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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER IX The Classes and the Masses

Things As They Are by Amy Wilson-Carmichael

CHAPTER IX The Classes and the Masses

|We speak of work done against the force of
gravitation. If the magnitude of a force can be
estimated in any sense by the resistance which it
has to overcome, then verily there is no land
under the sun more calculated than India to
display the Grand Forces of God's Omnipotent
Grace. For here it has to face and overcome the
combined resistances of the Caste system,
entrenched heathenism, and deeply subtle
philosophies. Praise God! it can and will be done.
Thou, who alone doest wondrous things, work on.
'So will we sing and praise Thy power.'|
Rev. T. Walker, India.

PERHAPS it would help towards the better understanding of these letters if we stopped and explained things a little. Some may have been wondering, as they read, how it is that while the South Indian fields are constantly quoted as among the most fruitful in the world, we seem to be dealing with a class where fruit is very rare, and so subject to blighting influences after it has appeared, that we hardly like to speak of it till it is ripe and reaped and safe in the heavenly garner. I think it will be easier to understand all this if we view Hindu Tamil South India (with which alone this book deals) from the outside, and let it fall into two divisions the Classes and the Masses. There is, of course, the border line between, crossed over on either side by some who belong to the Classes but are almost of the Masses, and by some who belong to the Masses but are almost of the Classes. Broadly speaking, however, there is a distinct difference between the two. As to their attitude towards the Gospel, the Classes and the Masses unite; they are wholly indifferent to it.

In a paper read at the Student Volunteers' Conference in 1900, a South Indian missionary summed up the matter in a comprehensive sentence: |Shut in for millenniums by the gigantic wall of the Himalayas on the North, and by the impassable ocean on the South, they have lived in seclusion from the rest of the world, and have developed social institutions and conceptions of the universe, and of right and wrong, quite their own. Their own religion and traditionary customs are accepted as sufficiently meeting their needs, and they are not conscious of needing any teaching from foreigners. They will always listen courteously to what we say, and this constitutes an open door for the Gospel, but of conscious need and hungering for the Gospel there is little or none. So long as it is only a matter of preaching, there are in the world no more patient listeners than the Hindus. But as soon as a case arises of one of their number abandoning the Caste customs and traditionary worship, all their hostility is aroused, and the whole community feels it a duty of patriotism to do its utmost to deprive that individual of liberty of action, and to defend the vested rights of Hinduism.|

For the true Hindu is fervently Hindu. His religion |may be described as bound up in the bundle of his everyday existence.| His intense belief in it, and in his Caste, which is part of it, gives edge to the blade with which he fights the entrance of a new religion to his home. This new religion he conceives of as something inherently antagonistic to his Caste, and as Caste is at every point connected with Hinduism, a thing interwoven with it, as if Hinduism were the warp and Caste the woof of the fabric of Indian life, we cannot say he is mistaken in regarding Christianity as a foe to be fought if he would continue a Caste Hindu. So far, in South Indian religious history, we have no example on a large scale of anything approaching the Bramo Samaj of the North. In the more conservative South there is almost no compromise with, and little assimilation of, the doctrine which makes all men one in Christ.

To return to the division -- Classes and Masses -- the Classes comprise members of what are known as the higher Castes, and in speaking of towns and villages where these dwell, and of converts from among them, the prefix |Caste| is sometimes used. Among the Classes we find women of much tenderness of feeling and a culture of their own, but their minds are narrowed by the petty lives they live, lives in many instances bounded by no wider horizon than thoughts concerning their husbands and children and jewels and curries, and always their next-door neighbour's squabbles and the gossip of the place. Much of this gossip deals with matters which are not of an elevating character. It takes us years to understand it, because most of the conversation is carried on in allusion or innuendo. But it is understood by the children. One of our converts told me that she often prays for power to forget the words she heard, and the things she saw, and the games she played, when she was a little child in her mother's room.

[Illustration: This old man is the Hindu village schoolmaster. The boys write on a strip of palm leaf with an iron style. These little lads come to us every Sunday afternoon. Will some one remember them?]

The young girls belonging to the higher Castes are kept in strict seclusion. During these formative years they are shut up within the courtyard walls to the dwarfing life within, and as a result they get dwarfed, and lose in resourcefulness and independence of mind, and above all in courage; and this tells terribly in our work, making it so difficult to persuade such a one to think for herself or dare to decide to believe. Such seclusion is not felt as imprisonment; a girl is trained to regard it as the proper thing, and we never find any desire among those so secluded to break bounds and rush out into the free, open air. They do not feel it cramped as we should; it is their custom.

It is this custom which makes work among girls exceedingly slow and unresultful. They have to be reached one by one, and it takes many months of teaching before the mind opens enough to understand that it may be free. The reaction of the physical upon the mental is never more clearly illustrated than in such cases. Sometimes it seems as if the mind could not go out beyond the cramping walls; but when it has, by God's illumination, received light enough to see into the darkness of the soul, and the glory that waits to shine in on it, conceive of the tremendous upheaval, the shock of finding solid ground sink, as gradually or suddenly the conviction comes upon such a one that if she acts upon this new knowledge there is no place for her at home. She must give everything up -- everything!

