Our school books carried a mantra on the very first page, ‘India is my country. All Indians are my brothers and my sisters. I love my country. I am proud of its rich and varied heritage.’ A mantra that led us to believe in earnest that indeed all Indians—Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Sikh—are our brothers and sisters.
I wonder now, will secularism soon become a dirty word in India? It’s frightening how by saying something crass loud enough and often enough, a small coterie can succeed in drowning out all sane voices just by virtue of their bombast and by tedious repetition. It happened in Nazi Germany. Repeating a lie often enough can change the discourse, obliterate the truth. Till you are left confused and stunned by the new reality. The new manufactured truth. Noam Chomsky talked about ‘manufacturing consent’ or media and market forces combining to successfully change the truth. This seems to be happening in the secularism-communalism debate.
I’m referring, of course, to the divisive forces seeking to drown out the reasonable ones by calling them anti-Hindu. With a name like mine, I wondered if I would be taken seriously as a writer, fighting with mere words, a quixotic battle for India’s future. For our children and grandchildren and future generations. Often enough I’ve had abuse thrown at me on my regular blog, of the ‘go back to Rome’ variety.
I’m not merely outraged and angry. I’m livid. I have never felt like a minority in India. Never felt the need to cry foul. Never been remotely interested in fleeing to the West for ‘better opportunities’ as was the trend from the ’70s onwards. Yet when some rabid politician asks me and ‘my sort’ to go to Pakistan or Rome, it’s time to talk back. I’m not good in a shouting match. But at least I can write.
My children grew up in an extended Hindu family. My grandfather was a Kurup from Kozhikode. But do I need, at this point, to wave these credentials in order to be listened to? I hope not. We, India’s Christians and Muslims, Parsis and Jains, Jews and Sikhs, are but a minuscule percentage of the vast population of like-minded Hindus, who have voted out the BJP. And yes, let’s say it out loud, the alliance of bullies, who, emboldened by a perceived electoral victory, are crawling out once again, to threaten to evict Muslims from their homes or deport all dissenters to Pakistan. Note, not dissenters to the Constitution or the law of the land—but dissenters to one man—Modi! Only Hindutva forces, to me the antithesis of pure Hinduism, are allowed to stay. So all the Hindus who don’t agree with Modi, the RSS, the BJP and the Hindutva they propound are advised to pack up and get ready to leave.
It’s dissenters to Modi, not to the constitution or the law of the land, who are being told to go to Pakistan.
So the hate-fest being created is not Hindus versus the rest. It’s the hate-mongers out to destroy India, versus all the others. I find it difficult to understand how the ‘modern’ corporate crowd can support the idea of India being turned into a semi- banana republic with a despot-like PM. Even BJP supporters were shocked at the cold-blooded political decimation of party founders L.K. Advani and Jaswant Singh. Would the NRI gang now sending billions to fund presidential-type Modi posters and jingoistic newspaper and TV ads like this image of India to go global? Would they like their colleagues in the US and UK to know we have a country ruled by politicians who tell minorities to go to Pakistan or Rome? Really? Because that’s the rhetoric repeated by Hindutva fanatics many times over. Would they like that treatment back home in America or Britain, where their cries of racism are immediately taken up because they are an ethnic minority? With rights?
The simple fact is, the British ruled India for 200 years and, with all the power of the Empire behind them, they did not succeed in converting more than 2 per cent of the population to Christianity. I abhor conversion. I believe each religion has its own truth and genius. But is conversion really a threat, given the actual figures? That 265-plus years after the British arrived on our shores, there are only 2 per cent Christians in the country?
I’m a minority like every person who reads this article by virtue of the fact that I’m a woman writer with a college degree. That makes you, the reader of this article, and me a minority in our largely underprivileged, non-literate population. I’ve spent decades writing about Adivasis and Dalits. About the effects of poverty and human rights. So illusory growth in mere numbers does not impress me as much as literacy, elimination of malnutrition and dissolution of all forms of discrimination.
So let’s talk development numbers. The internet is aflame with Modi claims and the Gujarat model of development. His constituency are the twitterati, the FB and the IT people.
They flaunt Gujarati highways. Just like German autobahns. But I noticed the same trend a decade ago in Hyderabad when head honchos Bill Gates and Clinton were due to visit Cyberabad. Some kilometres away, I reported the biggest dry latrine I had ever seen in nearby Anantapur as well as around most major Andhra cities. Spend billions on roads to impress foreign investors and allow your poorest women to sweep rivers of liquid shit. Manual scavenging is alive in Gujarat and well, even as I write this. But why waste time on poverty, Dalits or Adivasis as long as you have the largest statues in the world, the best roads and concrete and glass skyscrapers to show foreign investors you can outshine Singapore or Dubai?
