A month ago as the writer walked down the street towards the Vatican, barely a few feet away from the Sistine Chapel, an old lady, on her knees, head bent over so that we could not see her face, supporting her tired body with her left palm pressed down on the road, was holding out her right hand for alms. For all the response she got from the faithful, who were striding past her in their hurry to walk devoutly over the keys of the kingdom, she may have been invisible. This wrinkled, tired old lady was ‘begging’ on her knees at the Vatican doorsteps!
Another old lady similarly standing on her knees outside a church in the Four Fountains Piazza, a young man with one leg amputated below the knees pleading with us for at least small coins, an able-bodied young man on his knees (again) outside a metro station begging for alms with two beautiful but dis-spirited dogs sitting beside him, a young girl with unkempt face and uncombed hair outside the Uffizi Gallery, an old lady on her knees bent double so that her face was hidden in her skirt, one hand beseechingly holding out a paper cup outside the Doge’s palace; these and other similar distressing sights in Italy and in several cities across Europe – in Athens, France, Paris, Edinburgh and London raise sharp questions demanding an answer.
The increasing visibility of poverty and alienation from the much-touted “developed nations well-being” of more and more middle-class Europeans is besides the pervasive poverty and deprivation of immigrants to Europe from Iran, Iraq, Africa, Pakistan and Bangladesh; we can see them with buckets and mops at street corners and traffic signals waiting hopefully to clean the windscreen of passing vehicles for some small change as payment; we can see them sitting on foot-paths selling bric-a-brac; we can see young women with children in backpacks asking for help; these distressing scenes dotting the big cities and countries of Europe, including Switzerland, have until now not been spoken about in polite circles of international politics.
The abject poverty of the Romas forcibly evicted by the thousands from every country in Europe is now well known. Europe evicting Romas is like Indian politicians wanting to kill street dogs in India; Romas and street dogs soil the perfect but unnatural art-gallery landscape that we sell to promote tourism and invite FDI. To this growing list of the poor in Europe must be added growing numbers of unemployed who eke out a living as indigent musicians playing the harmonica, accordion and guitar on busy streets, metro stations and train stations, accepting any small coin passers-by may drop into their cups and indigent artists outside national monuments ready to draw your caricature in charcoal or cheap copies of masterpieces; and young loiterers standing around aimlessly, not in schools and not at work, with nothing to do.
The ‘poverty’, ‘squalor’, ‘begging’ routinely thrown at India’s face is now at their doorsteps. But with India being touted as the world’s third largest economy, her economy growing at an average of 8-9%, these developed nations, growing at 2%, cannot throw ‘poverty’ at us anymore; but they pick statistics from out of thin air to show the world how 7 out of 10 children in India are victims of abuse and how India’s index on gender equality is lower than that of Pakistan.
Europe is in the grip of acute economic recession, the worst recession since World War II, according to some experts, and made worse by banking scandals, politely termed “mismanagement”, and it is Europe’s working middle-class which is feeling the pinch. The steep cuts in government spending is cutting jobs in the thousands leading to mass unemployment, is cutting wages and slashing social welfare programmes in childcare, education and health and even affecting pension payments. France’s Nicolas Sarkozy raised the retirement age of workers by two years, to buy time and avoid paying pensions, and faced the wrath of the working class which took to the streets of Paris in the last week of September, in resounding protest. Several European governments are implementing these cuts in complete disregard for the overwhelming opposition of ordinary people to painful austerity measures.
Greece, Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal and Belgium have witnessed unprecedented strikes in the last one year alone. In September this year, Spanish trade unions organized the country’s first general strike in eight years in a day-long show of force to protest labour reforms and economic austerity measures. The Spanish strike coincided with a demonstration in Brussels by more than 100,000 workers protesting what trade unions described were “public spending cuts in a dozen European countries including Portugal, Ireland and France.”
The wide-spread resentment over cuts in government spending has been aggravated, firstly, by the fact that the Vatican, American and European Baptist, Protestant and other denominational churches, multi-lateral Christian financial aid agencies like World Vision and Action Aid, American and British government and quasi-government agencies like the Office of the American President, DFID, USAID and OXFAM continue to pump astronomical amounts of money into India – money that India does not need and money that Europe and America can ill-afford considering their acute poverty and national debt; secondly, the resentment of Europe’s middle class against governments has been heightened by the fact that the pay-packets of financiers and corporate executives, in sharp contrast to wage cuts and growing unemployment of the middle-class, have shot up through the roofs.
New figures out today revealed FTSE 100 director pay shot up by 55pc in the 12 months to June. In the FTSE 350, total boardroom pay climbed by 45pc on average, the figures by IDS found. FTSE 100 chief executives took home £4.9m on average in total earnings during the year, the report showed. (FTSE 100 pay packets ‘scandalous’ when ordinary workers face wage cuts – Telegraph)
That there is poverty in Europe today can no longer be denied or hidden from public view and discourse. There is an emerging awareness within the UK of how DFID and Action Aid are squandering hard-earned taxpayer’s money for motivated advocacy activist NGOs, including the profiteering industry in human rights in India, which does not help to improve the quality of life of the British toiling class or help in any meaningful way to deal with recession.http://www.policynetwork.net/accountability/publication/fake-aid.
