Is there a Gloriavale Commune in Southern Tamil Nadu?

Gloriavale Christian Community (GCC) is a Christian commune in New Zealand which calls itself as a Church.

Gloriavale Christian Community (GCC) is a Christian commune in New Zealand which calls itself as a Church. Its members are supposed to live a life based on Biblical principles. Nearly 80 families live in a farm-like setting in Western New Zealand. Their website (also archive) mentions ‘that 35 babies are born a year, keeping the population young’.

GCC is headed by Neville Cooper. Of particular interest is the lifestyle it practices and the nature of education the children who grow up in its commune receive (websitearchive). More details about it, its motto, practices can be found at its website . A rare video peek into the commune can be viewed here.

GCC has been in the news lately, that is, in May 2015. And, not for good reasons. Some of these news items can be found herehere and here, and make for pretty startling revelations. In short, there has been significant focus from the New Zealand mainstream media on this Cult for alleged abuses inside the commune. Some families are reported to be leaving the community, feeling disenchanted by its cloistered and regimented nature, coupled with social practices too far removed from those of a modern society.

A few lines from such stories caught our attention:

Seven Sharp (the TV programme) has confirmed that Gloriavale is starting a second branch in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Gloriavale leader, Neville Cooper, known in the community as Hopeful Christian,and other senior Gloriavale leaders have travelled to Tamil Nadu and have acquired a piece of land says Seven Sharp reporter Jehan Casinader.’ [Emphasis Added]

Or, more interestingly, this one:

They brought some Indian parents and children to their site on the West Coast (Editor’s note: to the Gloriavale commune in New Zealand). Those people then returned to India. And they returned with some young women from the Gloriavale community on the West Coast and they’ve started a new branch over there,’ Casinader reported.[Emphasis added]

So, this group from New Zealand brings Indian (likely Tamil) parents and children to NZ. They ‘return’ back to India (Tamil Nadu, going by the news reports) with New Zealand women from the commune.Which raises intriguing questions: what is the connection between New Zealand and Tamil Nadu? More importantly, where in Tamil Nadu? Did GCC actually purchase land in TN? If yes, how?

Such questions emanated from the watchful tweets by @vij_sri—for example this tweet which formed the basis for further research by the IndiaFacts team.

To begin with, like most Evangelical operations in India, Gloriavale Christian Community utilizes the FCRA route to send money to NGOs.

In particular, GCC has sent the following amounts to Dohnavur Fellowship (Reg. No. 076030011), Dohnavur, Thirunelveli district, Tamil Nadu, since 2007 (amounts in lakhs of INR):

Year Amount (in lakhs ₹)
2007 6.5
2008 9.35
2009 11.7
2010 14.6
2011 5.5
2012 12.6
2013 17.5
Total 77.5

Now, Dohnavur Fellowship is an Evangelical Organization founded by an Irish Missionary, Amy Carmichael in 1901. She lived there for close to fifty years. Her work is supposed to have included ‘rescuing’ Devadasis from Hindu temples. In 1905, she wrote a classic book entitled ‘Things as They Are: Mission Work in Southern India’ which can be accessed here. It provides not only a good summary on the Missionary modus operandi at the turn of that century, but also offers a peek into the lifestyle of the Hindu society back then.

Interestingly, GCC had sent these amounts to Dohnavur Fellowship for ‘orphan welfare’ and ‘towards agriculture’.

In 2011-12, GCC sent Rs.15 lakh to Smile Help Charitable Trust (Reg. No. 10260339), located ironically, in Temple Street, Vijayawada-520008. It is pertinent to note that GCC had not sent any money to any other NGO in Andhra Pradesh. It is also pertinent to note the following extract from GCC (websitearchive)

Contact with Indian Christians in the state of Andrah Pradesh led us to support and extend a Christian school near Hanuman Junction, and later to buy land in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

We are working there now with a congregation of dedicated Indian Christians to build a community according to the same Biblical principlesthat we have in New Zealand. As we began in New Zealand, so it is now in India.’

NoteHanuman Junction is a famous road junction near Vijayawada.

The IndiaFacts team tried to trace the reason why GCC sent this small sum to SHCT, Vijayawada.

In 2012-13, a new FCRA-NGO was founded by the name of Christian Church Community (CCC), located at 1/184/2, Pattangadu, Thiruviruthanpulli PO, Cheranmaahadevivia, Tirunelveli District 627414 (Reg. No. 076030358). Upon inception, it received Rs.1.45 and Rs.1.40 Crores from GCC, New Zealand during 2012-13 and 2013-14 respectively.

More importantly, CCC did not receive any remittance from any other foreign or Indian (FCRA-registered) entity. This goes to show that CCC is an exclusive franchisee of GCC. Who owns CCC is not known in the public domain. Whether any New Zealand citizen is part of the Executive Committee of CCC is not known. FCRA does not, in routine circumstances, permit foreign citizens to be part of a FCRA-NGO’s Governing Board (see Q. 43 of this FAQ).