Do you wonder that few are found willing to |follow so far|? Do you wonder that our hearts nearly break sometimes, as we realize the cost for them? Do you wonder that, knowing how each is set as a target for the archer who shoots at souls, we fear to say much about them, lest we should set the targets clearer in his sight?

The men and boys of the Classes live a more liberal life, and here you find all varying shades of refinement. There is education, too, and a great respect for learning, and reverence for their classic literature and language, a language so ancient that we find certain Tamil words in the Hebrew Scriptures, and so rich, that while |nearly all the vernaculars of India have been greatly enriched from the Sanscrit, Sanscrit has borrowed from Tamil.| Almost every Caste village has its own little school, and every town has many, where the boys are taught reading, writing, poetry, and mental arithmetic.

There is not much education among the Masses. Here and there a man stands out who has fought his way through the ignorance of centuries, up into the light of the knowledge of books. Such a man is greatly respected by the whole community. The women have the same kindly nature as the women of the Classes, and there is surprising responsiveness sometimes, where one would least expect it. We have known a Tamil woman, distinctly of the Masses, never secluded in her girlhood, but left to bloom as a wild flower in the field, as sensitive in spirit as any lady born. The people are rough and rustic in their ways, but there are certain laws observed which show a spirit of refinement latent among them; there are customs which compare favourably with the customs of the masses at home. As a whole, they are like the masses of other lands, with good points and bad points in strong relief, and just the same souls to be saved.

Converts from among the Masses, as a general rule, are able to live at home. There is persecution, but they are not turned out of village, street, or house. Often they come in groups, two or three families together perhaps, or a whole village led by its headman comes over. There is less of the single one-by-one conversion and confession, though there is an increasing number of such, and they are the best we have.

It is easy to understand how much more rapidly Christianity spreads under such conditions than among those prevailing among the Classes; we see it illustrated over and over again. For example, in a certain high-caste Hindu town some miles distant from our station on the Eastern side, a young man heard the Gospel preached at an open-air meeting; he believed, and confessed in baptism, thus breaking Caste and becoming an alien to his own people. He has never been able to live at home since, and so there has been no witness borne, no chance to let the life show out the love of God. The men of that household doubtless know something of the truth; they know enough, at least, to make them responsible for refusing it; but what can the women know? Only that the son of the house has disgraced his house and name; only that he has destroyed his Caste and broken his mother's heart. |Shame upon him,| they cry with one voice, |and curses on the cause of the shame, the 'Way' of Jesus Christ!| It is useless to say they are merely women, and do not count; they do count. Their influence counts for a very great deal. Theoretically, women in India are nothing where religion is concerned; practically, they are the heart of the Hindu religion, as the men are its sinew and brain. There has never been a convert in that town since that young man was banished from it, out-casted by his Caste.

But in a village only a few miles from that town a heathen lad believed, and was baptised, and returned home, not so welcome as before, but not considered too defiled to be reckoned a son of the household still. His father is dead, his mother is a bitter opponent, but his brother has come since, and within a stone's-throw another; and so it goes on: the life has a chance to tell. Almost every time we have gone to that village we have found some ready for baptism, and though none of the mothers have been won, they witness to the change in the life of their sons. |My boy's heart is as white as milk now,| said one, who had stood by and seen that boy tied up and flogged for Christ's sake. They rarely |change their religion,| these staunch old souls; |let me go where my husband is; he would have none of it!| said one, and nothing seems to move them; but they let their boys live at home, and perhaps, even yet, the love will break down their resistance. They are giving it a chance.

I think this one illustration explains more than many words would the difference between work among the Classes and the Masses, and why it is that one form of work is so much more fruitful than the other.

The Masses must not be understood as a vast casteless Mass, out-casted by the Classes, for the Caste system runs down to the very lowest stratum, but their Caste rules allow of freer intercourse with others. We may visit in their houses more freely, enter more freely into their thoughts, share more freely in the interests of their lives. We are less outside, as it were. But the main difference between the one set of people and the other lies deeper; it is a difference underground. It works out, however, into something all can see. Among the Masses, |mass movements| are of common occurrence; among the Classes, with rare exceptions, each one must come out alone.

[Illustration: A village woman of the Shanar Caste. The photo shows the baby's ears being prepared for the jewels her mother hopes will fill them by and by. Holes are made first and filled with cotton wool, graduated leaden weights are added till the lobes are long enough.]

This is often forgotten by observers of the Indian Field from the home side. There are parts of that field where the labourers seem to be always binding up sheaves and singing harvest songs; and from other parts come fewer songs, for the sheaves are fewer there, or it may be there are none at all, only a few poor ears of corn, and they had to be gathered one by one, and they do not show in the field.

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