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Saint of a woman

Saint of a woman

Author: Balbir K. Punj
Publication: The Asian Age
URL: http://www.asianage.com/main.asp?layout=2&cat1=6&cat2=42&newsid=28105

Recently, news about two canonisations or the conferring of sainthood by the Vatican, has hit the headlines. One is of the late Spanish priest Josemaría Escriva (1902-1975), the founder of Opus Dei, the 85,000-strong controversial revivalist wing of Catholicism.

The other is the proposed elevation of Mother Teresa to sainthood. Even though "social service" is what we in India associate her with and the Nobel Peace Prize, Vatican's criterion for conferring the sainthood on her is a "miracle cure" from terminal illness. The unofficial criterion is of course anybody's guess - proselytising and spreading Vatican's influence with the aim of (in the Pope's own language) "evangelisation of Asia in the third millennium AD on lines of Europe and America in the first and second millenniums."

This is reflected in the Vatican's hurried spree for canonisation in these cases whereas traditionally it takes more than one century for anyone to be elevated to sainthood. The Vatican claims Monica Besra's cure from cancer as Mother Teresa's posthumous "miracle". But the inquiry instituted by West Bengal's Left Front government into the claim of a "miracle cure" dismisses the proposition and attributes the cure to the administration of very strong drugs.

Undoubtedly, the Vatican is more than eager to recognise the services of those who spread the Gospel through words and action. In contrast, Hindus have displayed a subaltern and degenerated mindset while recognising selfless services of our own saintly souls. The silver screen is the mirror of our society and that is where we can best find it reflected. A Hindu priest is mostly portrayed as a rogue and debauch in saffron disguise and temples are shown as dens of amoral and anti-social pursuits.

Those wearing tilaks, the holy thread and dhotis are generally painted as crooks. But any Muslim, even if not a fakir, is portrayed as a virtuous being à la Rahim Chacha, who will not leave his namaz unfinished even if ten goons hit him on his head with sticks, and when he rises, he thrashes them all. A similar stereotype has been the Christian priest à la Father Gonsalves, who is always the epitome of humility, service and counsel of conscience in need.

The media has spun a cobweb of delusions that only Christian missionaries are doing charitable work for the society. A school, hospital or an old age home under the sign of cross is hailed as a model of piety and humanism. My contention is not to berate them either but repine for the apathy of the media towards such similar activities carried out by Hindu organisations.

Only a rare few like Francois Gautier have observed that historically the Christian monastery traditions and issionary services are actually borrowed from Buddhism. It was Buddha who proclaimed at his Dharmachakra in Sarnath - "Charaibati, charaibati vikshugan, bahujan hitaye, bahujan sukhaye (Forward, forward, o monks, for the good of many, for the happiness of many)."

The Ramakrishna Mission was founded by Swami Vivekananda on May 1, 1897 with the motto of "Atmano-moksharthan jagat hitayecha (for the liberation of the self and good of mankind)." Even though its headquarters are under severe stress from the Leftist government in West Bengal, the mission enjoys a universal repute for its cosmopolitanism. Otherwise, we hardly bother to know about Hindu organisations and saintly souls rendering utilitarian service to the society.

Vidya Bharati has a network of 15,000 schools spread across the country in cities and villages, including far-flung areas, with 38,000 teachers and 20 lakh students. Inspired by the much-abused RSS, Seva Bharati runs around 17,000 projects nationwide in the fields of medicine, social reform, self-development training, involving more than 50,000 swayamsevaks and benefiting over 50 lakh people. Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram has over 10,000 projects benefiting over 50,000 tribal villages.

Vishwa Hindu Parishad has over 1,500 community service projects. Its philanthropic activities were highly appreciated even by the commission hearing the case on the ban imposed on the Parishad after the demolition of the Babri structure in 1992. Apart from that, Arya Samaj, Bharat Sevashram Sangha, Satya Sai Mission, Chinmaya Mission, Vivekananda Kendra, Yug Nirman Yojana, Bharat Vikash Parishad, etc., to name a few, are rendering valuable down-to-earth services to the society.

But since the task is of mammoth proportions and resources are scarce, the activities are seldom expected to outgrow the crying need of society. But do we find any mention of this noble work anywhere in the media?

