Missionaries and their medicine

A Christian modernity for tribal India

Author: David Hardiman

In November 1880 the Reverend Charles Thompson arrived at Kherwara, Rajasthan, India, to establish the first Anglican mission to the Bhils, a primitive tribe, by going amongst them as a healer. This book sets out the history of the interaction between the missionaries and the Bhils, a history of missionary medicine, and how certain Bhils forged their own relationship with modernity. During the 1870s, the Church Missionary Society declared its intention to open more missions 'among the non-Aryan hill-people', and the Bishop of Lahore wanted more missions to work amongst the 'aboriginal' Bhils. A great famine that began in 1899 brought radical changes in the mission to the Bhils. After the famine, many of the Bhagats, a local sect, became convinced that the sinless deity was the God of Christians, and they decided to convert en masse to Christianity. The missionaries working amongst the Bhils believed that Satan was in their midst, who was constantly enticing their hard-won converts to relinquish their new faith and revert to their 'heathen' ways. It was argued that 'heathen' beliefs and culture could be attacked only if female missionaries were required to work with native women. Mission work had always been hampered by a lack of funds, and at one time, the hospital at Lusadiya had to dissuade many would-be inpatients from coming for treatment due to lack of beds. The book also deals with the work of the mission in the post-colonial India, which laid more stress to healing than evangelism.

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