Christian leaders have criticized yoga guru Baba Ramdev’s comments that Mother Teresa was awarded India’s highest civilian award because she was Christian. The Bharat Ratna (jewel of India) was awarded to the Catholic nun in 1980 for her humanitarian work among India’s poor. Albanian-born Mother Teresa
, who died in 1997 aged 87, became St. Teresa of Kolkata when she was canonized in 2016. Speaking to the media on Jan. 26 in Prayag in Uttar Pradesh, Ramdev questioned the government for giving the prestigious award to actors and politicians but not to the seers of the Hindu religion. Christian leaders have accused Ramdev of dragging the name of the saintly nun, founder of the Missionaries of Charity congregation, into an unnecessary controversy.
“His comments are highly unwarranted,” said Father Savarimuthu Sankar, spokesman of Delhi Archdiocese. “We are surprised and pained to note that people like Ramdev are unaware that Mother Teresa was awarded for her selfless work among the poorest of the poor.” The nun came to India at the age of 19 and founded the congregation in 1950 in Kolkata, then called Calcutta, to help the poor in the slums of the city. The highest Indian award was given to her after three decades of service, a year after she received the Nobel Peace Prize. Father Sankar said Ramdev’s comments were misleading at a time when the country was facing general election. “It may be an attempt to stay in the limelight as the defender of the interests of the Hindu majority,” he said. Every year on Jan. 25, the eve of Republic Day, the Indian government announces the recipients of the Bharat Ratna. The award, started in 1954, has been given to only 58 people in 65 years, leaving some years without any recipient. Recipients have included politicians, social workers, actors and even legendary cricket star Sachin Tendulkar, but not any popular Hindu gurus or seers. However, religious and social workers are plentiful among the three Padma awards every year. Former president Pranab Mukherjee, late singer Bhupen Hazarika and late social activist Nanaji Deshmukh were awarded the Bharat Ratna this year. Ramdev claimed there was discrimination on the basis of religion in naming awardees and asked if well-known Hindu seers like Maharshi Dayanand and Swami Vivekananda were less deserving than actors and politicians. Sajan K. George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, said that while Mother Teresa had served humanity, Ramdev heads an empire selling fast-moving consumer goods under the brand name of Patanjali, making annual sales worth US$1.5 billion in 2017. “What does he give back to society?” asked George, stressing that Ramdev has no right to question the nun’s award. Christian leader A.C. Michael told ucanews.com that accusing the government of discrimination was self-defeating. “If the government discriminates, then why has the government not selected Ramdev, who is very close to the present government?” asked Michael, a former member of the Delhi Minorities Commission. Michael recalled that leaders of Hindu groups occasionally target Mother Teresa to push the idea that she and her nuns worked to convert Hindus to Christianity. Mohan Bhagwat, head of the powerful Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh
, said in a public speech in 2015 that Mother Teresa’s “service would have been good but it had one objective — to convert the person being served into a Christian." He added: "If conversion is done in the name of service, then that service gets devalued." When some Missionaries of Charity nuns were accused last year of involvement in child trafficking in Ranchi in Jharkhand state, some Hindu leaders asked for Mother Teresa’s Bharat Ratna award to be revoked
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