K. T. Paul

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Kanakarayan Tiruselvam Paul (24 March 1876 to 11 April 1931) was an ardent follower of Mahatma Gandhi. He was the first Indian born National General Secretary of the National Council of YMCAs of India. A Christian himself, he explored the relationship between Christianity and national identity. He held important positions like President of the Governing Council of the United Theological College, Bangalore; General Secretary of the National Missionary Society (India); and Chairman of the National Christian Council of India. Paul's lasting legacy was rural reconstruction, which he initiated through the YMCA in India.



Early life[edit]

Kanakarayan Tiruselvam Paul was born on 24 March 1876 in a Christian family at Salem in Tamil Nadu, south India. After matriculation and Intermediates studies he joined Madras Christian College in 1892, to earn his bachelor's degree.

Though after studies he got a job in the Government secretariat, he resigned from it after his marriage. He then joined the Coimbatore London Mission High School as a teacher, and later became the Headmaster of the Punganur Arcot Mission High School.

In 1902 he joined the Teacher's College at Saidepet, and the following year he made a come back to his alma-mater, Madras Christian College, as a tutor in the Department of History.

K.T.Paul: A Dynamic Christian Leader[edit]

K.T. Paul’s contributions to the Church in India may be seen from his work at the National Missionary Society (NMS). In 1905 he helped Vedanayakam Samuel Azariah to establish the National Missionary Society at Serampore and became its Honorary Treasurer; the following year he became its Organizing Secretary; and from 1909 to 1914 its general secretary. In this capacity he became acutely aware of the need for unity in Christian witness and social activity. A true Churchman, as general secretary he visited churches, conducted personal interviews and organised branch meetings all over India. in north India he initiated a civic body called 'Premsabha’ (meaning 'Council of Love' in Hindi), which did social and religious work among poor Christians of the depressed classes. Popley, a leading L.M.S. missionary, remarked, "He has become the servant of all the churches"; and indeed he was in contact with Indian Christians and their concerns all over India. His contacts with Christian missionaries of other denominations also led Paul to think about the need of unity among Christians, and to take part in the formation of the South Indian United Church.

K.T. Paul worked for the transformation of the National Missionary Council of India into National Christian Council of India, in which the Indian churches as well as missions from overseas were members. He became the first Chairman of the National Christian Council of India. Paul also showed much interest in theological education. At the time of his death he was the President of the Governing Council of the United Theological College, Bangalore. He was also the convener of the SIUC committee on theological education. K.T Paul represented the Indian Christian community at the London Round Table Conferences in the year of 1930–1932 along with S.K. Datta.

Indian Nationalism and Christian Leaders[edit]

The massacre of innocent Indians by General Dyer at the Jallianwalla Bagh in Amritsar, Punjab, in 1918 had fanned the fire of anti-British feeling all over India. Mahatma Gandhi, launching his first attack on British rule using the weapon of Satyagraha, gave a call for Non Cooperation Movement in 1920. Indian Christians could not sit on the fence, and had to reveal where their sympathies lay. The leaders S. K. Datta and K. T. Paul published an article in the 'Young Men of India' in July 1920 protesting against the insensitive behaviour of the British in the Punjab. Though the massacre of Jallianwala Bagh had shocked Indian Christians, Paul had not lost his belief that India could build its future through organic links with Western Christianity and British contact. However, his hopes of transformation of the Indian polity in cooperation with the British rule strengthened by diarchy turned into dismay in 1918.

The history of India since the second half of the 19th century had been distinguished by a national movement for political independence. In its initial stages Indian Christians had seldom participated, and during the first Non-cooperation Movement of Gandhi [1920–23], there was hardly any Christian participation. But in the latter phases of the struggle an increasing number of Christians began to identify with the national movement, and the maintenance of a secular state – especially from among the Reformed Churches: H.C. Mukherjee, Raja Sir Maharaj Singh, K.T. Paul, S.K. Datta and V.S. Azariah are examples. Between 1900 and 1930 K.T. Paul, S.K. Datta and V.S. Azariah formed a trio who instilled feelings of responsible nationalism in the Christian community – despite opposition from some western missionaries as well as some Indian Christians.

In the 1930s and 40s Christians were mainly on the side of the Indian National Congress in its struggle for independence. Several Christian organisations such as Christian Patriot Group of Madras, and Indian Christian Association, were organised to express Christian views on political matters.