The PR showcases the ideal development model. The social indicators contradict this. The facts are, before Modi became CM of Gujarat, all but 170 villages were already electrified. Yet the billions spent on PR flaunt the lie that Modi electrified the state. Gujarat is 11th in terms of Human Development Index, 12th in infant mortality rate; 15th on the poverty scale; 13th on the hunger index; 12th in terms of the under-5 mortality rate; 19th in terms of underweight children; 13th in literacy, and two-thirds of rural people defecate in the open.
Gujarat is the third most indebted state in the country, with its debt being Rs 1,85,310 crore, having tripled under Modi. I shudder to think what will happen to India if our debt soars, leaving the poor behind, while the economy supposedly gallops ahead? Bankers do the math, please. And let us know.
Bihar and Maharashtra lack Gujarati business acumen, that ‘historical base’, the famous trading skills that made local cornershops in Britain a Patel preserve. Or the famed Patel motels in the US. Yet these states are reportedly progressing faster than Gujarat. They just don’t have millions put aside for a good PR job.
So I will put my faith in majority India. In Hindu India which provided sanctuary to persecuted Christians, Jews, Armenians, Chinese, Parsis and all others. Where all of us coexist peacefully without hate, celebrating each other’s festivals and holidays. Praying in temples, mosques and churches. And hope that this majority, the genuinely Hindu India, the India I love and claim as my own, will preserve the dream that our founding parents, the men and women who fought for freedom and opted for a secular Constitution, so that people like me could be born and nurtured in a healthy, powerful multi-cultural homeland. I reiterate. This is my home. I will not be driven out of it by fundamentalist forces. Writer-activist Mari Marcel Thekaekara’s agency Accord works with Adivasis in Gudalur in the Nilgiri hills of TN
The approaching elections have brought an interesting discussion to the public forum on what constitutes human development and how it is to be achieved. The Gujarat model has been highlighted for our consideration. That is very apt because it puts in stark contrast two current views. Is the growth of big business, the making of huge profits the achievement of high production – what we seek? Or is it the quality of life for the majority in terms of affordable basic goods and services and the freedom to take forward the cultural aspirations of our plural social groups that make up India?
Gujarat may be doing well in the first sense, although not as good as some other States in the country. But all the Human Development Index indicators and the cultural polarization of the population show that Gujarat has had a terrible experience in the last 10 years. Take the example of education: schools for the ordinary populace show abject neglect with a very high dropout rate in the last 10 years. Higher Education has not been allowed to move forward. To take just an example, St. Xavier’s College Ahmedabad, thrice NAAC accredited with an equivalent of the A grade, has not been able to gain permission from the Gujarat Government for Academic Autonomy, for the last 10 years and has finally won a battle in the High Court to approach the UGC directly for this status. Gujarat has also been the worst performer in settling claims and distributing title deeds to tribal people and other forest dwellers, as shown by the latest data put out by the Union Tribal Affairs Ministry. Till 2013, the State, with 15 percent tribal population, settled only 32 per cent of the claims, the lowest rate in the country.
As opposed to this, efforts like the Rojgar Yojana and the Food Security Act have been called “election sops”. However some of our best social scientists like Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze have supported these as necessary in the emergency economic situation the country and the world is facing. The country is grateful that committed activists like Aruna Roy and Shailesh Gandhi have worked with the Government to initiate and sustain the Right to Information Act which makes accountability possible. Corruption still needs to be addressed effectively but since it is so prevalent at every level of society, it will take civil society long agonizing efforts to root it out.
A massive investment in health and education is sorely needed in our country of widening disparities and those who support big business and its unethical profits will never agree to such public expenditure for the masses. In fact, the worsening situation of environmental degradation and depletion, in the lunge for growth and profit, shows up the real intentions of the greedy. None can withstand this, as seen by the many clearances given in a week’s time after the recent change of guard at the Central Environment Ministry, which had earlier tried to hold the line under a different Minister.
