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HomeScienceThe homophobic, anti-abortion preacher making the rounds of South India's science colleges

The homophobic, anti-abortion preacher making the rounds of South India’s science colleges

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Abhishek Clifford, who heads the NGO Rescue 108, is believed to be of British origin and claims to be known by many names.

Bengaluru: Aspiring doctors at the Bangalore Medical College and Research Institute (BMCRI), an autonomous institute under the Karnataka government, could not have seen it coming.

Brought to the auditorium for a talk on preventive and social medicine by the CEO of a Mysuru NGO, first-year students instead found themselves being lectured about India’s “baby genocide”, the “sin” of premarital sex, the “evil” of homosexuality, and the “myth” of evolution.

Delivering the sermon was Abhishek Clifford, a self-styled anti-trafficking activist who has emerged as a controversial fixture on stages across south India’s science and engineering colleges despite his patently unscientific claims.

“He told us that there’s no difference in terminating a foetus and (killing) a baby,” said a BMCRI student, “As a female aspiring doctor, I find it offensive that he was asked to say such things in a medical college.”

“While there are ethical questions,” she added, “India is not one of those places where abortion is an electoral issue, and people like these could affect the rights of women.”

“I attended Clifford’s lecture, thinking it was an educative lecture about medicine abroad,” said another, “Instead I was met by a barrage of pseudoscientific nonsense about intelligent design, how homosexuality is a disease, and twisted arguments disparaging evolution.”

The student was one among several who staged a walkout during the lecture last month.

Clifford, who heads the NGO Rescue 108, is believed to be of British origin and claims to be known by many names. His BMCRI lecture came under the lens following a Reddit post that detailed its content. The post was subsequently taken down, but not before it had kicked up a storm.

Earlier this year, delivering a lecture at St. Joseph’s college, an autonomous institute and among the city’s oldest, Clifford had weighed in on child abuse and homosexuality “caused by porn”. As he spoke, graphic images of stillborn children were projected on the stage, a bid to discourage abortion.

Unwanted teenage pregnancies arising from rape, Clifford said, should be carried to term. Replying to an outraged student, Clifford said pro-choice activists — those who support a woman’s right to continue or terminate her pregnancy — had killed a lot more people than the Holocaust had, a participant recalled.

Against ‘the ruining of romance’

According to its website, Clifford’s NGO Rescue 108 primarily seeks to work with trafficked young girls, and “stop the baby genocide” and “the ruining of romance” in India.

Other areas of interest include ‘science’ refuting evolution and proving intelligent design (the idea that the world was created by God), with the website peddling anti-abortion videos aimed at selling propaganda as science.

In one of them, Clifford tips his hat to pop culture with a comparison between God and Optimus Prime, a ‘transformer’ from the robot superhero franchise.

The website encourages students to lobby their institutions’ principals to invite Clifford for ‘moral awareness’ programmes. Among other things, students are asked to tell their principals that college youth “are being spoilt through mobile phones”.

Clifford, whom the website describes as a former statistics and ethics lecturer in London, is no stranger to controversy, having issued a flurry of suspect surveys to back his claims. One such ‘study’ on 470 students in Mangaluru sought to link watching porn with gang rapes.

In 2014, he claimed to have reached out to more than 5,000 students over a two-month tour of Goan schools with the message that watching porn caused homosexuality, contraceptives were ineffective, people should marry as virgins for a happy marriage, and that climate change was “God’s way of telling us to stop abortions”.

At a talk at Chennai’s SRM Institute of Science and Technology, a private university, he showed graphic images of girls trafficked for sex and claimed oral sex put women at greater risk of breast cancer. Physical relationships, he added, were twice as deadly as smoking.

Talking to ThePrint, Clifford said his conclusions stemmed from a survey of college-going students who were asked indirectly about the kind of pornographic content their friends watched. The sample size, he claimed, was 5,800 students from 272 colleges in four southern states: 3,890 male and 1,910 female students between the ages of 16 and 21.

The results, he said, had him worried about young men who watched porn. “You know that what you see in advertisements influences your choices of what you purchase. The same thing happens with rape,” he added.

He said students who tired of ‘vanilla porn’ may switch to other variations, such as homosexual content, which “converts them to homosexuality”.

His interview with The Print was peppered generously with over-the-top violent descriptions of sexually harmful acts, as are his lectures, which he claims to have delivered at institutes in Hyderabad, Chennai, Mangaluru, Belgaum, Gadag, Bidar, Coimbatore, and Bengaluru, as also Goa.

Clifford then said that the “superior Indian tradition” of abstinence over sexual education was a “solution to the increasing number of abortions”.

The questions from the survey, as emailed by Clifford to ThePrint, sought respondents’ opinions in terms of percentages, for example, “Of the guys you know (friends, relatives, former and current classmates) what % watch teen porn?” Or “What % of websites have lesbian/gay videos?”

This data purportedly yielded conclusions like “36 per cent of the college students watch violent porn, rape and gang rape. These watch an average of 19 rapes per week”. Dubious calculations based on the NGO’s “research” are then offered to explain the results.

“Extrapolating the data on the basis of the 2011 census”, Clifford claimed that 13,000,000 rape videos were viewed by students every day, adding, “Each year, a million more students get addicted to watching rape in South India.”

The survey goes on to make shockingly flawed deductions about teenage rape, brothels, abortions, and more.

The report also offers recommendations for “cyber ethics” — in fact, Clifford claimed his lectures on the subject had convinced “over 90 per cent of boys” to install porn blockers.

