As I celebrated Christmas a few days ago, I thought about the attacks on Christians in various locales of the country. In fact, there’s been an ongoing hate campaign unleashed against them by right-wing outfits: first it was all the hype that Christian missionaries are indulging in mass conversions which stood vetoed by vital facts and figures showing that the country’s Christian population was decreasing and not increasing. Then came the vicious propaganda against the very celebration of Christmas.
I recall rather too distinctly that after the hounding and killings of Christians in Orissa’s Kandhamal tribal belt in 2008, I had interviewed several victims and it was shocking to hear accounts of how fear prevails in tribal pockets, more so around Christmas time. They’d told me they have to keep celebrations absolutely low key; so subdued that even singing and music is kept out so that right-wing goons on the prowl do not burn their homes or church properties.
Coincidentally or not, ever since the right-wing government came to power at the Centre, it gets somewhat apparent that hurdles are made to come in the way of Christmas celebrations. In 2014, hadn’t the government cancelled the December 25 holiday, ‘converting’ the day to Good Governance Day, and then had come up with all those silly excuses as cover ups.
This past Christmas though there was no ‘good governance day’ (after all, where are traces of good governance?), news-reports of attacks on the Christian population have been coming through. Hindutva brigades issued warnings to Christian families in Uttar Pradesh’s Aligarh against singing of carols or celebrating Christmas in schools. In Madhya Pradesh’s Satna district, Christian students and priests were attacked and beaten by Hindutva brigade, relaying an atmosphere of utter fear.
Sadly, there is no open condemnation of this, even as we realize that this hounding of the Christian community cannot take place without an indirect official sanction of sorts, and not without the backing of the police-politician nexus. Yet we are not crying hoarse against this ongoing hate propaganda against a community that has given us so much; foremost, education. I have to acknowledge that with their middle class resources, my parents couldn’t afford to send my siblings and I to a public school, so we were enrolled in Lucknow’s Loreto Convent, where the Irish nuns charged students very basic affordable fees. Yet they gave us so much in return, in terms of education and values.
With nostalgia tightening its hold, I recall the tranquility and calm spread around the school chapel. I was there almost every afternoon but, mind you, nobody tried to convert me from a this to a that!
My generation of middle-aged Indians owe much to the missionaries. We can converse and communicate in English because we were taught by selfless nuns and priests, who dedicated their entire lives for us. Yet, we are ungrateful enough to not veto the Hindutva brigades’ vicious propaganda against the missionaries.
In fact, the situation can be termed so very obnoxious that even Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity is not spared by these brigades. The nuns have dedicated their entire lives to look after the needy and homeless, the sick and the dying. In one of their hospices they tend to the dying and even perform the last rites in accordance to the religious beliefs and faith of the dead. Tell me how many amongst us will be able to reach out to the dying and the disadvantaged?
In fact, once when my friend late Khushwant Singh had even asked Mother Teresa — “Tell me how can you touch people with loathsome diseases like leprosy and gangrene? Aren’t you revolted by people filthy with dysentery and cholera vomit?” She had gently replied, “I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus. This one has gangrene, dysentery or cholera. I must wash him and tend to him.”
Whilst on Mother Teresa, its apt to quote Khushwant Singh. He has written extensively on her and after reading those details you are sure to sit and wonder the extent of Mother Teresa’s selfless service. Yes, only a saint could have reached out in the way in which she did.
“In my study in my cottage in Kasauli, I have two pictures of the people I admire most — Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa… It must have been more than thirty years ago that I was asked to do a profile of Mother Teresa for The New York Times. I wrote to Mother Teresa seeking her permission to call on her. Having got it, I spent three days with her, from the early hours of the morning to late at night. Nothing in my long journalistic career has remained as sharply etched in my memory as those three days with her in Calcutta… Before I met her, I read Malcolm Muggeridge’s book on her, Something Beautiful for God. Malcolm was a recent convert to Catholicism and prone to believe in miracles. He had gone to make a film on Mother Teresa for the BBC. They first went to Nirmal Hriday Home for dying destitutes close to the Kalighat temple.
“The team took some shots of the building from outside and of its sunlit courtyard. The camera crew was of the opinion that the interior was too dark, and they had no lights that would help them take the shots they needed. However, since some footage was left over, they decided to use it for interior shots. When the film was developed later, the shots of the dormitories inside were found to be clearer and brighter than those taken in sunlight. The first thing I asked Mother Teresa was if this was true. She replied, ‘But of course.
Such things happen all the time.’ And she added with greater intensity, ‘Every day, every hour, every single minute, God manifests Himself in some miracle.’ She narrated other miracles of the days when her organization was little known and always short of cash. ‘Money has never been much of a problem,’ she told me, ‘God gives through His people.’ She told me that when she started her first school in the slums, she had no more than five rupees with her.
But as soon as people came to know what she was doing, they brought money and other things. The first institution she took me to was Nirmal Hriday. It was in 1952 that the Calcutta Corporation had handed the building over to her.
Orthodox Hindus were outraged. Four hundred Brahmin priests attached to the Kali temple demonstrated outside the building. “One day I went out and spoke to them, ‘If you want to kill me, kill me. But do not disturb the inmates. Let them die in peace.’ That silenced them. Then one of the priests staggered in. He was in an advanced stage of galloping phthisis. The nuns looked after him till he died. That changed the priests’ attitude towards Mother Teresa. Later, one day, another priest entered the Home, prostrated himself at Mother Teresa’s feet and said, ‘For thirty years I have served the Goddess Kali in her temple. Now the Goddess stands before me.’ ”