Saturday, January 16, 2016


-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*

January 17th is designated as the ‘World Day of Migrants and Refugees’.  The theme this year is ‘Migrants and refugees challenge us. The response of the Gospel of Mercy’.

Writing on the theme Pope Francis states, “In our time, migration is growing worldwide. Refugees and people fleeing from their homes challenge individuals and communities, and their traditional ways of life; at times they upset the cultural and social horizons which they encounter. Increasingly, the victims of violence and poverty, leaving their homelands, are exploited by human traffickers during their journey towards the dream of a better future. If they survive the abuses and hardships of the journey, they then have to face latent suspicions and fear. In the end, they frequently encounter a lack of clear and practical policies regulating the acceptance of migrants and providing for short or long term programmes of integration respectful of the rights and duties of all. Today, more than in the past, the Gospel of mercy troubles our consciences, prevents us from taking the suffering of others for granted, and points out way of responding which, grounded in the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, find practical expression in works of spiritual and corporal mercy.”

In one stroke, we are challenged by the painful reality of the refugees of today and at the same time we are made to realise that we have but no choice but to do all we can to address one of the most serious problems of our world today. 

When Angela Merkel the Chancellor of Germany threw open the doors of Germany (and also of Europe) to the refugees who were coming en masse to Germany, there was a natural wave of resentment from several of her country men and women and also from other parts of Europe. She did not relent; though in recent days there are reports that she is slowly giving in “to public pressure”. On the other hand, we have a man like US Presidential hopeful Donald Trump who over and over again states that Muslim refugees should not be allowed into United States. The irony is that his ratings go up in the United States which is sworn to principles of democracy, equality and dignity of all men and women. Fortunately, Pope Francis has become a beacon of hope not only for refugees but for all men and women; some months ago he strongly expressed his desire that every Catholic Parish of Europe adopt at least one refugee family.

The refugee crisis today cannot be seen in isolation of powerful lobbies and other vested interests.  The arms and ammunition industry plays a crucial role and so do mercenaries of every hue.  There is very little political will in the world today to address the endemic causes of the refugee crisis; Pope Francis reminds us that these root causes include discrimination, racism, extreme nationalism and xenophobia.

It is important therefore that on a day dedicated to migrants and refugees, we commit ourselves whole-heartedly to address their plight and do all we can to ensure that our world becomes more humane, more just and more merciful for all – particularly to the migrants and refugees!
16th January, 2016
* (Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.)
Address: ‘PRASHANT’, Hill Nagar, Near Saffron Hotel, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad - 380052
Phone: (079) 27455913, 66522333 Fax:  (079) 27489018                             

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

THE PULSE OF THE PEOPLE by Fr Cedric Prakash sj (in Smart COMPANION , January2013)