So what lessons does a reflection on the approaching elections teach us? The prospect of an alliance of corporate capital and communal forces coming to power constitutes a real threat to the future of our secular democracy. Support for people who pledge to work to take Human Development Indicators higher and who commit themselves to a pluralistic culture in diverse India – this is the hope for the future. No magic wand or divine miracles will come to the aid of the Indian people. Their reasoned choice of individuals and political parties who promise to work for a real quality of life for all, will see India prosper or flounder on the precipice. Choose well!
April 22nd 1541 (the Friday of Easter week) is indeed a historic day for the Society of Jesus. On that day, St. Ignatius of Loyola and five of his companions pronounced their solemn vows in front of an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls in Rome. This took place exactly seven months after the Pope approved the Society of Jesus and two weeks after Ignatius was elected the first Superior General of the Jesuits.
April 22nd is commemorated by the Jesuits as the day of the birth of the vowed society and also the day on which the Society dedicated itself to Mary as Mother.
In a very rare coincidence, on April 22nd 1970, the first ‘Earth Day’ was observed in the United States to focus on the need for peace and at the same time ensure protection of the environment. Today ‘Earth Day’ is by-and-large the most commemorated global event which transcends national borders yet preserves all geographical integrities.
Significantly, in 2011, the Social Justice and Ecological Secretariat of the Society of Jesus gave to the Jesuits, to the Church and to the world at large – a path-breaking report on ecology entitled “Healing a broken world”.
On September 16th, 2011, in a letter to the whole Society, the Superior General of the Jesuits, Fr. Adolfo Nicolas wrote “GC (General Congregation) 35 marked a step forward in the Society’s stance towards ecology by integrating it in the decree on mission. Just as we Jesuits are called to promote and serve right relationships with God and with other human beings, in the same way and with the same urgency, we are called today to restore and heal humanity’s broken relationships with creation”. The document itself as Fr. Nicolas says “contains suggestions for examining our personal lives, our community lifestyles, and our institutional practices. Likewise it can be a useful instrument to move us from written statements to concrete life and mission, so that in all these aspects of our lives, we contribute to the sustainability of the planet”.
The document gives seven significant recommendations which mainly emerge from GC 35 (Decree 3, #31 to 36) which mandate Jesuits to go beyond dealing with ecological issues in a cosmetic way, to move beyond doubts and indifference and to take responsibility for our home and earth. GC 35 talks about environmental destruction, the displacement that is taking place and the need and importance for advocacy and research in the service of the poor and the marginalized. In the above mentioned letter, Fr. Nicolas emphasises that “there is much more we can do in this area using our present apostolic institutions, whether these be educational, pastoral, or social. We can adopt new ways of living, propose helpful practices, deepen understanding, promote research, and where appropriate engage in advocacy.”
A Jesuit today is therefore challenged not only by the powerful significance of April 22nd but the fact that one has received a non-negotiable mandate to protect and preserve Mother Earth. In the Final Contemplation to obtain the love of God in the Spiritual Exercises, we humbly say, “take Lord and receive all…… because you have given all to me.” This prayer finds resonance in the Earth Day anthem ‘Ode to Joy’, “now we must resolve to protect her, show her our love, throughout all time!”
22nd April, 2014
(* 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 Kamdhenu Hall, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad - 380052
heritage sparked his devotion to Our Lady, which intensified during his period
of convalescence following the injury he received during the battle at Pamplona. Major events in
his life occurred on feasts or at sites honouring the Virgin: his vigil before
the Black Madonna of Montserrat on the eve of the Annunciation, 1522; his first
vows at Montmartre, Paris, on the feast of the Assumption, 1534; his first Mass
in St. Mary Major in Rome
on Christmas, 1538. On Friday of Easter week, April 22, 1541, seven months
after papal approval of the Society of Jesus and two weeks after Ignatius was
elected its first general, he celebrated Mass with the first companions at Our
Lady’s altar in the basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls in Rome, during
which all pronounced their vows. This feast thus commemorates the birth of the
vowed Society and its dedication to Mary as its Mother. The first church that
the Jesuits acquired was a small chapel named after a painting inside: Our Lady
of the Way (Santa Maria della Strada). The painting would come to express the
essence of Jesuit spirituality. The image, painted by an unknown Roman artist
around 1500, probably decorated the church wall that faced Via Capitolina, part
of the route of papal processions between the Basilica of St. John Lateran and
The chapel dated back at least to the 11th century and for a while it served as
a funeral chapel for the Astalli family who owned properties in the
neighbourhood. In November 1540, Codacio, the first Italian Jesuit, was able to
use his influence in the papal court to obtain what Ignatius really wanted: the
title to the tiny Church
of S. Maria della Strada.
