Extract from The Hindu Newspaper's Review
of the 2007 Biography of Robert Caldwell
Dated 6/11/2007


Pioneering champion of the downtrodden
By Anand Kumar Raju
Kumaradoss' book is a rare instance of a well-documented objective biography of an evangelist-cum-pioneering champion of the downtrodden transforming Tinnevelly (modern Tirunelveli District) into a model of social engineering whose fruits are being enjoyed even today. The Madras Presidency (of which present-day Tamil Nadu was a significant part) has been served by great missionaries. Robert Caldwell, a Scot, arrived in Madras aged 24 on January 8, 1838 as a missionary of the non-denominational London Missionary Society. He later joined the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Mission (SPG). Caldwell, who was fascinated by the comparative study of languages, realised that he had to be proficient in Tamil to preach to the masses and he began a systematic study of the language.
The Missionary
He decided that his missionary field was in Tirunelveli particularly among the Shanar Christians. The book records his heroic struggles to bring the benefits of education, self-governing, self-financing social structures to elevate the Shanars and eventually to build a bridge between the upper and lower castes to live in harmony under the influence of the Christian faith. His efforts were not the result of the stereotyped 'White Man's Burden' of civilising the 'uncivilised' with Western cultural values, but he infused self-confidence in the lower castes by teaching them to be independent and self-sustaining communities. Among his many initiatives was the provision of a free mid-day meal to the poverty-stricken students who attended the schools that he set up. Also using linguistic tools he questioned the theory of Aryan supremacy over the Dravidians anticipating the Dravidian Movement which was later to be given forceful impetus by 'Periyar' E.V.Ramaswamy Naicker and others. This was the New Testament principle of eradicating the difference between Jew and Gentile in the Indian context. Caldwell was an avant-garde social reformer.

Eventually Robert Caldwell was consecrated a Bishop. However it was not a success story all the way. There were vicious attacks on him by his own colleagues and at the end of over 50 years of service he was obliged to supplicate for a pension which was grudgingly granted. Caldwell died on August 28, 1891 at the age of 77 and was buried in the Holy Trinity Church in his beloved Idaiyangudi in Tirunleveli. His memory lives in the institutions that he set up, and in 1968 the Tamil Nadu Government erected his statue on Marina Beach in Chennai as a tribute to his contribution to Dravidian linguistics. Above all are his great contributions to the Tamil language such as his A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or South-Indian Family of Languages (1856) and his other books which remain a monumental testimony to a Scot who fell in love with Tamil and Tamilians. Kumaradoss's book is a touching but unsentimental tribute to a man whose life is a model for modern social workers everywhere.

Robert Caldwell
The Book Reviewed
The 2007 English biography of Bishop Caldwell written by Dr Y Vincent Kumaradoss and published by ISPCK can be ordered from Amazon:
Robert Caldwell: A Scholar-Missionary in Colonial South India


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