LETTER TO THE EDITOR – CHALLENGE TO BE PROPHETIC IN INDIA

Letter to the Editor

Letter to the Editor

From:

Isaac Gomes, Kolkata.

 

Sir,

This has reference to the report captioned CHALLENGE TO BE PROPHETIC IN INDIA by Fr Cedric Prakash, published on 28th May 2018 in your esteemed newsletter.

The report on the Pastoral Letter of Delhi Archbishop Anil Couto was published in mattersindia.com.  While the electronic and the print media have a copy of the Letter (as per the Telegraph Calcutta 23rd May 2018, the letter had been shared with media houses on May 12 by A. C. Michael, a former member of the Delhi Minorities Commission), it was not published by Mattersindia.com to help readers make their independent analysis without being fed with select excerpts by Church leaders.

The Archbishop's reported concern in his letter about India's "turbulent political atmosphere which poses a threat to the democratic principles enshrined in our Constitution and the Secular fabric of our nation" is understandable. But he should have expressed this concern by stating clearly that he was doing this as a Citizen and not as Archbishop. This would have helped him steer clear of the sharp reactions he generated as Archbishop Thomas Macwan of Gujarat had done by issuing a similar letter dated 21 November 2017 just before the Gujarat state elections. If there is a backlash on Christians it will not be limited to Christians in Delhi but will escalate all over India and no Archbishop or Bishop will come forward to face the attack, but certainly their flock will have to face all the beating (arson, bayonet, bullet or lathi-charge). The alibi that the pastoral letter was meant only for parishes in Delhi falls flat as the General Election applies to the whole country and not only to the faithful in Delhi. Whom are the Archbishop's spokespersons or lackeys trying to bluff?  The Archbishop, his advisers and CCV readers would do well to read this letter in consonance with with the article Faith, Reason, Gurus, Godmen! India needs more torch of reason not Gurus and Godmen by Swami Agnivesh and Valson Thampu published in CCV on 26th May 2018.

Contrary to the claims of many Church leaders, Delhi Archbishop Anil Couto's letter though termed Pastoral is certainly not exclusively a letter urging Christians for fasting and prayers.  For there was no need for the Archbishop to issue a separate call for prayer, when every Sunday mass in all parishes all over India, the Catholic Church in its Prayer of the Faithful, prays for the country, its leaders including world peace. The Archbishop's letter can be divided into two parts.  Part 1 has clear political overtones with the mention of 2019 general election (does the Archbishop think that Indian Christians are naive and do not know how to use their voting rights?) and Part 2 calls for prayer and fast. The Archbishop's remark "Turbulent political atmosphere which poses a threat to the democratic principles enshrined in our Constitution and the Secular fabric of our nation", as reported in mattersindia.com is by no stretch of imagination a call for prayer and fast.  In fact it is a pathetic commentary on his knowledge of India's Constitution as a shepherd of his flock. How could he write that India's democratic principles, especially SECULARISM is under threat?  SECULARISM is one of the basic tenets of the Indian Constitution which cannot be altered/destroyed by Parliament even by absolute majority? This stipulation was made by the Supreme Court of India in 1973 in the historic Kesavananda Bharati case where the the judges of the Court declared that the BASIC STRUCTURE of the Indian Constitution cannot be tampered with by the Parliament or any state legislature.

Some of the features of the Constitution termed as "basic" are listed below:

  1. Supremacy of the Constitution
  2. Rule of law
  3. The principle of Separation of Powers
  4. The objectives specified in the Preamble to the Constitution
  5. Judicial Review
  6. Articles 32 and 226
  7. Federalism (including financial liberty of states under Articles 282 and 293)
  8. Secularism
  9. The Sovereign, Democratic, Republican structure
  10. Freedom and dignity of the individual
  11. Unity and integrity of the Nation
  12. The principle of equality, not every feature of equality, but the quintessence of equal justice;
  13. The "essence" of other Fundamental Rights in Part III
  14. The concept of social and economic justice — to build a Welfare State: Part IV in toto
  15. The balance between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles
  16. The Parliamentary system of government
  17. The principle of free and fair elections
  18. Limitations upon the amending power conferred by Article 368
  19. Independence of the Judiciary
  20. Effective access to justice
  21. Powers of the Supreme Court under Articles 32, 136, 141, 142
  22. Legislation seeking to nullify the awards made in exercise of the judicial power of the State by Arbitration Tribunals constituted under an Act
  23. Welfare state

(Source: Wikipedia – Basic Structure Doctrine) 

Through Judicial Review and Limitations upon the amending power conferred by Article 368, Supreme Court of India can act as the sole arbiter/interpreter of the Amendments made by the Parliament to the  Indian Constitution. If our Church Hierarchy and Christian leaders feel minority rights are being trampled upon, they can certainly take recourse to judicial review/options instead of issuing Pastoral Letters or Press Statements to score brownie points.

