fable as history.

And K.V. Ramakrishna Rao wrote:

One can’t divine Dr. Chandrasekaran’s purpose in writing the letter. It contains nothing but unhistorical legends and myths.

As the Christian era that we follow is itself unscientific, purely based on religious dogma, now historians have started using the notations BCE and CE (Before Common Era and Common Era). The alleged visit of St. Thomas to India is another myth floated by vested Christian missionaries. If Chandrasekaran’s purpose for writing the letter couldn’t be exactly divined, neither could the purpose of the Indian Express for publishing it.

As we had started work on the revision of this book and were interested in understanding Indian Express editorial policy, we sent a letter to the resident editor S. Sapru, with a copy to C.P. Seshadri, on January 3rd:

I am working on a new edition of my book The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple, which is being reorganised and expanded. Letters and articles currently appearing in the Indian Express will be included in it under appropriate headings.

If you or Mr. Seshadri wish to explain to a concerned public your editorial policy regarding the selection and publication of Letters to the Editor, I would be happy to consider including your statement in the new edition.

I have been critical of your policies in the past and remain critical of them today (especially when you publish untruthful or provocative items and then refuse to publish rejoinders), nevertheless, I am taking this opportunity to say that I do think the Indian Express is the best of the English-language papers being published in the country today.

This letter was a mistake. Though we were sincere and had sent it in good faith, it is as much the nature of newspaper editors to exploit the trust of their readers as it is the nature of missionaries to exploit the trust of the helpless and weak, and we had unwittingly invited these editors to exploit not only their readers but their readers’ children. Sapru and Seshadri replied to our letter by publishing a four-colour three-column feature on St. Thomas and related Christian historical items on their children’s page on February 18th. The material was attributed to the 1992 edition of the Limca Book of Records and read:

FIRST TO PREACH CHRISTIANITY: Apostle St. Thomas (Thomas Didaemus) arrived in India in 52 AD by the northwestern route and preached Christianity until his death. He was the first to preach Christianity in India.

OLDEST CHURCH IN EXISTENCE: St. Thomas is believed to have established a small church at Mylapore in Madras in 52 AD where he was killed. Today’s Santhome Church reportedly stands near the earlier site.

FIRST CHRISTIAN COLONY: In 345 AD Thomas Cana, a Syrian merchant, came to Travancore and established a Christian colony.

FIRST JESUIT MISSIONARY: Saint Francis Xavier, a Spanish national who landed at Goa was the first Jesuit missionary. He established the first Christian colony in Goa in 1542.

FIRST JEWISH COLONY: In 68 AD. 10,000 Jewish refugees emigrated from Jerusalem to the Malabar coast after the destruction of the Second Temple of Jerusalem….

The list continues with First Bishop and First Cardinal but we have reproduced the relevant items. Not one of them is historically true except for the reference to Thomas of Cana―which is also not proved. St. Thomas did not come to India and St. Francis Xavier did not establish the first Christian colony in Goa. When a history professor saw this article in the Indian Express he remarked, “The Limca book of records is the Coca-Cola book of lies―Limca being a trademark of Coca-Cola.”

We did not respond to this feature. By taking the St. Thomas controversy to the children’s page, the Indian Express had effectively put an end to any further debate. They had done this for exactly the same reason that The Hindu had done so earlier (as will be seen in the next chapter). First, nobody can take issue with articles that appear on the children’s page; and second, the editors were showing their contempt for our position and ridiculing the plea that we had made in the first edition of this book―that the true history of old Mylapore be studied by unbiased professionals and recorded for our children.

But if the Indian Express did not hear from us again on the subject of St. Thomas, they too did not refrain from further promoting the legend at a given opportunity. On April 25th another feature on St. Thomas appeared above a large photo of some Kerala-style tiled roofs with loud-speakers attached to the eaves. It was by Samson Aseervatham of Nagercoil who wrote:

For a church it is tiny. But it has a “halo” of its own as it is considered the oldest church in the East. The 45 ft. by 10 ft. church was erected by St. Thomas, one of the twelve followers of Christ, at Thiruvithancodu.

The Apostle is said to have landed in AD 52 at Kodungallur on the west coast of South India.

St. Thomas raised seven and a “half” churches on the west coast before his departure to Mylapore, Madras. The Thiruvithancodu church, which has the original base and structure intact, is considered as being “half” because of its size.

The other seven churches are in Kerala: Malayankara, Parur, Palayur, Gokamangalam, Niranam, Chayel and Kurakonikollam. Of this, only the Niranam church is extant.

All the churches that St. Thomas built were dedicated to St. Mary. The one in Thiruvithancodu was raised on twenty cents of land given as a gift by the King of Venad. Thiruvithancodu was the capital then. It later expanded its territory and came to be known as Travancore.

The church was built entirely with neatly dressed rocks, and resembles a village temple. The tiled roof is a much later addition.

On Sundays, Syrian Christians throng here for worship. Prayers are recited in Syriac and Malayalam. The ancient church is under the direct control of the Catholic Orthodox Syrian Church at Kottayam.

K.V. Ramakrishna Rao’s comment on this piece was published in the Indian Express on May 2nd:

Except the structure, which is quite recent, all claims made about the so-called “half-church” of St. Thomas in the write-up “Small and beautiful” (IE, April 25), are totally unhistorical.

Samson Aseervatham has every right to believe that St. Thomas came to India. Some believe that Jesus Christ preached in Benares and died in Kashmir. But there is no historical evidence for such myths floated by the Portuguese.

About the St. Thomas myth in India and his “seven and a half churches”, T.K. Joseph, in his book Six St. Thomases of South India has shown how missionaries were engaged in spreading the myth by planting relics, forging documents and writing “histories” in their own way.

The fact is that all the churches mentioned by the writer were previously Hindu temples which were converted into churches. In fact, even today they are either situated in or around the temple premises.

In 1990 the Indian Express allegedly had no space in which to publish a reply to C.A. Simon’s St. Thomas article. In 1994 it had found a surplus of space in which to publish articles promoting the St. Thomas story. Editor Sapru has said (IE, Feb. 25) that “the ultimate lord and master of the newspapers is the market place. If this is so―and ethics no longer have any place in journalism and newspaper publishing―then who is paying for this space? Is it the Jesuits or the Church of Rome, or World Vision and the World Christian Council? And if nobody pays, is telling the same old lie over and over again really so profitable for an Indian newspaper?”[9]

1. This editor was at the Madras office of the Indian Express for many years.

2. The title was changed to The Myth of Saint Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple. The article submitted to the Indian Express was called What the Historians Say About Saint Thomas.

3. Ramnathan had confused Tapasyananda with Jyotirmayananda whose letter was published on February 10th. But the mistake reveals that he was aware of Swami Tapasyananda’s article which had been sent to him three months earlier.

4. The footnote was deleted.

5. The Express Weekend editor S. Viswanathan eventually sent C.A. Simon’s address by post.

6. We did not know at the time of writing this letter that Swami Tapasyananda’s article had also been submitted to the Indian Express.

7. He is remembered in Madras with much affection and respect by Indian Express readers.

8. First, a possibility isn’t a probability, and, second, if you follow a star you will only go around in circles!

9. This article was written in 1995. We did not know at that time that India’s mainstream newspapers were coming under increased Christian control either through benami acquisitions or the employment of Christian or Christian-sympathizing editors and journalists. Today we know that India’s media, especially the English-language newspapers and electronic media, is controlled by Christian interests or “secular” anti-Hindu interests. Most “secular” Indians are non-discerning Christian sympathizers.