In the autumn of 1974, a delegation of around 15 Jehovah’s Witnesses from India attended the evangelical church’s three-day international convention in New York. The group included two high ranking elders (equal to a bishop) from Kerala named Robert Masalamani and A.N. Varghese. Among the delegates included a youth, Ruben, whose father was a Kolkata-based Hindu married to a Jehovah’s Witness. He was accompanied by his friend David. All of them were excited about the trip as the group was going to soak in the American experience for 30 days.
After the convention ended, a senior American church member invited a large group of delegates representing different countries to attend a retreat at his sprawling private estate in New York. People were treated to food and drinks, and as entertainment, they were asked to present something unique about their country.
Subir Roy Kaunds, former Midday journalist and Group Editor of New Zealand-based Apna TV, narrates what the Indian church members did: “Masalamani and Varghese asked their hosts for two white bedsheets, which they tied around their waists like an Indian dhoti. Next, they asked for thin ropes, which they slung across their shoulders like a janeu – the Hindu sacred thread. Then they got some talcum powder which they smeared on their foreheads as bhasma or holy ash.”
Looking as if they had stepped out of a pantomime, the two Keralites sat down on the floor in front of their audience, comprising Jehovah’s Witnesses from all over the world. They announced what they were about to demonstrate was the everyday dining style of Indians. Masalamani and Varghese now asked their wives to pretend they were serving their husbands’ rice and sambhar. As the wives did so, Masalamani and Varghese smacked their lips, nodded their heads in an exaggerated manner, mixed the ‘rice’ and ‘sambhar’ and ‘ate’ ravenously like hungry men who hadn’t eaten in days.
As the audience giggled, Masalamani and Varghese got really animated, licking their fingers, arms and elbows, saying, this was how Indians lapped up sambhar as it ran down their hands. “By now, everyone was clapping and laughing,” says Kaunds. “There were Americans, Europeans, Hispanics and Asians who couldn’t believe what they were seeing.”
The two Malayali Christians not only reinforced every stereotype about India, but they also created some new ones.
Kaunds, whose parents were both Jehovah’s Witness members, heard this story from Ruben and David. The two youth were angered and insulted at India’s vilification by their church elders. After all, Christians, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, faced no persecution in India, and therefore this mockery was quite simply a betrayal. “After that, Ruben and David decided to quit the accommodation provided by the church and stayed in a motel for the remainder of their trip,” says Kaunds. “After they returned to India they came to my home and narrated the whole episode to my family. I and my mother were both livid.” (Kaunds ultimately left the church and considers himself a Hindu.)
Kaunds explains why Masalamani and Varghese – who were both high ranking elders in the church – were well rewarded for shamelessly tarring India. “When the Americans, who formed the bulk of the church members, saw this shocking performance, it reinforced their belief India was a very poor country. So as a way of helping out, they showered the two elders with gifts – high-end tape recorders, transistor radios, cameras, typewriters and even cash,” he says.
The early European proselytizers had a term to describe people like Masalamani and Varghese who converted to Christianity not for the love of Christ but for their willingness to convert for a handful of rice – “Rice Christians”. (1)
Will Sell The Country for Rice
The term “Rice Christians” appears in the writings of William Dampier, an English explorer (and occasional privateer-pirate) who visited Indo-Pacific waters in the late 17th century. Dampier dismissively wrote of the French Catholic priests active at that time in Indochina, opining that “alms of rice have converted more than their preaching”. (2)
This phenomenon was observed around the same time in India as well. According to author Sam Miller, when European missionaries were trying to convert Hindus, they won most of their new Christians from the poorest of the poor, usually members of the socially excluded castes. “These were easy converts, won over by promises of jobs and status, as well as the promise of, at the instant of death, entry into the kingdom of heaven. And they showed little interest in the fratricidal and nationalistic divisions within Western Christianity or the theological niceties that sustained those divisions.” (3)
These converts would later be derided by some European missionaries as “Rice Christians”, people who had changed their religion for economic reasons and would therefore be condemned to hellfire anyway. However, in the early 18th century there was such an emphasis, driven by sectarian competition, on creating an embryonic Christian community, a Christian foothold in India, that neither Protestants nor Catholics were very fussy about the reasons why Indians converted.