Interestingly, CCC’s FC6 returns mention that these remittances (amounting to a total of Rs. 2.95 Crore) were for the purposes of ‘Maintenance of Christian farm school community’. Furthermore, GCC (websitearchive) mentions one of its addresses as: ‘Christian Church Community. Thiruviruthanpulli Post Office, Cheranmahadevi (via), Tirunelveli District, Tamil Nadu 627 414, INDIA’.

Our research also led us to discover a few factoids:

(1) Thiruviruthanpulli is about 20 km from Dohnavur

(2) At current prices for farmland in that region, a sum of Rs. 2 crore could fetch around 40-50 acres.

(3) By all accounts, the Cheranmahadevi region is one of the most beautiful parts of Tamil Nadu.

Summary

To recap what we have seen so far:

  • New Zealand mainstream media stories on Gloriavale Commune being under scrutiny and people from there visiting Tamil Nadu.
  • Gloriavale mentioning on its website about a commune being established in Tamil Nadu with assistance from its contacts in Andhra Pradesh.
  • Gloriavale’s remittances to Dohnavur Fellowship and to the newly established Christian Church Community. In particular, the large sums have been remitted to CCC.

Observations

Typically, when a FCRA-NGO purchases land, it states the fact explicitly in its FC6 return. IndiaFacts had reported on the quantum of money spent by FCRA-NGOs for land purchase in our earlier series exposing evangelical funding via the FCRA route. However, CCC does not mention purchase of any land in its returns. This is worth pondering over.

Needless to say, we do not have evidence from Indian news sources to verify whether the Gloriavale Christian Community, New Zealand has established a commune near Cheranmahadevi, Thirunelveli district, although a very recent news article in New Zealand’s Sunday Star Times (3 May, 2015) mentions so.

Readers, who can provide evidence and/or can verify whether a GCC commune has indeed been established at Cheranmahadevi, can leave the information in the comments section of this report.

Additional References:

  1. A very good introduction to Gloriavale community can be foundhere.
  2. A recent interview with Gloriavale’s founder ishere.
  3. This 2006 news itemhere describes the eviction of an Indian student, Mr. Venkata Siva Rayavarapu from the Gloriavale Christian Commune, New Zealand. He had apparently joined it to gain experience in farming.
  4. A commentary on the recent events at Gloriavale can be foundhere.

 

IndiaFacts Staff articles, reports and guest pieces
  • N.Paramasivam

    Tamil Nadu CM is a stern lady. If this message is brought to her knowledge, action will be taken. Besides, wehave IB and RAW besides our Home Ministry. They should probe and with co-ordination with T.N. police can freeze the land deal and also FCRA. Better to act fast.

  • pradeep

    Does anyone can trace this..would share this with my tamil friends..

    • sighbaboo

      Are you asking a question? Can you please be clearer? Thanks

      • pradeep

        I wanted to know current story of GCC in TN.. Want to spread this news to my friends to be careful and get all the details to expose it..

        • sighbaboo

          You have just read the current story of GCC in TN. This is the only story from Indian side. It gives addresses etc. no?

          • pradeep

            But im not from TN..

  • sighbaboo

    This article in 2013 from New Zealand MSM http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10894104 mentions that the Gloriavale community do not vaccinate their children. FYI.

  • K.Harapriya

    In the US, when the Hindu community wants to build a temple to serve the needs of the immigrant Hindus, they need to get the permission from the local community. But in secular India, no one needs any permission to buy land and set up religious institutions for the express purpose of cultural genocide–namely converting local populations and destroying the socio-cultural and religious practices of the locals. How sad. This is what “religious freedom” is. It is time to seek constitutional amendment to protect the native religions of India.

    • Krispy K

      Doesn’t look like that will happen anytime soon.

  • Dr. MS

    Interesting article. This group is under serious police watch in Australia and New Zealand. This maybe the reason they are trying to flee to places like Tamil Nadu where there is no “monitoring of these groups”. They are a danger to women and children. Tamil Nadu govt. must put them on a “Watch list”. Conning our poor and innocent Indian Tamil or Sri Lankan Tamil women is not acceptable. Modi’s govt must work with Sri Lankan govt. on this issue immediately.

    Here is what Wikipedia says:

    Known by some outsiders as the “Cooperites”, the group rejects this name and members refer to themselves only as Christians. Members of the community live a fundamentalist Christian life in accordance with their interpretation of the teachings of the New Testament. The community attempts to uphold the example of the first Christian church in Jerusalem (Acts 2:41-47) for its principles of sharing and holding all things in common. The group teaches that the only true way to salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ and obedience to the commands of God.

    The community earns its income from several ventures including dairying and the manufacture of gardening products made from sphagnum moss Those who leave the community are shunned and denied contact with family members still remaining at Gloriavale.

    One Christian cult-watching group refers to Gloriavale as a “cult, both theologically and sociologically.” It says that “Theologically this group is a cult of Christianity, as its theology — as well as its practices based on that theology — places it well outside the boundaries of the Christian faith..

    They have been branded as un-Christian in Australia and New Zealand.