A response from Fr. Cedric Prakash to CM of Goa Manohar Parrikar & his ilk
-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
Ever since my visit to Goa about three weeks ago, I have been receiving plenty of feedback on the several talks I gave there. Most are very appreciative but as expected, there are quite a few critical voices mainly from those Catholics and others who seem to subscribe to the BJP point of view.
At the outset, I want to make it very clear that I hold no brief for any political party. I do not even tell anyone whom I will ultimately vote for. Most political parties (at least the mainline ones) make tall promises particularly before the elections and never keep them. Most are corrupt: some get exposed while others have institutionalized corruption (like in Gujarat) in such a way that corruption becomes legitimised. Over the years, most elected representatives have increased their bank balances / assets to mind-boggling amounts! As citizens, we surely need to deal with corruption, casteism, the criminalization of politics and much more. We should demand greater honesty and accountability from all our elected representatives – and at all times.
At the top of my concerns however, is communalism and the way it is rearing its ugly head and poisonous fangs all over the country. One needs to objectively study the fountain-head of communalism in India: the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and perhaps read the ‘Bunch of Thoughts’ of MS Golwalkar or for that matter what VV Savarkar or KB Hedgewar stood for. They very strongly propagated an ideology called ‘Hindutva’ in which the whole concept of India’s nationhood is defined from the narrow perspective of a ‘Hindu-nation’ State. Above all, it propagated the dominance of the upper caste Hindus and in their scheme of things, the minorities like Muslims and Christians are meant to be treated as second-class citizens.
The fact that the BJP is the political outfit of the RSS is no secret. The fact that it was the RSS that named Narendra Modi as the Prime Ministerial candidate of the BJP (inspite of much opposition from the rank and file of the BJP) is out in the open. The fact that the RSS has to decide on every single crisis where the BJP is concerned speaks volumes for the fact that both the RSS and the BJP are just one. Above all, the Sangh Parivar (as the RSS, the BJP and their other affiliates are known) has over the years demonstrated that they do not subscribe to the Constitution of India, to the national anthem and to the secular fabric of the country - all this has been consistently and authentically documented.
The BJP chose to release their election manifesto only on April 7th (the day elections began in the country) and it continued with emphasising on its core activities: the building of the Ram Mandir, the abolition of Article 370 and the establishing of a Uniform Civil Code. This clearly shows that they care two hoots about the Constitution of India, the Supreme Court and are not at all sensitive to issues of the minority communities.
Let us then address some of the points which seem to have rankled the BJP in Goa:
- Freedom of Religion Law 2003
Late last evening, the Chief Minister of Goa Manohar Parrikar seems to have lambasted me at a public meeting (as reported in sections of the media )on several accounts and very particularly on “misinforming” people about the ‘Freedom of Religion Law of Gujarat’!
Facts and documented evidence speak for themselves. Without doubt, the so-called ‘Freedom of Religion’ law of Gujarat the single most draconian piece of legislation in the history of any democracy or civilized nation in the world.It is against Article 25 of the Constitution and violates Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Mr. Parrikar is intelligent enough to know that I am not speaking about any anti-conversion laws. These in the past have been brought in both by Congress and BJP State. I am speaking of the Freedom of Religion Law of 2003 of the Gujarat Government which necessitates that any person (adult) wanting to change his or her religion must first seek the permission of the District Collector. This is clearly not about whether I have the right to convert you; but it is about, if I am a Hindu Dalit, do I have the right to embrace Buddhism freely - if I feel that Buddhism will help me become a better person? The irony of this law is that the Collector will first have to see if there is any force, or a fraud or an “allurement” (which is material gratification or otherwise). So if the Collector feels that “you becoming a better person” is allurement, he or she can deny you the permission! As recently as February 9th 2014, the ‘Gir Somnath SDM filed a complaint against a woman for converting to Islam ‘illegally’.
Besides, there are any amounts of forms to be filled out when asking for permission. One also has to provide complete details of all those who will be present at say your “Baptismal ceremony” while applying for permission.
If this is not a draconian and anti-constitutional law, I challenge Mr. Parrikar to tell me what is?
- “Fr. Cedric Prakash is safe in Gujarat for the last twelve years”.
The very fact that some BJP leaders are making this statement is definitely a serious warning of the possible times to come. Every citizen should be safe and secure in any part of the country. The Government of the day is meant to protect the life and property of every single citizen; the police and the other arms of law and order are meant to help the Government in the execution of this responsibility. Unfortunately, the world knows that the Gujarat Government abdicated this responsibility in 2002 which even prompted the then Prime Minister Vajpayee to tell Modi that he should practice “raj dharma”.
Early in 1998-99, when the Sangh Parivar attacked the Christians of the Dang districts and other parts of South Gujarat, PM Vajpayee flew down to say that this should not happen to anyone, anywhere in India.
Being “safe and secure” in Gujarat is a matter of perception; thanks to the Central Government; there are mechanisms to ensure my safety and security. But this does not mean that I am not intimidated or harassed or even threatened! I have the courage to stand my ground and I am really not afraid of those who are trying to do everything in the book to cow me down. All this is well documented too, but I really do not want the focus to be upon me.
The truth is that Christians of Gujarat are harassed subtly and not so subtly consistently. The same happens to Muslims and other minorities. There is plenty of evidence to substantiate this.
- “Why should Fr. Cedric Prakash come to Goa?”
Fr. Cedric Prakash was in Goa for the simple reason that he was invited by the Catholic Association of Goa (CAG) and other Goans. Fr. Prakash is a free citizen, he, therefore has the right to travel anywhere in the country and speak / address any group.
Once again, the very fact that the members of the BJP can even think of raising such questions portends ill for the future of the country. It clearly shows their fascist mindset! In the same breath, these very people have no guts to ask why Modi is seeking election from Varanasi or Advani from Gandhinagar, when both are not residents of these Constituencies.
Above all, there are several who are really rankled that the Church, Priests and religious are taking a stand on what is right and just. These very same persons had absolutely no problem in cheering the Church when in the past elections, the Church asked the laity to take a stand against those who were “corrupt”. Besides, these very guys also become totally dumb when the so-called ‘Gujarat development model’ has proved to be a bunch of lies, half-truths, myths and highly paid propaganda!
If one is a true follower of Jesus today, one will surely take a stand against all that is wrong in society! The values that are enshrined in the Constitution of India: justice, liberty, equality and fraternity are also core values of the Gospel of Jesus. No disciple of Jesus be it laity, religious, priest or Bishop should fight shy of upholding, propagating and being a witness to these sacred values at all times in all places.
Finally, we should all have the moral courage to give a resounding defeat at these General Elections to all those who are divisive, sectarian, spread hatred and would like to destroy the pluralistic character of our country and the secular fabric of our Constitution.
9th 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