The leader of a radical Hindu organization received heavy criticism on February 24 for his views on Mother Teresa. Mohan Bhagwat, who heads Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, had said Teresa, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, chose to serve the poor in India with an ulterior motive to have them converted to Christianity.
Bhagwat made these controversial comments during the inaugural ceremony of an orphanage and shelter for impoverished women in the Indian state of Rajasthan.
“There are no services like Mother Teresa’s here,” Bhagwat said. “There was a motive behind it - Mother Teresa's service would have been good. But it used to have one objective, to convert the person, who was being served, into a Christian. … The question is not about conversion but if it is done in the name of service, then that service gets devalued.”
Mother Teresa was a Roman Catholic nun born in Albania. She passed away in 1997 after spending most of her life serving the poor and unwell in Calcutta. She set up the Missionaries of Charity and in 1979, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for helping suffering humanity. At a later point in her life, she was also awarded India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna.
Bhagwat’s comments came only days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a stand against religious violence, amid an increasing sense of insecurity among India’s religious minorities. Modi and his ruling party, Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), have a longstanding relationship with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is notorious for its fundamentalist Hindutva ideologies.
Obviously, Bhagwat started to receive flak immediately after making his comments. While some politicians condemned Bhagwat for his small mindedness, others took to social media to express their anger.
Delhi Catholic Archdiocese Father Savarimuthu said that Bhagwat had made an extremely sad statement.
It was not long before the BJP-led government’s opposition started to demand an apology from the ruling party.
“Mother Teresa shouldn't be insulted like this,” said Congress leader Rajiv Shukla.
Member of Parliament Derek O'Brien from Trinamul Congress said that Bhagwat’s statement was in fact condemnable.
At the same time, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal took to Twitter to protest against Bhagwat’s comments.
Sunita Kumar, a nun and spokesperson for the Missionaries of Charity, spoke to the media subsequently, explaining to journalists how Bhagwat’s comments pointed toward the fact that he is ill informed.
“Bhagwat, her only motive was to serve the poor and give them love and care,” Kumar said of Mother Teresa. She said Teresa had received criticism for her work in India at a time when Christian missionary work was rapidly decreasing. “For several years there was criticism, and her only reaction used to be, ‘Let’s pray for them.’”
Later, RSS clarified on Twitter that Bhagwat’s comments were only a response to another person, who had allegedly said Mother Teresa helped the poor and needy in order to have them converted.
In reply Bhagavatji said, "let Mother Teresa know her motive for Seva, we do Seva without expecting any returns" Dr M Vaidya
— RSS (@RSSorg) February 23, 2015
“Let Mother Teresa know her motive for seva. We do seva without expecting any returns,” the tweet read.
Photo Credits: Biography.com