India is undergoing a very crucial period in its post independent history. The Constitution of India with its guaranties of secularism, democracy, justice, equality, freedom and fraternity is in danger. The policies and actions of the BJP government under the control of its ideological parent, RSS, amply prove that the nation is being pushed towards a Hindu Rashtra where the minorities, particularly Muslims and Christians, will have to either become Hindus or to live in India as slaves without any rights and privileges, not even citizenship as mentioned in the book, We, Our Nationhood Defined by M S Golwalkar, the Guruji of RSS. Beef ban, restrictions on slaughter houses, attack on minority institutions, murder of innocent Muslims by cow vigilantes, taking away the land of tribals and handing over it to the corporate houses, rewriting of history and textbooks, injecting the venom of hatred against certain sections of the society into the vein of Indian society and right-wing groups taking law into their hands with impunity are the signs of the arrival of Hindu Rashtra. Many people have started asking the question, if BJP comes to power in 2019 will there be an election in 2024?
Can the Church in India remain a silent spectator of what is happening in the country? The Church has to respond not because its interests are affected, but because it has a mandate from Jesus to speak when justice is denied to women, the minorities, dalits, tribals and other disadvantaged sections of the society. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied”. (Mt. 5:6). The leaders of the Church have to speak as responsible citizens of India and on behalf of the Catholic community. As responsible citizens, all Indians have the right and duty to be critical of the government policies and actions because dissent is the soul of democracy. When the leaders speak it gives strength and encouragement to the members of the Church to speak. Keeping silence when one is ought to speak is a crime.
When the leaders of the Church show the courage to be critical of the policies and actions of the government there could be backlash in the form of threats and harassments like raids by the investigation agencies and government departments, filing false cases and cancellation of Foreign Contribution Registration etc. But the leadership of the Church should have the courage to face such consequences and that is the meaning of carrying the cross. Jesus had to carry the cross because he had the audacity to question the authorities and to be critical of their policies and decisions. The political situation in India is not only turbulent as qualified by Archbishop Anil Couto, but also frightening.
There was an avalanche of attack on Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi from the Hindutva forces, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party, when he wrote a letter to the parishes and religious communities of his diocese about the disturbing and worrying political situation in the country and requested the faithful to pray. Some of the reactions were crude and uncivilized. The maverick Subramanian Swamy asked the Prime Minister to scrap diplomatic relations with the Vatican. "The church receives an order from Italy whereas pseudo-seculars get their support from fatwa Pakistan. The day will soon come when the Hindus understand this and smash both to save India", said Union Minister, Giriraj Singh. The arrogance and hatred towards Muslims and Christians are reflected in the statement of a Minister who has taken oath in the name of the Indian Constitution.
On the other hand Mamta Banerjee, the topmost leader of Trinamool Congress and Sitaram Yechury, the General Secretary of Communist Party of India (Marxist), supported the Archbishop. “I think whatever he said was correct; it is a fact” said Mamta. There was wide spread support to the Archbishop from the civil society and persons belonging to other faiths. The Indian Express wrote an editorial on 25th May justifying the letter of Archbishop. “The Church has a right to speak, the political players can join the argument, or contest it, if they wish to”, wrote the editorial. Julio Ribeiro, a retired police commissioner and well-respected Christian public figure wrote an article in the Times of India under the title, “A prayer for Secularism”. In that column he voiced the concerns of many when he wrote: "I should be prepared for second class citizenship that denies top jobs like that of a judge in the Supreme Court, a governor of a state, the chief of defence staff or the intelligence bureau. What I will not accept is being accused falsely of being anti-national and pilloried on that count."
P Chidambaram in his essay, “Across the Aisle: Second-class citizens” in the Indian Express on June 3, justified the stand of the Archbishop and Ribeiro and minced no words in criticizing their detractors. “Under the government of Mr Narendra Modi and his cohorts in the states, unlike the government of Mr Vajpayee, intolerance is the new normal. Abuse is the new vocabulary. Hate is the new weapon. Instilling fear is the new strategy. Polarisation is the new electoral tactic”, he wrote.
Goa's Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrao showed the guts to say openly that the constitution is in danger and the human rights are trampled. "Today, our Constitution is in danger, (it is a) reason why most of the people live in insecurity," the Archbishop wrote in his pastoral letter that was released on June 3. He was forthright in his criticism of the alarming socio-political developments in the country. "In recent times, we see a new trend emerging in our country, which demands uniformity in what and how we ear, dress, live and even worship: a kind of mono-culturalism. Human rights are under attack and democracy appears to be in peril”, he wrote. Instead of asking the faithful to pray, he told them to be active in the political field, to strengthen democracy and to improve the functioning of the state administration.
At the same time most of the Catholic bishops remained silent instead of publically supporting Archbishop Anil Couto. These bishops lost an opportunity to exercise their prophetic role. They could have taken inspiration from Bishop Thomas K. Oommen, moderator (head) of the Church of South India (CSI), who wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister on April 6. “The NDA government that follows the Hindutva supremacist ideology seems to have discounted what is stated in the preamble of our Constitution that declares liberty, equality, and fraternity as its ideals,” he wrote. In his letter he referred to the increasing discrimination against Dalits, changing school text books by inserting pseudo-scientific and religious content, banning films and books and Hindutva’s obsession for the cow that has not only deprived the Dalits of a cheap source of protein, but also has severely affected the economy of lakhs of Dalits who are marginal farmers. He concluded his letter with a call to the people to “unite, irrespective of their religion, caste, class, creed, colour, language and gender, and shake the foundations of this new empire being built by the corporate-fascists, so that our nation remains a sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic republic”.
Bishop Thomas K. Oommen showed the courage as Jesus did when some Pharisees came and told Jesus to leave the place because Herod wanted to kill him, Jesus replied to them, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.” (Lk 13:32) What the leaders and members of the Church in India needs today is the courage of John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth to face the alarming political situation created by the BJP with its communalist and fascist ideology of Hindutva.
This is the time for all Churches and Christian denominations in India to come together and prepare a common strategy to defend democracy and secularism in India. The Christian community has to respond to the government in one voice. The Catholic Church being the biggest among all the Churches in India, the CBCI (Catholic Bishops Conference of India) has to take the initiative to bring all the Churches to a common platform and evolve a strategy. The strategy may include the following:
· The Christian youth are to be motivated and encouraged to enter active politics and Civil Service in order to give leadership. They are to be trained to become leaders with character and competence and committed to safeguarding the constitution and secular democracy.
· The values enshrined in the preamble of the Indian constitution are to be disseminated through all the ministries undertaken by the Churches.
· The focus of the education ministry should be developing enlightened leaders who are committed to build an inclusive India by promoting the values of the Indian Constitution, particularly pluralism and secular democracy. When millions of children and young people are brainwashed with the ideology of hatred and exclusion there is an urgent need for inculcating in the students the values of an inclusive, pluralistic and harmonious India as envisaged in the Constitution.
· The members of the Churches in India have to practice the spirituality of Jesus as described in the Sermon on the Mount and promote pluralism: accepting, appreciating and celebrating diversity in religion, culture, language etc.
(firstname.lastname@example.org)(Published on 11th June 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 24)