Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Dear Friends,

I feel very privileged to be with you all at this the 4th National Conference of the Christian Legal Association (CLA).  I would like to express my gratitude to Ms. Tehmina Arora (the General Secretary of the CLA), the other organizers of this Conference and to all, who in any way have given me this opportunity to be here today.
The theme of this Conference, "Arise and Build", is indeed a challenging one.  I am sure that the inputs and deliberations since yesterday, have focused on the key dimensions of Nehemiah's prophetic vision and mission.  We have absolutely no choice but to "Arise and Build".
This task, however, will never be accomplished if we are unable to grasp some of the key nuances and fundamental issues that plague our society today.  Foremost among them is the emergence of "fascism".  I would therefore like to focus on the theme of my presentation, namely,  "Countering Fascism : Lessons for the Christian Lawyer".

Fascism :
A group as eminent as this, surely does not need a textbook definition of  "fascism".  But to set the tone of this  presentation, it is important to emphasize some distinctive elements  of a fascist ideology; these include :
  denying human rights (to most people)
  curtailing freedom
  being intolerant
  targeting minorities and other vulnerable groups 
  spreading lies, myths, half-truths 
  using  others in very manipulative ways to get their job done
  playing one against the other (divide and rule)
  feeling constantly  threatened / suspicious of the other
  subverting essentials of democracy like the judiciary, police, media and   
 creating an impression that there is an overwhelming "support" for what they do
                    The list is endless.....!
In history, we have several instances of fascists who have ruthlessly ruled for a period of time.  There have been ideologies which could not be questioned.  The damage that these do to the psyche of people and to the soul of a nation is irreparable.  The most classic case in recent history is that of Hitler and of the Nazi ideology.
During the time of Jesus, King Herod was the symbol of fascism:  whether it was in the killing of innocent children or being threatened  by the likes of John the Baptist.   In today's world,  we  have several instances of how fascism takes deep roots.  Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, is uppermost in the minds of many today: of how one man can systematically crush all opposition, and impoverish large sections of his own people.  The world will never be able to forget the likes of Milosevic,  of Pol Pot or the military dictators of African States who have just allowed power to corrupt them absolutely.  In their world view, there is no space for  democratic values or traditions.   And for us in India, the one who  takes the cake is none other than Narendra Modi, the fascist ruler of Gujarat.

Gujarat  Reality Today :
Gujarat is a textbook case, if one wants to study and analyze not merely the emergence of fascism but how it spreads its tentacles far and wide.  We at 'PRASHANT' have been documenting this reality very systematically.   Among the key trends are  : 
• more than two thousand Muslims have been killed in the Gujarat Carnage of 2002 in one of the most horrendous tragedies of post independence India.
• if one is a Muslim today in Ahmedabad,  one cannot buy a house or own a shop in the western up-market  part of the city.  Muslims are normally confined to ghettoes in  the eastern part  of the city  or in some rare pockets in the western part.
• most Muslims in Gujarat  continue to live in  fear and insecurity.
• an insignificant incident can spark off a major  riot (as  it happened in Ahmedabad on January 28th / 29th 2008).
• State-sponsored terrorism continues with frightening regularity.  In the past few years,  several Muslim youth have been killed in "police encounters".  Last year,  Senior IPS Officers were arrested for stage-managing such  "encounters"  and for killing Muslim youth.
• in the Central Jail in Ahmedabad, there are about 200 detainees under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). All of them happen to be Muslims.
• some of those who are accused of the violence against the Muslims and who were even seen leading the mobs have  once again been elected as MLAs and some have even become Ministers.
• the Sangh Parivar continues its vicious campaign against the Muslims, Christians and other vulnerable groups with impunity (a group of Christians were brutally attacked in Kawant just before Christmas).  Attacks on Christians in Gujarat and so called "ghar vapasi" programmes happen with frightening regularity just before Christmas.  Even the judiciary has been tampered with;  there are public prosecutors appointed by the Government who have primary membership  in the RSS / VHP.  (It is therefore not without reason that the Supreme Court of India has said that it has very little faith in the Gujarat judiciary  and has even moved cases out of the State).
• in March 2003, Gujarat passed an anti-conversion law entitled "Freedom of Religion Act".  This law  prohibits any person from changing his or her faith unless a permission is granted.   It has taken the Government more than five years to frame the Rules for the implementation of this draconian Act  (it finally did so w.e.f.1st April 2008). 
• the Textbooks brought out by the Gujarat State Textbook Board, are replete with untruths, inaccuracies and with prejudiced  statements against  Muslims, Christians, women, Scheduled castes / tribes.
• on August 6th 2006, at an examination of the Gujarat  Public Service Commission for Medical Officers, almost fifteen of the hundred questions asked were communally sensitive and directed against Muslims and Christians.
• the attacks exactly a year ago, in Baroda, on the Dean, students of Fine Arts and their exhibits,  by right-wing Hindu fundamentalists, are  symbolic  of how freedom of expression is curtailed in the State.         
• movies like "Parzania" and "Fanaa"  are banned in the State because they either symbolize a reality or take a stand for the truth.  
• the gang rape of a Dalit Teacher-Trainee by her own teachers, seems to be the tip of the iceberg, as more and more sordid tales (apparently with Government patronage), tumble out.
• the killing of tribals by the police, whilst the former were demanding their rights is an indicator of the marginalization of this important  segment of society. 
• above all,  the reappearance (after the Election Commission had them blackened out just before the last elections) of the "Hindu Rashtra" boards in Ahmedabad city and across the State clearly shows how polarized the State has become.
On May 1st 2008, we saw an unimaginable act by the Collector of Amreli when he literally stooped down to touch the feet of the Chief Minister of the State.  Fortunately, there is a hue and cry in some sections of the media. 
The truth of the matter is that fascism has not merely come to stay but there are several who have begun accepting it as a way of life. That is the tragedy.  This is where Christian Lawyers could play a significant role.