Early in 1541, the Roman Jesuits moved into rooms rented from the Astalli
family right next to the chapel. When Ignatius died in 1556, the new church was
still on the drawing board. Through the influence of Francis Borgia, the third
Superior General and the patronage of the rich Farnese family, the church was
almost completed in time for the Holy Year 1575. During the construction, the
image of Santa Maria della Strada was kept in the neighbouring church of San Marco. Later, it was installed in a
place of honour in the Gesù, where it can be seen today. As an Order dedicated
to bringing the Gospel to every corner of the world, Our Lady of the Way was a
highly appropriate Patron.
INDIA: Disturbing trends for religious freedom and human rights in the ongoing Indian elections
Please see below news reports that raise alarm bells on the rise of xenophobia and intolerance in India vis-a-vis the ongoing elections and the prospect of a BJP ruled India. Senior BJP leaders are campaigning to implement anti-conversion laws across all of India and to drive away people opposed to Modi and BJP to Pakistan. Further, Hindu nationalist leaders that orchestrated the Muzaffarnagar mass religious violence in which over 100 minorities were killed and close to 50,000 people were driven from their homes, were felicitated and honored by the BJP in a public rally for a 'job well done'. This is not the end, veteran MLAs were denied tickets by the BJP to accommodate these riot accused leaders to run for elections from their districts, clearly demonstrating that religious persecution is considered an electoral and political campaign advantage in these ongoing elections in India. Finally, the last news item is most disturbing of all. Please do take a look at it.
BJP leader says those who oppose Narendra Modi will have to go to Pakistan post-polls
Poll rhetoric has again taken a turn for the worst with Bihar BJP leader Giriraj Singh stirring up a controversy saying that those opposing the party's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi would have to go to Pakistan after the Lok Sabha elections.
"Those opposing Narendra Modi are looking at Pakistan, and such people will have place in Pakistan and not in India," Singh told a poll meeting at Mohanpur Haat Maidan near the temple town Deogarh yesterday.
Attacking the Congress-led UPA government, Singh said, "The central government gives subsidy to those who export beef and not to those rearing cows."
This comes close on the heels of Narendra Modi aide Amit Shah being banned by Election Commission from campaigning, a decision which it revoked soon thereafter.
‘BJP will bring law against religious conversions if voted to power’
Bharatiya Janata Party senior leader M. Venkaiah Naidu has said BJP will bring an anti-conversion law to ban religious conversions in the country if it is voted to power in 2014 General Elections.
He said the country will be safe and sound only when Hindus are in a majority. Every citizen can practice his own religion but conversion from one religion to another will not be tolerated. It would also scrap religion-based reservations, make death penalty lawful to terrorists and withdraw special status to Kashmir apart from scrapping FDI, VAT and a host of anti-people measures initiated by the Congress led UPA government.
Addressing the ‘Praja Chaitanya Sadassu’ which was attended by party workers and sympathisers from the North Andhra districts of Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam at Swarna Bharathi Indoor Stadium here on Monday, he said nine years of UPA rule saw a total decline of values, development and a faulty policy towards the terrorists and anti-India elements.
Mr. Venkaiah Naidu, who was elated at the good response to the ‘BJP Show’, said the country needed a stable government and a leader who can take tough decisions. “People say that Manmohan Singh is a good man, but the country needs good rulers and not good persons who cannot deliver,” he said.
The Uttar Pradesh BJP leadership on Thursday felicitated two of its MLAs accused of fanning Muzaffarnagar riots at its Vijay Shanknad rally in Agra, where the party's prime ministerial nomineeNarendra Modi spoke shortly after.
The party felicitated Sangeet Som, the MLA from Meerut’s Sardhana constituency (under Muzaffarnagar Lok Sabha constituency) and Suresh Rana, MLA from Thana Bhawan constituency in Kairana (erstwhile Muzaffarnagar) and senior party worker Veerendra Singh Gujjar from Deoband.
Another BJP leader, Dr Sanjeev Balian, who also was to be felicitated, could not reach the venue.
The two MLAs were introduced to the gathering by BJP state president Laxmi Kant Bajpai and garlanded by former state BJP president Surya Pratap Sahi. Senior BJP leaders including former chief minister Kalyan Singh and Vinay Katiyar, Ram Ramapati Tripathi were present during this ceremony.
