Saturday, October 6, 2012

Prof. S.K.George

An unknown Christian and unknown Gandhian

Prof. S.K.George

An Unknown Gandhian and an unknown Christian

By P N Benjamin

(Deccan Herald, SUNDAY HERALD, OCTOBER 22,2000 )

When a young theologian stepped out of the portals of the Bishop’s College Calcutta in 1932, little did he

realize that the teachings of Christ would be religiously followed by an ‘unbeliever’. Much to the shock of

his relatives and friends w ho expected him to be conventional parson of the Anglican Church,

Srampickal Kuruvilla George by the message and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi.

George saw in Gandhi, a person who dared to live the Christian life and even called others to do so.

Never had he seen anyone who treated the Gita and the Sermon on the Mount as Gospels. His conviction

to follow the Gandhian way also gave him enough audacity to express theological doubts pertaining to

the exclusive Divinity of Christ. Theologians, who were taken by surprise at George’s affirmations,

postponed his ordination as a priest of the Church, hoping that he would come back to the real faith of the


Since the irrevocable had happened, George became a social leper in theological circles. Unmindful of the

hostility, George went a step further. In the 1930s, when the Church in India did not show any sympathy

towards the national movement, George urged the Christians to join the Civil Disobedience Movement for

he firmly believed that the ‘satyagraha’ ‘was the Cross in action’. He published an appeal to all Indian

Christians and the Church to join in and act as custodians of non-violence as a community which claimed

to believe in the supreme instance of the triumphant satyagraha the world has seen, viz, the Cross of Jesus

of Nazareth. The Bengal Government took objection to this statement and two Calcutta papers were

penalized. George himself escaped Government prosecution. But this sympathy with Indian nationalism

was regarded as disloyalty to the Church and the Government.

The then head of the Anglican Church in India, Metropolitan Foss Westcott, had condemned the

Disobedience Movement as unchristian and even justified the British law comparing it to the law of

Nature. However, George confronted his stand by drawing a parallel between the revolt of Israelites

mentioned in the Bible to the Disobedience Movement what followed was a theological battle.

George said: “ One striking biblical parallel suggests itself to me whenever I think of Gandhiji, namely

that of Moses leading the revolt of the Israelites, creating disaffection among them against constituted

authority and leading them to independence. Moses would stand condemned by your Lordship’s argument

from the analogy of the laws of Nature.

In this reply the Metropolitan stated: I always understood that Moses went with the full permission of

Pharaoh… but his pursuit was arrested not by the violence of Moses but by what is recorded as an act of

God”. And in his reply to this, George said: “You say our Lord kept out of politics, but we are not to

bring Him into our politics if He is to be the Lord of all life?… And I challenge anyone to say that in

principle the war of non-violent disobedience to an unjust law is against the teaching of Christ.” George’s theological stand was in fact simple. In this book “ Gandhi’s challenge to Christianity, he said the hope of

the Kingdom of God was the central thing in Christianity. George’s target was not to destroy the icons of

the Church but to bring in the message of the Kingdom of God. He believed that the way to the realization of that Kingdom is the way to the cross- that of suffering love. And much to his amazement this principle was

followed to its hilt by Gandhi in India.

George says in his book “ I do not claim to be a great anything but I do claim to be a Gandhiite and a

Christian. That combination is to me vital and significant for the world today and especially so for India.

The conviction came to me as a young man in the beginning of the Gandhian era in Indian politics, a

conviction that has only been deepened by the passage of years and greater understanding of the message

of both Jesus and Mahatma Gandhi, that a true Christian in India today must necessarily be a Gandhian.

The corollary to that, that a Gandhian must also be a Christian, is understood in its widest, perhaps its truest sense in which Gandhi with his life-long devotion to Hinduism, is himself a Christian.” George’s proposition that a true Christian in Indian must necessarily be a Gandhian was borne out of his conviction that Gandhi was giving a practical demonstration of the applicability of the teachings of Jesus to modern problems. That

was a sorely needed demonstration.