The Basic Structure is NON-NEGOTIABLE and cannot be altered by Parliament. Therefore even if any government were to declare India a Hindu or a Muslim State by passing a unanimous resolution in Parliament, it would be null and void. So the Archbishop's fears about threats to Secularism are unfounded Constitutionally and by expressing this fear officially as Archbishop, he is misguiding his flock and given the fringe groups a long handle.

At the Indore Indian Catholic Press Association (ICPA) held in March 2018, Bishop Salvadore Lobo, National Chairman of Social Communications, stressed on the need "to make the Constitution of India more widely known in all sectors of the Church and society". He knew that our Church Hierarchy and its leaders, have half-baked knowledge of the Indian Constitution. In keeping with the Bishop's timely suggestion, it is imperative therefore that all parish priests, bishops, parish pastoral council. parish finance committee members (wherever they exist) and heads of Lay Associations take up a thorough study course on the Indian Constitution, with expert assistance, across all dioceses. Only then they should consider themselves Church leaders.

Archbishop Couto has highlighted "truth, justice and freedom, equality, liberty and fraternity" as intrinsic values of our Constitution which must be practised by all governments. Reality check shows these hallowed principles are violated by our own Church institutions without any compunction. Examples of these violations are oral hire & fire of staff, inhumane salary and work conditions, denial of Provident Fund, Medical and other benefits. Even Christian Lay Associations flagrantly violate these Constitutional values and there are several anomalies in their functioning which are not in keeping with the spirit of our Constitution and are certainly not "Christian". How many Dioceses/Parishes have CRISIS MANAGEMENT / CONFLICT REDRESS CELLS? And here we have Archbishop Couto harping on National Crisis!  We must first show a clean slate ourselves on Transparency and Accountability and being Humane to fellow Christians (Kerala Nurses' Agitation against Church-run Health institutions) before we venture to give sermons to the Government.

Along with prayers, we need a team of lawyers/Constitutional experts, who would advise and help our community in times of crises. They must be empanelled fulltime and funded by CBCI with transparent recovery from all the 174 dioceses (132 Latin Church, 31 Syro-Malabar, and 11 Syro-Malankara).
 

In this connection, it would be worthwhile to read the comments of Allan De Norohna (famous as Chhotebhai), who was President of AICU from 1990-1994, issued his views on Archbishop Anil Coutino's pastoral letter. This was done on 23 May 2018 in response to a report "DELHI ARCHBISHOP'S PRAYER FOR NATION TRIGGERS BJP REBUKE" Published on: 12:14 am, May 23, 2018 by: mattersindia.com.

May 23, 2018

Quote

There is a saying “fools will enter where angels fear to tread”. There is another saying “discretion is the better part of valour”. Unfortunately the archbishop of Delhi seems to have been seriously ill advised in releasing the appeal that he just made.

Before the Gujrat elections last year we had abp Macwan of Gandhinagar making a similar horrendous statement. This is deja vu.

Our bishops like John Joseph of Faisalabad Pakistan who shot himself in front of a court house 20 years ago seem to suffer from over sized egos and resultant misplaced actions.

If at all bishops want to earn their spurs they should close all elitist institutions, including those where the archbishop of Delhi resides, and exercise a preferential option for the poor and marginalized, the way that Abp Oscar Romero of Nicaragua did. He was shot dead by fascist forces. That would be an act of heroic virtue.

Why do bishops also encroach on the role of the laity. I was National President of the All India Catholic Union in 1991. I organized an all party meeting in Delhi and followed it up with election guidelines. The only opposition came from some fellow Catholics who perceived me as a leftist opposed to the Congress.

The AICU Secretary General and National Spokesperson are both based in Delhi. Were they taken into confidence before this statement was released? I hereby record my strong objection to the archbishop’s purported statement. He has unnecessarily given the BJP a long handle to beat us.

