Chronicle of The Basel Mission in India
(Released on the occasion of inauguration of 175 years celebrations of B.E.M. EducationalInstitutions, Mission High School Road, Mangalore-575 001 on Saturday, the 7th September, 2013 at the Institution’s Centenary Hall)
As early as on September 26 in the year 1815, Basel Mission was founded by a small group of devout men who met at Basel City, Switzerland. They committed themselves to work among the down trodden and the marginalised. This Mission was named after this great blessed Basel City. Its vision was focused on the development of human society and human culture, especially on the side of socio-economy including ethics.
The Basel Mission came into being as a result of a pledge taken by few dedicated men at Basel in the face of a military threat. It was in the year 1815 that Napoleon had escaped from the prison at the Island of Elba and landed in France. The War continued in Europe. The City of Basel was very close to the borders of Germany and France. The French General Barbanege threatened to blow up Basel. A group of pious men pledged to start training of Missionaries, if God would spare their city. The Tartars and Calmucs marched through Basel to invade France with the Russian Army, made these people feel even more convinced regarding their pledge. The French General capitulated and Napoleon met his doom at Waterloo. In the same year, on 26th of September 1815, six piousmen, gathered in the Rectory of St. Martin in Basel and constituted the Missionary Society of Basel, fulfilling the pledge.
Basel Mission opened its stations in Western Russia Gold Coast in West Africa followed by China, Latin America and Borneo etc. As India was governed by the British Government and as the main aim of the British Government was trade, it did not encourage any social work, evangelistic work or any agency other than trade. However, the revision of the Chapter 1833 the British Government’s East India Company’s Act was emended which removed this obstacle and opened the doors to non-British Missions to start its stations in India. Taking full advantage of this clearance, Basel Mission sent its first three Missionaries to India.
Having set up many stations in Europe, the financial position of the Basel Mission Society decided to set up Institutions in areas of India. On 12th February 1834, Basel Mission decided to send three Missionaries to India to establish Basel Mission Stations. They became the first Continental Society other than the Tranquebar Mission to take up work in India. The three Missionaries were Johan Christopher Lehner, Christian Lenhard Greiner, and Samuel Hebich who set out on 31st March 1834 from Basel and landed in Coastal Calicut on 21st August 1834 and moved on to Mangalore on 30th October 1834, where they were joined by four more Missionaries. The Missionaries felt that the best way to fellowship with the locals was to learn the local languages and to keep them well occupied in some productive work; hence they got involved in the Industrial Sector in Mangalore in addition to learning the local languages such as Kannada, Tulu, Malayalam and Konkani.
The original Commission with which the Missionaries were sent to India was to establish schools and also institutions for training future missionaries. The mission of educating was considered important. So wherever there was to be a congregation, there had to be an elementary teacher. Besides elementary education they also began to train people to be Missionaries as early as 1840. The field experience soon made the Missionaries feel that they needed to involve themselves in creating some remunerative jobs rather than just educating people. The main task that the Missionaries faced was to solve the economic backwardness of a large number of people. The traditional professions were considered not adequate or not acceptable. Thus alternate jobs had to be found and the Missionaries did their best to provide the same.
In the year1846, the Basel Mission started an ‘Industrial school’ to train people in Weaving, Carpentry, Clock making, Black smithy, Printing Technology etc, with the help of some local artisans. Since Basel Mission could not fulfill the expectations of the Missionaries, an Industrial Commission was appointed to look at the various Industrial opportunities. In 1848, two lay-Missionaries, Bosinger and Muller, were sent from Basel to India (South Kanara) to teach some new trades. These Missionaries were by profession a carpenter and a locksmith. They were well trained in watch and clock making in Swiss watch Company before they were sent to India. They set a watch and clock manufacturing industry in Mangalore and handed over the same to the local people. The first important Industrial undertaking which met with success was the Printing Press with Book Binding Department attached to it. The Printing Press was started in 1841 at Mangalore. First lithograph and later Kannada types were introduced. In 1851, a printer from Basel came with Kannada fonts/types for the press at Mangalore. The press thus provided employment to numerous people. Besides Spiritual literatures, books related to social sciences, arts and literature were also published at the press. A few well known works which came out of this press were weekly and monthly news papers/magazine, Kittel’s Kannada-English Dictionary, Ziegler’s English-Kannada Dictionary, Hermann Gundert Malayalam – English, English-Malayalam, English-Tulu dictionaries, Kannada Bible, Hymn-books in Kannada, Tulu and Malayalam in addition a supportive Tune Book with music scrolls. Since the Press was expanding, a large new building was built in 1913 giving regular employment to the people. A binding section attached to the press provided employment to many more. A separate book shop was opened in 1869, to sell the publications of the Press.