In his foreword to the first edition of George’s book, Gandhi’s Challenge to Christianity,

Dr S Radhakrishnan wrote on 8 June, 1939 from Oxford that Mr. S K George “represents the increasing

number of Christians who are alive to the currents of modern Indian life and aspirations and are anxious

to bring their faith into an understanding with India’s spiritual heritage…”

George’s radical stand not only ostracized him further in the Christian circles, but he also lost his job.

His personal life was also in turmoil as his wife had to stay with her parents with their two small children

while George went to Gandhi’s Ashram at Sabarmathi. That was the time when Gandhi was in prison. In

one of his letters to George, Gandhi wrote… “Only do not give me up in despair…” This appeal not to

give him up in despair touched George and humiliated him. He wrote later: Not only have I not given

him (Gandhi) up, but I continue to draw inspiration from that fountainhead of light to humanity, groping

and floundering along the path of violence in this age of atomic powers…”

George had to return to Kerala shortly afterwards following the death of his daughter to look after his wife who suffered from a sudden shock following the tragedy. It was the time when Gandhi had come to

Trivandrum to preside over the celebrations of the Travancore Temple Entry. He made it a point to visit

the ailing Mary George after the function inspiring her with his mere presence.

For George the going was not easy. He spent much of his time struggling to maintain his intellectual

integrity and his right to exist even as an independent and unattached Christian. Many of the

church-controlled institutions refused to provide him a job because of his freethinking religious ideas.

In 1942 George produced a small book Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ. Reviewing this book Sir C P Ramaswami Iyer w rote: It is impossible to improve on Mr. George’s account that the modern mind sees

the evidence of Jesus Christ’s divinity not in his miracles in the fragrance of his sacrificial living…I have

learnt more about the real character of Jesus from this book than from any other. Sir C P was the then

Diwan of Travancore.

Gandhiji appointed Mrs. George as his prathinidhi in the Kasturba Trust for Kerala, which started

functioning in 1946, with a training centre at Trichur in the house and land belonging to the George

family. Mrs. George worked as a prathinidhi for about 8 years.

From 1947-1950, George was in Viswa Bharati, Shantiniketan, as editor of Sino-Indian Journal and

professor of English in their college and then as Adyaksha C F Andrews Memorial Hall for Christian and Western Studies. During this time George wrote several articles for newspapers and periodicals.

The June 26, 1949 issue of the Illustrated Weekly of India, published an essay Can we evolve a basic

religion? by George in which he discussed how the different religious systems have failed in the past to

establish the brotherhood of man. Prof. George suggested in it that Mahatma Gandhi’s definition of God

as Truth and his (Gandhi’s) insistence that religion must permeate every activity of man, might point the

way to a basic religion free and constraints and conflicts.

Sri C Rajagopalachari, Governor-General read the essay and immediately wrote an affectionate letter to

George from Simla on 30 June, 1949… “ I have thought over this idea of a basic religion founded on

unswerving loyalty to Truth…Truth plus something is wanted. Love must take shape and add itself to

Truth…The richness and power of Christianity would be lost if we exclude the life of Christ and the love

and compassion that make it up. I am not, I know, quite logical, but I am thinking aloud as I scribble this

out to be typed out…”

In 1950,George accepted an invitation from Sriman Narayan to take up the job as Professor of English,

G S College, Wardha, the centre of Gandhian activities. In 1951 he wrote the book The Story of the Bible,

with a foreword by Rajkumari Amrit Kaur.

In 1954, the then Madhya Pradesh Government appointed the Christian Missionaries Activities Enquiry

Committee with Justice N B Niyogi as its chairman with five members. Prof S K George was one of them,

the only Christian on the committee. A storm of protest was raised by a certain section of people against

the very appointment of the enquiry committee, and specially directed against George.