Unquote

 

In this regard, All India Catholic Union (AICU) which calls itself the largest and the oldest movement by Lay Christians in India, issued the following Press Statement in Kolkata (no leading newspaper in Kolkata carried this Press Statement):

 

MODI GOVERNMENT TRYING TO DIVIDE, COERCE CHURCH; AICU SOLIDARITY WITH DELHI ARCHBISHOP ANIL COUTO
AICU president demands halt to targeted violence against Dalits, religious minorities
 
PRESS STATEMENT
KOLKATA / DIMAPUR, 24 May, 2018
 
[The following press statement was issued by Mr. Lancy D Cunha, the National President of the All India Catholic Union, and Dr. John Dayal, Official Spokesman and former President. The 99-year-old AICU celebrates its 100 years in 2019.]
 
The All India Catholic Union expresses serious concern at attempts by the Union government, the ruling party and its ideological affiliates as well as a section of the media, to divide the Christian churches, pitting bishop against bishop, and targeting individual religious leaders who dare speak of the multiple threats posed to India’s democracy and its secular and plural character.
 
This malicious exercise wants national and world attention to shift from state violence against the people as in the police sniper fire in Tuticorin which killed 11 persons, including several Catholics, inured a priest and other innocents protesting the expansion of a dangerous Sterlite plant which will poison underground water resources of the community. This plant is owned by the powerful Vedanta group, one of the several crony capitalists who have the benign support of the government. AICU demands arrest of the police officers and their trial for this unprovoked violence. Police had not fired at upper caste miscreants who burnt and looted government property during violence in Rajasthan, Haryana and other northern states. Any self-respecting chief minister would have resigned in such a situation.
 
As the largest and oldest movement of lay Christians in the country, the AICU is deeply concerned at the government’s failure to condemn and contain the threats to freedoms of faith, livelihood and expression in the country. Our beloved land has been ravaged by caste violence. Dalits have been beaten to death in several states of the country. Dalits and Muslims have been lynched from Assam to Rajasthan on mere suspicion of eating beef or transporting cattle.
 
The persecution of Christians is at its height, in almost every state with Tamil Nadu, now in a total anarchy, topping in communal violence too. State impunity and often the collusion of local police and civil officials aggravates the situation. Police routinely file cases against the victims, even against relatives of people who have been beaten to death.
 
As followers of Christ who taught us to love everyone as we would love our brother, we cannot close our eyes when our citizens, who are among the poorest of the poor and are ostracized for their caste origins and religious affiliations, are being targeted and often beaten or hanged to death in full public view. The killers film the murder as if were an act of valor. The police look on. Ruling party members often take out processions seeking the release of the guilty. The rape of the shepherd child in Kathua, Jammu and Kashmir state, is the most heinous such act. Government has admitted to the death of 111 persons in822acts of communal violence in 2017. As we go towards the 2019 general elections, communal forces widen the polarisation by communal violence. It is crystal clear as to who benefits from the polarisation.
 
The Catholic Union stands in solidarity with Archbishop Anil Couto of the Delhi Latin Catholic Archdiocese and commends his courage, integrity and spiritual strength in calling attention to this rising tide of targeted violence against Dalits and religious minorities. Archbishop Anil has been hounded since his letter to his clergy asking his people to pray for the people, and to keep a special fast every Friday seeking blessings for India and peace in the land. We demand of every Bishop in India to issue such call for prayer for the country. We hope religious heads of all communities will also join in these prayers.
 
The Catholic Union had, in fact, organised such a prayer meeting In Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, earlier this. Alarmed at the very large number of incidents of violence against the Christian community in India in 2017, and specially in Madhya Pradesh, religious leaders of the Hindu, Muslim and other religions had come out strongly in support of the minority community, demanding that the government take strict and urgent action against the groups responsible for such mayhem. Acharya Sushil Goswami and Indore Shahar Quazi Mohammad Ishrat Ali had then led a galaxy of religious leaders of Madhya Pradesh who spoke out against communal and extremist forces targeting the Christian and other minority groups. We hope to organise more such meeting.
 
The Catholic Union has heard Central tourism minister Alphons Kannanatham saying that no Christian has been persecuted in the Modi regime. Mr. Alphons has also led the government brigade targeting Archbishop Anil Couto. Ministers have their compulsions. He must answer his own conscience. As must leaders of the Church who have been coerced or persuaded to issue certificates to the central government. The Church cannot close its eyes to violence against other marginalised communities even if not a single Christian is harmed, the Catholic Union affirms.
 
