Arrival of Christianity in Nizam’s Hyderabad state
From 'Fr Gurien Jacquier of Ghogargaon
(Catholic mission in Aurangabad diocese - 1892 onwards)
By Camil Parkhe
Published by: SFS Publications, Bangalore
Christianity in India is 2000 years old. It was St Thomas the Apostle - one of the 12 disciples of Jesus Christ - who first preached the gospel in Kerala, the southern parts of the country. Christianity took deep roots in Goa and Vasai in Thane district in Maharashtra after the arrival of the Portuguese at the west coast of India in the medieval period. A group of Jesuits were also present for some time in the court of the Mughal emperor Akbar in the 17th century. Christianity, however, did not spread in north India during those days.
The British East India established its political rule in India in early 19th century. Its military officials and soldiers were Catholics and Protestants and therefore Christian priests were needed in various cantonment areas to serve as military chaplains. The rulers of various princely states in the country also had Europeans or Goan Christians as officers and soldiers and they too needed Christian priests at their military bases. The rulers therefore donated land for building of the churches. This marked the arrival of the first Christians in different parts of the country, followed by the military chaplains and later the construction of chapels and churches in the nook and corner of the country. For example, the first church in western Maharashtra, Immaculate Conception Church or the City Church, was constructed in Pune on a land given by Savai Madhavrao Peshawa II (1774- 1795) in 1792.1
According to Indian Catholic Church’s historian, Fr Ernest R Hull (S J ), since 1812 Fr Lopes da Conceicao, parish priest at this Pune’s City Church, used to visit the Catholic soldiers in Aurangabad where a chapel was built for the soldiers. He also visited the soldiers of the British camp in Sattor (probably Shirur in Pune district) and in Jalna, ministering to the European and Indian troops alike and the civilians. 2
The first church in Nizam’s Hyderabad princely state was constructed at Sycundarabad by Thomas Midlton, a Protestant priest. The Society for Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) launched its missionary work in Jalna. The school opened by the SPG in Jalna offered education to children belonging to all castes and religions. The schools opened by the Hyderabad’s ruler Nizam had Urdu as medium of instruction and the Muslim teachers employed there also allowed mingling of the untouchable castes children with high castes Hindu children. This used to anger the high caste Hindus who did not wish to send their children to mingle with the children belonging to the lower and untouchable castes. But often they had no other alternative as during those days there were no other institutions offering formal education to children.
The SPG appointed Rev Narayanshastri Sheshadri to its Jalna mission centre in 1862. Rev Sheshadri expanded the missionary activities in this part of the Marathwada region. Under his leadership, 1011 people belonging to the untouchable castes embraced Christianity in 1868. These Dalits (the depressed people) included people belonging to the untouchable Mang, Mahar and Chambar (cobbler) castes. Along with his religious apostolate, Rev Sheshadri also worked for the social upliftment of the untouchables. He was one of the veteran social reformers of his age.
Rev Sheshadri had obtained from Sir Salarjung, the then prime minister of the Nizam, the ruler of Hyderabad state, 800 acres of land on 25 years lease without any taxes. On this barren land, Rev Sheshadri established a new village, Bethel, also called Bethelwadi. There, he built a colony for the people who had converted to Christianity, all of whom were untouchables. There he dug up six wells, built a market place, a church and also a mosque for the new settlement. Dr L Y Aucharmal who has written history of the Dalit liberation movement in Nizam’s Hyderabad state, has said that the establishment of an independent colony for the untouchable community was indeed a revolutionary step taken by Rev Sheshadri. He has said that this independent colony was a big slap for the prevailing social inequality. An independent colony for the untouchables was indeed a better option for these people who otherwise were leading a banished life outside the boundary of the village. 3
When Fr Jacquier arrived in Ghogargaon, Christianity had already made its presence felt in the Nizam’s Hyderabad princely state. The Catholic Church’s work in Marathwada was, however, confined to the military officers and soldiers employed in the British camps. Fr Marian Thomas, founder of Ghogargaon mission, and his successor Fr Jacquier were the pioneer missionaries working among the local populace in the Marathwada region.
1) Catholic Diocese of Pune – Directory 2006, Published by Bishop’s House, Pune (Page 13)
2) Fr Ernest R Hull (S J ) ‘Bombay Mission History – With a special study of the Padroado question’, Examiner Press, Mumbai, Retailed by B X Furtado and Sons, Mumbai (page 201)
3) Dr L Y Aucharmal, ‘Ambedkari Chalwal Aani Hyderabad Sansthanateel Dalit Mukti Sangram’, (Ambedkarite movement and participation of Dalits in liberation of Hyderabad princely state), Publisher: Usha Wagh, Sugawa Prakashan, 861/1, Sadashiv Peth, Pune 411 030 (1997)
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