In this context, two saintly women of our times from two ends of India merit special mention. A living testimony of God within every human being, their lives are a remarkable combination of devotion to God and service to society. One is Sadhvi Rithambara, who came into prominence during the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in the early Nineties. She distinguished herself as the most vocal campaigner for the liberation of the janmabhoomi. Millions of cassettes with her eloquent speech found their way into the parlours of upper and middle class families. The media since then has made her synonymous with fanaticism. Little wonder, it has overlooked the motherly aspect in her that encompasses so many uncared for into a unique Indian way of experimenting with rehabilitation.

It is a tragedy of our society that many children born out of wedlock or left by divorced parents end up in orphanages, if at all anywhere. They grow up as delinquents without any identity, love or affection. Similarly, old women disowned as burdens by their families end up in old age homes.

"How can anybody be anath (orphan) in this land of Raghunath and Vishwanath?" asks Sadhvi Rithambara. Outflowing from her fond concept of bhakti is vatsalya or devotion as towards children, getting reflected in her novel experiment of communes vatsalya mandir and now vatsalya gram. Her vatsalya gram at Param Shakti Peeth is a verdant sprawl of 43 acres on the Vrindavan-Mathura Road. In her vatsalya mandir and gram she takes up destitute children and old women and prepares them as role models of daughters, mothers or grandmothers as is the case.

The atmosphere is completely that of an ideal family where attention is paid to everybody's cries and needs. Sadhvi Rithambara is referred to here as "Didi Ma," and schoolteachers know that children have come from vatsalya mandir. She finds charity a cold concept. It might provide food, clothes and shelter to some needy person but can't impart love, affection, care and warmth, necessary for healthy evolution that vatsalya is all about. In spite of all this, she remains a proverbial fanatic to the "secular" media even though she has vowed not to contest any election, which she can always win by a large margin.

From "God's own country" in the South comes Mata Amritanandamayi popularly called "Amma". Today, Mata Amritanandamayi herself has become a familiar name in the country and abroad. But she was born into a humble fisherman's family in a village called Parayakdabu on a peninsular strip in the Quilon district of Kerala. Now her tiny village home has been transformed into Amritapuri Ashram, the global headquarters of her global mission.

Her spiritual attributes had begun to manifest from her early childhood and by the time she was 20 the world had begun to appreciate her uncommonness. In 1993, she attended the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago (centenary celebrations) and addressed the Interfaith Celebrations in New York in 1995 on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations.

Recently, she has been awarded the prestigious Gandhi-King award for non-violence at Geneva. Other previous recipients have been Nelson Mandela and Kofi Annan. Like the RSS and Sadhvi Rithambara, her saintly service to society is also practically ignored by the media.

Mata Amritanandamayi Math is probably one of its kind in being a multi-faceted charitable and developmental organisation, running into a whopping budget of Rs 1,200 crores. It serves millions of people throughout the world regardless of caste, race or religion in fields of health, education, disaster relief, old age schemes, science and technology, industrial training, religious services etc.

The most shinning plume in its cap is Amrita Institute of Medical Sciences and Research Centre (AIMS), a 1,000-bed tertiary referral hospital and research centre, built on an area of 6 lakh sq. ft. It provides specialised services in all areas of health care and the most modern medical treatment is given to the poor for free.

Near Mumbai, the Math runs Amrita Kripa Sagar Hospice for terminally ill cancer patients. In the last five years, the Math has constructed 25,000 houses for the homeless called Amritakuteeram. The construction work has been done by the ashram residents themselves, with help of local volunteers and devotees.

Mata Amritanandamayi lays emphasis on Indian values and knowledge. Amrita Ayurvedic Research Centre is engaged in pharmacy, manufacturing high quality ayurvedic medicine. A Herb Conservation Park in Kalpetta, Wynad district operates as a part of a national network seeking to protect 6,000 species of endangered medicinal plants. But equal emphasis is also laid on modern science and vocational studies. Amrita Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Kochi offers a two-year D. Pharma course in an atmosphere of discipline and value orientation. Amrita Institute of Technology and Science at Ettimadai, Coimbatore in its 200-acre residential campus provides both degree and masters level programmes. It has a marvellous state of the art computer centre harbouring Param 10,000 super computer. It also provides training in sports, yoga and meditation.

Such facts effectively take to task the belief that organisations of the Hindu origin are not altruistic. The truth is that they find the western concept of altruism quite cold. On the contrary, they believe in service to the world as one larger self. Apart from that, altruism could not have any ideological basis either. Let's remember the words of Swami Vivekananda that in helping the world we ultimately help our own (spiritual) self.

Balbir K. Punj is a Rajya Sabha MP and convenor of the BJP's Intellectual Cell and can be contacted at bpunj@email.com

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