K.T. Paul as the conscience of Indian Christians[edit]

Paul grew to adulthood at a time when the Indian National Congress was voicing the growing demand of educated Indians for representative Government. Paul was committed to political nationalism, seeing in it also a self-awakening of India which would transform the totality of India's traditional life. Gandhi in his speech at the second session of the Round Table Conference in London ( 7 to 11 September December 1931) said of K.T. Paul, “I miss as I have no doubt all of you miss, the presence in our midst of K.T. Paul. Although, I do not know, but so far as I know, though he never officially belonged to the Congress, he was a nationalist to the full.”

Among Indian Christians the name of K.T. Paul needs special mention. As the secretary of the National Missionary Society, and later as the National General Secretary of the YMCA, it was he more than anybody else who prevented the Christian community from becoming a 'communal' group. He saw a 'designed place of necessity' for nationalism in the purpose of God for mankind. K.M. Panikkar's evaluation of K.T. Paul's contribution to the national movement is worth stating:

Kanakarjan Paul’s famous article, ‘Watchman, What of the night,’ may be considered the first call to Christian community to realize the strength and weight of the new forces. Paul, a devout Christian, was also an ardent champion of the cultural tradition of India. The alienation of the Christian community from the rich inheritance of India’s past was a matter of great concern for him. As the General Secretary of the YMCA in India, he was instrumental in publishing, under Christian auspices, a series of valuable general studies, entitled. ‘The Heritage of India’, written by Christian scholars but with deep understanding and general sympathy. This series of books, which dealt with every aspect of India’s cultural traditions, helped the Indian Christians to break away from the influence of the narrow missionary attitude of looking down upon everything which was Indian.

K. T. Paul as a nationalist recommended indigenization of even the structure of the Indian Church. He was opposed to the Western type of church structure in India, especially episcopacy. He argued that episcopacy was a product of the West, that it was foreign to the genius of India, that the prophet and not the priest would suffice for the religious life of India, that if the united church in South India fell into the clutches of episcopacy it would be fettered perpetually by western forms, since such a union would be a patched-up union, unrelated in any way to what was essentially Indian. K.T. Paul brings his nationalistic feeling in Christianity. His acts show that how he was involved in nationalism. He introduced many indigenous acts of worship in order to show that how Christianity was an Indian religion and it was not a western religion.

K.T. Paul’s concept of Nationalism[edit]

Nationalism had a different meaning for K.T. Paul. According to him “Indian nationalism is not Indian politics but a great social revolution of which politics is but a part.” Paul’s idea of nationalism was not inconsistent with the spirit of Christ. Out of his Old Testament studies, he defined nationalism as a discipline for a certain well defined purpose. To Him the secret spring of natioism was different from “unity in regard to religion, language and government,” but was recognition by individual persons of something as their common interests, some great object which over-rides individual interest. Thus did he connect nationalism to Church.

K.T. Paul as a Christian Nationalist[edit]

As a Christian Nationalist and a devote Christian leader, K.T. Paul had the vision of interpreting the then arising Indian National feelings in a different dimension. In order to understand his position as a true nationalist one has to look into the then political situations from 1919 to 1930. In 1919 Mont-Ford Reforms were introduced which were not accepted by the Congress. At this time the Government also passed the Rowlatt Act in the pretext of eradicating terrorism. Most of the Indian leaders thought that these measures were against liberty and thus a betrayal. As a result the Satygraha Movement was started by Mahatma Gandhi. At first K.T. Paul did not agree with Gandhiji's policy. In the tragedy of Chauri Chaura a number of police men were brutally beaten to death by a gang of people who claimed to be Gandhi's followers. This was followed by the Bombay riot. Gandhi suspended the whole Satyagraha indefinitely. But on 10 March 1922, Gandhiji was arrested.

Immediately after this, K.T. Paul was invited by the Viceroy to become a member of the first Round Table Conference. In the Round Table Conference, K.T. Paul stood up for the Nation. As a true nationalist his main emphasis was on national unity. Unfortunately he could not make his mark much in this conference and also in the political fields of India.

With the partition of Bengal in 1905, the ‘Swadeshi movement’ had been inaugurated. One way in which the Indian Christians responded to it was by developing indigenous leadership and freedom from foreign domination and dependence within the church. With this idea, the National Missionary Council was founded. It was founded on the principle that it will use only indigenous personnel, methods and money for its work. The Society was never active in politics but because it was purely Indian in its personal and management, it continued to express sympathy to the national movement. The National Missionary Council (NMC) was established in 1912 at Calcutta. NMC comprised British and Indian missionaries. K.T. Paul was one of the prominent leaders of this council for many years.

