The British who remained expatriate rulers throughout their stay in India and were very sensitive to their business interests, remained more circumspect in their approach to matters religious. They consciously distanced themselves from the efforts of Christian missionaries to spread Christianity. The aura of being the religion of the rulers did help the Christian missions so did the undeclared policy of subtle preferences in services toward those who converted themselves to christianity. Yet, British officialdom at the formal level drew a clear line between matters religious and matters of governmental administration.
During the period of British rule a new hierarchy emerged in Indian society- a hierarchy headed by those who could claim British descent, followed by other Europeans, Anglo- Indians and Indian Christians-were required to find a niche for themselves in terms of local community. They were often themselves divided by a caste system based upon their Pre-conversion caste status. In relation to other communities, new Christian converts suffered relative isolation and tended to move into urban areas. But they gained in educational opportunities and through that won greater access to improved occupational status. The proselytizing activities of the Christian missions always drew adverse comment but since the Christian missionaries did not have open governmental support they also tended to function in a way that would not arouse open hostility from the local community.
It should also be noted that Christianity did not come to India first as the religion of the rulers. It came peacefully as the harbinger of a new faith in the first century A.D. The fact that the earliest Indian Christians retained their Indian identity helped to set a tradition of mutual adjustment. Later , in the twentieth century, the active part played by a substantial number of Indian Christians in the nationalist struggle also helped minimise alienation. Gandhi’s own sympathetic attitude towards the Christian doctrine and its emphasis on love and compassion helped to reduce the hostility towards Christians.
At the level of religious thought Christianity had considerable impact on other religions prevalent in India and was mainly responsible for the major religious reform movements in Hinduism that arose in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The Arya Samaj, the Brahmo Samaj , the Prarthana Samaj and the Satyahodhak Samaj were as much a response to the Christian doctrine that was propagated by the missionaries as to the liberal thought of reason based morality and civic equality that had gained political acceptance in western Europe. As we have been, Islam attacked Idol worship and indirectly strengthened the non-ritualistic Bhakti movement. Christian missionaries, particularly those of the Protestant church , also attacked idol worship but their attack against the caste system seemed to have had a greater impact. Most of the reform movements within Hinduism incorporated in their formal doctrine a repudiation of caste and the substitution of ritual by simplified individual prayer as important elements. They also emphasized the concept of a single divine entity as against the polytheism of popular – Hinduism
While the reform movements have had considerable influence in bringing about a change in Hindu and generally, Indian social thought, they have not brought about any major transformation in Hindu social practice. In Bengal the Brahms have become another caste-like group, in Punjab the Arya Samaj gave greater significance to the Hindu identity, in Maharashtra the Satyashodhak Samaj became the philosophic base for the anti-brahmin movement, but in none of these areas have any of these movements been able to fight caste ‘consciousness’ as distinct from caste hierarchy. In the south and the west they have helped to reduce brahmanic dominance and widen the opportunity for the middle and lower castes. But the consciousness of caste persists. It serves to provide the basis for individual identity and means for group based assertion for political power.
Unity in diversity is not at all contemporary social reality. It probably reflects the best of our cultural aspirations. What is more, it is a precondition, in the present context, to our achieving a peaceable society in the midst of plurality. If unity in diversity does not exist we must make every effort to bring it about.
To do this we must first understand what it is that we are seeking. One thing should be clear that to seek unity is not to seek to establish uniformity. We must not only be tolerant of difference or diversity but we must cherish it as a value in the same way as we cherish the preservation of different species in the biological sphere.