Mainstream, VOL LIV No 38 New Delhi September 10, 2016
The Mother and her Deification
Friday 9 September 2016, by
Many friends ask me why am I quiet on the issue of Mother Teresa and her canonisation. Well, I have been travelling and not really following much of the news. However, I have my position which I clarified several times in the past too. I have lots of respect for Christopher Hitchens and his absolutely phenomenal analysis. The Mother was a religious woman with a kind heart. Her main aim was to ‘serve’ the God which she found in serving the people. A secular critique of Christianity cannot be seen as an ‘endorsement’ of absolutely hateful propaganda of the Sangh Parivar or Hindu fanatics. There is a much bigger battle that secularists, humanists are fighting against the dominance of the church as well as political Islam unlike in India where they have failed to fight a decisive war against political Hindutva as most of the secularists too have their caste privileges to defend. Hence, a critique of the Mother cannot be seen as the same as the Sangh or Hindutva’s devotees might do.
It is not just Hitchens but also Tariq Ali who made his ‘famous’ film ‘Hell’s angel’ and ‘exposed’ the realities of the charities of missionaries. However, the problem with these criticisms was that they were actually coming from those scholars who were fighting for their individual rights in the West against the dominance of the church as their day-to-day affair. Given the situation in India, the Mother’s work cannot be put aside as merely charity. We know, the Indian state has failed to protect the poorest of the poor. It has failed them to give life. As a society, we have hidden apartheid where people suffer because of the basis of their birth. People don’t have time to listen or read to your dry jargons and philosophies unless they are ‘loved’. Millions of people in our societies suffer in humiliation and isolation without any love. We are a loveless society, a loveless country. The Mother actually taught us to love and care.
So, we may discuss bigger things in ‘theory’ and argue sitting in our comfortable homes but we cannot discount the things which she did. Whether you call it hell’s angel or not, it was she who did not ask you your caste, religion or gender or who you were loving. We do not know what were the conditions inside their charities but we hope it is the duty of not just the institutions but also the government to ensure that things are going according to law in these places.
I know the Mother’s only aim was to bring people into ‘God’s world’. Now, if the communists, humanists, socialists have no time to share the pains and agonies of the people (I do not want to listen to their political theories or conspiracy theories) but their services on the ground to uplift millions of others where the state has failed, it is natural for the people to go away. In a society which is so discriminatory, you need multiple energies and sources to empower people. It cannot be like my way or the highway. It can’t be a Cuban revolution or the Russian one. It will need a revolution against the caste system, breaking those practices of apartheid which we actually were unable to break. Many a time these can be broken more by love and affection than theorisation.
I know Mother Teresa did not have the courage to support the Mandal Commission recommen-dations. She was here in Delhi at the Gandhi Samadhi in the 1990s when the caste Hindus decided to oppose the Mandal report and young students were committing suicide. I know the Mother was not fond of speaking for the Christian Dalits and the discrimination they faced. But why do you expect the Mother to reply to your political question? She was a simple God-fearing woman who was serving mankind, according to her convictions; her approach might be wrong but you cannot really say that there was a conspiracy in doing so. What conspiracy could it be? If there is a conspiracy, why are the Shankaracharyas, the Babas, Gurus not able to touch the people? In a society which believes in segregation, the Mother taught us the importance of touching one and all. She hugged all and gave her love. It was motherly love, may be wrapped in her Christian beliefs but who stops others from doing so?
The problem is not about the Mother’s action but the failures of those who critique her on such basis. Surely, she was not a humanist as her world revolved around “God’s Kingdom” and hence she would do things which she considered Godly. It is our problem that we expect humanist answers from religious leaders. People blame charities for disarming people but in a society which is so much corrupted culturally and socially, you need these charities to make people feel that they too have a right to life; it is these kind words that save numerous people, offering example to all. Outright rejection will only help more RSS and other religious segments to reach the people. The secularists will debate while the religious Right will use these charities to strengthen their outreach as well as poisonous agenda.
However, I will defend Hitchens’ critique of the Mother’s work as only secularists have the capacity to do so. Secondly, the canonisation proves that the Vatican still believes that only ‘Miracle’ people can be declared ‘saint’. I wish they had given Sainthood to the ‘Holy Mother’ for her work among the poor and not her miracles. If the Mother is a ‘Saint’ just because she could perform some ‘miracles’, then it is the biggest tragedy; but then religion needs to survive on that basis.
In the final analysis, I would say the Mother’s actions are well acknowledged and not her ‘philosophy or ídeology’. Her greatness lies in her work and not in her miracles but with her canonisation the Vatican has proved that it will never learn the lessons, it will only prove that Christianity has less philosophical contents inside it and more ‘miracles’. Perhaps, the church knows that ‘philosophy’ does not help in the growth of a religion but miracles can multiply its faithfuls and hence in the coming years we will see the growth of multiple miracle-mongers everywhere across religions which will expose them further. The only thing is that secularists, humanists and all those who talk of enlightenment and reasoning and whose philosophy of life revolves around the well-being of human beings have to spread their outreach and share the loves and pains of the people. If religion could be used as a ‘therapy’ for the ‘hopeless’, why not humanism?