The Challenges for the Christian Lawyer :
How then does one counter fascism?  Is it possible to learn from the lessons of history ?  Do we have the wherewithal not merely to defend ourselves  but to counter the forces that unleash the venom of hate and violence ?  Of discrimination and division  ?
Having provided you with a perspective on how fascism is at work in Gujarat, I would like to dwell on some challenges (which are also lessons) for the Christian Lawyer :
1.  To say "no" to fascism :
      The  stand  of  the Christian  lawyer has to be clear.  He / she is someone, who being a   
      disciple of Jesus  is  wedded to  the rights  and values of a free citizen.  There is no room for 
      compromise.   One has to say "NO" to fascism.
2. To speak "Truth" to power :
      If one is committed to "Truth" (and Jesus clearly says us "I am the Way, the  Truth,  the 
      Light  and  the Life"), there  can  be  no two  ways of what is to be  expected  from  a 
      Christian  lawyer.  One cannot indulge in untruths and  half-truths.  One has to have 
      the ability to speak the "truth" at all times and very specially 'Truth to Power'.  Jesus silently   
      nails the  lie of Pontius Pilate when the latter asks him "What is Truth ?" (Jn 18:38).

3. To stop playing "footsie" with fascists :
There are some who think that they can cozy-cuddle with fascists.  They  want their pictures to be taken with them, and feel very elated  if  fascists call  them by their "first name".  These are people like the  brothers of Joseph  in the Old Testament who would sell off their community, kith and kin for  anything !  They indulge in footsie  games because they have neither the  spine nor the courage to take  on the fascists.  No one can call himself a  Christian or a lawyer for that matter, if one indulges in such  dangerous games.  Jesus  never  indulged.  He called  the fascists of His time, "whitened sepulchures and  brood of vipers".
4. To study and excel in law :
Christians have excelled in all possible fields.  Can we truly say that we also excel in the field of law ?  Why is it that we lack top-notch lawyers who know their law, who are articulate, and who can stand up to the might of any injustice ?  Yes, there are some but these are just too few....they can be counted. 
We cannot truly call ourselves Christian lawyers unless we stick our necks out; we need to make a thorough study of our Constitution and the laws of our land and put them to good use in our professional lives.  If only we do this, we would be able to prevent people like Modi  from getting away with mass crimes against Minorities of the country. The way the Gujarat Government has acted with total impunity and with  foregone immunity, will make any one who values human rights to squirm.
5. To defend the rights of the poor, the weak, whoever they be :
It is a proven fact that people look up to the Christians as community  builders through their selfless service especially in the field of health and  education.  As Christian lawyers we could go a step further in bringing  a sense of security to vulnerable groups in society, by taking up and fighting for their cause in a fair and just manner. 
We have enough provisions and safeguards within the Constitution; but when those  who are meant to protect and guarantee these safeguards abdicate their  Constitutional responsibility, then there must be some mechanism, some forum that can provide the necessary security to the poor, the weak, the victims.
6. To  network  and  be  involved  in  advocacy :
As responsible Christian lawyers we need to  link up and network with likeminded people and groups.  There are many people concerned about what is happening in society today  but very often, the solidarity dimension is lacking.  When we  provide ourselves with possibilities of creating these linkages, forging new alliances and even joining existing movements and groups, we will be able to take the battle to the other side. 
Gujarat would have been  lost long ago, were it not for a  small  but  committed  group of people who courageously faced  the onslaught of the communal juggernaut.   One is painfully aware that numbers are still lacking.  Hopefully, when more people are encouraged  to network and get involved in advocacy, crucial issues such as "religious  fundamentalism" can be addressed and resolved.  Above all, the ordinary  citizen needs to be educated about his / her rights and freedoms. 
7. To say "no" to corruption and help arrest it :
Corruption has eaten into all our systems and it is one of the main causes of  the rot in our society.  To begin with, as Christian lawyers, let us learn to say "no"  to corruption  and let us help arrest  this rot in every possible way by our own life examples.   
Prime Minister  Manmohan Singh  in an address at the inaugural session of the  Conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices on April 19th 2008, very  strongly asserted that "corruption is another challenge that we face  both in the Government  and  in  the Judiciary".  (It  is  very  ironical  that  'The Indian   Express'  of   April   20th whilst  headlining   the  statement  of  the   Prime Minister, also headlined another bit of news saying that a lawyer linked to a scam is recommended for the post of a judge in the High Court of Punjab and Haryana  !!!).
Very interestingly, just a couple of days ago (on May 16th), I read in the "Mumbai Mirror" of how the Bar Council of India (BCI) has sent out a questionnaire about corruption in the Judiciary.
8. To be Prophetic :
The role of a prophet is to denounce the injustices and the wrongs in society and to announce the "Good News".  We read in the Old Testament, how Prophets have played a significant role in the ushering of a society which is more just and more humane. 
The theme  of this Conference is centered around Nehemiah who did not hesitate in taking a stand against the rulers of his time.  It is not without reason that Jesus consistently lambasted the lawyers of his time.  Christian lawyers in India have a special role to play in the context of what is happening.  We need to arise and build but as I said in my opening remarks, this can happen only if we address the issues which are endemic in our society.