Notwithstanding the internal bickering within Europe about how aid money is being misused by recipient countries, in India foreign aid (read Christian aid) is used for human trafficking by Christian NGOs, is used by pastors and priests for trafficking in Indian children, and is used by the print and electronic media, their simulated fire-and-brimstone newsroom debates notwithstanding, for selective dissemination of paid news which ultimately serves American and European strategic interests. Every Christian funding agency in America and Europe saw in the tsunami of 2004 a god-sent opportunity to harvest Hindu Indian souls. The enterprising Indian Christian faithful in the two Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh saw in the tsunami a god-sent opportunity to open fly-by-night Christian NGO shops across the state as the safest way to swindle hundreds of thousands of rupees of foreign aid money.
The United States of America fares no better than Europe on the economic front. But before we examine the state of America’s economy and the real numbers of the fairy-tale American Dream, we must examine the numbers and figures of Christian charity pouring into India.
We also find that in the last three years, the amount (of foreign money) received has shown a phenomenal increase and it was 56% more in 2006-2007 than in the previous year. The report of the home ministry also provides other information regarding the states receiving the largest amount and purpose, etc pertaining to the year 2006-2007.
It suggests that important states or union territories are Tamil Nadu (Rs 2,244 crore), followed by Delhi (Rs 2,187 crore), Andhra Pradesh (Rs 1,211 crore) and Maharashtra (Rs 1,195 crore). Among donor countries, USA leads in the list of donor countries (Rs 2,972 crore), followed by Germany (Rs 1,649 crore), UK (Rs 1,425 crore) and Switzerland (Rs 605 crore).
The leading donor agencies are Misereor Pastfach, Germany (Rs 1,244 crore), World Vision International USA (Rs 469 crore), Foundation Vicente Ferrer Spain (Rs 399 crore) and ASA Switzerland (Rs 302 crore).
The largest recipients are Ranchi Jesuits of Jharkhand (Rs 622 crore), followed by the Santhome Trust of Kalyan, Maharashtra (Rs 333 crore), Sovereign Order of Malta, Delhi (Rs 301 crore), World Vision of India, Tamil Nadu (Rs 256 crore), Jesuit Educational and Charitable Society, Karnataka (Rs 230 crore).
Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh are some of the states with a large number of NGOs. It is curious to note that the poorest states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, etc do not have as many numbers. Among the top 15 recipients, each with more than Rs. 90 crore receipts from abroad, at least 14 are easily identifiable as Christian charity organizations from their names.
One faith-based programme that Bush goes gaga about is the prison-based InnerChange Freedom Initiative started by Charles Colson. Incidentally, Colson was one of the characters from the Watergate episode; he spent seven months in prison for obstructing justice in one of the Watergate cases. InnerChange is an intensive Bible-centered program, ostensibly open to inmates of all religious persuasions, but every month inmates are evaluated on whether they “demonstrate a belief in Jesus Christ,” wrote Robyn E Blumner, perspective columnist of the St Petersburg Times, on September 28, 2003. “Those inmates who fail to show the proper level of piety are removed and lose the special freedoms and privileges dangled before inmates as incentives to participate,” he added. Bush introduced InnerChange into the Texas prison system when he was governor. At present it operates in four states and the Bush government subsidizes its conversion activities with the American tax-payers’ money.
What underlies all this is that the Bush administration’s conservative evangelical worldview has proliferated to countries like India. Here the Church and Christian NGOs have been involved for a long time in the provision of voluntary social service. But churches and Christian NGOs in India and the trans-national (read American) faith-based NGOs who have a large presence in India have gleefully responded to the message emanating from the White House. Bush’s support for religious conversion has happened on the persuasive power of the dollar. It is safe to say that almost all evangelical organizations in India and non-Catholic churches and the Christian NGOs get their funding from their American patrons or from USAID. These groups, like CARE or World Vision tend to Christian social workers and consciously infuse Christian religiosity as part of the help they provide to socially and economically marginalized communities.
World Vision, the world’s largest Christian church mission agency, has traditionally been closely linked with successive American governments. The former US Ambassador for International Religious Freedoms, Dr Robert Seiple, was World Vision chief for 11 years till 1998 when he was picked by former president, Bill Clinton, to head the office of International Religious Freedoms. Around the period when Seiple was the president of WV, its vice-president from 1993 to 1998 was Andrew S. Natsios. He is now the administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID). For more than 40 years, USAID has been the leading government agency providing economic and humanitarian assistance to developing countries.
WV’s focus is children and community development. This is implemented through Area Development Programmes (ADP). But infused with such development works is the spiritual component – Bible classes.
