A paper presented at the webinar “Political Charity and the Tai Ji Men Case,” co-organized by CESNUR and Human Rights Without Frontiers on September 5, 2022, United Nations International Day of Charity.
The International Day of Charity is observed annually on the 5th of September. It was declared by the United Nations General Assembly in 2012. This date was chosen in order to commemorate the death anniversary of Mother Teresa, who had always been engaged all her life in charitable work.
The primary purpose of the International Day of Charity is to raise awareness and provide a common platform for charity related activities all over the world.
Mother Teresa (1910–1997) was a Roman Catholic nun who devoted her life to serving the poor and destitute around the world.
She was born in 1910 in Skopje, now the capital of the Republic of North Macedonia in Central Europe but then a part of the Ottoman Empire. Little is known about her early life, but at a young age, she felt a calling to be a nun and serve through helping the poor. At the age of 18, she was given permission to join a group of nuns in Ireland. After a few months of training, she was given permission to travel to India.
On her arrival in India, she began by working as a teacher; however, the widespread poverty of Calcutta made a deep impression on her, and this led to her starting a new order called “The Missionaries of Charity”. The primary objective of this mission was to look after people in great need, who nobody else was prepared to take care of. Mother Teresa felt that serving others was a fundamental principle of the teachings of Jesus Christ.
In her book “No Greater Love”, she wrote:
“It is not how much we do,
but how much love we put in the doing.
It is not how much we give,
but how much love we put in the giving.”
“Love cannot remain by itself – it has no meaning. Love has to be put into action, and that action is service .”
In 1979, Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for “work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress, which also constitute a threat to peace” and she became a symbol of charitable and selfless work. After her death, Pope John Paul II began her process of beatification, which took place in October 2003, and in 2016 she was formally canonized as Saint Teresa.
Spreading a message of peace and love does not mean that you will be appreciated and supported by everybody. Love that breaks down the walls between human beings always disturbs the established order and threatens vested interests. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, two champions of love and non-violence, were assassinated. Mother Teresa did not die a violent death but she was regularly attacked by Hindu extremists who accused her of converting Hindu citizens under the guise of charitable work, medical assistance and school education.
Charity has always been a core activity of the Catholic Church and Mother Teresa has never sought to instrumentalize it to convert Hindus. Despite these internal ethical standards, a rising anti-Catholic and anti-Mother Teresa wave has been gaining momentum since the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist party BJP in 2014, and his subsequent reelection in 2019.
In the last few years, an increasing number of states in India have introduced laws that restrict conversion. The result of this is that the boundaries of faith have increasingly become the interest of the state.
At the end of December of last year, the Indian government blocked Mother Teresa’s charity from receiving funds from abroad, just days after it faced a police investigation for allegedly “hurting religious sentiments of Hindus” amid rising intolerance towards Christians in general in India.
The ban came less than two weeks after Hindu hardliners accused the charity of carrying out forced conversions of Hindus to Christianity in a home for girls it was running in the state of Gujarat.
A police report said “The girls inside the Home for Girls are being lured to adopt Christianity by making them wear the cross around their neck and also placing the Bible on the table of the storeroom used by the girls, in order to compel them to read the Bible … It is an attempted crime to force religious conversion upon the girls.”
Christian pastors have been attacked and church services violently disrupted in recent months as anti-Christian hysteria has grown. Over last Christmas there was an unprecedented spate of attacks against the Christian community, including the vandalising of a statue of Jesus Christ.
Charity can be a dangerous activity when it is carried out by a religious minority of foreign origin in an exacerbated nationalistic context.
Charity can disturb the established order and lead to all sorts of attacks. Trying to kill a movement financially is one of the means used by public powers, politicians and various people having vested interests as we have just seen with the ban of foreign funding for Mother Teresa’s charity. The Catholic Church is known to be a majority religion in many countries but it is a minority religion in India and Prime Minister Modi and Hindu extremists do not like it.
Another financial weapon against unwelcome religious or spiritual groups is the abusive taxation.
In the Indian state of Kerala, Catholic religious congregations are still challenging a state court’s order which years ago withdrew tax exemption that religious priests and nuns had been enjoying since 1944 for their commitment to the education of Indian children of all faiths. The Catholic educational staff has indeed taken a vow of poverty and does not take any salary for teaching in government-sponsored educational institutions. But the court in that Indian state has refused to accept their argument of volunteering that is beneficial to the Indian youth in all its diversity. The case there is now examined by the Supreme Court but other states are planning to take similar taxation measures.
In Taiwan, Tai Ji Men has developed a wide range of charity activities. Tens of thousands of dizi have been volunteering for several decades to make the world better and more humane with their message of love and peace transformed into concrete charity actions. But charity is not welcome either by everybody in Taiwan. For 25 years, Prosecutor Hou Kuan-jen has been trying to destroy the Tai Ji Men movement because of personal financial interests and because he is career-driven.
In 2002, the Control Yuan, the nation’s top watchdog body, investigated the management of the Tai Ji Men case by Prosecutor Hou, accused him of abuse of authority and referred his case to the Justice Ministry for sanctions.
According to the Control Yuan’s report, Hou was guilty of
- Initiating an investigation based on fabricated charges
- Violating the principle of confidentiality during the investigation
- Interrogating the defendants without prior notice to their attorneys as required by law
- Treating the defendants improperly and rudely when interrogating them
- Freezing the defendants’ assets without any evidence of illegal gains
- Overstepping his authority by issuing letters on his own, requesting the dissolution of Tai Ji Men
- Calling for the establishment of an association of alleged victims of Tai Ji Men, blindly siding with them and and failing to verify the credibility of their claims, hereby damaging his own image of an impartial law enforcement officer
These were very serious charges but for 25 years, this coup attempt against a charitable spiritual movement training generations of young people spending their time and their money to become good Taiwanese citizens and make Taiwanese society more humane has remained unpunished. The fight for justice needs to go on unabated in the Tai Ji Men case.