A top legislative leader in India’s Tamil Nadu state cited the contributions of Christians for the region’s development, especially in the field of education.
“Christians are the main reason for Tamil Nadu’s development,” said Speaker M Appavu of the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly in an earlier statement.
“Today’s Tamil Nadu is built on you,” he said at the centenary celebration of Saint Paul seminary in the city of Tiruchirappalli.
The political leader said the state owes its progress to Christian educational and medical institutions.
“If Christian Fathers and Sisters were not there, Tamil Nadu would have been like Bihar,” he said, adding that the priests and nuns helped him “grow” to his current position in government.
Bihar is considered India’s poorest and most backward state.
The Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) in Tamil Nadu, however, is not happy about M Appavu’s statement that had gone viral on social media, calling the state’s ruling party anti-Hindu.
But Appavu stood by his statement. “I will not say I did not say that. Yes, I said that,” he said, adding that “Whatever I spoke is just history. There should be no politics on that.”
“We welcome Appavu’s statement,” said Father Devasagayaraj M Zackarias of Tamil Nadu.
“Finally there is some appreciation for the pioneering service Christian missionaries down the centuries have rendered in the fields of education and medical care,” said the priest.
Prof. M Mary John, a Dalit leader, said marginalized and excluded communities, such as the Dalits and tribals, have benefited from Christian educational institutions.
Father Maria Joseph M Mahalingam, Jesuit higher education coordinator in Chennai province, said that in India, lower caste people did not have the opportunity to get educated until the arrival of European missionaries.
In the 18th century, missionaries came to Tamil Nadu and opened schools in villages and remote areas that admitted lower caste children.
The missionaries encouraged everyone, irrespective of caste, to be educated.
Father Mahalingam, a former principal of Loyola College in Mettala, Tamil Nadu, said one of the early education institutions in the region is the St Joseph’s College in Trichurapalli, which was established by the Jesuits in 1844.
John Dayal, a veteran journalist and rights activist, said that before the 19th century, the humanities, the arts, sciences, and medicine were not taught among the ordinary people of India.
It was only when Christian missionaries established educational institutions in Vellore and Madras — the Christian Medical College in Vellore and the Madras Christian College — when quality medical education was introduced.
South Indian women from Kerala and Tamil Nadu were also able to study nursing, thus augmenting health professionals in the country’s hospitals.
“It also triggered the liberating education of women in the professions, breaking several taboos,” said Dayal.
The growing number of medical professionals, mostly Christians in the early years, helped raise the social and economic status of families, getting children into higher education, many of whom later worked in the United Kingdom, Canada, Europe, and the United States.
The Jesuit’s contribution stands out, said Dayal, adding that all its institutions are now at the top of the country’s tables of standards, almost always coming “on the top ten or the top 50 or the top hundred” despite new investments by the corporate sector and the government.
Christians in Tamil Nadu have 8,386 schools, out of which 3,000 are run by the Catholic Church.