Pulses are staple food for the poor. They have
a right to get it at affordable price.
In 2013, the United Nations declared the year 2016 as ‘The International Year of Pulses’ (IYP 2016). When it did so, several eyebrows were raised. ‘Why is an international year dedicated to pulses when there are many other serious problems plaguing the world today?’ The answer is obvious. The unpretentious pulse has a lot to do with the poor. It is indeed a mandatory part of their daily diet and without at least a small intake a fairly large section of those who live below the poverty line will find it difficult even to survive.
In India, in the past year, pulses have been a bone of contention. In a lead article entitled ‘While dhal prices have doubled: here’s the math’ (TOI, October 17th 2015) the author writes, “Where does a 12% decline translate as 100% increase? In the bizarre world of India’s food math. Production of pulses slipped down by 12% in 2014-15 compared to the previous year. As a result, price of this essential item has zoomed up more than 100% across the country”. For the ordinary person, this sky-rocketing rise in prices, which the Government has been unable to control, has meant a severe blow. Some years ago, the rise in the cost of onions became a political weapon and even led to the fall of certain State Governments. The ordinary pulse is slowly becoming ‘the pulse of the people’ and has the potential of becoming yet another political weapon in India.
The question one needs to ask is “What are pulses and why are they important?” In an introduction to the IYP 2016, the United Nations says, “Pulses are annual leguminous crops yielding between one and 12 grains or seeds of variable size, shape and colour within a pod, used for both food and feed. Pulse crops such as lentils, beans, peas and chickpeas are a critical part of the general food basket. Pulses are a vital source of plant-based proteins and amino acids for people around the globe and should be eaten as part of a healthy diet to address obesity, as well as to prevent and help manage chronic diseases such as diabetes, coronary conditions and cancer; they are also an important source of plant-based protein for animals. In addition, pulses are leguminous plants that have nitrogen-fixing properties which can contribute to increasing soil fertility and have a positive impact on the environment.”
Pulses therefore:
• are nutrient dense, a good source of non-animal protein, and very high in fibre than any other vegetable
• use half the non-renewable energy inputs of other crops
• are a low carbon footprint food and improve the sustainability of cropping system
One also needs to visit the objectives of the International Year of Pulses which include:
• increase in pulse production by small land holders / women farmers to improve food security in high risk areas
• increase global awareness / interest of consumers, governments, food industry and NGOs in pulses and their health, nutrition and environmentally sustainable benefits
• develop an internationally coordinated health and nutrition research strategy through engagement with governments, researchers, NGOs, associations, etc
• improve the regulatory framework in which trade occurs to enhance food security and reduce price volatility
• improve production performance (yield, disease control, variety availability, etc) so that pulses can contribute to sustainable development of cropping systems around the world
There are several factors which are responsible for the rise of pulses in India today; these include:
• an increase in the demand for protein-enriched food
• the fact that several farmers are opting to cultivate and produce cash crops rather than pulses
• the Government has no effective price support mechanism for pulses
• there is an improper management and distribution of these essential commodities
• rampant corruption caused by hoarding by traders to increase their profits
• there is gross supply chain mismanagement
• and finally, the Government does not seem to have the political will to check the rising prices of pulses and ensure that at least the poor and the marginalised of the country have a basic nutrient in their daily diet
Given the growing global concern for the environment, pulses are generally regarded as environment-friendly food because they require minimal processing and no refrigeration which limits natural resource consumption in the later stages of the food supply chain. Pulses can be stored normally for several months and sometimes even for years without spoiling or losing its nutritional value. This can reduce the likelihood of consumer food waste due to spoilage and make pulses a really good choice for households which suffer from food insecurity. Above all, even when cooking pulses consume far less water than meat.
Many of the world’s poor have little or no choice with regard to food. Millions in India have to subsist on rice and/or rotis (chapattis), make do with a little dhal ensure that they are able to survive. When pulses go beyond the reach of these poor, we are not merely taking away what is rightfully theirs but in more ways than one hampering their growth and even perhaps survival. Having felt the pulse of the people, we need to realise that what is happening in our world today like the scarcity of pulses in India, is something to be deeply concerned about.
In ‘Laudato Si’ Pope Francis reminds us, “For poor countries, the priorities must be to eliminate extreme poverty and to promote the social development of their people. At the same time, they need to acknowledge the scandalous level of consumption in some privileged sectors of their population and to combat corruption more effectively” (#172); but, are we interested?
In this International Year of Pulses, the least that many of us can do is to ensure that the poor of our country have at least a cup full of pulse as their daily bread!
Cedric Prakash SJ
Director, PRASHANT

Thursday, December 31, 2015


-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*

As another year - 2015 - slowly slips into history, it’s a good time to look forward to a brand new year: 2016 and the promise it holds. 

2016 is for Catholics the Jubilee Year of Mercy. There cannot be a better foundation for the year. Mercy is a quality of the brave and not of the faint-hearted.  Mercy is not about ignoring the wrong - but on doing all one can to address it and overcome it. Mercy is rooted in justice. Pope Francis reminds us that “it would not be out of place to recall the relationship between justice and mercy. These are not two contradictory realities, but two dimensions of a single reality that unfolds progressively until it culminates in the fullness of love.” (MV#20)

2016 is dedicated by the United Nations as ‘The International Year of Pulses’ (IYP 2016) which ‘aims to inspire young people to not only to think about the role of pulses in feeding the world, but to motivate them into playing a more active role in matters affecting their environment’. Few of us realise how important pulses are to the ordinary person.  It is a necessity in one’s daily diet. Yet, the costs of pulses have kept sky-rocketing in India! Will pulses be easily accessible to the poor of India in 2016? We hope it will!

