MUMBAI, India – Attacks on Saint Mother Teresa have caused “hurt” for “people of all religions” in India, according to the Archbishop of Hyderabad.
Hindu leader Swami Paripoornanda Saraswati was debating a Dalit-rights activist on local television on September 22 when he accused the person, Professor Kancha Illaiah Shepherd of being a “foreign agent.”
Illaiah has written numerous publications attacking the caste system, as well as Hindu nationalism in India. He recently affixed “Shepherd” to his name as an act of defiance to Hindu Brahmins, based on Hindu naming conventions.
Although the debate was between Hindus about a Hindu topic, Paripoornanda took the time to attack Mother Teresa, accusing her of having “organized the illegal trafficking of 50,000 women, making them work as nuns after converting them to Christianity.”
He also said the nuns were “distressed with hardships, crushed and suppressed.”
When asked about his parentage, the Hindu leader then brought Pope Francis into the discussion, asking whether anyone dared ask the pontiff about his parents.
The program was on TV9, a satellite television 24-hour news station broadcasting in Telugu, an Indian language spoken by 74 million people across several states.
Archbishop Thumma Bala called the remarks “disrespectful” and “uncalled for,” especially since the subject of the debate was on Illaiah’s book on the Hindu caste system, not Christianity.
Aside from being Archbishop of Hyderabad, Bala serves as the president of Telugu Catholic Bishops’ Council, as well as the president of the ecumenical Federation of Telugu Churches.
“[Paripoornanda] raised a question whether anyone would dare to ask the Pope about his parents. It is to be noted that many journalists and interviewers did raise this question to Pope Francis and he answered them in detail,” Bala said in a statement.
The archbishop then noted that the Missionaries of Charity – the order founded by Mother Teresa – only has 5,161 members, and the majority of the Indian members of the institute come from Catholic families.
“They happily serve the poorest of the poor and destitute with joy and contentment by voluntarily taking upon themselves poverty, simplicity and self-sacrifice,” Bala said.
“Being a Swamiji, he ought to know that nuns and monks in all religions voluntarily renounce the worldly pleasures and comforts to take up service to the society, especially to the suffering humanity,” he continued. “In order to fulfill their vocation, they willingly embrace hardships, make sacrifices and are ready to go to any country to render their services.”
Bala said “many people of all religions are hurt and disturbed” by the incident, and said Paripoornanda and others were attempting to “bring about rift and divisions between religions through their hate campaign.”
The archbishop said Christians forgave Paripoornanda “for his anti-Christian comments, false allegations and derogatory remarks.
“While doing so, we wish to remind him and the religious leaders of all faiths, that it is their primary duty to foster peace and communal harmony in our pluralistic country, and to safeguard secularism and religious freedom guaranteed by our Constitution,” Bala said. “They should strive not only to end hate-campaigns, violence and divisions, but also collaborate with each other to foster love and fraternity, and promote justice and development of all, especially the marginalized.”
Since 2014, India has been ruled by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has strong links to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a militant Hindu nationalist organization.
Incidents of harassment against the small Christian minority have increased over the past few months, with various Christians being detained or arrested for “attempted conversion,” and places of worship being vandalized.
The harassment has not only been against Christians. The nation’s far larger Muslim minority has also faced harassment, often by “cow vigilantes” who have attacked Muslim butchers for slaughtering cows.
Hindu secularists have also faced danger, and Illaiah – the author who was debating Paripoornanda – has faced attacks in the press and threats to his academic position for his views.
Bala concluded by noting that Illaiah was “questioning the injustice and discrimination” in Indian society in his book – which was the original subject of the televised debate – and pointed out the author and others have faced threats to their life for discussing the issue.
“Hence, we urge the state governments of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh to immediately provide Professor Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd required protection and security, and to give directions to the persons concerned to check on those who wage hate-campaigns in order to safeguard peace and communal harmony in our Telugu States.”