Mother Teresa’s Legacy is Under a Cloud
Image: Goutam Roy
But this reasoning that has evoked harsh reactions. “What stops them from starting a hospital? Surely, money is not a problem,” asks Aroup Chatterjee, a London-based critic of Missionaries of Charity. Chatterjee wrote a controversial book Mother Teresa – The Final Verdict in 2002 and collaborated with British writer and well known Mother Teresa-critic Christopher Hitchens to produce a documentary called Hell’s Angel for Channel 4.
Apart from the hospital, volunteers also cite the need for a well-planned rehabilitation for the sick who go back to the streets once they recover. “Some were sent back to the streets of their own will, but some against it,” says a European volunteer who has been coming to Nirmal Hriday since 2006. She cites the example of an “old lady” suffering from diabetes and incapable of walking. “We were told she was sent to another centre outside Kolkata but just few days later someone saw her on the street close to our centre… We were worried but could not do much.”
Sister Glenda clarifies that professional help is never avoided. “Look at Buddhni Bakshi,” she says pointing to a bald teenage girl sleeping on a stretcher. “She was abandoned by her parents because the wound in her head used to stink badly. When she came here, we did tests at a local hospital that showed a tumour in her head. We spent Rs. 4 lakh for the surgery and now she is fine,” adds Sister Glenda. The initiative to get professional help, say former volunteers, is a change.
Allergic to Change
Change is something that Mother House has tried to limit as much as possible, say people close to Mother House. The sisters continue to live a life that Mother Teresa followed. Their days begin at 4.30 a.m. and end at 10 p.m. They have three changes of cloth and wear one till it can’t be repaired anymore. Correspondence is still through fax and mobiles are absent. Sisters don’t get any pocket money, visit their homes once a decade and write letters once a month.
The sisters themselves reiterate that the lifestyle is important so that the poor can connect with them and approach them without hesitation. While the scholastic life brings admiration and respect, the resistance to change, especially in their services, also evokes criticism of being “out of sync with changing times.” Gonzalez questions why money can’t be used to improve the service at the homes run by the sisters. “Even the inmates soiled and infected clothes are washed by hands. Why can’t they buy a washing machine?” he asks.
It has become a sensitive issue since 2005 when a British television crew filmed children at Daya Dan, a care centre, tied to their beds. Questions arouse about the “primitive practices and lack of using modern methods of teaching.” The incident forced Mother House to release a statement saying, “We value constructive criticism and admit that there is always room for improvement.” Volunteers, who come in dozens from countries like Spain and Italy, have separately narrated incidents about sisters resorting to “shaking violently” or “beating” to discipline the challenged children.
Recent developments though indicate a fresh thinking. “Hygiene has been an issue but has improved as sisters opened to better standard through volunteers from Western countries,” says Father Robin Gomes who has been working with the Missionaries of Charity for more than 20 years. At Daya Dan, which also runs a dispensary for the poor twice a week, sisters in apron and gloves (a change from earlier days) go about like trained nurses.
A bigger change at the centre is in the way the 60 mentally and physically challenged children are taken care of. “We now have speech therapists and physiotherapists coming in regularly who look after the children,” says Sister Karina, a Mexican nun who has been heading Daya Dan for one year. The therapists also help train sisters and volunteers and a few of them are sent to training institutes for week-long classes.