TOO often, when British people think of India, they focus on the maharajas and the British Raj, or “grinding poverty and misery”.
This is the perception of the Chaplain of St Alban’s, Copenhagen, the Revd Smitha Prasadam, who last month took part in a conference that sought to tell a bigger story about the country.
“People’s views of India tend to be quite narrow,” she said last month. “It’s a culture of many faiths and many languages, but the focus tends to be on maharajas and therefore the British Raj lifestyle, or, at the other extreme, the Dalits; so it’s always the grinding poverty and the misery. But the fabric of India is so much more, and the great big middle band is ignored. They are people of great faith and great spirituality.”
Among those speaking at “Listen to India”, a week-long event at Launde Abbey organised by Christians Aware, was Shoba Gosa, the founder of a charity based in Hyderabad, Young People for Life India. She described how among the city’s population of seven million were many young people who arrived alone to work in multinational companies.
Many were drawn to the mega-church at which she was working, because it was “modern, non-judgemental. Anyone can walk in, but it’s rooted in the gospel and goodness of Jesus.” Currently, more than 3000 young people, mainly young men, attended the four services held throughout the day, and among the services the charity provide was counselling.
For her talk on Hindu-Christian encounters, Ms Prasadam spoke alongside her mother, Canon Jemima Prasadam, who was the first Indian woman to be ordained in the Church of England, in 1994.
Common grounds in both faiths was joy, she suggested, and “key images of light and dark”, illustrated both in Diwali and the beginning of St John’s Gospel. They also shared “a quest for holiness”. She also gave talks on Sadhu Sundar Singh and Pandita Ramabai, two Indians celebrated in the C of E’s calendar but, she said, too little-known.
She expressed concern that, too often, interfaith conversation was driven by fear and counter-terrorism efforts. “Friendship ought to be the driver for any conversation.”
One of the organisers of the conference, Canon Andrew Wingate, a self-professed “India-phile” who lectured at Tamilnadu Theological Seminary from 1976 to 1982, spoke last week of “amazing links” between the two countries. Meeting Indian Christians gave those in Britain “energy”, he suggested, helping them “not to feel depressed as we so often are”.
In Leicester, almost 30 per cent of the population are Indian/British Indian, and 15 per cent are Hindu.
Pilgrimage. Indians were those who embarked on a 30-mile walk in the Holy Land led by the Revd Jessie Anand, an assistant priest at St John the Evangelist, Angell Town, near Brixton, and minister of the London Tamil Christian Congregation.
Last week, she described how the group of 41, aged from 16 to 75 and including Nigerians, Jamaicans, Americans, and British people, had felt “like a family” by the end of the nine-day journey.
“In the beginning, some of them found it difficult to walk,” she said. “But, at the end, they held hands and supported each other to walk.”
The Revd Jessie Anand
In a report she described how, “after experiencing a challenging immigration, we were determined to stay cheerful, to take the opportunity to get to know one another, and to gain deeper understanding during the Pilgrimage. The majority of the members did not know one another before, but we gradually developed a sense of belongingness, so that at the end of nine days all of us pilgrims experienced the feeling of being as one in God’s Family.”
Each day concluded with personal reflections, and she noted that “ecumenical spiritual learning made a vast difference”.
At Cana, a renewal of vows was available at a service.
“As a group of pilgrims made up of couples, widows and singles, we were full of mixed feelings and life situations,” she wrote. “But the preparation for this service helped us to be mindful about considering and caring for one another, and upholding one another in our different situations. In the worship the underlying concept of faithfulness — faithfulness to God and faithfulness to one another.”
It had been “uniquely valuable for understanding one another in the midst of our ideological, structural, and cultural differences”.
She plans to lead another pilgrimage in 2020, with a mixed age group.