Locksmith technology was taught to the locals who were absorbed by rich entrepreneurs in Bombay and established independent larger scale industries manufacturing locks and safes.
In 1844 the Missionaries who knew a little about weaving business took initiative and started a weaving industry to give employment. Local weavers were also employed to train young boys. But soon they found that the local looms could not compete with the Western Mills. In 1851, Mr. Haller, a weaver from Basel was sent to Mangalore. Basel Mission management erected a building to house a medium scale industry in Mangalore with 21 handlooms of European construction and a Research and Dye house. Mr. Haller was the inventor of the colour “Khakhi” and Khakhi Cloth now known all over the world and was first produced in Mangalore. Soon the weaving industry proved to be very successful, providing more employment and motivated many a cottage industry. In the year 1853, a branch was opened in Mulki. The apprentices in this industry were also taught tailoring and embroidery. By 1870 the Basel Mission ‘weaving and hosiery’ Establishments in various places were not only paying for the cost of the Establishments but was also lucrative.
In the year 1851-52 when the Mission faced failure in its agriculture progress and only partial success in Industrial enterprises, the visit of an inspector from Basel proved to be very valuable and resulted in introducing a new policy to guide the Industrial enterprise in South Kanara. Though the Industrial Commission was formed in 1846, it did not get involved in much business. But the new outlook and stress for greater involvement gave a boost to the Commission. In the year 1852, the Commission was made a department of the Basel Missionary Society with a separate treasury. One of the most eminent Citizens of Basel, Mr. Carl Sarasin was the President of the same. The Commission felt that ‘top-management technique’ to manage all the existing Industries be implemented. In the year 1854 the Industrial Commission at Basel sent Mr. Pfleiderer to India for this purpose. He was responsible for the purchasing of the raw materials and the sale of the finished products. This was the beginning of the commercial enterprise of the Mission, which aimed not at financial profit but teaching as to how to conduct business on Christian Principles.
As work of the industrial and commercial activities required larger capital, a joint stock company was formed under the name Mission-Handels-Gesellschaft (Mission Trading Company). The new policy gave birth to major Industries and the first was a Tile Manufacturing Factory. The Tile industry progressed so well and in 1877 the second factory was opened and the third one in 1880. These factories employed both men and women. The reports show that by 1913, the tile factories were employing 2,000 workers and were producing 60,000 Tiles a day.
In 1874, the Mechanical Workshop was founded to train apprentices in jobs like carpentry, black smithy, lock smithy and watch making. The apprentices were given theoretical and practical training followed by the certification by the British Government examinations in these Trades. This provided technical training and produced many skilled artisans. The product of this workshop was also very much appreciated and the proof for this in the order issued in 1912 where the Government of Madras declared the Basel Mission Mechanical Establishment as eligible for supplying safes for Government Institutions. It is also recorded that its products won awards at various industrial exhibitions. Though all these efforts started in a small way, by 1914 it had become a major enterprise in South Kanara. Though the Basel Mission Industrial Enterprises were often criticized by the British, they inspired may other Missionary Societies to start work on similar lines. In 1914 at the outbreak of the First World War, the Industrial Establishment of Basel Mission was confiscated by the British Government to be a German Organization. This created a setback for the Basel Mission’s work in India. After the war the Industries were managed under the Commonwealth Trust. Definite economic benefit was achieved through these numerous industries for the Society in particular and India in general. However, many had to leave the district especially the carpenters and black smiths because of lack of openings in South Kanara. Since 1879, most of them migrated to Bombay (Mumbai).
The Basel Missionaries built buildings for Orphanages, Schools, Home for the aged, widows and the poor, Sick houses with nursing care, Residences for the Missionaries, Cemetery for the community, Church buildings, Meeting rooms, Seminary, Hospital, Boarding homes – the list goes on and on. Basel Missionaries believed that education can bring changes in the caste system. Their tremendous contribution and concern for the spiritual, social and economical development of local people is a living example. History is the witness that the Missionaries’ sacrifices resulted in the emergence of a new society.
