I certainly think that this is a very opportune moment for us to have this Consultation here in
At the outset, I would obviously like to give you a bird's eye view of the
In order to be more focused, I would like to concentrate on the reality of the Christians in
The Church in
The then Prime Minister Vajpayee did visit the Dangs and he made the "right noises" when he was among the Christians; but he very cleverly defocused the whole issue when he called for a National Debate on conversion as he addressed the media just before he left the Dangs that day.
So the bogey is "Conversion". And this, over the years, has been a constant refrain from the right-wing elements. In 2002, as part of its manifesto, the BJP promised to bring in an Anti-Conversion Law when he came to power. It did so, and true to its promised, it brought out, in 26th March 2003, the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, which must be one of the most draconian laws in post independent India. On September 18th, they attempted some Amendments to this Law, which were even more farcical. This current Governor of Gujarat, rightly returned these Amendments. However, from March 2003, till date, the Government of Gujarat has not yet framed the byelaws which are mandatory to govern the implementation of any act.
The Act itself was directed towards demonizing the Christians and ofcourse, intimidating those who might want to embrace Christianity. So, whenever they get a chance, they rake up the issue of "Conversion" ad nauseam.
Every year, just before Christmas, they organize a "ghar vapasi" programme to reconvert those tribals who have become Christians. The truth of the matter, however, is that, those who are reconverted in this programme have nothing to do with Christianity but have been paid a pittance and ofcourse some liquor to participate in the event !
Christians continue to be demonized in the Textbooks which have been brought out by the Gujarat State School Textbook Board. The language used is extremely subtle but enough to create the necessary prejudice in young minds.
It is a well known fact of how Christians are subject to regular intimidation and harassment from officials. There was a time in December 2003, when several well to do Christians from the Western upmarket side of Ahmedabad, were afraid to hang out their "Star" during the Christmas season.
In a letter to the faithful of his Dioceses in November 2007, the Bishop of Ahmedabad, Rev. Thomas Macwan, very strongly highlighted issues of how Christians were at the receiving end in the State. A case in point was the very sudden take over by the Government of the
One can go on citing example after example, of what is happening in
The reality of Orissa has tremendous similarities to
For the past several years, we have been circulating a simple handout to help our institutions and our people to "Be Prepared.". I would like to distribute this leaflet at this moment.
As conclusion to this presentation, I would like to state the following :
1. This Consultation must immediately put together an Independent Citizens Tribunal (like the one we had in
2. The Christian Church MUST join hands with wider civil society, with human rights activists, academics, intellectuals and others. We MUST work in tandem with others.
3. We need to use the media as effectively as possible. Everyone thinks that all is well in Orissa, like the reply I received from the Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister of Orissa. Both, the print and electronic media have to be contacted to reveal the truth of Orissa. The situation in
4. Internationalize the issue. Human rights violations in any part of the world cannot be the concern only of those people or of that country. In this age of globalization, one needs to tell the story of Orissa to audiences far and wide. Only when we internationalize the Gujarat situation, only when Modi was treated as a persona non grata by the
I am hoping that this Consultation will take seriously, the words of the Holy Father, in his message for the World Day of Peace 2008, "Sixty years ago the United Nations Organization solemnly issued the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948-2008). With that document the human family reacted against the horrors of the Second World War by acknowledging its own unity, based on the equal dignity of all men and women, and by putting respect for the fundamental rights of individuals and peoples at the centre of human coexistence. This was a decisive step forward along the difficult and demanding path towards harmony and peace".
Hopefully, this Consultation at the start of the Christian Unity Octave will give us the ability to interpret the signs of the times and the courage to stand up for truth and for justice, very specially on behalf of our less fortunate brothers and sisters in Orissa and in Gujarat.
(This presentation was made at a Consultation organized by the CBCI Commission for Justice, Peace and Development in
(* Fr. Cedric Prakash sj is the Director of "Prashant", the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace)