Item Number 1: Worldhelp is a Christian aid agency that has launched a massive initiative to “help” Indians affected by the Tsunami. This is an excerpt from one of their documents.
Item Number 2 Jet-set Christian evangelist K A Paul , who proudly points out that he owns the only privately-owned 747 jet after the President of USA, comes to India with all the condescension of a true-blue white European missionary (despite the fact that he is India-born) and his first (and only) initiative is to catch hold of Tsunami orphans and send them to an orphanage he has established. The motivations are obvious: the orphans are ripe for conversion.
Item Number 3 In Andhra Pradesh, India, a plan is developing to build “Christian communities” to replace destroyed seashore villages. In a dispatch that the evangelical group Focus on the Family posted on its Family.org Web site, James Rebbavarapu of India Christian Ministries said a team of U.S. engineers had agreed to help design villages of up to 400 homes each, “with a church building in the center of them.” (Source)
The misery scavengers are here. In big numbers. With deep pockets and a fervent desire to cleanse the country of the scourge of Hinduism. In the process they undermine the very genuine work done by organizations that follow the Red Cross/Crescent code of conduct that requires among other things that aid ” not be used to further a particular political or religious standpoint.”
So the question is should the government of India (following some other countries) refuse aid and prevent the operations of evangelical organizations that do not follow the Red Cross/Red Crescent code of conduct?
Putting on my rational hat, I think no. Because we are a democratic secular republic, the Government of India (GOI) has no right to ban or prevent any religious activity. As I argued before in one of my posts, it does not have the right to prevent aid from reaching its citizens—a person who has lost everything could not care less for the motivations of those that provide him help. In any case, it should remain his personal choice whether he chooses to accept the offered aid knowing the consequences of accepting ( possible conversion) or refuse it — the government should not make the choice for him.
Conversions in India have always gone hand in hand with the church providing incentives (food, shelter, education) for maginalized sections of Indian Hindus. For many Hindus it has been the only way of getting rid of the “lower caste” label they would otherwise eternally carry . Conversion, in this context, was a nothing more nor less than a contract between two parties— the person who got converted got something in return. In any case, if our Hindu religion cannot take care of its weakest members, then we should not be crying ourself hoarse when someone siphons them off with inducements .
Firmly under control of my cynical cap, I feel: “what does it matter what religion you are?” All I care is if I am getting fed and clothed—if there is some religion that does it for me then I am all for it. If today Pepsi came to me and said that they would give me 100,000 bucks for which I would have to proclaim everyday for the rest of my life that Coke is evil—hell I would do it. What 10,000 bucks I would even do it for an iPod. What do I care? Both Coke as well as Pepsi are bad for my health—so what does it matter which one I have ? Same it is with religion.
A voice in my head says: But hey isnt religion supposed to be different? Is not religion supposed to be about soul and spirit and conviction of the heart ? I know the evangelists believe or like to believe that they convert people on the strengths of their argument and the power of the Gospel but the fact that they come in during disasters is ample testimony to the fact that they know that this is nothing but a business transaction—You really could use some help right now so here let me help you—in return you give me your soul. Ok question answered………religion is not different from the Cola wars.
Now taking off my rational cap, I put my emotional cap on. My emotions driven by my identity—my Hinduness and everything else that makes me what I am. When I hear my religion (not that I follow it much) being spoken off in such derogatory terms, when India is presented as a filthy, “dark” place that is in need of being saved by these “exclusive” possessors of “truth”—-all I want to do is stomp on my rationality cap. When I see evangelical websites carrying caricatures of Kali and gross misrepresentations of my religion and my country, my gut reaction becomes : ” We shall not let you do business in our country”.
And this is the point where Coke and Pepsi become different from Hinduism and Christianity. I was not born Pepsi or Coke—I however was born a Hindu. When you insult Hinduism, you insult me, my ancestors, my tradition and my heritage. You can do that from in whichever country you are in but no not in my country. This is where I feel the GOI should intervene and not let these people do what they want to on our land. The person who has lost everything and the orphan who is not even an adult (and legally unable to take a decision) have to be protected from bartering away their identity under duress. Just like sex with an underage individual is deemed rape because the underage person is not capable of taking an informed decision, so is trying to convert these people criminal because they are not in a position to take a rational decision.
At this moment of time, these people have to be protected. Our policy should be : “If you want to come here out of the goodness of your heart and your Christian spirit then you are more than welcome. But if you have come here scavenging for emotional and financial floatsam, then sorry there’s the door .”
Wearing proudly my emotion cap, I gingerly pick up my dust laden cynical (liberal) cap and cautiously put it in my pocket. Maybe some other day.
[Links courtesy: Saumyadipta Pyne]