The Doulos ship travels around the world with thousands of books about diverse subjects on board. Now it is in Chennai, and some Hindus who went have dismissed it as a mere “bible fair”. Organisers and the Catholic community say the accusations are unfounded, motivated only by ideological fanaticism.
Chennai (AsiaNews) – The oldest passenger ship to sail across the oceans, the MV Doulos, has anchored in Chennai port, India, to host the world’s largest floating book fair. In the past 28 years, the Doulos – built in 1914 – has visited more than 500 ports of 99 nations, welcoming more than 17 million visitors on board. It arrived in Chennai on 8 April to a warm welcome from the authorities and local population. But for some Hindu extremists, this is just another Christian attempt to proselytise.
The Doulos, “slave” in Greek, was built in 1914, two years before the Titanic, and it is now run by a German non-profit organisation. Doulos staff are young Christians who have decided to dedicate a part of their lives to “serving the nations”. On board, the ship bookshop contains more than 6,000 books, mostly in English, although there are some in Tamil too.
The website organizer.com of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – an extremist Hindu paramilitary movement, held to be the armed wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – described the Chennai book fair as a “Bible fair”. It quoted visitors to the fair, among one who said: ““I went with my family on the Doulos: the majority of books were about the Christian faith and the only thing the crew members of the ship are keen on, is spreading Christianity.”
Emilie Natboom, Doulos coordinator, said the floating book fair had a large selection of books on offer: “Dictionaries, encyclopeadias, childrens’ books, cooking books; there is also a section dedicated to the Bible and family life inspired by Christian values… We are not here to convert anybody, we are motivated by love for our, we come to give, not to take.”
The human rights activist Cedric Prakash condemned the article: “The Organiser smacks of prejudice and arrogance and has no place in secular Indian society which guarantees every single citizen religious freedom. Even if the ship is selling only Christian books, it is within its rights to do so.”
Another well known activist, John Dayal, head of the All India Catholic Union, said: “This is a typical reaction of people belonging to a certain ideology. On the Doulos there are books of all kinds, including those inspired by Christianity, which are sold without problems even in bookshops in cities: this is no crime.”