The Catholic Church in India observed ‘Justice Sunday” on 18 August : time once again to reflect on what more we Catholics, should be doing both individually and collectively - to serve the cause of justice in our country!
Several years ago, the Catholic Bishops Conference of India decided to observe the Sunday following the Independence Day of our country (15th August), as ‘Justice Sunday’. That was certainly a worthy decision. In the past, Justice Sunday (thanks to the then Justice and Peace Commission of the CBCI) focused on a theme for the day with a well-prepared liturgy and other content, which was sent out to all Dioceses in the country. Sadly, over the years this day has gradually slipped into the background and even into oblivion! Hardly anyone speaks about it, there is very little reference made to the Sunday and even if there is, in most cases, they are merely cosmetic exercises or tokenism!
This certainly does not speak well for the Church in India and particularly for its leadership – specially at a time when myriads of injustices burn the country. The mandate to take a stand for truth and against every injustice comes directly from Jesus. Pope Francis has been reminding the hierarchy and the faithful about this non-negotiable!
The ordinary citizen of India- the Dalits, the Adivasis, the minorities and the marginalised, women and children, the poor and the unemployed, the vulnerable and the excluded – have to face a whole range of injustices meted out to them.
On 5 August, the Government abrogated Article 370 and 35 A with regard to Kashmir. This was done in totally unconstitutional manner. There have been several protests against this dastardly deed. A team of well- known intellectual visited Kashmir on a fact-finding mission, in the days after the abrogation of Article 370 and released a hard-hitting report ‘Kashmir Caged’ on 14 August in New Delhi. In their conclusions they say, “ The whole of Kashmir is, at the moment, a prison, under military control. The decisions taken by the Modi Government on J&K are immoral, unconstitutional and illegal. The means being adopted by the Modi Government to hold Kashmiris captive and suppress potential protests are also immoral, unconstitutional, and illegal”. Without doubt the Government will soon move into other areas of the country which have a special status particularly in the North-East.
A few weeks earlier, the Government brought in ‘The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act - UAPA 2019 (Amendment Act)’ which clearly infringes on the fundamental rights of citizens. The amendments allow the Centre to designate individuals as terrorists and to seize their properties They are blatantly violative of the fundamental right to reputation and dignity which is a facet of the right to life and personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.
Harassments, intimidation and threats to human rights defenders, media personnel, intellectuals and other activists who have the courage to take a stand for truth and justice, continue with frightening regularity. Fr Stan Swamy and other front-line defenders from Jharkhand, those arrested after being falsely implicated in the Bhima Koregaon violence and several others. Freedom of speech and expression, the right to dissent is almost a thing of the past in an extremely autocratic atmosphere. Strangely enough, the prayer intention of Pope Francis for July 2019 was ‘ for those who administer justice work with integrity, and that the injustice present in the world may not have the last word’ .
The country has never been so corrupt. Law makers are bought to cross from one party to the other – as we have seen recently in Karnataka, Goa and Sikkim. The CBI and the Enforcement Directorate will not investigate into corrupt acts and major scams like the Rafael deal, and of those who toe the line of the current ruling dispensation.
Minorities are on the backfoot as never before! Lynchings continue as the ‘new normal’. Muslims and Christians are at receiving end of hate and violence. Every effort is being made to ensure majoritarianism and ultimately to impose the ‘hindutva’ agenda on the nation. So, the Prime Minister speaks about family planning, bringing in a national anti-conversion law, makes Parliament to abolish the ‘triple talaq’, wants to curb foreign funds to certain NGOs. There is a Madras High Court judge who in a judgement spews venom on the Christians. All part of a well- calculated strategy!
The economy is in the doldrums. It has never been so bad in the country. The poor have become poorer; recession is at an all-time high! Hundreds of thousands of workers from the auto and other industries have been laid off. Demonetisation has contributed greatly to the economic downfall of the country. Nobody seems to have the courage to make this reality the main issue of the country today!
The recent torrential rains, floods and landslides in several parts of Western India from Kerala to Gujarat - have rendered thousands homeless, destroyed our precious ecosystems in this area. Eight years ago, on 31 August 2011, ‘The Gadgil Commission’, an environmental research commission named after its chairman Madhav Gadgil, submitted its report to the Government of India. The Commission made far -reaching recommendations to the Government on the ecosystems of the Western Ghats. Neither the politicians nor the corporate sector have taken the report seriously.
The Church too seems have paid lip-service to what Pope Francis says in ‘Laudato Si’- “ca ring for ecosystems demands far-sightedness, since no one looking for quick and easy profit is truly interested in their preservation. But the cost of the damage caused by such selfish lack of concern is much greater than the economic benefits to be obtained. Where certain species are destroyed or seriously harmed, the values involved are incalculable. We can be silent witnesses to terrible injustices if we think that we can obtain significant benefits by making the rest of humanity, present and future, pay the extremely high costs of environmental deterioration (#36)”. Natural resources are plundered at will. The Narmada Dam is a symbol of all that is unjust in our country today – and most would not care if some thousands of Adivasis lose their lives when the gates of the dam are opened.
The draft Indian Forest (Amendment) Bill of 2019, circulated in March this year, will also become a reality soon. It aims at re-establishing state power over forests at the cost of rights granted to the forest dwelling tribals and other forest dwellers under the Forest Rights Act of 2006 (FRA). It is a clever ploy to derecognise the indigenous people of our country. The ‘National Register of Citizens’ in Assam and the way the Government treats refugees like the Rohingyas goes against the grain and spirit of a country which in essence is inclusive and diverse. The draft of the ‘New Education Policy’ is a clear attempt to nationalise education
In his social Encyclical Letter ‘Caritas In Veritate’(July 2009), Pope Benedict XVI , in the opening para states, “Charity in truth, to which Jesus Christ bore witness by his earthly life and especially by his death and resurrection, is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity. Love — caritas — is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace.”
Justice Sunday reminds the Church in India that it needs to recommit itself to this ‘caritas’ by playing a courageous and Prophetic role; by being visible and vocal against the many injustices and by standing with the poor, excluded & oppressed always! Only then can we truly call ourselves disciples of Jesus!
*( Fr Cedric Prakash SJ is a human rights and peace activist/writer. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org )
(Published on 26th August 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 35)