K.T Paul and the YMCA in India[edit]

The appointment of K.T Paul as the first National General Secretary of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) in India, in 1916 began the process of indigenisation of the Indian YMCA. It was a pioneering step, as practically all Christian institutions were headed by Europeans, then. This made a great difference and K.T Paul was able to Indianise the policy and programs of the Indian YMCA. This led to new and innovative programmes being implemented by the YMCA for the marginalised sections of India. The Rural Reconstruction Scheme was one such programme. K.T Paul gave a new vision to the YMCA movement in India. His vision for the future of the Indian YMCA was rooted in his understanding of his own people – their fears, their hopes and their desperate needs.

Paul had earlier been appointed the Joint National general secretary in 1913 and when the time came the European leaders of the YMCA did not hesitate to hand over the full fledged office of National general secretary to him. Behind this new and startling experiment was the support of none other than Dr. John R. Mott who had in fact drawn K.T Paul to the service of the YMCA.

The YMCA so far had been an urban movement with specific objectives. K.T Paul was the man who gave a new direction to the movement in India and Asia as well, keeping in view the peculiar problems of the rural Indian society as compared to the industrialised, urban and literate Western for whose specific needs the YMCA had been created. This however was a herculean task as Paul had to work out substantial details explaining why the Indian YMCA should take up the rural programme and deviate completely from its set path of working for the urban youth.

Rural Reconstruction – a concept developed by K.T Paul[edit]

K.T Paul was an innovator. He was moved by the appalling conditions of poverty of the rural masses who constituted 90 percent of India's population. Thus he established Rural YMCA Centres to work for the upliftment of rural young men. At this stage, the missionaries too looked to the YMCA for help in the Mass Movement areas where a large number of Christians who were coming over to Christianity brought their problems of poverty, debt and depression with them. Such problems could not be solved in a day. The large number of such converts entering the Church proved to be a burden. Therefore it was at the urgent request of the missionaries that YMCA began to render help in the field, seeking the cooperation of the church to make it economically possible for those Christians to become honest and self-respecting citizens K.T. Paul worked for the village education scheme and rural reconstruction programme through the YMCA and the church.

By launching the Rural Work Programme, Paul had in fact opened a 'campaign against Indian poverty'. No government has so far succeeded in eliminating poverty, but K.T Paul experimented with a methodology to tackle it at its roots. As a keen student of the Indian situation he had taken note of the Co-operative Act passed by Lord Curzon in 1904, followed by another in 1912, meant to help farmers to overcome their serious financial problems. Neither the Co-operative Credit banks of the Government nor its agricultural development departments had succeeded in solving the problem of poverty in rural India.

Paul took an intensive study tour of the poverty-stricken districts. He had a sound training and knowledge in both the theory and practice of Indian agriculture. Coming from a semi-rural town, Paul had grown up in the real rural India and well understood the problems of villagers. Paul thought that every Indian problem had its roots in rural conditions. Whether it was about education, economic life or health, it had its roots in the village.

Under the guidance of Paul, the YMCA had taken up responsibility for depressed classes in four districts and set up YMCA Credit Societies to help bankrupt farmers. However it ran into difficulty as the regular District Co-operative Banks of the Government were not willing to give loans to these Societies without adequate property securities of the community who took the loan. Paul's appeal to take the character of the borrower as his credit was rejected by the banks. Social disability which deprived the lower castes, memberships of government Co-operative Credit societies was a problem faced by Christians both in north and south India. Paul argued that the disabilities of Christians are so great that if special attention was not given to them it would take a century for the advantages to reach them. Therefore special treatment was given to them while non-Christians could become share-holders and beneficiaries.

Madras Christian Co-operative Bank Ltd[edit]

K.T. Paul was not a man who would give up easily. He decided that if other banks did not give credit, the YMCA should organise a Central Co-operative Bank of its own. He was encouraged in his venture by L.D Swamikannu Pillai, Registrar of Co-operative Societies and Paul's personal friend. And so the Madras Christian Co-operative Bank Ltd was started in 1916. The Bank was a sound business venture with 25% of net profits carried to the Reserve Fund and 9% paid as dividend on paid up capital. Though not a single society organised by Paul was exclusively for Christians, the presence of Christian Communities in the area was a pre-requisite. Villages which had a sufficiently large number of Christians provided a partly trained and disciplined nucleus for starting and running a bank.