Conclusion :
At a Conference like this,  I think there can be no other conclusion more appropriate than the words of the celebrated Lebanese writer Kahlil Gibran in his book 'The Prophet'.  This is what he has to say to the lawyers :
Then the lawyer said, But what of our Laws, master?
And he answered: You delight in laying down laws,
Yet you delight more in breaking them.
Like children playing by the ocean who build sand-towers with constancy and then destroy them with laughter.
But while you build your sand-towers the ocean brings more sand to the shore, And when you destroy them the ocean laughs with you.
Verily the ocean laughs always with the innocent.
But what of those to whom life is not an ocean, and man-made laws are not sand-towers,
But to whom life is a rock, and the law a chisel with which they would carve it in their own likeness ?
What of the cripple who hates dancers ?"What of the ox who loves his yoke and deems the elk and deer of the forest stray and vagrant things ?
What of the old serpent who cannot shed his skin, and calls all others naked and shameless ?
And of him who comes early to the wedding feast, and when over-fed and tired goes his way saying that all feasts are violation and all feasters law-breakers.
What  shall I say of these save that they too stand in the sunlight, but with their backs to the sun ?
They see only their shadows, and their shadows are their laws.
And what is the sun to them but a caster of shadows ?
And what is it to acknowledge the laws but to stoop down and trace their shadows upon the earth ?
But you who walk facing the sun, what images drawn on the earth can hold you ?
You who travel with the wind, what weather-vane shall direct your course ?
What man's law shall bind you if you break your yoke but upon no man's prison door ?
What laws shall you fear if you dance but stumble against no man's iron chains ?
And who is he that shall bring you judgment if you tear off your garment yet leave it in no man's path ?
People of Orphalese, you can muffle the drum, and you can loosen the strings of the Iyre, but who shall command the skylark not to sing ?
Gibran challenges the Lawyers of his time....The time has come to stop bashing your own and take on as Rabindranath Tagore would say "the insolent might of the fascist"
I wish you all good courage,  dear Christian Lawyers, "TO ARISE AND BUILD", from this very moment !
Thank you !

(This address  was  given to the 4th National Conference of the Christian Legal Association held  in Kolkata  on 17th – 18th  May 2008, with the theme "Arise and Build")
 (  *    Fr. Cedric Prakash sj is the Director of PRASHANT, the Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace, based in Ahmedabad.  This Centre has been actively involved in Justice, Peace and Communal Harmony issues.  Fr. Prakash is the recipient of several national and international awards which includes the "Kabir Puraskar" for Communal Harmony from the President of India in 1995, the "Legion d'Honneur" from the President of France in 2006 and the Minorities Rights Award 2006 from the Government of India).

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent and very well prepared speech. Do keep it up. As your founder would say " If one fears men much he will never do anything great for God: all that
one does for God arouses persecution."