The Catholic Union has consistently decried the growing misuse of religion, religious symbols and places in the political discourse. We note with regret the increasing tendency of religious leaders to seek votes and support for the Central government and the ruling party in elections. Religious heads must educate their communities and the citizens large on strengthening the democratic traditions, including religious freedom and human rights, participation in the electoral. Religion must infuse Truth, Morality, Ethics, in the body politic, and not be divisive, incite violence or polarize people.
 
The Catholic Union has been in the forefront of the rights of Dalits and Tribals, specially those professing the Christian faith. AICU has filed a writ in the Supreme court together with others demanding Scheduled Case rights for Dalits professing the Christian Faith. We hope the courts will take a decision at an early date as this impacts the civic and human rights of a large number of people in the community.
——
Released to the Media by the official Spokesman, Dr. John Dayal. He may be contact at +91 9811021072 and john.dayal@gmail.com
 
The response of  Allan De Norohna (famous as Chhotebhai), who was President of AICU from 1990-1994, to this Press Statement is reproduced below:

QUOTE

The Working Committee of the AICU is meeting in Dimapur from 25th to 27th May. What then was the need to pre-empt it by issuing a press release from Kolkata on the eve of the meeting? This is unethical.

Those who are supporting the archbishop’s “prayer appeal” need to see the sharp reactions that have come in, including a call to close down the Papal Nunciature. What have we achieved? Nothing. To the contrary we have given political and social forces inimical to Christianity a long handle to beat us with.

This was another bloomer after that of Abp Macwan of Gandhinagar before last year’s Gujarat elections. When will we learn from past mistakes and not repeat them?

As President Emeritus of the AICU I hang my head in shame after reading the press release. It seems that far from being an autonomous body it has now become a lackey of the bishops, with some of their favourites calling the shots. Sad indeed.

UNQUOTE

Readers may access this at:

 
 
Regarding Farmer's suicide mentioned by Fr Cedric, he is correct as can be seen from the Mirrow Now report below:
 
Mirror now
May 27, 2018

The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA, Heera Lal Nagar, of Sangod constituency, mocked farmer’s suicide and said, “The farmers commit suicide so that they can get the monitory (to be monetary) benefits.” The leader showed insensitivity towards farmer’s suicide and linked it with loan waivers offered by the government.

 

Since 2016, more than 65 farmers have committed suicide and before 2016 no such incident of farmer’s suicide was recorded in Rajasthan.

Since 2016, more than 65 farmers have committed suicide and before 2016 no such incident of farmer’s suicide was recorded in Rajasthan. |Photo Credit: AP

 
Rajasthan:  With an unprecedented growth in farmer’s suicide, India is recorded to be worst hit by the agrarian crisis. The Census data of 2011 reveal a shrinking farmer population in the country. Some states are the worst by farmer suicides due to inability to pay debts along with negligible profits on the production – Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Nationwide, the farmers’ suicide rate was 16.3 percent per 1,00,000 farmers in 2011. The government's data doesnot include women farmers who committed suicide as women are not recognized as farmers. In Rajasthan, since 2016, more than 65 farmers have committed suicide and before 2016 no such incident of farmer’s suicide was recorded here, in Rajasthan.

While talking with Mirror Now the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA, Heera Lal Nagar, of Sangod constituency, Kota, mocked farmer’s suicide and said, “The farmers commit suicide so that they can get the monetory benefits.” Later, when he was asked again what he meant with the controversial statement, he denied claims and said, “I never said this statement, I have always worked and struggled for farmer’s benefits and I try they get best price for their production.”

 

The minister seemed perplexed and he continuously denied claims about his statement. He tried to justify his statement by making multiple remarks on farmer’s suicide and said, “Farmers should know that there is no provision of loan re-payment if any farmer commits suicide. it is media’s responsibility to guide the farmers and that suicide does not mean loan waivers.” He later began explaining, why a farmer commits suicide? and added, “We should understand the hidden reasons behind a farmer’s suicide. It is his inability of re-payment of loans and very less profits from his production.” The leader showed insensitivity towards farmer’s suicide and linked it with loan waivers offered by the government in some states.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1 Response

  1. Denis Daniel says:

    Wonderful mix of politics and sprituality, good and bad, legal and illegal, luminaries and blokes! The dilemma will be stranger than fiction; come general elections in 2019.

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