|We have a great and imposing War Office, but a
very small army. . . . While vast continents are
shrouded in almost utter darkness, and hundreds of
millions suffer the horrors of heathenism or of
Islam, the burden of proof lies upon you to show
that the circumstances in which God has placed you
were meant by Him to keep you out of the foreign
mission field.|Ion Keith Falconer, Arabia.
IN one of the addresses delivered at the International Student Missionary Conference, London, in January 1900, a South Indian missionary spoke of the Brahman race as |the brain of India.| |Their numbers are comparatively small -- between ten and fifteen millions -- but though numerically few -- only five per cent. of the Hindu population -- they hold all that population in the hollow of their hand. They occupy every position of influence in the land. They are the statesmen and politicians, the judges, magistrates, Government officials, and clerks of every grade. If there is any position conferring influence over their fellow-men, it will be held by a Brahman. Moreover, they are a sacred Caste, admitted by the people to be gods upon earth -- a rank supposed to have been attained by worth maintained through many transmigrations.|
[Illustration: A typical Brahman face. It is keener than the photo shows, and has the cynical expression so many Brahman faces have. Such a man is hard to win.]
Among the Petras of this district is a little old-fashioned country town, held in strength by the Brahmans. No convert has ever come from that town, and the town boasts that none ever shall. None of the houses are open yet to teaching, or even visiting, but we are making friends, and hope for an entrance soon. We spent a morning out in the street; they had no objection to that, and as the free young Brahmans gathered round us, or stood for a moment against a wall to be |caught,| it was difficult, even for us who knew it, to realise how bound they were. |Bound, who should conquer; slaves, who should be kings.| Bound, body and soul, in a bondage perfectly incomprehensible to the English mind.
Afterwards, when we saw the photographs, we recalled one and another who, while they were young students like these, dared to desire to escape from their bondage; but back they were dragged, and the chains were riveted faster than ever, and every link was tested again, and hammered down hard.
We wanted to be sure of our facts about each of them, that these facts may further answer that smile which assures us things are not as we imagine; so the Iyer wrote to a brother missionary who had known these lads well, and asked him to tell what happened to each of them. This morning the answer to that letter came, and was handed to me with |I hardly like to give it to you, but it tells the truth about what goes on.| These boys were students in our C.M.S. College.
The first one mentioned in the letter is a young Brahman who confessed Christ in baptism, and bravely withstood the tremendous opposition raised by his friends, who came in crowds for many weeks, and tried by every argument to persuade him to return to Hinduism; but he preached Christ to them. They brought his young wife, and she tore her hair and wailed, and besought him not to condemn her to the shame of a widow's life. This was the hardest of all to withstand; he turned to the missionary and said, |Oh my father, take her away! She is tearing out my heart!|
[Illustration: A typical Brahman student. The marks on the forehead are made of bright red, yellow, and white paste, and represents the footprint of the god Vishnu. These Brahmans are Vaishnavites.]
Then came the baptism day of another Brahman student, his friend, who previous to this had been seized by his relatives, shut up and starved, and then fed with poisoned food; but the poison was not strong enough to kill, and he had escaped, and was now safe and ready for baptism.
It was remembered afterwards how the friend of the newly baptised stood and rejoiced, and praised God. Then, the baptism over, fearing no danger in open day, he went to the tank to bathe. He was never seen again.
What happened exactly no one knows. It is thought that men hired to watch him seized their opportunity, and carried him off. What they did then has never been told. Contradictory reports about the boy have reached the missionaries. One, that he is still holding on, another that he is now a priest in one of the great Saivite temples of South India. Which is true, God knows.
But we are under the English Government. Could nothing be done? One of his near relatives is the present Judge of the High Court of one of our Indian cities. And among the crowd of Brahmans who came during those weeks, there were influential men, graduates of colleges, members of the legal profession -- a favourite profession in India. And yet this thing was done.
There was another; the means used to get hold of him cannot be written here. That is the difficulty which fronts us when we try to tell the truth as it really is. It simply cannot be told. The Dust may be shown -- or a little of it; the whole of the Actual, never.
There were others near the Kingdom, but it is the same story over again. They were all spirited away from the college; the missionary writes, |it makes one's heart sick to think of them, and the hellish means invented to turn them from Christ.| These are not the words of sentimental imagination. They are the words of a man who gives evidence as a witness. But even a witness may feel.
He tells us of one, a bright, happy fellow, he says he was, whose friends made no objection to his returning home after his baptism, and he returned, thinking he would be able to live as a Christian with his wife. They drugged his food, then what they did has to be covered with silence again. . . . They did their worst. . . . When he awoke from that nightmare of sin, he sought out his missionary friend. Some of the Hindus even, |ashamed of the vile means used| to entice him and destroy him, would have wished him to be received again as a Christian, but his spirit was broken. He said he could not disgrace the cause of Christ by coming back; he would go away where he would not be known. He left his wife, and went. He has never been heard of since.
