‘Vaccine Is A Mark Of The Beast’: Evangelicals In Tamil Nadu Are Running A Misinformation Campaign To Derail The Fight Against Covid-19

Aravindan Neelakandan

Nov 19, 2020, 06:19 PM | Updated 06:19 PM IST

Sundar Selvaraj is leading an evangelical campaign against Covid-19 vaccine.
Sundar Selvaraj is leading an evangelical campaign against Covid-19 vaccine.
  • The government must show political will in stopping ludicrous evangelical campaigns against Covid-19 vaccine.
  • In all ideological and religious groups there are fringe elements. Usually, this fringe is extreme and lunatic and more often than not they are anti-science. One can see this in radical left, extreme right and in religious fundamentalist.

    One of the hallmarks of the lunatic fringe is peddling anti-immunisation conspiracy theories. In case of radical left, anti-vaccination paranoia is whipped up exploiting the distrust around big pharma. If it is right extremism then there is always the Jewish conspiracy. If it is Christian and Islamic fundamentalism, then it is Satanic and Jewish conspiracy.

    Let’s be frank, this is also seeping slowly into some fringe lunatic Hindutva individuals. Fortunately, mainstream Hindutva is not against vaccination. There are a few individuals, and usually their influence is the Western conspiracy theories.

    Christian fundamentalists with ‘final days’ obsession fuelled by Revelations prophecies, which is actually quite a good business in evangelical circles, add to their anti-vaccination campaign the ‘mark of the beast’ dimension.

    Mostly, except in the case of Islamists, this has always been the lunatic fringe — a lot of noise but has entertainment value. Reading them is like reading an Erich von Daniken book on a lazy afternoon when you have nothing else to do — just entertainment value as you know every word of what is written is bunkum.

    But now that is exactly what is changing in Tamil Nadu.

    The vaccine for Covid-19 is becoming a reality, and soon governments may take them to people effectively. The Indian government has its task cut out for it in taking the vaccine to every citizen in the most cost-effective way. Fortunately, the Union health minister has a track record of achieving mass immunisation programme as in the case of polio vaccination.

    Angel-TV is a 24-hour free-to-air Christian evangelical channel. It is run by a pastor , Sundar Selvaraj who calls himself a ‘sadhu’. He also wears saffron robes. The TV also features at times other high-voltage evangelists of Tamil Nadu like Mohan C Lazarus.

    Sundar Selvaraj is well known for his fantastic claim that he was taken to heaven where god himself viewed the video-tape of the channel and asked him to produce programmes matching or surpassing the Hollywood quality. The clipping in Tamil got much trolled on the social media. He also makes the usual false evangelical claims that Jesus was prophesised in Rig Veda and other Hindu scriptures.

    In a recent shocking video, the TV showed the ‘prophecy’ of Sundar Selvaraj about the vaccine for Covid-19 that would be given to the masses through government programmes and free camps. He said that the vaccine would also contain a chip. This he warns is a mark of the beast prophesised in the Bible.

    Angel TV shows a Hindu woman named Sumitra, who had clearly converted to Christianity along with her son listening to evangelist Sundar Selvaraj rant about vaccine being the mark of the beast.

    Then when the local government authorities hold a vaccination camp, standing in the queue, Sumitra remembers the words she heard in the TV evangelical rant. She also ‘hears’ the voice of ‘god’ asking her to tell people to reject the vaccine and go away from the place.

    As she declares this to the people that if they get the vaccination they would go to hell, an elderly man, wearing a saffron shawl, approaches her. He violently reacts to her rejection of the vaccine.

    One need not say how dangerous this video can be given the contagion like spread of Christian fundamentalism in parts of Tamil Nadu which in turn has been facilitated by Dravidian and other anti-Hindu political forces.

    India has been relatively free of hate-filled conspiracy theories, which are so prevalent in the West. These conspiracy theories mostly derive their content from Christian Bible.

    Just as how inferior goods are imported to third-world countries, and profit-oriented dangerous technologies get into countries such as India, as in the case of Bhopal gas tragedy, similarly the most fundamentalist and fringe Christianity gets imported into India. It is only through such cult-like conspiracy filled fundamentalism that conversions can happen with hysterical acceleration. The damage it can do to the psychology of the individual as well the social psychology of a nation is enormous.

    One has to remember that in Tamil Nadu, where this anti-vaccination campaign has started, the politicians have the tendency to crawl when asked to bend by the evangelists.

    For example a secular change in the history textbooks from BC and AD to BCE and CE , when made, was opposed by Christian fundamentalists as hurting their religious sentiments. The opposition cried that the change was an attack on secularism. The government went back and took special efforts to bring back BC and AD in the textbooks.

    Now imagine Tamil Nadu politicians eyeing the Christian vote-bank that the evangelist may have, declare that those from minority community who have religious objection to Covid-19 vaccine need not get vaccinated. This is a very plausible scenario in Tamil Nadu.

    The Indian government which has been fighting the pandemic with all its resources should have cancelled the telecasting licence of Angel TV for the anti-science anti-humanistic propaganda it is indulging in, inciting the people against vaccination at this critical juncture.

    As a civilisation and culture, Hindu India has long overcome the psychological abuses sectarian religions can cause. It has transformed sects into spiritual traditions and has stopped religious beliefs overstepping their boundaries.

    The case in point is the fact that Hindu renaissance never questioned evolution. It does not have the equivalent of inquisition and holy war. Today, we are seeing the imported religious sectarianism reversing this millennia-old legacy. This is affecting us in two ways: one converted Hindus and some Hindus influenced by these anti-science hysterical cults themselves creating a desi equivalent of this craziness in the forms of anti-evolution and anti-vaccination movements.

    This can have disastrous consequences for India.

    The sooner the government shows political and dharmic will, and stops such lunatic anti-science evangelical movements, the better it is for all Indians irrespective of religion and ideology.

    Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.

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