‘I challenge science lecturers’

In the same vein, he also claimed to have “enlightened” the faculty and students at science colleges about the “fallacy” that was the theory of evolution, and made them believe in intelligent design.

“I go to science colleges and challenge the science lecturers to debate on intelligent design,” said Clifford. Citing one such purported debate at PC Jabin Science College in Hubli, he said a chemistry professor and the students conceded after two hours that they no longer believed in evolution.

“After I’ve explained this to students in science, engineering, medical colleges, they come tell me that they don’t believe they came from monkeys anymore,” he said. “So far they had only learned of evolution as fact from ‘Western atheistic promoters’. No one had told them the other side. Now they see it makes sense,” he added.

Clifford, whose real name is Paul Clifford Jacob, is associated with the Eagles Mission Ministry, the largest ‘church planter’ in India. His website claims as much, but Clifford seemed hesitant to confirm this over the phone. He also hesitated to confirm his full name, stating that he was known by many names. Members of dioceses ThePrint spoke to in Bengaluru and Chennai did not seem to know him.

The ‘statistics expert’, however, claimed his argument against evolution wasn’t religious. Talking about intelligent design, he said, “It is not creationism, which is Christian. Intelligent design only uses scientific evidence, such as DNA, to explain the origin of life. It allows for any Creator from any religion.”

‘We only give a platform’

Clifford’s work and NGO is funded not only by the universities and colleges he speaks at, but also by victims of abuse and porn addiction. He hopes the NGO will one day have on board corporate backers looking to curb sex trafficking as part of their CSR brief, as well as foreign investors.

Information about the homophobic and bigoted agenda Clifford propagates is easily available online, with the LGBT support group Orinam also highlighting itin a post that is among the first Google results for his name.

So, the question arises: Why do colleges bring him in to address students in an environment that lends legitimacy to his speech?

Asked about the BMCRI address, M. Dayanand, the deputy director of the Directorate of Medical Education, said it was only the “concern of the college that invites him to speak”. “The directorate is not involved in activities like this. We are not in a position to give or deny permission for guest activities organised by student bodies or other committees in individual colleges,” he added.

A senior faculty member at BMCRI said Clifford had been to the campus before as well, under a previous dean, and added that he had himself approached the college both times.

The member said they were themselves taken by surprise by Clifford’s recent lecture, which they had expected to be a talk on ethics centred on the doctor-patient relationships.

“We only give a platform,” explained another faculty member, “When the staff tell me they’re inviting someone to speak, we arrange for it to get done. We don’t know or inspect the contents of the talk beforehand.”

A faculty member from St. Joseph’s said Clifford had approached the institute’s campus ministry, which is tasked with organising events for Catholic students, earlier this year. The member added, however, that he didn’t expect Clifford to be allowed to speak on campus again, given the backlash he triggered.

Social activist Vidya Reddy, who works with the NGO Tulir – Centre for the Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse, said Clifford’s talks advocating abstinence over sex education was harmful.

“Putting forth ideas about abstinence over sexuality education is completely against any child or young person’s best interest and well-being,” she added. “It is actually a violation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on the right to information for kids.” The CRC states that all adolescents should have access to contraception methods, abortion care, and child-friendly sexual health services.

“We live in a sexualised, connected world today,” she said, “Advocating abstinence is rather futile. Adults need to help adolescents navigate this sexualised world and give them the wherewithal to be able to do so effectively and safely.”

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  1. This article is bigoted and uses sarcasm instead of facts to prove a point. I have worked very closely with Abhishek Clifford and I should tell anyone reading this article that:

    1. Abhishek has a real heart for humanity. He left everything in the UK to come down to a foreign land, learn its language fluently, and save people from sex trafficking. He has shut down many illegal porn “internet cafes” along with the local authorities and has rescued many victims of sex trafficking. These cafes were even trading child porn that was sold to them by people molesting children and making money out of it.

    2. Abhishek is like a little child. He is a gem of a person and this article makes him look like a deceiver, which he is not. Take the time to speak to him in person and he will give you statistical evidence of his claims on porn. Everything he does is out of an overflowing heart of genuine love.

    3. I’ve been a victim of both sexual abuse and pornography and have worked with many such victims. The trend shows a clear progression of pornographic viewers from soft porn to hardcore porn to violent porn like rapes and then eventually to child porn, and if it continues to molestations as well. Porn and sexual offences are related. Porn isn’t a boon as most people not educated on the matter would like to presume.

    Overall this article uses sarcasm to prove a point and is very offensive to me because this man is a gem of a person who is out there spending his life and energy saving lives. He could have spent his life at ease back home. This grieves me!

    Ps – He is not a Chutiya as some comments describe him. Have some respect for a man like him even if you don’t agree with him. You guys who speak this way of him are just sick!

  2. His views are nothing new. It is orthodoxy. It is not a sin. But the population explosion permitted the use of oral contraceptives. We need such arguments in the court which permitted the use of oral contraceptives. I have tried to solve the problem of promiscuity & rapes. That suggests knowledge of contraception & early marriage. The aradox is, the rich & poor go for early marriage. Finance restricts middle class. Nuclear families, girls need to be independent & strong has caused a tremendous change in life style. It is the intelligent design itself which is causing the new phenomenon! No man wants a change! We have to settle in between the extreme moves, orthodox & liberal. That is changing fast. One should be lucky to lead a peaceful, ethical, moral life of high values & principles. The intelligent principle is now a days promoting the love & marriage of friends at higher/lower coeducation level and it is accepted.

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