The title of this write up may appear to be awkward to some people and even outrageous to some others. Holiness is often understood as being detached from worldly affairs and politics is the worst among them. If holiness is understood as being in the world and transforming the world by one’s presence and actions then politics need not be something that is to be eschewed.
People have different perceptions about holiness. As a result sometimes it becomes extremely difficult to distinguish between holy men and crooks. Some of the godmen who had millions of followers are languishing in the jails of India because of the crimes they committed under the garb of holiness.
What is Holiness ?
Pandit Chaturvedi, the main character of a 2007 Hindi movie Dharam, directed by Bhavana Talwar, makes a pertinent statement at the end of the movie, “Religion is not simply rituals; it is duty and responsibility; religion is unity and harmony; abandoning discrimination is religion; humanity is religion”. The favourite bhajan of Mahatma Gandhi was a song written by the 15th century poet, Narsinh Mehta. The bhajan describes the qualities of a holy person. The first four lines are as follows:
Vaishnav jan to tene kahiye je
Peed paraayi jaane re
Par-dukhkhe upkaar kare toye
Man abhimaan na aane re (Vaishnava)
is a Vaishnav (Devotee of Vishnu)
Knows the pain of others
Does good to others
without letting pride enter his mind”.
The Sermon on the Mount, particularly the beatitudes, articulates the holiness expected from a follower of Jesus Christ. It describes the attitudes, qualities and actions expected of a holy person. The Sermon on the Mount does not prescribe any ritual or prayer to become holy. Mahatma Gandhi had great admiration for the Sermon on the Mount. He said of it, “Christ’s Sermon on the Mount fills me with bliss even today. Its sweet verses have even today the power to quench my agony of soul.”
According to the Gospels Jesus was a spiritual person. He was busy with his mission in the day time and often he went to pray in the mountains or lonely places in the night. He went to the temple to teach because people were available in the temple. He condemned the Scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy and long prayers. Holiness for Jesus was fulfilling the will of his Father and doing the mission entrusted to him. The Gospels present him as a prophet with compassion, courage and creativity. He did not follow most of the rituals and prayers of the Jews and he violated many laws and rituals that did not promote life. As a prophet criticism and questioning religious practices and the hierarchy were part and parcel of his mission and holiness. For Jesus keeping quiet on the face of injustice, oppression and exploitation was not holiness, but escapism and cowardice. (Mt. 23: 1-)
What is Politics?
Politics is not limited to party politics and elections. Politics is the art or science of government and governance. Governance is a process that consists of making and amending laws, implementing laws, formulation and implementation of policies, maintenance of law and order for securing life and property of the citizens and ensuring rights and justice to the citizens when rights are violated and justice is denied. In this process many players are involved: the citizens and the three wings of the government in a democracy – the legislature (elected people’s representatives), the executive (Ministers and the whole bureaucracy) and the Judiciary (judges and judicial staff). In a democracy if the people have to enjoy their rights and the government is to be made accountable, there should be checks and balances among the three wings of the government.
The Constitution of India has provided the checks and balances among the three wings of the Government. But any time distortion can happen; hence the citizens are to be alert and there should be vigilant media for making the government accountable to the people. All major decisions affecting the life of the people are taken by the government and they are political decisions.
In a democracy the government has to make policies and decisions in accordance with the Constitution irrespective of the party in power and its ideology. The core values or the goals as mentioned in the preamble of Indian Constitution are sovereign, socialist and secular democracy, justice, equality, liberty and fraternity. The government in power irrespective of the political ideology has to strive to realize these goals or values. The core values enshrined in the constitution of India are very much similar to the values of the Kingdom of God, the vision of Jesus. Questioning and criticizing the government in view of the realization of the vision and goals of the constitution is the right and duty of every citizen. For the disciples of Jesus it is part of their holiness.
The current political scenario of India is really frightening. The main concern of the BJP government at the centre has been implementing Hindutva ideology that is diametrically opposed to secular democracy and the vision of Indian constitution. The party in power, BJP, openly defies the verdict of the Supreme Court and instigates people to revolt against the SC by resorting to violence, as it is happening in the case of Sabarimala. Attacks on minorities, lynching of innocent Muslims by the cow vigilantes promoted by the Sangh Parivar, saffronization of education and culture, rising inequalities due to the flawed economic policies of the government, increasing atrocities on dalits, tribals, and women , muzzling of freedom of expression and speech are indeed worrisome signs of fascism. Anyone who criticises the government or the Sangh Parivar is branded as anti-national or ‘Urban Naxalite’ or enemy of the nation by the government and the members of the Sangh Parivar.
What Political Actions Holiness Demands Today?
What India experiences today politically is an unholy situation and responding to this unholy situation is an essential dimension of the holiness of the disciples of Jesus. The response could be expressed in different forms as given below.
• Defending secular democracy and the Indian constitution through its study and dissemination of its core values through various ministries, especially through education.
• Bridging the gulf between the rich and the poor by assisting the poor to access their rights and to ensure quality education to their children. Only quality education can change the status quo. Hence the quality of the government schools where majority of the poor study needs substantial improvement.
• Defending the rights of minorities, dalits, tribals and women through awareness creation and provision of legal aid.
• Saying a firm “no” to all corrupt practices of bribing officers and leaders to get permissions and joining protests against corruption.
• Becoming agents of peace and harmony by promoting pluralism, particularly in religion, culture and language. Accepting, appreciating and celebrating differences, is the true meaning of unity in diversity or pluralism.
• Reading newspapers everyday and news magazines and books and reflecting on various issues affecting the country in the light of the teaching of Jesus and responding to the issues.
• Learning about the organizations and ideologies that are opposed to an inclusive, egalitarian and liberal society and opposing the views of those organizations and ideologies who advocate division and exclusion.
• Transforming Religious communities and Church managed institutions into all inclusive communities in which all workers and staff join for meals, inter-religious prayer, planning and evaluation. Let transparency, accountability and participation be the traits of Church institutions.
• Taking part in protests against all kinds of discriminations, exclusion, exploitation and human rights violations both within the Church and in the society.
Holiness is being in communion with God, other human beings and nature and transforming oneself and others in view of making one’s unique contribution to building the Kingdom of God. Holiness does not consist in performing rituals, prayers, penance, pilgrimages etc. They may help or may not help a person to become holy. Often these practices make a person complacent, self righteous, arrogant and prejudiced towards the followers of other faiths. Contemplation, an appointment with oneself and God, can surely help a person to grow in holiness. A holy person or spiritual person is a prophet with the qualities of courage, compassion and creativity. Prophets have to intervene in the socio-political process to defend the weak, the marginalized and the excluded and to empower them for accessing their human rights and human dignity. They have to be critical of the systems and policies that increase the gap between the haves and have-nots. They have to condemn discriminations, oppression and exploitation both by the state and the non-state actors. When a disciple of Jesus exercises his/her prophetic function and his/her responsibility as a follower of Jesus, his/her actions become both political and holy; they become two sides of the same coin.
(Published on 19th November 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 47)