THE CHURCH IN INDIA: THREE ISSUES, THREE CHALLENGES
- Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
In the last couple of months, the country and very specially the Church in India, has been confronted by three major issues:
i. the "so called" confessional statement of the "self-styled" Swami Aseemanand
ii. the Supreme Court Judgement on the Staines' murder, in Orissa
iii. the Somashekara Commission Report on the attacks of the Christians in Karnataka
Much has been written on each of the above but it is important to highlight certain dimensions of each of them.
i. Swami Aseemanand's confessional statement
That Swami Aseemanand is a king-pin in the attacks on minorities has never been in doubt. He played an important role in the attacks of the Christians in the Dangs in 1998 – 99 and thereafter, in other parts of Gujarat; his contribution was significant in organizing the Shabri Kumbh Mela in the Dangs in 2006 together with the likes of Morari Bapu and CM Modi who spewed hated and venom on the Christians; the fact that his tentacles are extremely well-connected with powerful vested interests is well documented. One needs to wait for further things to unfold in order to understand the depth and breadth of his 'Hindutva' and 'terror' agenda and who his major patrons are.
ii. The Supreme Court Judgement
When the Supreme Court delivered its judgement on the Staines murder, no one had any problems with the fact that life imprisonment for the main perpetrator Dara Singh was upheld. However, what was disconcerting was the very loaded, unconstitutional and obnoxious statements made by the Judges in the Judgement. Some offensive remarks have since been "expunged"; but the damage has been done! The judges have played to the gallery and to a certain section of the population that desperately needs to continue its minority bashing even if it means focusing on the 'conversion' debate once again.
iii. The Somashekara Commission report
The Somashekara Commission report was on expected lines. It gave a "clean chit" to a Government of Karnataka that is steeped in corruption and fascism and which patronized the attacks on Christians in the State in September 2008 and ever since. The 300 questions asked by the Commission (on the prodding by the Sangh Parivar) to the Christians who came to depose before it, smacks of prejudice, divisiveness and of an anti-Constitutional mindset. Once again, a very serious damage has been inflicted on the credibility of a minority community, even if most thinking people of the country, know that it is a fabricated report.
The question one needs to ask at this juncture is, 'how does the institutional Church in India and the wider Christian community, look at these issues?' Does one see an 'inter-relatedness' in them or does one prefer to ignore them? Several Christians, (activists, intellectual, clergy) and even from amongst civil society have responded to what is happening. This is good and important! Lead editorials and columns by eminent writers in some of the leading newspapers and periodicals, have in no uncertain terms lambasted the aspersions cast by the Supreme Court Judgement and the so-called findings of the Somashekara Commission.
But, that is not enough! Much more needs to be done and primary among them is the fact that the Christians in India, (and in particular, the Catholic Church) must address three major challenges:
a. to be more inclusive
b. to be more authentic and transparent
c. to be more prophetic
a to be more inclusive
what is happening in the country today at every level impinges on the rights and freedoms of every single citizen of the country and not only of the Christians. At this stage, we have no choice. We can no longer indulge in the "sin" of diplomatic niceties and correctness (Jesus never did so). We have to get out of the security of our cocoons symbolized by our "Church compounds" and 'massive structures'. We have to make common cause with like-minded people and movements of our times. When one does an analysis of both Karnataka and Orissa, it is blatantly obvious that we have not done enough to forge alliances and support movements which work towards countering the fascist and fundamentalist forces. It is common knowledge that the Bishops and clergy have not spoken in one voice on several of these issues. We have not prepared our people or stood by them when the going was bad. Laity who have taken a stand on certain issues are either easily side-lined or ignored. A Protest Meeting is being organized at the Town Hall in Bangalore on February 5th - will we see the Catholic Bishops of Karnataka at this gathering? 'Isolationism' and 'exclusiveness' should now be things of the past. Real inter-religious dialogue does not take place hobnobbing with the Shankaracharyas or CEOs. What is needed is a grassroots involvement and to take a stand when the rights and freedoms of others are trampled upon.
b. to be more authentic and transparent
in his message for World Communications Day 2011, which was made public on January 24th, Pope Benedict has called for 'Truth, proclamation and authenticity of life'. As Church, we have a radical call to be more authentic, more transparent! The Holy Father affirms "It is precisely this uniquely human spiritual yearning which inspires our quest for truth and for communion and which impels us to communicate with integrity and honesty". Very often, we don't take a stand because, in doing so, we become vulnerable. Do we have skeletons to hide? Then let them tumble out and the faster the better. Are we looking for material gratification? Jesus has warned us sufficiently about such things. As a country, we are witnessing the institutionalization of corruption. It is once again, no longer a matter of choice. The Church has to be on the side of truth, transparency, authenticity. We have to allow our light to shine. That is a certain and pragmatic way to witnessing Christ in today's India.
c. to be more Prophetic
As Christians, we are called to play a prophetic role in today's 'dark times' plagued by growing communalism, casteism, corruption, consumerism and criminalization of society. In order "to announce the good news", we have "to denounce what is wrong" around us. Prophets take a stand (burning the Somashekara Report, telling the Judges that they are first the defenders of the Constitution). For too long, most of us have allowed the happenings around us 'to run its course'. Like ostriches, we tend to bury our heads in the sand, try to sweep a problem underneath the carpet and hope it just goes away. This will never happen! We need to encourage prophetic voices and to create prophetic approaches, to respond to the reality around us. This is clearly enunciated by Pope Benedict in his message for the World Day of Peace this year.
It is high time, we got our act together. The three major issues pose three serious challenges to us. Do we have the courage to get up, light our lamps and accompany the people of our country to live in the Constitutional guarantees of Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity?
Or do we refuse to listen to the cries of our people?
Only time will tell!
(*Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.)
3rd February, 2011
Address: PRASHANT, Hill Nagar, Near Kamdhenu Hall, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad - 380052