After the outbreak of the first Great War of 1914, all the properties of the Basel Mission in India were confiscated by the British Government and vested in the custodian of enemy property, Madras. Later, under the orders of the Governor General in Council, the said properties were released by a Registered Deed. However, throughout the period, the said properties continued to be in use and enjoyment of the indigenous Basel Mission community as before, without any break, which was vested in the Missionary Body known as ‘Kanarese Evangelical Mission’ under Mission Trust of Southern India, Madras.
Immediately after the British Parliament permitted the Missionaries to return to India, the Basel Mission which is the original owners resumed its work in 1926 in its former sphere of operation in the three ecclesiastical districts, namely
1) South Kanara & Coorg,
2) Malabar and
3) Bombay Karnataka.
These districts consisted of people belonging to three different language, food habits and cultural background, namely –
1) Kannada and Tulu,
3) Kannada with Marathi influence/background.
In 1833 Basel Mission relinquished its control over all the Basel Mission Churches in these three ecclesiastical district units and came to be constituted on 17.10.1933 as the autonomous body of United Basel Mission Church in India, each of the three district units being independent entity vested with control of the affairs of the Churches by the Church Elders, District Church Council and District Church Board, within its limits under the revised constitution and Church Rules with effect from 17.10.1933. Each of these district units became autonomous, independent of all control by Basel Mission, Switzerland. Representatives of these district units constituted a Committee known as Synod in order to keep these three district Units united. Its functions, restricted to only within the district church units, are:
a) To hear the reports of Church and Mission work of each district.
b) To suggest such measures of uniformity as may be necessary for the mission and church work in the three districts.
c)To give suggestions on problems pertaining to
1) The spiritual life and work of the different churches of the district units.
2) The common evangelist activities of the Church and Mission of the district units
3) The Church union (Within the district unit)
4) The administration of the Church properties and funds etc;
d)To decide finally all questions of faith and order in the United Basel Mission Church of India, provided that all such decisions are arrived at by a majority of three fourth its total strength.
In order to safeguard the immovable properties, Basel Mission a society incorporated in Switzerland relinquished its rights over the same and transferred the same under gift/settlement deeds with no power to revoke the same, giving exclusive and absolute ownership and beneficiary rights to UBMC in India, a distinctive autonomous religious society governed by its own constitution, independent of any control by the Basel Mission, Switzerland or The Evangelical Missionary Society of Basel, Switzerland. These documents were registered in the office of the Registrar Madras-Chenglepet on 27.10.1935 and on 29.11.1939.
The light that was cast from Basel had shown in the lives of our forefathers (local people) transforming them and the posterity into Basel Mission community, briefly identified as “simple, noble, yet serious, and sincere spiritually, without pomp”…. “A singing and praying community also known as the Dowry free community in India”. Members of the Basel Mission community, are spread all over India and abroad as bright stars and have a galaxy of luminaries consisting of intellectuals, educators, doctors, artists, architects, builders, social workers, telecommunication experts, journalists, highly talented technologists, successful entrepreneurs and industrialists, marketing specialists, pastors and theologians. Especially the Basel Mission Community of South Kanara are interrelated families, one Kutumba.
The sprawling ultra modern and grand building, ‘The Basel Missionaries Memorial Auditorium’, being built in Udupi, close to the Basel Mission Lombard Memorial Hospital, is a token of gratitude to the Basel Missionaries and their vision and commitment. It has a splendid multipurpose Auditorium with a seating capacity of 1200, a mini-hall to accommodate 250 people, Dining-hall for 500 people with kitchen facility, Roof Top open-air Party Hall to accommodate 600 people, 5 double- bed Guest Rooms with attached bathrooms, spacious Green rooms with toilets, separate wash rooms and toilets and lift facility from the basement to the roof top. It is a feather on the cap of the Basel Mission Community as it is the first of its kind in India.
Successful organizations are those managed by leaders who either consciously or unconsciously apply the principle of coordinated effort. If the Basel Mission community can grasp this principle and apply it, the community can achieve whatever it wishes to – the sky is the limit.