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India Today And Christian Response

India Today And Christian Response

Ground Realities

In most countries and constitutions, education has been foregrounded as one of the fundamental rights. With the passage of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, elementary education for children of 6-14 years became a fundamental right in our nation. Wada Na Todo Abhiyan, a national campaign focused on governance accountability, points towards the following dismal performance in education sector. Nearly 2,00,000 government schools across India have been closed down after the enactment of RTE Act in the name of consolidation of schools for different reasons, prominently due to low enrolment. Instead of trying to enrol and retain children in government schools, the unplanned closure of schools is leading to massive dropout of children, especially girls from the tribal areas. This is also leading to mushrooming of low-cost and unregulated private schools which provide extremely poor quality education. It is also a clear violation of children's right to education.  

According to the Social Progress Imperative, a US-based non-profit group, India ranked 102nd position among 132 countries on the list of Social Progress Index 2014. Three essential elements are kept in mind while assessing the progress. First, the basic human needs dimension which comprises of parameters of nutrition and basic medical care, water and sanitation, shelter and personal safety. Second element is the foundations of wellbeing which include parameters of access to basic knowledge, information and communications, health and wellness and ecosystem sustainability. Third, the opportunity dimension which includes personal rights, freedom and choice, tolerance and inclusion and access to education.

Oxfam India in its document “Fight Inequality Beat Poverty” highlights the fact that 73 percent of the wealth generated last year went to the richest 1 percent, while 67 crore Indians who comprise the poorest half of the population saw 1 percent increase in their wealth. It is further reported that in the last 12 months the wealth of this elite group increased by Rs. 20,913 billion. This amount is equivalent to the total budget of Central Government in 2017-18.

According to Oxfam India CEO Nisha Agrawal, "the billionaire boom is not a sign of a thriving economy but a symptom of a failing economic system”. “Those working hard, growing food for the country, building infrastructure, working in factories are struggling to fund their child's education, buy medicines for family members and manage two meals a day. The growing divide undermines democracy and promotes corruption and cronyism," she said.

Internal and external migrations have been an age old practice all over the globe. Migrants who are forced to opt for distress migration eke out a living in the most difficult circumstances. Some of them also suffer fatal consequences. The Business Standard on November 5 reported that at least 24,570 Indian workers died in the 6 Gulf countries between 2012 and mid-2018. The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative in early November released its analysis of the deaths of Indian workers in Gulf countries. According to this report, this number could increase if the complete figures for Kuwait and UAE are made available publicly. This amounts to more than 10 deaths per day during this period.

The report further highlights that Indians working in the Gulf countries accounted for more than half of the remittance that India received from all over the world between 2012 and 2017. While India received a total of 29 lakh crore rupees in remittances from the world over, remittances from the Gulf countries accounted for 15 lakh crore rupees. Thus, some of the migrants pay with their life so as to earn something for their families.

The unprecedented floods that devastated Kerala this year, has already moved out of the radar of the rulers of this country. The resilience and initiative of the people of Kerala have been remarkable. The government of Kerala too responded in a progressive manner. While parties are busy in election mode, the United Nations has reminded all the stake holders to look at the rehabilitation of those affected by the floods in Kerala.

The UN Resident Coordinator in India presented the Post Disaster Needs Assessment report to Kerala Chief Minister on October 28. This is the first time the UN has prepared such a report in India. According to the report, Kerala will need about Rs. 31,000 crore for recovery and reconstruction. The maximum funds are required for reconstruction of roads and transportation 10,046 crore, housing 5,443 crore, agriculture, fisheries and livestock 4,498 crore, employment and livelihood 3,896 crore, other infrastructure 2,446 crore, irrigation 1,483 crore and water and sanitation 1,331 crore.

On November 8, 2016 Prime Minister announced that Rs. 500 and 1,000 notes were no longer valid, and the government would introduce new notes. Anyone holding old notes had to deposit them in banks. The result: people found it tremendously hard without cash. Bank managers were stuck for long hours dealing with angry customers and angrier employees. Since it was the marriage season, the families that had marriage ceremonies faced huge hardships even to the extent of some alliances breaking up.

The Prime Minister claimed that through the note ban, in one stroke, the government destroyed the world of terrorism, drug mafia, human trafficking and underworld. But in reality, this move of the government has done mighty little to achieve black money elimination but has brought hardships to the poor. Throughout the exercise the government kept shifting the goalposts, and kept changing stated objectives of the exercise.

