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Charles Freer Andrews (1871 – 1940) was an English priest, educator and Indian freedom fighter who is best known as an associate of Mahatma Gandhi. Andrews greatly admired the philosophy of the young Mohandas Gandhi and was instrumental in convincing him to return to India from South Africa, where Gandhi was a leading light in the Indian civil rights struggle there. He was affectionately known as Christ's Faithful Apostle, and also, for his contributions to the Indian Independence Movement the Mahatma and his students at St. Stephen's College, Delhi named him, Deenabandhu, or 'Friend of the Poor'.


Early life

Charles Andrews was born at 14 Brunel Terrace, Newcastle, England. His father was a minister in the Catholic Apostolic Church in Birmingham, but the family had suffered from a financial misfortune due to the duplicity of a friend, and had to work very hard to make ends meet.

Andrews studied at King Edward's School, Birmingham and began studying Classics at Pembroke College, Cambridge.[1] During this period he moved away from the views of his family's church and was accepted for ordination in the Church of England. In 1896, Andrews became a deacon, and took over the Pembroke College Mission in South London. A year later he became a priest, and became the Vice Principal of the Westcott House Theological College in Cambridge.

In India

See also: Indian Independence Movement

Andrews had been involved in the Christian Social Union since college, and was interested in exploring the relationship between a commitment to the gospel and a commitment to justice, through which he was attracted to struggles for justice throughout the British Empire, especially in India.

In 1904 he joined the Cambridge Brotherhood in Delhi and arrived there to teach philosophy at St. Stephen's College, where he famously grew close to many of his Indian colleagues and students. Increasingly dismayed by the racist behavior and treatment of Indians by British officials and civilians, he supported Indian political aspirations, and wrote a letter in the Civil and Military Gazette in 1906 voicing these sentiments. Andrews soon became involved in the activities of the Indian National Congress and, significantly, helped resolve the 1913 cotton worker's strike in Madras.

With Gandhi and Tagore

Well known for his persuasive ways, intellect and keen sense of moral firmness, he was asked by senior Indian political leader Gopal Krishna Gokhale to visit South Africa and help the Indian community there resolve their political disputes with the Government. He met there a young Gujarati lawyer, Mohandas Gandhi who was attempting to organize the Natal Indian Congress and the Indian community to protest the racial discrimination and police legislation that infringed upon their civil liberties.

Andrews was deeply impressed with Gandhi's knowledge of Christian values, and his espousal of the concept of ahimsa, non-violence - something that Gandhi mixed with inspiration from elements of Christian anarchism. He helped Gandhi organize an Ashram in Natal and publish his famous magazine, The Indian Opinion.

Following the advice of several Indian Congress leaders and, significantly, that of Principal S K Rudra of St. Stephen's College, Andrews was instrumental in persuading Gandhi to return to India with him in 1915.

In 1918 Andrews disagreed with Gandhi's attempts to recruit combatents for World War I, believing this was inconsistent with their views on nonviolence. In Mahatma Gandhi's Ideas Andrews says the following about Gandhi's recruitment campaign, "Personally I have never been able to reconcile this with his own conduct in other respects, and it is one of the points where I have found myself in painful disagreement."[2]

Later Andrews was elected President of the All India Trade Union in 1925 and 1927. He accompanied Gandhi to the first Round Table Conference in London, helping him negotiate with the British government on matters of Indian autonomy and devolution.

While working for Indian independence Andrews developed a dialogue between Christians and Hindus. He spent a lot of time at Santiniketan in conversation with the poet and philosopher, Rabindranath Tagore. He also supported the movement to ban the ‘untouchability of outcastes’. In 1925, he joined the famous Vaikkom Temple protests, and in 1933 assisted B.R. Ambedkar in formulating Dalit demands.

In Fiji

When news reached India, through the writings of Christian missionaries J.W. Burton, Hannah Dudley, and R. Piper and a returned indentured labourer, Totaram Sanadhya, of the mistreatment of Indian indentured labourers in Fiji, the Indian Government, in September 1915, sent Andrews and W.W. Pearson to make inquiries. The two visited numerous plantations and interviewed indentured labourers, overseers and Government officials and on their return to India also interviewed returned labourers. In their report, titled "Report on Indentured Labour in Fiji", Andrews and Pearson highlighted the ills of the indenture system which led to a stop of further transportation of Indian labour to the British colonies.

Andrews made a second visit to Fiji in 1917 and although reported on some improvements, was still appalled at the moral degradation of the indentured labourers. He called for an immediate end to indenture and the system of Indian indentured labour was formally abolished in 1920.

In 1936, while on a visit to Australia and New Zealand, Andrews was invited to and visited Fiji again. The ex-indentured labourers and their descendents wanted him to help them overcome a new type of slavery by which they were bound to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, which controlled all aspects of their lives. Andrews, however, was delighted with the improvements in conditions since the last visit and asked Fiji Indians to "remember that Fiji belonged to the Fijians and they were there as guests."

Later life

About this time, Gandhi reasoned to Andrews aside that it was probably best for sympathetic Britons like himself to leave the freedom struggle to Indians. So, from 1935 onwards, Andrews began to spend more time back in Britain, teaching young people all over the country about Christ’s call to radical discipleship. Gandhi's affectionate nickname for Andrews was Christ’s Faithful Apostle, based on the initials of his name, "C.F.A". He was widely known as Gandhi's closest friend and was perhaps the only major figure to address Gandhi by his first name, Mohan. [3]

Charlie Andrews died on April 5, 1940 during a visit to Calcutta, and is buried there. He is widely commemorated and respected in India, and was a major character portrayed by British actor Ian Charleson in the 1982 film Gandhi by Richard Attenborough.


  • John S. Hoyland, C. F. Andrews : minister of reconciliation, London, Allenson, [1940]


See also



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