2016 will be year when many will continue to yearn for lasting peace.  These past years have been marked with violence at every possible level: from the bombings on innocent civilians to the sinister domestic violence in the confines of one’s own home. Much of this lack of peace is due to divisiveness, prejudices, falsehood and indifference. In a message for the XLIX World Day of Peace on the theme ‘Overcome indifference and win peace’ Pope Francis writes, “yet some events of the year now ending inspire me, in looking ahead to the new year, to encourage everyone not to lose hope in our human ability to conquer evil and to combat resignation and indifference. They demonstrate our capacity to show solidarity and to rise above self-interest, apathy and indifference in the face of critical situations.” We certainly need to transcend indifference and pettiness!

2016 and will we see the return of refugees to a place which they once called ‘home’ that to which they belong? Will the promise that a brave woman like Angela Merkel gave to the world in opening the borders of her country continue with greater commitment? Will we see a whole-hearted response by Governments all over to provide refugee children with more than lip-service education? If 2015 saw the largest movement of refugees in the recent history of the world, 2016 must surely promise a safe and secure return for them.

2016 promises to be a year of promise! We hope and pray that it will be a year of fulfilment too: for mercy, justice, inclusion, security and peace! We need to look forward to this year with resolute determination and to leave no stone unturned to make of it a year worth living for others and for ourselves too!

31st December, 2015

* (Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.)

Address: ‘PRASHANT’, Hill Nagar, Near Saffron Hotel, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad - 380052

Phone: (079) 27455913, 66522333 Fax:  (079) 27489018                             

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Christmas Spirit: Looking Beyond the Glitter by Fr Cedric Prakash sj

The Christmas Spirit: Looking Beyond the Glitter

Ahmedabad airport is all decked up for Christmas. There are Santa Clauses and beautifully wrapped-up huge cartons symbolising “gifts” all over; the Christmas trees certainly add to the “cheer” of the season. One certainly cannot fault the ambience created for the festive season. The sponsor of the ‘do’ however, has made sure that its name is emblazoned everywhere: It is ‘ADANI’ all the way!

ADANI like any other human being has certainly the right to ‘celebrate’ Christmas; after all Jesus was born as Saviour for all men and women. The essence of Christmas however is the message that Jesus brings: of peace, love, joy, justice and hope. The corporate brand, ADANI has, however, not much to do with these fundamentals. Its manner of operation(s) has, in fact, been very contrary to the spirit and message of Christmas.

 An analytical article in the online daily ‘The Citizen’ (April 26, 2015) reveals ‘the incredible rise and rise of Gautam Adani’; no stone has been left unturned ( by the politically powerful) in order to ‘assist’ India’s largest corporate conglomerate for-profit; from furthering a coal mining project in Queensland (which could destroy the Great Barrier Reef), Australia with a large loan from a nationalised bank that was thereafter called in question[1] to setting up India’s biggest private port at Mundra in Gujarat in violation of all existing environmental norms! The fast growth model symbolised by the ADANI group in recent years has also meant the displacement of thousands of people all over and the destruction of the livelihood of many - particularly small fishermen in coastal Gujarat and Orissa. [2] Truly a far cry from the spirit and soul of Christmas.

In a similar vein, one cannot help but remember the thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) of the Gujarat Carnage of 2002. Victim-survivors together with tenacious human rights defenders like Teeta Setalvad continue relentlessly in their pursuit for justice.  A pan-India analysis will easily provide details and figures of the several million Indians, displaced from land and hearth, affected by this questionable acquisition of land, driven by a lust for power and greed, by vested interests.  Huge corporations, mining barons in nexus with very powerful and influential persons have displaced Adivasis and original inhabitants from the land which was rightfully theirs.  Those who take up the cause of those affected are branded as ‘Maoists’ or ‘Naxalites’ and even incarcerated.  We recently saw in Delhi how the bull dozers ruthlessly evicted slum-dwellers on a cold wintry night.