Addressing an audience at the University of California on November 9 this year, Raghuram Rajan former Governor of RBI said for four years from 2012 to 2016, India was growing at a faster pace before it was hit by two major headwinds. These are: Demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax (GST), which held back India's economic growth. He further asserted that growth has fallen off interestingly at a time when growth in the global economy has been peaking up. He said that this reflects the fact that these have really been hard blows. While India's growth is picking up again, there is the issue of oil prices, the economist noted referring to the huge reliance of India on import of oil for its energy needs.

In all these the Dalits, the Tribals and the minorities pay heavy price. Whoever may be at the helm of affairs but these marginalized communities are further marginalized. Marginalization for them means denial of fundamental rights, opportunities, income and socio-political solidarity which means denial of membership in the society and citizenship in the country. While every regime has been promising to alleviate the marginality of these communities, in reality they have pushed them further into margins and made them totally powerless.

The BJP in its 2014 election manifesto promised, “Social justice must be further complemented with economic justice and political empowerment. Instead of pursuing identity politics and tokenisms, we will focus on empowering the deprived sections of society. Steps will be taken to create an enabling ecosystem of equal opportunity for education, health and livelihood. We will accord highest priority to ensuring their security, especially the prevention of atrocities against SCs & STs”.

T he Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989 was enacted to promote and protect the rights and dignities of these communities. In the last 3 decades, this act was not implemented properly. This notwithstanding, the present government amended it in 2015. The stated objective of this amendment was to ensure the protection of Dalits and Adivasis from various forms of atrocities and violence. After the amendment more cases are witnessed. The 2016 National Crime Records Bureau data showed a significant increase in the crimes reported against Dalits from 38,670 cases in 2015 to 40,801 cases in 2016.

Instead of ensuring proper and timely implementation of the provisions of the act, the government diluted this. As stated in the report of Wada Na Todo Abhiyan 2018, there were the following lacuna in the implementation of this act: low conviction rate, high acquittal rate, shoddy investigation, incorrect and biased recording of victims’ and witnesses’ statements during investigation, filing of improper charge sheet, undue delay in filing charge sheets, inappropriate support mechanisms to the victims and witnesses by the investigating officers and public prosecutors. Due to these factors, the Dalits failed to get redressal to their grievances. Now with the amendment, even the little hope of getting justice is denied to them.

The BJP claimed before elections, “BJP believes that half-hearted, incremental and piecemeal attempts for the development of tribals have not helped. So the BJP commits to make a comprehensive, all-encompassing long term strategy to empower tribals and ensure their welfare. The goal would be to ensure tribal development while preserving the unique identities of this community. The Governments of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have successfully implemented the tribal welfare and development schemes and their model would be used for tribal welfare and development.”

The experience of the Adivasis for past four years have been overall disappointing, disempowering and disillusioning. The promise of social justice and harmony has only remained rhetorical and tokenistic just like that of all previous political parties in power. In the four years, the number of Adivasi under-trials in jail in left wing extremism areas has increased while Adivasi women have been sexually assaulted and tortured with impunity. Various Constitutional provisions and safeguards are undermined while rule of law is seriously compromised to the extent that Supreme Court orders are openly disregarded. The much vaunted attempt of undoing the historical injustice to Adivasis in the form of Forest Rights Act 2006 by recognising the individual and community rights has failed due to relentless land grabbing by the mining companies. Various provisions of Panchayat Extension in Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act continue to be systematically diluted pushing the Adivasi communities to the margins.

Like the Dalits and the Tribals, the minorities are the worst sufferers under the present regime. BJP’s election manifesto stated, “BJP believes that in India's Unity in Diversity lies India's biggest strength. We cherish the depth and vibrancy that the diversity in Indian society adds to the nation. BJP is thus committed to the preservation of the rich culture and heritage of India's minority communities; alongside their social and economic empowerment. It is unfortunate that even after several decades of independence, a large section of the minority, and especially Muslim community continues to be stymied in poverty. Modern India must be a nation of equal opportunity. BJP is committed to ensure that all communities are equal partners in India's progress, as we believe India cannot progress if any segment of Indians is left behind”.

But the lynching of the Muslims tells another story. According to a report, in the last 18 months there have been 24 lynchings connected with the issue of cow slaughter or suspected smuggling of cattle. Asgar Qadri wrote, “The more pressing question is: how do ordinary members of a nation come to acquire the cognitive frames that motivate them to lynch? For the lynching to become routine in the way they have in India, a considerable number of a nation's members must come to harbour a willingness to be potential killers. It is only then that a regime can tap into this willingness and provide the institutional environment in which free will, translates into practice. The scenes of crowds flogging Muslim men have marked a new low for India's democracy”.

