The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief, Mohan Bhagwat, believes that Mother Teresa and her charitable organisation, the Missionaries of Charity, were driven by ulterior motives as they helped the poor and destitute. According to Bhagwat, Mother Teresa was being selfish and her charity was aimed at converting the poor to Christianity.
Understandably, this has escalated to a widespread controversy with many, including Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal asking Bhagwat to “please spare Mother Teresa”.
Bhagwat is the head of an organisation notorious for its Hindutva agenda and Teresa, a social worker, was the founder of a charitable organisation and beatified by the Roman Catholic Church.
It isn’t surprising the direction in which public opinion has swerved, with almost everyone condemning Bhagwat for his insinuation.
But may we dare ask, is Mother Teresa truly above all criticism and question?
For instance, she encouraged baptism of dying patients, regardless of their personal faith. In a speech at Scripps Clinic, California in January 1992, she said,
“We call baptism ticket for St. Peter. We ask the person, do you want a blessing by which your sins will be forgiven and you receive God? They have never refused. So 29,000 have died in that one house [in Kalighat] from the time we began in 1952.”
She faced flak for her strong anti-abortion stand, the substandard condition of the hospices under her care and controversial views, such as the time she supported Indira Gandhi and the Emergency imposed in India. British author Christopher Hitchens has, in fact, chronicled all of these views, and more, on Mother Teresa in his essay The Missionary Position.
Whether you like it or not, the RSS runs a number of charitable organisations and schools among tribals to forward the Hindu cause; Mother Teresa had done the same for the Christian!
No one questions Mother Teresa’s commitment for the poor. But to see it through a secular prism, as many of us are doing in India after the comments of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, would be wrong. The Mother’s mission was less concerned with the elimination of poverty among the poor; it was rather aimed at providing salvation in the afterlife. “I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people,” she would say, adding: “You are suffering like Christ on the Cross. So Jesus must be kissing you.” No doubt she loved the poor, but sadly she would also glorify the poverty. It’s this mindset which explains why Mother Teresa failed to build any world-class hospital in Kolkata despite so much of money flowing in to her organisation.
The fact is that Mother Teresa did social service because she was a missionary, and not despite this. Nothing explains this better than her call to thousands of pregnant Bangladeshi women, raped by Pakistani soldiers during the 1971 liberation war, to have their babies. Even at a time when one of the worst humanitarian tragedies was unfolding, she thought like a diehard Catholic, rather than a conscientious social worker. Writes Australian author Germaine Greer, a Roman catholic herself, in one of her journals: “When she [Mother] went to Dacca two days after its liberation from the Pakistanis in 1972, 3,000 naked women had been found in the army bunkers. Their saris had been taken away so that they would not hang themselves. The pregnant ones needed abortions. Mother Teresa offered them no option but to bear the offspring of hate.”
When asked how the poor would look after so many kids in the family, the Mother said quite fervently, “I do not agree because God always provides. He provides for the flowers and the birds, for everything in the world that He has created. And those little children are His life. There can never be enough.”
But her work in helping the destitute and the efforts of the Missionaries of Charity in helping the poor and dying, especially those living off the streets in Kolkata, cannot be denied.
Her austere, simple living and her message of peace and humanity are indeed sources of inspiration.
Then again, isn’t the RSS a voluntary organisation as well, working at the grassroots towards the welfare of people? From advocating Dalit priests for temples and promoting various charitable and educational activities, the RSS in spirit is an organisation for social reform.
And then there are allegations of ghar wapsi and forced conversions making headlines, with RSS leaders making irresponsible speeches designed to stoke communal disharmony.
Both organisations have their own share of controversy and both have a rich history of charity.
Mohan Bhagwat’s statement may or may not have been out of line, but the reaction has been to elevate Mother Teresa to an unimpeachable pedestal rather than view the charge with an open mind.