Together with the crass commercialisation of Christmas symbolised by eating, drinking and merry-making, the Government of India is doing its bit to obliterate ‘Christmas’ from the calendar by attempting to rename December 25 each year as ‘Good Governance Day’.

 A true and meaningful Christmas celebration is only centred on the birth of Jesus. One needs to understand a historical fact that at “that time, the emperor, Caesar Augustus, issued a decree for a census of the whole world to be taken.  This first census was taken while Quirinus was governor of Syria” (Lk 2:1-2).  Joseph of Nazareth, a rather senior person (a carpenter by profession) was married to a young woman named Mary. So when the census was announced, Joseph had to take Mary along with him and go to his hometown called Bethlehem, a distance of 111 kms; it was a difficult terrain which they would have traversed. Mary ‘was with child’ so after the ordeal of getting themselves registered, Joseph would have looked for some comfortable shelter for the night to enable the birth of their child; but the inns that night were just ‘too crowded’ or the inn-keepers were not willing to take in strangers from another part of the country; having no alternative, Joseph took Mary to the outskirts of the town where he found a stable and here, on Christmas night, Jesus was born.

The profiteering by the ADANI group these recent years has also meant the displacement of thousands of people all over and the destruction of the livelihood of many - particularly small fishermen in coastal Gujarat and Orissa. Truly a far cry from the spirit and soul of Christmas!

 In the wake of the international refugee crisis, Christmas this year becomes not only more symbolic but bears a greater meaning for all. In October 2015,  the Associated Press highlighted the current refugee crises with a powerful picture entitled ‘The Long walk to a new life’ showing a huge column of refugees moving through fields after crossing from Croatia, in Rigonce, Slovenia. It depicted the grim reality of thousands of people fleeing violence in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and in what is now accepted as the worst migration crisis since World War II.  Pope Francis recently gave an unequivocal call to every Catholic Parish in Europe to take in at least one refugee family; urging all Christians to stand up and help those people who are fleeing persecution and violence.

 After the birth of Jesus, the wise men from the East came to worship him; but on their return, they did not allow themselves to be trapped by the cunning of King Herod – they just avoid him! Then, “an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod.” (Mt 2:13-14)

 The distance from Bethlehem to the border of Egypt is about 120 kms. For a senior citizen and his young wife who has just given birth to a child, the journey must have been traumatic.  As they fled that night, what did they take as belongings? Were they able to carry sufficient amount of food, water and even clothing for their exile? Did baby Jesus perhaps carry that ‘little toy’ which those poor shepherds gifted him the night he was born? The thoughts and prayers of Mary and Joseph were surely with the other innocent children who were being massacred by Herod’s army.  In a fit of rage and jealousy, Herod had ordered the killing of every new-born male child hoping that Jesus would be exterminated too!

 In September this year, the lifeless body of a three-year old Syrian child Aylan Kurdi was found face down on a Turkish beach.  That tragic picture which tugged at the hearts of millions the world over was a shocking reminder of the dangers children and families everywhere face as they try to flee from violence and persecution. An experience which was also the lot of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

 The essence of Christmas is therefore the courage to reach out to the other: to open the doors of our hearts so that others can find a home of acceptance, justice, love and warmth; it is about the joy we experience when we try to lessen the hardships of internally displaced people who live on our pavements and on the margins of our society; it is the ability to transcend the comfort of our own selfishness and to seek Jesus in the poverty, grime and dust of today; it is the openness we need to realise that the refugee crisis in this world, the displacement of the poor and marginalised in our country – are all the creation of greedy and powerful vested interests who, like the Herods at the time of Jesus, do all they can to deny others of their rightful place in society.

 A Christmas wrapped up in the gloss and cosmetics of materiality – of Santa Clauses and empty decorated cartons to propagate a brand name - is meaningless, unless one realises and acts upon the essence of Christmas – which is the hope, justice, love, joy and peace that the child Jesus brings to every single human being. Only then will Christmas be a meaningful celebration.
[1]The quiet death of the SBI-Adani loan agreement; The lesson from the SBI-Adani incident: A bank should never make public a loan agreement—however small or big it may be—in the presence of a politician
[2]   Adani project in Mundra has violated environmental norms: MoEF committee report
‘State allotted forest land for Adani power project’;