Taking cognizance of the situation, the Supreme Court has suggested that a law be enacted to deal with lynching. It termed it as “ horrendous acts of mobocracy", and asked Parliament to pass law establishing lynching as a separate offence with punishment. It said the growing numbness of the ordinary Indian to the frequent incidents of lynching happening right before his eyes in a society based on rule of law is shocking. It gave 11 point prescription to do away with societal, political and cultural malice. One of the prescriptions was “ Central and the state governments should broadcast on radio and television and other media platforms including the official websites that lynching and mob violence shall invite serious consequence”. But neither the central government nor the state governments have done anything to address this horrendous crime.

Our Response

This emerging India provides opportunity for the Church to understand the socio-economic, political, governance, cultural, religious and spiritual realms of present India. The Church of India, as a progressive and potent force, can utilize the progressive trends and play a major role in terms of foregrounding the constitutional values of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. It also has the duty to work in alliance with common masses, conscious citizens and concerned intellectuals and activists to work towards reinforcing and re-establishing a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, and republic India.

1. Let us be Observant and Perceptive:

We need to be much more observant now than in the past, since we do not know many things, understand lots of things and since things are changing in a rapid phase. Emerging India is very different from what we are used to or what we hope for. Based on our observation, we need to perceive things as they are and not as projected by some. It is from this reality, we need to respond to the emerging India. It is at this level we will be able to join individuals, communities and organizations who are responding to the emerging India.

2. Let us Document, Analyse and Communicate Facts:

We need to be careful when using and basing ourselves on social media. Our conversations and communications have to be inputted with responsibility. It is harmful to keep circulating unconfirmed news and views received from sources which has made this as their time pass. If we cannot stop rumours we should at least not spread them. We need to gather facts and figures, document them, analyse them and then express our views. This is a committed intellectual exercise and not motivated by irresponsible communicators.

3. Let us Keep our House in Order:

Obtain, update and maintain personal, institutional and official documents. We need to adhere to strict accounting and auditing processes. We also need to pay the fees, taxes etc. on time and in the right manner. Respond to the letters and orders of the government. Update oneself with the newest rules and comply with them. Let us get our collaborators and co-workers too to be aware of these rules and also comply with them. Let us pay just wages and follow the labour laws. If there is any litigation that needs to be followed up, then attend to it than leaving to the lawyer or throwing the responsibility on the others.

4. Let us be Involved in the Lives and Struggles of Common Indians

Common Indians cutting across caste, ethnicity, religion, region and language are pluralistic and multi-cultural. They also live not a monistic but multi-way of life. Having nothing to lose they also explore options to lead a decent and dignified life. They are basically harmonious and peace loving. It is with this massive section of the country that we need to be associated and aligned with.

5. Let us Align with Civil Society Organisations

Let us be part of, support, join likeminded individuals, institutions and communities who are struggling to live their lives and build a better nation. If we cannot join let us at least align with them if not for protecting and preserving the country but to protect and preserve ourselves. There are eco clubs, peace clubs, youth clubs, cultural clubs, sports clubs, teachers unions, ex-army men’s associations, women’s associations, workers forums, where our presence is expedient if not mandatory. Where these are not present, it is time to constitute them.

6. Let us Fast and Pray

As Indian Christian we are at this juncture facing a huge crisis. In response to this we are asked to do everything that is possible from our side. But we are also asked to pray unceasingly to God to give us the wisdom and courage to face these predicaments confidently. Inter-faith prayers would eliminate suspicion and doubts and would promote solidarity to oppose divisive forces in all cultures, religions and political affiliations. Further it would lead us all towards a dialogue of collective action in life for the protection and promotion of life.

Way Forward

India today is faced with the largest possible diversity and also an effort towards regimented singularity and uniformity. Politicising religion and using religion for political gains has been on the rise in India in the last two decades. It is a small segment of the population from various religions in India who have been engaged in this destructive politics. But the masses continue to live in communion and harmony with citizens of all background. Due to the disenchantment with the official religions and its preaching and performance, the ordinary people of all religions have taken to popular religiosity. An attempt is made to utilise this faith of the masses to promote numbers and differences. It is time that citizens of all religions understand this sinister plan, counter this and explore options. 

  (Published on 26th November 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 48)