Missionaries would send letters back to Europe begging for money to support the new converts, whom they described as living in great poverty. These letters were collected as books, which were widely read, and played a key role in the 18th century in informing Europeans about India, although their prime purpose was fundraising.
This is how the European missionaries tarred India’s image for centuries to come. “It is at this juncture that there is the first sustained identification of India as a land of great poverty, rather than of great wealth – and it is largely transmitted through the writings of missionaries,” writes Miller. (4)
Floodgates are Open
How are these Rice Christians created in the modern era when European missionaries can no longer land up in ships provided by the French or English East India Company and missionary visas are no longer granted by the government of India? The short answer is through the back door. Here’s how it works.
In a video available online pastor, Ron Clayton of the Central Church of God based in the US state of North Carolina says when his church baptised 375,000 Indians in 2012 he never thought he could repeat those numbers again. “I thought that’ll never happen again but I was wrong, the next year…we baptised 507,000 people,” he boasts and adds that in 2014 his church baptised 706,000 and an astounding 953,000 people in 2015. (5)
The Indian government’s demonetization in November 2016 became a hurdle for the church’s conversion activities in India. It was introduced to stop the influx of black money and to curb the illegal use of cash for unlawful activities. Clayton reveals how the church worked around the new law: “We were in real trouble and we had to figure out all kinds of ways to get through that and get the money through. We borrowed money…We baptised one million, seventy-six thousand souls.”
Clearly, the numbers are growing each successive year. And if the pastor is to be believed so is the ardour of the new converts: “Most of them by far are becoming believers in Jesus Christ and that is a great opportunity for us. So we may not get them when they first leave Hinduism but we may catch them in the second generation or the third and then we can go back and convert their ancestors who may be still alive….”
Clayton adds that “Indians are terrified that they are going to be a Christian nation. They are, but they don’t want to admit it. The number of people who are Hindus continues to drop….”
The evangelist talks about a chilling fact that Hindus have suspected all along – that the actual number of converts is a lot higher than reported in census figures. The government keeps saying Christians are 2.5 percent, that’s one of the biggest lies, he says, hinting that Christians number a lot more. This is true because many converts don’t change their Hindu name to a Christian name in order to take advantage of government schemes and job quotas.
He then alludes to another key aspect of conversion, “We have lots of contacts, we have lots of places to go, India is a big country with lots of people to convert.” Who are these contacts he is referring to? Could they be people in government?
In numerous invasions of India, it was betrayal by an insider that led to the defeat of the Hindu defenders. In fact, in the very first successful invasion of India, in 711 of Sindh, when the Arab forces of Mohammed bin Qasim were about to be defeated, a Buddhist monk opened the gates of the besieged city of Debal, saying that for a Buddhist it didn’t whether it was a Hindu or a Muslim who ruled over Sindh. Unfortunately for him, things didn’t turn out as he had hoped: when the Arabs entered the city, they massacred the Buddhists and practically extinguished Buddhism in Sindh.
This pattern of traitors literally opening a back door for foreign invaders has been repeated like a tragic version of Groundhog Day right through medieval and modern Indian history. Invaders like the Central Church of God are helped by modern Jaichands and Mir Jaffars.
One of these Jaichands is Ronen Sen, the highly controversial former Indian ambassador to the US. In 2016, a series of videos titled ‘Mormon Leaks’ was released by an activist group that promotes transparency within religious institutions. The leaked videos show internal documents and videos of the Mormon Church or the Church of the Latter-Day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah. (6)
In one of these leaked videos, originally recorded on February 8, 2009, former US Senator Gordon Smith (in office from January 3, 1997 – January 3, 2009) addressed a closed-door meeting of senior Mormon church members.
Smith said: “I called for an appointment with India’s Ambassador to the US, Ronen Sen…they come immediately to a Senator’s office. Ambassador Sen is a quiet and meek man, a nice person. I began the meeting by talking about the growing US-India relationship while sharing values like freedom of conscience, religious free exercise, truly important to the future between our nations.
