Harvest of faith?
- Author: Francois Gautier
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: October 16, 2002
This column is specially addressed to my Christian brothers and sisters of India. At a time when again a Western missionary ministering in India (Father Marian Zelazek who works among leprosy patients in Orissa) has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and when Mother Teresa’s beatification – and later the canonisation – is being speeded-up by the Vatican, it is time to look into the real motives of Christian missionaries working in India.
We all know that Mother Teresa incarnated in the 20th century true Christian charity, helping “the poorest of the poor”, and that she lived a life of nun, with rectitude and service, as Jesus Christ would have liked her to. It also should be said that Mother Teresa did the work that wealthy Hindus and Hindu organisations should have done. After all, there is no denying that it takes a Westerner to pick up the dying in the streets of Calcutta and raise abandoned orphans, a thankless task if there is one. Hindus, even though their religion has taught them compassion for 4,000 years, have become very callous towards their less fortunate brethren and there are not enough Hindu organisations, apart from the Art of Living, the Vivekananda and Ramakrishna missions, or the RSS, doing charitable work as the Christians do. This is despite the fact that there is growing awareness amongst Hindu organisations that it is time to get their act together, that they ought to be doing more for the dispossessed and the poor of the land than they have so far.
Unfortunately – and in spite of herself maybe – Mother Teresa carried a very negative image of India: That of poverty beyond humanity, of a society which abandons its children, of dying without dignity. Alright, it is accepted there is some truth in it. But then it may be asked again: Did Mother Teresa ever attempt to counterbalance this negative image of India, of which she was the vector, with a more positive one? After all, she had lived here for so long that she knew the country as well as any Indian, having even adopted Indian nationality. Surely she could have defended her own country? She could, for example, have spoken about India’s infinite spirituality, her exquisite culture, the gentleness of its people, the brilliance of its children…
Regrettably, Mother Teresa said nothing of the sort. Does this mean that she stood for the most orthodox Christian conservatism? Was it, as some of her detractors said, that her ultimate goal was to convert India to Christianity, the only true religion in her eyes? I cannot believe it, although it is true that she never once said a good word about Hinduism, which after all is the religion of 700 millions people of the country she said she loved, and has been their religion for 5,000 years – long before Christianity appeared. Did Mother Teresa consider, as all good Christians do – particularly the conservatives ones – that Hinduism is a pagan religion which adores a multitude of heathen gods and should be eliminated?
The hardline Hindus argue that there has been no change in Christian or Protestant designs on India since they arrived with the Portuguese and the British, and that Mother Teresa was much more clever than Lord Hastings: She knew that on the eve of the 21st century, it would have looked very bad if she had openly stated her true opinions about Hinduism; so she kept quiet. It seems a bit farfetched but, ultimately, is not her charitable work – whatever its dedication – an indirect method to convert people? For without any doubt, most of the people she saved from the streets did ultimately become Christians. And if you ask those “elite” Indians who knew her well, such as photographer Raghu Rai, a great admirer of her, she always said: “It is now time for you to embrace the true religion.” (Raghu Rai politely declined.)
India today is an emerging super power and Indian Christians, while worshipping the memory of Mother Teresa, should try – by talking around themselves, writing articles and books – to propagate a more positive image of their country. Why does India’s intelligentsia, most of whom are born Hindus, also defend her? These are intelligent, educated people; they must surely have some inkling of Mother Teresa’s negative impact? Does Vir Sanghvi or for that matter Naveen Chawla, Mother Teresa’s ever admiring biographer, understand what she really stood for? That she may have been someone basically hostile to their culture, their religion, their way of life?
Also, do they know that Hindu society has always been the target of Christians since their coming here? Do they understand that they and a thousand of their peers, who belong to the intellectual elite of India and keep praising Mother Teresa (or Father Zelazek), are doing harm to their country and opening it to its enemies? The Christian influence is very strong in India today: It shapes the minds of its young people in a subtle way through its schools, which many of the children of the affluent attend. It moulds the thinking of the tribes it has converted, particularly in the North-East where the missionaries have always covertly encouraged separatism (see the remarkable book Indigenous Indians by the Dutch Scholar, Koenrad Elst).
It is also sad to see the majority of Hindus are unaware of the very negative image of their country and religion which Mother Teresa’s name is carrying. It is even more unfortunate to see that Hindus vote for her as the most popular Indian (as reported by a weekly magazine that recently conducted an opinion poll). Was Mother Teresa really Indian? Did she really love India as an Indian? While we must respect her memory, it is necessary that Mother Teresa’s sainthood or Father Zelatek’s potential Nobel prize be seen in their proper perspective by both Hindus and Indian Christians: By making her a saint, or giving Father Zelatek a Nobel, the Vatican and the West are still perpetuating a kind of condescending, neo-colonial attitude: “We, the Westerners, bring to you, the heathens, the civilisation and the true God.”
Ultimately, when she becomes a saint, Mother Teresa’s spirit will continue to haunt India because she will be worshiped by millions of Westerners for the very negative qualities and aspects that India is trying to emerge out of: Poverty, human despair and lack of self respect.