By Joanna Sugden
The announcement that Hollywood star and prominent Scientologist Tom Cruise is breaking up with his actress wife Katie Holmes has brought the controversial religion back under the media microscope
But Yatin Bajaj, the head of communications at the Scientology center in New Delhi, unsurprisingly prefers to talk about matters closer to home, and how Scientology is attracting people in India.
“What Scientology can offer is a technique with which a person can dig himself out of daily problems he has, including job insecurity, relationship problems, problems with kids, not getting success at work or achieving his goals,” he said in an interview at his office in Jangpura, a residential colony in New Delhi.
He says between six and seven thousand people have been helped by courses in communication, relationships, study techniques and marriage guidance since the center was set up in 2002 by Horst Tubbesing, who left London for India when he saw a need in the country, according to Mr. Bajaj.
The bookshop at the Scientology center in Delhi carries titles such as The Science of Survival and The Problems of Work.
Courses in communication, relationships and study techniques at the center cost between 3,000 rupees ($55) and 5,000 rupees ($90), which is considered to be a donation, according Mr. Bajaj.
The money is used to pay rent on their large white building in suburban Delhi, the third premises the group have moved to in Delhi. It also covers the cost of promoting Scientology, publishing its texts and paying members of staff. Courses are self-taught but there are supervisors who clarify and explain any difficulties, he added.
Astha Singh, a 23-year-old marketing graduate, took a course in Study Technology at the center when she was struggling at college. “They give you tools to help you handle life,” she says while sipping a cappuccino in the center’s café.
Ms. Singh says she has remained a Hindu but also considers herself to be a Scientologist. “Hinduism is gods and festivals but Scientology gives you the tools to handle life.”
“India is a country where in the past certain religions have tried to force conversions and that is what the people fear,” Mr. Bajaj says, pointing out a passage in The Way to Happiness by writer L. Ron Hubbard that says Scientologists can maintain their original religion.
The official Scientology website claims that Mr. Hubbard, who founded the religion in 1954, spent time in India during his youth learning about Eastern religions. “Yet for all the wonders he witnessed, he could not help but conclude the legendary wisdom of the East did nothing to ease suffering and poverty in these overpopulated and underdeveloped lands,” it says.
Mr. Bajaj said he didn’t know how much time Mr. Hubbard, who died in 1986, spent in India.
Asked to defend Scientology against critics, Mr. Bajaj said, “There’s no use in saying anything to people who say these things, we just have to continue our work.”
Mahatma Gandhi, he adds, faced similar opposition for the kind of work he was doing to promote freedom.