(Notice how Smith at first arrogantly says “they” (meaning Indians) come running when a senator calls them. Then he condescendingly refers to Sen as a meek (spineless) fellow. It is sad that India’s highest-ranking ambassador is reduced to a caricature because of people like Sen.)
Smith continued: “I told Ambassador Sen, the (Mormon) Church was not being treated fairly in India. Ambassador Sen agreed and said, ‘I know, I have met with (Church) president Hinkley and I promised him I would do something.’ And he (Sen) said, ‘Just send your Indian converts to India.’ I said I don’t know how many (Indian converts) we have, but surely we can do better than that. The meeting broke up with, I think, Ambassador Sen feeling guilty he had not delivered on his promise to (Mormon) President Hinkley.
“Next day, Ambassador Sen called me and said he hadn’t been able to sleep all night, and he had an idea. ‘You send to me the visas you need for your missionaries, and I will issue them over my signature, and we will establish a pattern of dealing that will get around the Indian bureaucracy.’ He asked me ‘how many you need, Senator?’ I said we need 200. He said, ‘Ok, send me 200’.”
Clearly, Sen committed immigration fraud because an Indian tourist visa cannot be used for religious activities by missionaries.
The envoy’s anti-Indian action may be attributed to either of these factors. One, he was trying to impress Sonia Gandhi, who was the real power behind the puppet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Since she is an Italian Christian – whose real name is Antonia Maino – Sen may have thought that pleasing her would lead to some Governorship or at the very least a Padma award.
Two, Sen may be a crypto Christian. In January 2006, he and deputy head of the Indian embassy Raminder Singh Jassal were welcomed to the Seventh-Day Adventist Church’s world headquarters in the state of Maryland where they were guests of church leaders. (7)
At the meeting, church president Jan Paulsen said: “We….reaffirm our intent to be of service to the people of India.” (Translation: we want to convert Hindus.)
Sen’s reply would shame any self-respecting Indian: “Christianity is as Indian as any Indian religion…the work of the Adventist Church is greatly appreciated.”
Countering Breaking India Forces
It is a fact that the unseen internal enemy is a greater threat to India than the external foe. While China, Pakistan and Bangladesh can be stopped at the borders, it is the trusted diplomat, bureaucrat, politician and journalist – masquerading as a secular but is in reality a crypto Christian or Islamist – who has the potential to slow-poison the country’s vital innards.
Pastors such as Clayton and diplomats like Sen have proved how both the enemy without and the collaborator within can subvert the law. Religious conversion is nothing less than an undeclared war on Hindus and therefore the political leadership should wake up take the war into the enemy’s camp. In this backdrop, here are the realistic options left for India:
1. Completely ban foreign missionaries from entering the country.
2. Make it illegal for churches and mosques to accept money from foreign donors.
3. Dismissal from service of any public servant who assists the conversion mafia.
4. Seize assets and bank accounts of these public servants.
5. Stop the pensions of government employees who helped foreign missionaries.
6. Children of those caught assisting the conversion mafia will not be eligible for government jobs and will have their assets seized.
7. Expedite Ghar Wapsi and offer job and education quotas for Muslims and Christians who return to Hinduism.
- OpIndia, https://www.opindia.com/2019/11/christian-organisation-mission-india-rice-bag-caste-rol-playing-games-convert-hindus/
- SCMP, https://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/short-reads/article/3007639/rice-christians-converts-who-are-devoted
- Sam Miller, A Strange Kind of Paradise: India Through Foreign Eyes, page 211
- Sam Miller, A Strange Kind of Paradise: India Through Foreign Eyes, page 211
- Twitter, https://twitter.com/DrJK_Murali/status/1296719641100787717?s=20
- Mission Kali, Twitter, https://twitter.com/missionkaali/status/1247917412252450817?s=20
- Adventist News Network, https://adventist.news/en/news/world-church-indias-us-ambassadors-visit-adventist-headquarters-meet-paulsen
Author : Rakesh Krishnan Simha – is a globally cited defence analyst. His articles have been quoted extensively by national and international defence journals and in books on diplomacy, counter-terrorism, warfare, and development of the global south.