Our comrade tells of another, and again, in telling it, we have to leave it half untold. This one was eager to confess Christ in baptism; he was a student at college then, and very keen. His father knew of his son's desire, and he did what few Hindu fathers would do, he turned his home into a hell, in order to ruin his boy. The infernal plot succeeded. God only knows how far the soul is responsible when the mind is dazed and then inflamed by those fearful drugs. But we do know that the soul He meant should rise and shine, sinks, weighted down by the unspeakable shame of some awful memory darkened, as by some dark dye that has stained it through and through.
I think of others as I write: one was a boy we knew well, a splendid, earnest lad, keen to witness for Christ. He told us one evening how he had been delivered from those who were plotting his destruction. For several months after his decision to be a Christian, he lived at home and tried to win his people; but they were incensed against him for even thinking of breaking Caste, and would not listen to him. Still he waited, and witnessed to them, not fearing anything. Then one day, suddenly some men rushed into the room where he was sitting, seized and bound and gagged him. They forced something into his mouth as he lay on the floor at their mercy; he feared it was a drug, but it was only some disgusting stuff which, to a Hindu, meant unutterable defilement. Then they left him bound alone, and at night he managed to escape. A few months after he told us this, we heard he had been seized again, and this time |drugged and done for.|
In South India baptism does not prevent the Caste from using every possible means to get the convert back; once back, certain ceremonies are performed, after which he is regarded as purified, and reinstated in his Caste. The policy of the whole Caste confederation is this: get him back unbaptised if you can, but anyhow get him back. Two Brahman lads belonging to different parts of this district decided for Christ, went through all that is involved in open confession, and were baptised. One of the two was sent North for safety; his people traced him, followed him, turned up unexpectedly at a wayside station in Central India, and forced him back to his home in the South. Once there, they took their own measures to keep him. The other lad was sent to Madras. The Brahmans found out where he was, broke into the house at night, overpowered the boy's protectors, and carried him off. They too did what seemed good to them there, and they too succeeded. No one outside could interfere. The Caste guards its own concerns.
|O Lord Jesus Christ!| wrote one, a Hindu still, |who knowest us to be placed in such danger that it is as if we were within some magical circle drawn round us, and Satan standing with his wand without, keeping us in terror, break the spell of Satan, and set us free to serve Thee!|
All this may be easy reading to those who are far away from the place where it happened. Distance has a way of softening too distinct an outline; but it is not easy to write, it comes so close to us. Why write it, then? We write it because it seems to us it should be more fully known, so that men and women who know our God, and the secret of how to lay hold upon Him, should lay hold, and hold on for the winning of the Castes for Christ.
[Illustration: Another Brahman, much duller than the last. This and the two preceding photographs are perfect as a study of three types of Brahmanhood as we have it in Southern India -- keen, thoughtful, dull.]
Surely the very hardness of an enterprise, the very fact that it is what a soldier would call a forlorn hope, is in itself a call and a claim stronger than any put forth by something easier. The soldier does not give in because the hope is |forlorn.| It is a hope, be it ever so desperate. He volunteers for it, and win or not, he fights.
There is that in this enterprise which may mark it out as |forlorn.| For ages the race has broken one of nature's laws with blind persistency, and the result is a certain lack of moral fibre, grit, |tone.| No separate individual is responsible for this, harsh judgments are entirely out of place; but the fact remains that it is so, and it must be taken into account in dealing with the Brahmans and several of the upper Castes of India. Side by side with this element of weakness there is, in apparent contradiction, that stubborn element of strength known as the Caste spirit. This spirit is seen in all I have shown you of what happens when a convert comes. It is as if all the million wills of the million Caste men and women were condensed into one single Will, a concentration of essence of Will not comparable with anything known at home.
Look at this face -- it is a photographed fact. Does it not show you an absence of that |something| which nerves to endurance, stimulates to dare? Then listen to this: -- A Christian man lies dead. The way to the cemetery lies through the Brahman street, in the chief town of this District; there is no other way. The Brahman street is a thoroughfare, it cannot be closed to traffic, but the Brahmans refuse point blank to allow that dead man to be carried through. The Bishop expostulates. No; he was a Christian, he shall not be carried through. Time is passing. In the Tropics the dead must be buried quickly. The Bishop appeals to the Collector (Representative of Government here). The Collector gives an order. The Brahmans refuse to obey. He orders out a company of soldiers. The Brahmans mass on the housetops and stone the soldiers. The order is given to fire. Then, and not till then, the Christians may carry out their dead; and later on the Brahmans carry out theirs. This happened some years ago, and outwardly times have changed since then in that particular town. But the spirit that it shows is in possession to this day, and as small things show great, so this street scene shows the presence of that |something| which intensifies the difficulty of winning the Castes for Christ. Each unit is weak in itself, but in combination, strong.
|A forlorn hope| we have called the attempt to do what we are told to do. The word is a misnomer; with our Captain as our Leader no hope is ever |forlorn|! But our Leader calls for men, men like the brave of old who jeopardised their lives unto the death in the high places of the field, in the day that they came to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty. A jeopardised life may be lost.
Christ our Captain is calling for volunteers; here are the terms: |Whosoever shall lose his life for My sake and the Gospel's the same shall find it.| The teachers' life may seem |lost| who lives for his college boys; the student's life may seem |lost| who spends hour after hour through the long hot days in quiet talks in the house. Be it so, for it may mean that. But the life lost for His Name's sake, the same shall be found again.