Letter to the Editor
Isaac Gomes, Kolkata.
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:
- Supremacy of the Constitution
- Rule of law
- The principle of Separation of Powers
- The objectives specified in the Preamble to the Constitution
- Judicial Review
- Articles 32 and 226
- Federalism (including financial liberty of states under Articles 282 and 293)
- The Sovereign, Democratic, Republican structure
- Freedom and dignity of the individual
- Unity and integrity of the Nation
- The principle of equality, not every feature of equality, but the quintessence of equal justice;
- The "essence" of other Fundamental Rights in Part III
- The concept of social and economic justice — to build a Welfare State: Part IV in toto
- The balance between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles
- The Parliamentary system of government
- The principle of free and fair elections
- Limitations upon the amending power conferred by Article 368
- Independence of the Judiciary
- Effective access to justice
- Powers of the Supreme Court under Articles 32, 136, 141, 142
- Legislation seeking to nullify the awards made in exercise of the judicial power of the State by Arbitration Tribunals constituted under an Act
- 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
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.
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):
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.
Readers may access this at:
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.
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.”