BEFORE embarking on his ten-day tour of India last Saturday, the Archbishop of Canterbury reflected on the complexity of Britain’s relationship with its former Indian empire — a legacy that included sources of “sorrow and shame”.
On Monday, he goes to Amritsar. This is described as the first time a C of E Primate has visited the site of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, in which hundreds of Indians attending a public meeting were shot dead by British troops on 13 April 1919. An Anglican gave the orders to fire.
Writing in The Times last Saturday, the Archbishop said that the massacre had done “so much to vitiate Anglo-Indian relations”, noting that “Britain’s long involvement in India has left a vast legacy of traditions and links, some vital and valuable, some that are a source of sorrow and shame.”
The focus of the article was India’s religious diversity. “Local Indian Christians have much to teach me about reaching out to other faiths,” he wrote. “If, as a Christian, I am serious about the common good, then I must speak for, and on behalf of, all religious minorities here in Britain, including Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs.”
On Thursday, the Archbishop spent the evening with Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jain and Sikh leaders at the Henry Martyn Institute in Hyderabad, an ecumenical non-profit organisation that promotes reconciliation between people of different faiths and cultures.
His visit coincides with unrest in Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority state in India, which was deprived of its partial autonomy by the Indian government in recent weeks. Internet and mobile networks have mostly been blocked, and hundreds of people have been detained (News, 15 August). Demands on people in Assam to prove their citizenship and the construction of detention centres in the state have also caused concern among Muslims.
In The Times, the Archbishop wrote: “I may be told of the difficulties some religious groups, especially Christians, are experiencing in India today. . . Misrepresentation and scurrilous rumour can so easily spread through social media, inflaming community feelings. Too often the innocent bear the brunt in hate crimes and violence.”
During his tour, he will visit the United Churches of North India and South India (CSI), making stops in Kottayam, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Medak, Jabalpur, Kolkata, and Amritsar. Among those whom he met were the CSI Women’s Fellowship, and the Order of Sisters, and the Supreme Metropolitan of the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church, Dr Joseph Mar Thoma.
In a sermon at the CSI Cathedral in Kottayam on the first day of his tour, the Archbishop preaching on the subject of education.
“The danger of the new learning that is coming is that it is the learning that divides, that it is the learning only for those with resources,” he said. “For the rich, since they have resources, they accumulate skills without moral values, and we end with a world where the rich and the poor are ever more divided when power emerges from a computer keyboard. We may end with a world where the ships of the rich are automated, and robots do the hard work that no human wants to do, whereas amongst the poor there is only suffering.
“That is the age that is happily passed with the end of imperialism. But it is an age which is constantly seeking to return, because people seek power, in order that may have wealth and privilege.”
Running through every subject should be “the golden thread of wisdom and righteousness, of what it is to be a person who is blessed, of gentleness and hope . . . an education that enables change to be dealt with while including the dignity of the human being at its centre.”
Delivering a lecture at United Theological College, Bengaluru, on Tuesday, the Archbishop gave a warning, drawing on W. B. Yeats’s “The Second Coming”: “If we do not prepare ourselves for the rapid and monumental changes coming our way — not only in terms of climate, but technological development — we, too, shall find that things will fall apart. The centre will not hold.”
He praised the Church of South India for “leading the way in caring for God’s creation”, before observing that the country was, “in many ways, paying for the excesses of other countries”. He cited research from the University of California, Berkeley, linking climate change to the suicides of nearly 60,000 Indian farmers and farm workers.
He also praised the CSI for pioneering women’s education in Kottayam 200 years ago.
At the beginning of his India tour, he spoke of the inspiration that he had derived from his three-day visit to Sri Lanka last week, which included a visit to St Sebastian’s, Negombo: a Roman Catholic church where more than 100 people died in bombings by Islamist terrorists in April (News, 26 April).
“The Church was full,” he said, in remarks recorded by The Times of India. “There were many children in church, still with scars and marks of the bombing, still with the trauma of their suffering, and yet they came forward. It inspired me for the future.”
The Archbishop came face to face with a bloodstained statue of Christ kept in a glass enclosure at St Sebastian’s.
“When I see this statue, this image of Christ covered with the blood of the martyrs, I know by that the courage, your faith, and your love,” he said, Associated Press reported. “I see the true Christ. Not the Christ who is distant and clean, but the Christ who is covered in his own and our blood.”
The Bishop of Kurunegala, the Rt Revd Keerthisiri Fernando, said that the Archbishop’s presence and solidarity was “much needed . . . It was a visit of caring and standing in brother- and sisterhood, regardless of any other barrier, and it was a time of witness to the Christian faith.”
Since the April attacks life had “returned to normalcy for most parts,” he said. “While coordinated efforts trying to root out this extremism failed, we believe that the situation must be handled politically, rather than on a religious sphere. . .While some issues such as intelligence, security, and legal prosecution will take some more time, immediate steps have been noted. It is felt that more could happen in terms of reconciliation, and the ethos of relieving suspicion among communities.” He had observed less “politicising” of the issue for electoral gain.
The Church in Sri Lanka remained “focused on being a community of resilience and harmonious coexistence”.