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.
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, wi th 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.