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A controversial religion has gripped India with its business principles and self-help routine.
As one of the pioneers of Scientology in India, Whitta has led training programs in primary schools and for the Indian police, the Border Security Force and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) around the country. "Part of when we train security forces or the CRPF or police, is that there's an agreement that they will then train their juniors," she said. "If there's any disaster at any particular time— natural or man-made — they go and help."
Indeed, after the 2004 Asian tsunami that killed almost 230,000, Tibetan monks trained by Scientologists in a technology called "Assist" arrived in Nagapattinam in South India to help with rescue and relief efforts. The technology claims to be able to talk people out of focusing on a particular event and helps heal themselves by eradicating pain waves and allowing energy waves to follow.
The knowledge of what Scientology is or any controversy surrounding it is all but unheard of in India. In fact, relief operations by Scientologists here are indistinguishable from those of UNICEF or the Red Cross, and local village hospitals often send patients to their care.
This week, a hundred of Pune's finest — in fire services, police, civil defense, etc. — attended sessions on disaster management jointly led by Whitta's team and the collector's office. "Our disaster management is not the same as the firemen or the police," said Whitta. "We aren't training them how to be a fireman, that's not our skill. We train them in how to handle people so that they can be more effective in disaster situations."
But despite Whitta's confidence in the techniques and a growing audience for the workshops, Indians are beginning to ask questions.
As the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in November 2008 unfolded, several online groups claimed that Scientologists were on the scene, trying to take advantage of victims. According to CounterKnowledge.com, the British branch of Association for Better Living and Education, which is a Scientology-related non-profit in LA, sent out emails asking members for money to print copies of "The Way to Happiness" and send them to Mumbai. The website asserts that the Volunteer Ministers VMs) "were sent solely to keep people away from trained mental health professionals and to use their own form of mental therapy — dianetics— to console the bereaved."
After the Mumbai attacks, anti-Scientology campaigners asked the Cardinal Archbishop of Mumbai to stop the distribution of these booklets. According to the Telegraph, Damian DeWitt, the pseudonym of one of the anti-Scientology supporters, wrote in a letter: "Many of us Catholic and Christian critics of Scientology's human rights abuses are deeply concerned about Scientology's infiltration of India and its co-opting government, municipal, civic, and religious organizations ... . The VMs routinely deceive the Indian public that they are a secular organization … . In fact, all of its practices are inseparable from the rest of Scientology."
Scientologists in India dismiss these controversies and allegations. "We're just giving people the technology," said Whitta. "Whether they use it or not is their choice."