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WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN A NATURAL

 DISASTER AND RELIGIOUS CONVERSION?

(Photo credit: Both top and bottom pictures taken from twitter accounts)

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Pope Francis's official twitter page posts the following- "Suffering is a call to conversion: it reminds us of our frailty and vulnerability" on 24th March 2015. Little did he know that the post will become a part of the controversy about a month later when on 26th April 2015, a devastating earthquake of 7.8 magnitude near Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, caused havoc in Nepal killing over 4000 people, demolishing numerous homes and collapsing centuries-old temples and historical monuments. Kathmandu's landmark tower, the Dharahara Tower, built in the 1800s by Nepal's rulers, was reduced to rubble. The earthquake resulted in avalanches in Mt Everest, killing 18, including 3 Americans. First let's take a look at the actions taken by the Indian government before we move to the controversy.

INDIA SHINES, MODI SHINES ...

According to CNN and all other leading international news source, India led the massive aid effort to help the survivors in Nepal. A CNN report today had this to report- On Sunday alone, India delivered 187 tons of supplies, including 50 tons of water, 22 tons of food and 2 tons of medicine. Hundreds of trained disaster relief troops landed in Kathmandu and quickly got to work. By Monday, India was in full-scale crisis mode: From airports across India, planes flew in loaded with aid, and trucks made the trip by land from India's east, aiming for more remote areas. And on Sunday, in his national radio address to the nation, Indian Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, said Indians needed to "wipe the tears of every Nepali, hold their hands, and stand with them." With each flight in, there was a flight back out, packed with Indians and other nationals escaping to safety: 2,000 and counting have fled so far.

The CNN report also mentioned how "just weeks ago, India flexed its military muscle to rescue Indians and other nationals from conflict-torn Yemen. Now, it is taking the lead in Nepal."

According to the latest report from India, the relief and rescue mission is now being called 'Operation Maitri'. According to a report in the Hindustan Times, more than two dozen aircraft, including heavy lift planes such as the C130J Hercules and C-17 Globemaster, and hundreds of personnel from the military and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) are engaged in the operation, making it one of the largest relief efforts mounted by India on foreign soil.

 

THE CONTROVERSY BREWS ...

Even as praise for India's efforts pour in from across the globe, a controversy brews with religion at its center. Dr. Subramanian Swamy, a politician largely regarded as a right wing Hindutva leader, shared the Pope's tweet above on social media with the message, "When the Head of Sales Department signals his sales team about the opportunity to increase the business....". He went on to quote an article in Shanknaad  titled, "Nepal's earthquake tragedy exposes Soul Vultures". The article goes on to quote numerous tweets that supposedly support the surmise that the "Christian evangelical organisations work for conversion, not charity" as has been suggested by the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a right-wing, Hindu Nationalist organization) chief, Mohan Bhagwat in what became a raging controversy in Feb 2015

It didn't help when Tony Miano, a US Pastor, publicly suggested that Nepalis should convert and not rebuild their 'pagan shrines' ( his tweet seen below). According to a report in the Independent, Tony Miano is a former Los Angeles police officer, a self-styled preacher and  an outspoken conservative. He triggered angry responses when he posted a series of messages on social media, expressing sympathy for the people struck by devastation in Nepal, but suggesting God was angry.

LET'S SAY IT... FIVE POINTS ON SUFFERINGS AND RELIGION


We have five points to make here-

1. What is the relationship between a natural disaster and religious conversions? Hopefully, everyone's answer to the question is none. Now we don't claim to completely understand all the religions of the world, but if any religion preaches 'preying' on the vulnerable with the goal to convert, then that leaves you a 'predator'. We know that Hinduism believes in treating all religions as equal. Hinduism believes that every religion is a vehicle to reach the same destination, a mean to attain the same goal. Hinduism believes that "karma kar, phal ki chinta mat kar" (focus on the deed, don't worry about the end result). Tragedies are not opportunities to convert. Help if you can, but let selflessness be your guiding light. 


2. Which religion in this world gives its followers the right to decide who goes to heaven and who will go to hell? Again, the answer is hopefully none. So are the tweets hurtful? Are they offensive? You bet they are. 


3. Many are comparing the tweets to conversion with the selfless work of the Indian government in Nepal. Now, that is not a fair comparison. People and religious organizations cannot be compared to government. 

However, considering that Hinduism is largely known to be a religion that does not indoctrinate conversion, what Baba Ramdev, the Hindu spiritual leader and yoga guru, did for Nepal is truly remarkable. Baba Ramdev was in Nepal at a routine yoga camp when the earthquake hit. Instead of allowing himself to be whisked to a safe location, he stayed behind to help with the relief and rescue operation, providing water, food and fruits. In fact, he has even announced his plans to adopt and provide for some 500 children who have lost their families in the quake, according to his Facebook page. Similarly RSS, the so called right-wing organization's help 'with men and material, without any discrimination or expectations' as the article mentioned above points out, is incredible as well.

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4. Can we generalize that the Christian organizations work for conversion and not charity? Perhaps the hope lies therein somewhere, but we cannot deny that we have witnessed many such organizations helping the poor, the homeless and the hungry without pushing the bible under their noses. After all, we have witnessed the various nuns in the convent schools that we grew up in worked selflessly for the penurious.  Mother Teresa and her organization's work in India surely is testimony enough. 


5. Lastly what one cannot but help wonder is this- if the argument is that Christian organizations help during crisis with the hope of conversation, then what about Islamic organizations? Shouldn't we be seeing them helping the destitute and the disaster- stricken areas? Also, if the Hindus have an objection to Christians helping with the goal of conversion, what stops them from being right there helping the needy just so that they stick to their religion? Why not? 

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