Paul's Anti-Poverty Strategy[edit]

Then as it is now illiteracy was the bane of India and has been largely responsible for poverty and uncontrolled population growth breeding greater illiteracy and thus creating a vicious circle. The Rural Reconstruction Programme was aimed at removing this ignorance and illiteracy in the villager. The slogan, "5 Ds are the enemies of the villagers" (Debt, Drink, Disease, Darkness and the Devil), was adopted. By 1921, the rural work had begun to produce productive results. Nearly 40,000 people had been reached and helped towards gaining economic independence. In one of the Districts in Bengal an entire village of outcastes had been liberated. In another village in Madras, the crops of the outcaste converts had increased a hundredfold.

K.T. Paul as a Social Worker[edit]

K.T. Paul began his social work when he was in the YMCA. Before K.T. Paul's time, YMCA was entirely an urban organisation and had not taken up any distinct rural programmes. In the rural areas of India, Christians suffered without any momentary or other kinds of help. This was known to him, while he was the General Secretary of the NMS. In 1912 he took the burden of extending co-operative credit movement in the rural areas. His main social work in rural fields can be divided into four headlines co-operative, social, physical and religious. But he took the co-operative society as the basis of his rural work.

An important outcome of this Rural Work was the appeal it made to the young educated Indian Christians. With the prevailing wave of Nationalism, the young men were asking “How can I best serve India?” A large number of young men were responding positively to this nationalistic fervor in developing the rural work started by Paul. It provided scope for such Christian young men to identify themselves with the nationalistic aspirations of the people by working for their upliftment. Nationalistic zeal and drive for indigenisation among Indian Christians found fulfilment in rural work and his friend was Samson


Paul was the first Christian statesman of the Indian National Movement; an epitome of the self-awakening of Indian Christians, and the cause for the response of the Indian Church in its mission in the context of the developing Nationalism of a religiously pluralistic society. He tried to help the church to free itself from the clutches of western denominationalism. He also helped the church to become more Indian, with its indigenous methods of worship and Indian Christian Theology. And the same time he worked tirelessly for the national unity of the churches. He had proved himself an administrator of high quality and an organiser of great ability. The former Chief Secretary of the Bengal Government, Mr. W.R. Gourlay, once remarked about Paul, “His vision was a very wide one and always a vision brightened by the spirit of friendliness, and his willingness to help his fellow-mortals knew no bounds.”

Paul disapproved the tendency among some Christians to distance themselves from the National Movement. He opposed the system of communal representation for any community. In Popley's words, Paul was more than 'a patriot'. He was very good in maintaining friendships. He had been closely associated with most of the leading politicians of the stormy years from 1920 to 1930. Though nationalism was his spirit, he faced lot of struggles because of his Christian identity. However, he proved that he was a good nationalistic person till the end of his life. His life is an inspiration for many young people to get a broader vision to understand the Indian Christian community and the state. Though western missionaries influenced his life very much, they also contributed to develop the spirit of nationalism in his efforts. He motivated the people to be true patriots during India's independence struggle. His passion towards nationalism was evident even from his early life.


  • K. T. Paul, The British Connection With India (1928)
  • K. T. Paul, Christianity and Indian Nationhood
  1. K.A.: Baago: History of the National Christian Council of India 1914–64. Maharashtra: National Christian Council, 1965.
  2. M.D. David: The YMCA and the Making of Modern India [A Centenary History]. New Delhi: National Council of YMCAs of India., 1992.
  3. E.R. Hambye, A.C. Perumalil (eds): Christianity in India. Alleppey (India), Prakasam Publications, 1972.
  4. Jeyakumar, D. Arthur: Christians and the National Movement:The Memoranda of 1919 and the National Movement. Calcutta: Punthi Pustak, 1999.
  5. H.A. Popley: K.T. Paul Christian Leader Calcutta: Y.M.C.A Publishing House, 1938.
  6. Thomas Abraham Vazhayil: Christians in Secular India. New Jersey: Fairleigh Dickinson, 1974.
  7. Thomas, Joseph. K. T. Paul and His Contribution to the Discussion on the Relation between Christianity and Indian Nationalism in the First Half of the 20th Century. Senate of Serampore, 1976.
  8. M.M. Thomas and P.T Thomas: Towards an Indian Christian Theology, Life and Thought of Some Pioneers. Thiruvalla: New Day Publications of India, 1992.

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