On February 23rd, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat reportedly said the following at Apna Ghar, a charity and service organization in Bharatpur, Rajasthan:
"Here we will not provide service like that rendered by Mother Teresa. It is possible that her kind of work was good but there was a motive behind that service. It was to convert those she served to Christianity. Someone wants to convert others to Christianity, that is another thing, but to do it under the garb of social service is to devalue that service. Here, nothing like that will happen. In our country, social service is done like this, selflessly, completely selflessly."
Political parties and commentators opposed to the Sangh Parivar have unanimously criticized him for this. There are very few points on which I tend to agree with the RSS, but that doesn't require me to reject everything he has said here.
Of course, Mother Teresa's objective in doing charity work was conversion to Christianity, and I don't think she would have considered it something shameful or worth hiding. She might not have done or presided over any conversions herself as her organization in Kolkata, Missionaries of Charity, has clarified, but that's beside the point.
To suggest that Mother Teresa has nothing to do with the spread of Christianity in India is to suggest that Warren Anderson of Union Carbide had nothing to do with the Bhopal disaster. "Look, he didn't let the gas out with his own hands!" - is that even an argument?
I see Mr. Bhagwat's criticism to be directed against the entire Christian religion which openly uses charity as a delivery system for the Christian faith. Both Christians and non-Christians know it, and the Constitution of India allows it. In fact, except in situations like this one involving Mother Teresa, Christians are quite proud of conversions via charity. And, for someone like me (and Mr. Bhagwat) who doesn't think Christianity must spread in India, charitable work indeed loses its sheen if it comes with the baggage of conversions.
Let me end with where I don't agree with Mr. Bhagwat. It is in his last sentence where he says Hindus (that's what he means by 'in our country') do social service "completely selflessly".
I must remind Mr. Bhagwat that not enough of social service happens in our country to begin with. In fact, we Hindus have an entire system of alienating those capable of service from those who need it, which invites the Mother Teresas of the world in the first place. It's called the caste system, and its effect is being amplified by the idea of India which your organization spreads, Mr. Bhagwat. Also, most Hindu social service organizations in India hope to convince Hindus, themselves included, that even they can do what the Christians do. "Even we can take care of the sick, even we can give free education to the underprivileged" is the cry of these latecomers. And why do they do that? It's not selflessness, Mr. Bhagwat, but a clear sense of self and a fear of losing it.
I'm not saying it's wrong or that we Hindus shouldn't do it. I'm saying we should do more of it, and also work to get rid of overall Pyramid of Corruption which associates purity and impurity, superiority and inferiority, to everything we can think of: people, languages, you name it. It's time your organization, the RSS, stops defending and implementing it.
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