The force of opposition to George’s appointment can be well gauged by the necessity felt by the

Government of issuing a press note to justify the appointment of the Committee. With reference to George,

the press note stated: “ As regards Shri S K George, he is a devout Christian and a nationalist, belonging

to the oldest Church in India- the Syrian Christian Church-and has been an educationist and a public

worker of more than twenty five years’ standing. He has pursued Theological studies both in India and

Oxford, and was also working in Shantiniketan. He has published several books on Christianity.

Commenting on his appointment, one of the outstanding Christian leaders in the country described it as a

‘wise’and ‘correct’ choice. The “outstanding Christian leader” was no less than the late lamented Dr H C Mookerjee, the saintly Governor of West Bengal in the 1950s

It was the unanimous opinion of all non- Christian members of the Niyogi Committee that George should

be asked to enunciate his own view on the future course of Christianity in India. Accordingly he revealed

his mind in unequivocal terms as follows:

“ An Indian today, high caste or Adivasi, Hindu or Christian whose heart does not glow with love and

devotion to his motherland, which is making such tremendous advance, is untrue to his genius and

disloyal to his nation. It was not sufficiently realized that Western Christianity is the result of a marriage

between Hebraism, the Semitic heritage, and Greco Roman culture. A real wielding of Indian spirituality

and Hebrew ethics might result in Christianity that might enrich the whole world. The Indian Christianity

that is really Indian and truly Christian, might give a lead to World Christianity. An Indian Christianity

that emphasizes its essential and holds lightly to its trappings, mainly of Western devising, will find a

welcome from India that is awakening from its lethargy under centuries of foreign domination…

If Missionaries from the West with their specialized training and aptitudes are willing to serve in India

without the ulterior motive of adding to the numerical strength of the denominations they belong to, they

will truly be representative of their Master and be doing their best to win for Him the heart of India. We

have come across a few such who find in disinterested service to India their true reward, who have been

taken into the hearts of the people…We wish Christianity in India to become truly Indian and truly

Christian and the religions of India to come together in genuine co-operation giving a lead to the nations in peaceful co-existence…”

That these faithfully reflect the spiritual genius of this land is amply borne out by the comment of the

Vedant Kesari (October 1956) that “ they evidence the creative and generous spirit” of the Enquiry


The work of the Enquiry Committee proved too much for George. The nervous strain of

serving on such a commission could be imagined. “ A very tired man”, as he said to himself. He was

suffering from Parkinson’s disease. There was no definite treatment for this progressive disease in those

days. His health deteriorated. Meanwhile his wife died on 19th December 1959.

George followed his wife a few months later on 4th May, 1960. He was sixty years old then.

To those who knew the man personally, it was a great loss. As Rev. R. R. Keithahn said: “George was

ahead of most of us. He had rid himself of that which binds the spirit. He could look at another man,

another religion, another thought as few men ever do. As a result, he could at once make the truth his

own fettered by no dogma or ritual or prejudice…surely he was a man of God.”

Prof. S K George was gentle as a saint but firm as a rock on all matters of principles, that was what had

made his life’s pilgrimage such a difficult one. With his scholarship and flawless English he could so

easily have led a peaceful and happy life in the pleasant backwaters of Christian colleges, had he been

prepared to turn a deaf ear to what he called, in the title of his first book, Gandhi’s Challenge to

Christianity and to hold aloof from national struggle. But these things he could not do, and only those

who knew him well could ever realize how great was the sacrifice he made when he turned his back on

the academic career for which he was by nature and nurture so eminently fitted. Gentle and self-effacing

and accommodating in all personal matters, to compromise on any matter of principle was the one thing

he could not do.


( Published in SUNDAY HERALD, OCTOBER 22,2000 )


P.N.BENJAMIN said...

Comments: Prof. S.K.George


Hearty thanks for sharing this piece. I have for a number of years heard of S.K. George as a "Gandhian" but have not known of the details of why and how. You have helped to fill this void, for which I am grateful. Would that the Church were challenged/blessed with more such prophets.

