Mohan Bhagwat should practice what he preaches. Before making uncharitable charges against Mother Teresa for conversion-based-service, he should, as head of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh or RSS, examine the framework his own organization works in, and consider whether or not a fundamental course correction is in order if indeed its claim to social service is to be credible.
The RSS is selective in the areas of its so-called social service. It does no social service work where minority communities live. The schools it runs are wholly devoted to promoting cultures related to Hindutva. Its organization, the Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad, working supposedly for "the uplift of tribal communities", seeks to subordinate tribal cultures within the Hindutva fold by imposing the worship of Hindu gods and goddesses. It targets poverty-stricken Christian tribals for enforced conversion or Ghar wapasi, and in its absence creates divisions and hostility within the community based on religion.
Even the term it uses - "Vanvasi", that is forest people - is in opposition to the term adivasi, which recognizes adivasis as indigenous people of the land. Its welfare projects among Dalit communities is marked by caste arrogance exemplified by an earlier statement made by Narendra Modi, trained as an RSS pracharak, when he glorified the degrading job of manual scavengers as being a spiritual service. Its defence of the caste system has now reached the absurd level of blaming " Mughal rule" for its creation. You will rarely if ever find RSS volunteers working in dalit bastis where they have been victims of caste-based violence. In case after case where dalit houses have been burned, and hundreds of dalits rendered homeless, it is not the khaki shorts-clad volunteers who are seen, but progressive organizations working alongside dalit organizations and expressing solidarity through various means.
As illustrated in numerous official reports, the RSS has been held responsible for a large number of the communal conflagrations that have taken place in India since independence. It first creates the violence, and then selectively works among one section of the victims. It made its name during the bloody aftermath of the partition, working in Hindu refugee camps. It continues that strategy. But not just in relation to Muslims. Citizens of Delhi who had mobilized in large numbers against the horrendous anti-Sikh violence in 1984 created networks which worked round the clock to offer solidarity and solace to the thousands who had become victims. The RSS was conspicuous by its absence.
Therefore when the Sangh attacks Mother Teresa, let them first turn the mirror on themselves. Their record shows one of communally -based discrimination in their very choice of who the beneficiaries of their service should be. This is not social service but work to further a sectarian political agenda.
Mother Teresa started her work in Kolkata and in 1952 she set up the Nirmal Hridaya Home which took in destitutes, the abandoned, the sick and the dying off the streets of Kolkata. They were cleaned, fed and cared for. Many died within a few days of being rescued, but she and her band of dedicated volunteers made sure there was dignity in death. She ran a children's home for those discarded by their parents because of a disability, left bundled on some street corner. Many of the children were then adopted. The couples who adopted them were not chosen for their religion. There was therefore no question of conversion of the children since the adopted parents could belong to any religion. She also set up a home for those afflicted by leprosy and trained them to be self-sufficient.
Her biographer Navin Chawla writes of her response to his question of whether she did convert people to her religion. He writes "Without a moment's hesitation, she said, 'I do convert. I convert you to be a better Hindu, a better Muslim, a better Protestant, a better Sikh. Once you have found God, it is up to you to do with Him as you wish.' She believed that conversion was God's work, not hers."
There has been varied criticism of Mother Teresa and her work. Some of it is valid including the sources of her funding, her acceptance of support from dodgy international political figures, including those accused of high-level corruption, her opposition to women's rights on the issue of abortion and so on. Charity-based work, as was Mother Teresa's, is often patronizing and a salve for the conscience of the rich. She never questioned the reasons for poverty, and so some said that she glorified poverty and the sufferings of the poor unlike the liberation theologians of Latin America who worked to change their condition through social justice. But as Jyoti Basu, the legendary communist leader who was Chief Minister of Bengal in 1997 when Mother Teresa passed away, said "There was one thing in common between us, we both love the poor." He paid homage to her work and her service to those who he said fell between the cracks of a sometimes uncaring city.
She loved the poor, that is something beyond the RSS to understand, since it only knows how to convert love into hate.
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