Andrews, Charles Freer
Andrews, Charles Freer
Anglican Missionary and Friend of the Sikhs (1871-1940)
An Anglican missionary, scholar and educationist, was born to John Edwin Andrews on 12 February 1871 in Newcastle-on-Tyne in Great Britain. His father was a minister of the Evangelical Anglican Church. Andrews grew up in an intense and emotional religious environment. A nearly fatal attack of rheumatic fever in childhood drew him to his mother with an intense affection and her love created in his mind the first conscious thoughts of God and Christ, and by the time he entered Cambridge, at the age of 19, he had already had “a wonderful conversion of my heart to God.”
In 1893, Andrews graduated first class in Classics and Theology from Pembroke College, Cambridge. In 1895 he was confirmed in the Church of England, and for the next six years he worked in responsible positions in Cambridge. In 1903, he was accepted by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts for missionary work in India with the Cambridge Brotherhood at Delhi. He arrived in India on 20 March 1904 to teach at St Stephen’s College. After teaching at St Stephen’s for 10 years, he moved to Tagore’s Santiniketan, then a nursery of India’s national aspirations. What Andrews saw of the manner of the British government in India shocked his Christian conscience.
Early during his stay in India, the Rev. C.F. Andrews formed an admiration for Sikh character and values. According to Daniel C’Connor, The Testimony of C.F. Andrews, he wrote:
“Some of the most cherished days in all my religious experiences of the East have been spent among the Sikhs, dwelling among them in their homes, listening to their own religious songs and sharing life with them. I can say with conviction that these words, daily repeated by their lips, have sunk in their souls. It would be difficult to find a more generous or forgiving people, and a nation that bore less malice and hatred in its heart.”
There were several occasions when Andrews showed his solidarity with the Sikh people and interceded on their behalf when he found that they had been wronged.
After the Jallianvala Bagh massacre (1919), Andrews was put under military arrest by the British to prevent him from going to the Punjab, yet he wrote extensively condemning the brutal incident. To suppress public reaction against it, the British administration let loose a reign of terror in the Punjab. All civil rights were suspended and public flogging and torture of innocent people became the order of the day.
In September 1919 Andrews came to the Punjab to collect evidence to be placed before the Commission of Enquiry. He felt deeply hurt and chagrined to witness what the British authority was doing.
“Andrews would go to the village gurdwara and listen to the account of the indignities and inhuman treatment to which the rural masses were subjected. He would beg for their forgiveness for the wrong which his fellow countrymen were doing. This overwhelmed the people. They would cry out and embrace Andrews.”
In this manner he went from one gurdwara to another on his mission of atonement and healing.
Andrews had been closely following the Sikh struggle for religious autonomy and justice, which, by this time, had turned into a mass movement. He had been regularly going to the Golden Temple and other places to attend worship and Sikh rallies in order to show his solidarity with the Sikh cause. He wrote in The Tribune his account of what he had seen at the Guru ka Bagh morcha. The issue was the right of the Sikhs to cut firewood from the Bagh for the requirements of the langar (community kitchen). A fixed number of Sikh volunteers would daily go to the Bagh to cut wood and the police would mercilessly beat them, often unconscious.
“… There were some hundred present seated on an open piece of ground watching what was going on in front, their faces strained with agony… There was not a cry raised from the spectators but the lips of very many of them were moving in prayer…
“…There were four Akali Sikhs with their black turbans facing a band of about a dozen policemen, including two English officers… Their hands were placed together in prayer and it was clear they were praying. Then without the slightest provocation on their part, an Englishman lunged forward the head of his lathi… the staff struck the Akali Sikh…
“The blow which I saw was sufficient to fell the Akali Sikh and send him to ground. He rolled over, and slowly got up once more, and faced the same punishment over again… “The brutality and inhumanity of the whole scene was indescribably increased by the fact that the men who were hit were praying to God and had already taken a vow
that they would remain silent and peaceful in word and deed…
“There was something far greater in this event than a mere dispute about land and property… A new heroism, learnt through suffering, has risen in the land. A new lesson in moral warfare has been taught in the world.
“I saw no act, no look of defiance. It was a true martyrdom to them as they went forward, a true act of faith, a true deed of devotion to God. They remembered their gurus how they had suffered, and they rejoiced to add their own sufferings to the treasury of their wonderful faith.
“…Many of them, old soldiers, who had fought in France, said to me afterwards in the hospital: This was a new kind of battle; we have not fought like this before.”
In April 1929 Andrews went to Vancouver (Canada). For many years he had been advocating citizenship rights for Sikhs who had settled in Canada and now he came in personal contact with them. He was given a rousing welcome by the Sikh community there and was taken into gurdwdras. Andrews continued his effort to secure citizenship rights for them.
The Rev. C.F. Andrews died in Calcutta on 5 April 1940.