‘ Minorities are treated as second class citizens in Gujarat’
(Fr Cedric Prakash who was in Goa recently at the invitation of the Catholic Association of Goa and the All India Catholic Union has been openly critical of the Gujarat model under Narendra Modi. The Ahmedabad based Jesuit priest who actively campaigns for human rights believes it is important for him to speak out against the treatment of minorities in his state. He spoke to LISA ANN MONTEIRO)
What is the condition of minorities living in present day Gujarat?
Minorities in Gujarat by and large find it very tough living here. Most live in a kind of fear. The government blatantly regards them as second class citizens. Minorities are very subtly being denied government jobs, promotions and even admissions in government– run institutions of higher education. A case in point is how Muslim students were denied scholarships with money ( given to the state) from the Centre— till the Gujarat High Court and later the Supreme Court came down heavily on the State government over this.
Can you give us an idea of the religion- wise composition of the population of Gujarat. Surely the Catholics must be a very small minority in your state.
Hindus comprise approximately 85 per cent of the state’s population, Muslims are about 10 per cent, and the remaining five per cent consists of Christians, Jains, Buddhists, adivasis ( animists) and others.
According to the last census, Christians are a miniscule 0.53 per cent of the population of 60 million, and from this total, Catholics must be the largest single denomination.
Have things gotten worse specifically for the Christians over the last few years?
Yes, in several ways. There is constant intimidation and harassment by government officials on Church- run institutions and personnel.
Police and other officials consistently visit our institutions to check on the baptism registers etc. They also demand that we provide details of certain individuals who do not want to show externally that they are Christians. Then, of course, there are the other subtle ways.
But how can you be sure that the Gujarat CM or the BJP in the state were in some way responsible for these attacks?
The duty of any government is to protect the life and property of every single citizen under their care. When they abdicate this responsibility, when they allow their goons to intimidate, harass and even attack others without even attempting to book them, the complicity of the government and the ruling dispensation is obvious. We have several instances in Gujarat where police have killed innocent youth belonging to the minority community in so- called fake encounters.
Thanks to the Supreme Court, some of these police officers are in jail today but everybody knows who were behind these fake encounters.
Why have you opposed the Freedom of Religion Bill?
For the simple reason that the Freedom of Religion law is unconstitutional and is clearly in violation of Article 25 of the Constitution.
Was this Bill passed because many conversions were taking place by Christians in Gujarat?
Not at all. . . In fact, the bogey of “ conversions" was raised to create a fear ( psychosis) in the minds of the majority community. The percentage of Christians in Gujarat has been diminishing over the years.
Can you provide some statistics to support this?
The census of 2001 pegged the figure of Christians of Gujarat as 0.56% while that of 2011 puts it around 0.53%. So though minimal, it is still a diminishing number.
Why do you believe that the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, would not make a good prime minister?
Modi is unable to govern Gujarat in a democratic way. He is unable to work in a team. Besides during his tenure both the economic and social indicators of Gujarat have fallen drastically.
Modi is being promoted as a development messiah with Gujarat being projected as a highly developed state. Can you throw some light on the ground realities?
Gujarat has always been one of the more developed and industrialised states of India. There are enough of studies to authenticate this. But thanks to the vested interests of some big corporate houses and certain sections of the media who have no heart for inclusive development, he is being promoted as their " Messiah". The truth is, during Modi’s reign of Gujarat, the state has fared badly both socially and economically. The scenario is rather frightening.
Don’t you think the fact that Christians and Muslims are constantly being pigeonholed as ‘ minorities’ works against them?
Christians and Muslims are minorities in this country. This is a non- negotiable fact that has to be accepted. However, I do believe that none of us should suffer from complex of " minoritysm" but rather assert our identity, fight for the rights and privileges and continue to serve the country selflessly— through education, medicare, social, justice and peace. And above all, to defend the Constitution courageously from the fascist and fundamentalist forces that are all out to destroy our secular fabric.
The duty of any government is to protect the life and property of every single citizen under their care. When they abdicate this responsibility, when they allow their goons to intimidate, harass and even attack others without even attempting to book them, the complicity of the government and the ruling dispensation is obvious