New Delhi, June 15 — Find out what’s keeping you away from your desired goals: four hours cost Rs 980, reads a poster in a sprawling house in upmarket Hauz Khas Enclave. And that includes a book. One of the brightly coloured varieties decked on shelves in the reception, one presumes while waiting to meet Horst Tubbesing, executive director of Delhi’s centre for scientology.
Ever since its inception here in March 2002, scientology has slowly been spreading its wings, with 1,700 active members and over 12,000 people who have attended lectures, bought books or visited the centre. Scientology in Delhi, however, is broached far less as a religion than for its multitude of self-help courses. Says one practitioner (name withheld), “I’m not a scientologist. I don’t even know what that means. But its tools work for me.”
With the centre offering over 50 courses ranging from ‘How To Resolve Conflicts’ to ‘Create Better Relationships’, a growing culture of self-help is leading Delhiites to its shores.
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“We are not trying to convert people,” Tubbesing says.
Whereas in other countries its branches are known as Churches of Scientology, in India the words church and mission are avoided. Meghna Budhia exemplifies this disconnection of scientology from religion in India. “I am a Hindu, but I believe in the application of scientology,” she says.
Instead, proving most popular in Delhi is ‘study technology’, based on Hubbard’s premise that the only reason a person gives up studying is when he or she has gone past a word not understood.
Those who have taken the course claim it works. Like many, Jatin Kapadia (name changed on request) from Doon School was introduced to scientology through hearing about its impact on, arguably its most famous ambassador: US actor Tom Cruise. And in a letter to the centre he writes how the course helped him overcome dyslexia. Now in Class XII, Kapadia reports a dramatic improvement in his grades.
Results, however, come at a price: the course in communications, for instance, costs Rs 3,500 for 35 hours, and Hubbard’s lecture packs can set you back anywhere from Rs 6,400 to Rs 12,600.
For both Kapadia and Budhia, however, money is no barrier. “I want to learn everything scientology teaches, compared to the gains the cost is nothing,” Budhia says.
At the centre’s cafe are businessmen, students looking for jobs, and even housewives. So, what is it that draws people to scientology? While Tubbesing says the course is for everyone, Kapadia muses: “Those troubled, looking for answers beyond the everyday.”
But for its critics, especially vocal in the US and Britain, scientology poses a number of problems. Most famously denounced in a report by Time magazine in 1991, and again in a BBC investigation last year, scientology is no stranger to controversy.
But protests by activists such as Anonymous, campaigning to close down scientology, are absent in India. “We have not faced any hostility in Delhi,” Tubbesing confirms.
For Nikhil Kumar, 23, however, scientology is unsettling. Curiosity led him to the centre in 2005, where after filling in the introductory ‘personality test’ he was informed which courses he required to reach his potential. What irked Kumar was a “business-like” set-up: “Money and religion can’t go hand in hand. You shouldn’t need to pay to learn its thoughts.”
Bombarded with e-mails, leaflets and phone calls trying to persuade him to join courses, some offering 40 per cent discounts, Kumar says, he was “most put off by them selling a product”.