In India, WV projects itself as a “Christian relief and development agency with more than 40 years experience in working with the poorest of the poor in India without respect to race, region, religion, gender or caste.” However, Tehelka has in its possession US-based World Vision Inc.’s financial statement filed before the Internal Revenue Service, wherein, it is classified as a Church ministry. In any case, its mission statement is self-explanatory: “World Vision is an international partnership of Christians whose mission is to follow our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, in working with the poor and oppressed, to promote human transformation, seek justice and bear witness to the Good News of the Kingdom of God”. http://www.vigilonline.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=975&Item id=1
This is just what Teresa of Albania and her Missionaries of Charity were/are doing in Kolkata – bearing witness to the Good News of the Kingdom of God! Hindus call it unconscionable, routine and congenital Christian fishing in misery.
Albania, soon after the end of World War II proclaimed itself to be an atheist state. Article 37 of the Albanian Constitution of 1976 stipulated, “The State recognizes no religion, and supports atheistic propaganda in order to implant a scientific materialistic world outlook in people” and the penal code of 1977 imposed prison sentences of three to ten years for “religious propaganda and the production, distribution, or storage of religious literature.” A new decree that in effect targeted Albanians with Christian names stipulated that citizens whose names did not conform to “the political, ideological, or moral standards of the state” were to change them. It was also decreed that towns and villages with religious names must be renamed. Hoxha’s brutal antireligious campaign succeeded in eradicating formal worship, but some Albanians continued to practice their faith clandestinely, risking severe punishment. Individuals caught with Bibles, icons, or other religious objects faced long prison sentences. Religious weddings were prohibited Parents were afraid to pass on their faith, for fear that their children would tell others. Officials tried to entrap practicing Christians and Muslims during religious fasts, such as Lent and Ramadan, by distributing dairy products and other forbidden foods in school and at work, and then publicly denouncing those who refused the food, and clergy who conducted secret services were incarcerated. Catholic priest Shtjefen Kurti had been executed for secretly baptizing a child in Shkodër in 1972. (Source, Wikipedia)
So, rather than stay back in her own country and fight the atheist government, rather than stay back in Albania like thousands of ordinary Albanian Christian faithful who could not run away, and rather than live the life of a soldier-for-Jesus confronting a godless state, Teresa chose to run away from her country, atheist Albania, and arrived in safe, Hindu India to do Christian charity in Kolkata. The writer is tempted to do a Freud on the lady; Teresa of Albania probably tossed a coin to decide between Kerala and West Bengal, to silence the voice of guilt – two states in India governed by godless communists. India never needed Teresa of Albania as much as Albania needed Teresa; ditto with American and British Christian aid.
President Obama’s visit to India is not going as was perhaps intended by the Americans when they first began to plan the visit. Struggling to keep their heads above the turbulent waters of national debt, President Obama has been saddled with the unpleasant task of asking India for help to create jobs in America. Dealing with a crippling 10% unemployment rate, the US President has to put money in the hands of his people to persuade them to spend. The move to ask India to help with creating more jobs in the US comes immediately after the Federal Reserve announced that it would pump $600bn by the end of June 2011 into the American economy, in a second round of “quantitative easing” amounting to $75bn a month.
To understand just how grim the situation is for the US, American economy grew only at the rate of a poor 2% in spite of a similar quantitative easing measure of $ 1.75tn which the Federal Reserve had pumped into the economy earlier during this economic downturn. The Indian Prime Minister, himself an economist, must understand that now is the time to drive a hard bargain with President Obama, not only on the economic front but on several fronts.
The website American Debt.Org, http://www.usdebtclock.org/ gives frightening details of the life of an ordinary American today. Sourcing all information to US Treasury, US Census, Federal Reserve and Congressional Budget Office, this remarkable website gives the following numbers of the state of the American economy.
US Total Interest $3266, 717, 126, 439 and ticking
– Interest per citizen – $4487
– US Total Debt – $54, 695 923, 602, 630 and ticking
– Interest on debt – $199, 449, 150, 927 and ticking
– Total debt per citizen – $176, 101
– Total debt per family – $672, 264
– Debt per taxpayer – $123, 940
– Savings per family – $9484
– Estimated US population – 310, 593, 044
– US Income-tax Payers – 110, 176, 385
– Official unemployed – 14, 674, 229
– Actual unemployed – 26, 984, 451
– Total personal debt – $16, 275, 860, 347, 432 and ticking
– Mortgage debt – $13, 868, 151, 502, 734 and ticking
– Consumer debt – $2407, 707, 963, 614 and ticking
– Credit card debt – $812, 211, 985, 211
– Personal debt per citizen – $52, 402
– Bankruptcies 2010 – 1, 576, 844
– Foreclosures 2010 – 1, 035, 748
– US Families – 81, 362, 382
– Food Stamp Recipients – 44, 052, 299