Best regards,
(Rev. Dr. David Scott)

Dear Mr. Benjamin.
I enjoyed reading the article. The write-up is simply great, timely and relevant. Yes, SK George remains unknown to a certain extent. Let us together make him known. Permit me to forward it to myfriends too.
Well done. Congratulations.
+Thomas Samuel
Rt. Rev. Thomas Samuel

Dear Benji,

Thank you for the two articles. I had not met S.K.George but heard so much about him in the 50's as I joined Christian service at the Christian Insitute , Alleppey from Sadhu Mathai, Acharya Chandy, John Mathai and Rev. A.C.Oommen.I am happy you have produced this excellent piece on SKG. I hope you will send it to leading publications.

As a silent admirer, I thank God for enabling you to come up with very relevant issues
With warm regards,
+George Ninan
Rt. Rev. George Ninan

P.N.BENJAMIN said...

Thanks Benjamin for both of your reflections. They are inspiring as always. I don't know if I mentioned to you that I have dedicated my new book Being Evangelical and Dialogical - Healthy Balance in a Multi-faith Context to Stanly Samartha. UTC library has got a copy and copies in UTC Book Service. Do you think I can send a copy to a suitable member of the family? I will appreciate you advice. Hope your health is reasonably good. When you happen to be in Chennai let me know. God bless.


Rev Dr Israel Selvanayagam
Professor, Dept of Religions
Gurukul Theological College and Research Institute
94 Purasawalkam High Road
Kilpuak, Chennai - 600 010, INDIA Mob. 09940316637

P.N.BENJAMIN said...

Dear Mr. Benjamin,

Thank you very much for your article on Mr. S. K. George. That threw light on one of the great sons of Indian Christianity yet on whom little is known, especially by the contemporary generation. I hope and pray that your article will be widely read. I will share it with some of my own friends.

Thanks, and best wishes,

Jesudas Athyal

Dear Mr. Benjamin,

What an appropriate message for a day like this! I, as a student of theology, have read and appreciated S. K. George. It is good to read many details of his life you have provided. We haven't got much of his works in our library except a couple of them. If you are in possession of more writings of him including his letters, articles, etc. please make copies and send them to UTC archives for the benefit of the present and future generations.

Best wishes,

JG Muthuraj
UTC, Bangalore

P.N.BENJAMIN said...

Thanks! You are certainly keeping up the good work.

Very glad to read... but how come it comes to light only 12 years later?

Sister Amala

Subject: Re: Prof. S.K.George

I talked about him to my father. He remembers that there was this person close to Gandhiji.

When Gji visited Alwaye College, 10 students were chosen as body guards, Dad was one of them and sat right in front of Gji, at his feet, for the public function that was organised.

At Adur my aunt (died 2 years ago at age 97) translated Gji's speech to the ladies, at one point he said, "Water, water every where but not a drop to drink." Immediately she translated, "Vellam, vellam sarvatre; tulli kudikan illatre." Was it her own or was it someone else's she remembered? When Gandhiji asked from contributions from the ladies, she was the first to take off her earings and many others followed with their offerings of jewelry. She never wore gold again as she was already preparing to go North to join a convent in Ranchi.

Great people have lived before us.

P.N.BENJAMIN said...

Dear Uncle!
Earlier we had PROPHETS
Now we have PUPPETS.

Address: Dr. Sam J. Abraham
18 Vijay Colony
Opp. Railway Station
Rajasthan 312001 INDIA
Mob. No. 9413706290

What a wonderful and meaningful life indeed ! There could not have
been a better read today for me.But those were the days when India
produced idealistic people by the dozen.....Nowadays we rarely get to
see FULLSIZE men .

Thanks Ben !

Hope you are fine.

Just a little update from my side. I have joined a business magazine
recently. The job and the routine is extremely hectic as I am new to
this field.

Geetha Manoneeta