RAJKOT: Vishwa Hindu Parishad's (VHP) president Pravin Togadia sent temperatures soaring in Bhavnagar on Saturday evening with a hate speech that targeted Muslims for buying properties in Hindu areas.
At night, Togadia joined a group of VHP and Bajrang Dal members on a street protest outside a house purchased by a Muslim businessman near Meghani Circle. While saffron groups have been regularly organizing 'Ram Dhuns' and 'Ram Darbars' to thwart such deals, Togadia went a step further by asking the protesters to take complete control of the house and put a 'Bajrang Dal' board on it.
Togadia told the gathering that there were two ways to stop such deals. One is to pressurize the state government to bring in Disturbed Areas Act in Bhavnagar, which prevents inter-community sale of immovable property. The second is to take forcible possession of the house and fight a legal battle later which will go on for years.
He gave the Muslim occupant 48 hours to vacate the house. "If he does not relent, go with stones, tyres and tomatoes to his office. There is nothing wrong in it. Killers of Rajiv Gandhi have not been hanged ... there is nothing to fear and the case will go on," Togadia told the charged-up gathering.
"I have done it in the past and Muslims have lost both property and money," he said.
He also said that this election is the best time to pressurize political parties to ensure safety of Hindus. "Don't be reluctant to pressurize Congress or BJP for the sake of Hindus' safety," he said.
After the event was over, tension was palpable and police feared that the mob might attack the house. A team of policemen has been stationed outside the house to avert any trouble.
Three seemingly unconnected incidents took place in various parts of India recently that have ominous implications for India.
On Friday, April 18, a leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Bihar, Giriraj Singh, made a categorical statement that “those who opposed Narendra Modi had no place in India. They would have to go to Pakistan after the elections.”
Earlier on April 8 in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, BJP’s senior leader Venkaiah Naidu said that “the BJP would bring in an anti-conversion law to ban religious conversions all over the country if it is voted to power in 2014 elections.”
And on April 21, (Easter Sunday), the International Working President of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP, world Hindu council) Dr. Pravin Togadia, in a vicious speech in Rajkot, Gujart, demanded that Muslims vacate houses in the Hindu areas of the city. Targeting a Muslim businessman, Togadia gave him 48 hours to vacate his house “if he does not relent” he told the Hindu mobs “go with stones, tires and tomatoes to his office” (reported in the Times of India ed. Ahmedabad, pg. 1, April 21, 2014).
Very interestingly on March 21, 2013, in the Maninagar area of Ahmedabad, Togadia gave a call to a large gathering for the establishment of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ (nation) stating that by 2015, Gujarat would be the first ‘Hindu State’ of the country.
Incidentally, Maninagar is the constituency of Narendra Modi, the BJP prime ministerial candidate (who still hopes to swear by the Constitution of India) but till today has had no courage to take on Togadia and to denounce what he has been saying and doing. Though sections of the media make of an animosity between the two, the fact that they have the same mindset and are born to the same ideology, leaves no one in doubt.
The three incidents in very different parts of the country have much in common. They primarily reveal the core Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) ideology which has spawned the BJP. It is no secret that the BJP prime ministerial candidate Modi was decided upon by the top brass of the RSS. That the ultimate desire of the RSS is the establishment of a ‘Hindu nation State’ is without a shadow of doubt. Naidu’s comments in Visakhapatnam must be seen in the same context.
In 2002, Modi raised the ‘bogey of conversion’ during his election campaign in Gujarat and in 2003, he brought in the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act which must be easily ranked as one of the most draconian laws in the history of any democracy anywhere in the world. The law very blatantly says that “if one wants to change his / her religion, one must first seek the permission of the civil authority (the Collector).” This law clearly violates Article 25 of the Constitution of India and Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Giriraj’s threats are not empty ones. In his ten-year plus rule in Gujarat, Modi has been vindictive and vengeful. This can be exemplified by several instances.
In a hard-telling article in Live Mint (April 19), entitled ‘Narendra Modi critics Expect No Quarter, No Mercy” states “What should we expect from Modi Sarkar? I predict no quarter and no mercy. He will continue his tyrannical (I use the word in a classical sense) ways as he has in Gujarat.” So when Giriraj speaks the obvious, however silly it sounds, he is only manifesting the fascist agenda of those who seek to rule us.
One cannot help but be reminded of that immortal poem by the German Bertold Brecht (1898-1956) ‘In Dark Times’…..In hope, the struggle will continue indeed; even if the signs are ominous!
(Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace. He could be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)