Letter to the Editor on:
Unity & Equality in Diversity, Constitution study in Schools: Start this year says CBCI
from : Isaac Gomes, Kolkata
With reference to the above article recently published in Church Citizens' Voice, the initiative on the need to study the Indian Constitution was not proposed by Archbishop Thomas D'Souza of Calcutta. It was first initially and officially spelt out by Bishop Salvadore Lobo of Baruipur Diocese, West Bengal, at the Indian Catholic Press Association (ICPA) Convention at Indore on 9th March 2018, as reported by the ICPA Secretary Jose Vincent. Bishop Lobo said this as the Chairman of the National Social Communications Commission. I am a member of ICPA and of the Social Communications Commission – Archdiocese of Calcutta. At none of our Social Communications meetings or in any publication in the Herald, which is the official mouthpiece of the Archdiocese of Calcutta, this initiative of the Archbishop of Calcutta was ever discussed or reported.
The Office for Education and Culture under the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India deserves kudos for having released on June 11, a 9-page module to teach the Preamble of the Indian Constitution in Church-managed schools. However nowhere this Module is visible. If it is for the Common Good why has it been kept under wraps? CBCI would do well to publish it in all the dioceses/parishes of India for review and feedback from the faithful which includes many well-informed teachers, lawyers and other luminaries. Congratulations to Father Sunny Jacob, Secretary of the Jesuit Educational Association of South Asia, for preparing the Module. Let us hope it is the beginning of the process of disseminating the full Indian Constitution in modular form among the Laity across all dioceses and parishes, through Sunday Schools and special seminars, besides teaching them in our schools. It would be a good idea to release the modules beforehand on the CBCI website or on the diocesan websites. CBCI can even make it public so that the Aam Janta can benefit from this initiative and in the process, CBCI will have participated in nation-building by disseminating the correct knowledge.
In fact, this was expressed in my letter to the Editor in the Herald Kolkata issue dated 23-29 March 2018. The relevant excerpt is reproduced below:
Ref. Report on the National Convention of Christian Journalists organised by the Indian Catholic Press Association (ICPA) at Indore, Bishop Salvadore Lobo, National Chairman of Social Communications, rightly stressed on the need to study the Constitution of India to know our fundamental rights and duties, to protect ourselves and our democracy. In fact Bishop Stephen Lepcha had emphasised on this during the Regional Laity Commission Convention on 28th February 2018. Our Missionary institutes which have 25% controlling stake in the Education Sector in India, must show the way, by disseminating the Constitution systematically over a period of time. The Constitution study can be made interesting through Quizzes and Debates.
The Catholic Teachers’ Guild Kolkata, can set the tone in keeping with Gopal Krishna Gokhale’s remark: "What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow" and in deference to the two Bishops from the Bengal Region. The Laity which according to Bishop Stephen constitutes 99% of the Church must be particularly vigilant to shake itself off the tag “Sleeping Giants.” One must be particularly wary of the Amendments being proposed. Since its first enactment in 1950, till date there have been 101 (latest by GST Act) amendments to the Constitution by invoking Article 368. Article 368 deals with the powers of the Parliament to amend the Constitution and specifies the procedure for this. The Parliament however CANNOT amend those provisions which form the ‘Basic Structure’ of the Constitution e.g. Secularism, Fundamental Rights, Independence of Judiciary, Parliamentary System of Government, etc. The Constitution is superior to all other laws of the country. Every law enacted by the government has to be in conformity with the Constitution.
(Link of the relevant letter on page 4 of the Herald Kolkata 23-29th March 2018 has been given above).
Regarding Dr Kottoor's observation "Catholic Hierarchy in fact has a much taller and more offensive ladder of inequality, of a power structure, much worse than the degrading Caste system in Hinduism", what he has left unsaid in this report (he had done it earlier) that the Indian Church hierarchy itself suffers from and tacitly encourages casteism which like an eyesore is prevalent particularly in South India (Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andrha Pradesh) where there are separate castewise queues for communion and also castewise burial grounds with walled partition. Can you imagine Brahmin and Sudra Christians? In Christianity there cannot be any CASTEISM for through one Baptism we all become one with Christ. So the Church is in a very weak position when it takes up cudgels against Casteism from Constitutional point of view, especially in the light of THE UNTOUCHABILITY (OFFENCES) ACT, 1955.
It fact the Indian Catholic Church hierarchy propagates Casteism when it takes up a posture for Dalit Christian Reservation for as mentioned above, in Christianity there is no Casteism. This is the reason All India Catholic Union will find it virtually impossible to win the case on Reservation for Dalit Christians in the Supreme Court. At a seminar titled "CURRENT POLITICAL SCENARIO AFFECTING CHRISTIANS IN INDIA" on 9th July 2017, at St Xavier's College Kolkata. On being questioned about reservation for Christians, Derek O'Brien, Trinamool Party MP, categorically said NO. The reason he gave was that Christian Educational institutions were providing quality education and therefore were preparing their students to stand on their own feet without taking the crutch of reservation. Both the keynote speakers (including John Dayal) admitted that in spite of court cases, reservation for Dalit Christians was a virtual impossibility under the present dispensation as (1) Even the Congress Government could not do this during its long tenure (2) Even Dalits were opposed welcoming them into their fold. In fact Archbishop Thomas D'Souza while answering a question on casteism in Christianity, had said casteism in Christianity is a sin. There is no place for casteism in Christianity because it was totally against the teachings of the church – all were equal in the eyes of Jesus Christ.
The term `Dalit Christians’ itself is a non-starter. In the court also no Archbishop/Bishop will be able to stand and justify this demand for Reservation for Dalit Christians because officially in Christianity there is no inequality and untouchability – all are equal in the eyes of God through one Baptism in Christ.
Regarding Dr Kottoor's contention that the declared objective of NDA is to saffronize the whole of India, to make India ruled by Hindutva religious ideology since the vast majority (80%) profess Hinduism according to India's 2011 census, this is outrageous. Does he mean to say that this 80% majority Hindu population has sprung up geometrically only during the four-year NDA rule? Wasn't this the percentage of population in all previous censuses conducted during the 60-year Congress and then the UPA regime? Did India become a Hindu State then? Dr Kottoor and his Archbishop friends seem to be unaware that the BASIC STRUCTURE of the India Constitution cannot be altered/diluted/tampered with even by legislation by all MPs. Secularism is one such basic feature which cannot be altered. So even if NDA were to be voted back to power in the 2019 general elections with a thumping majority, it cannot officially declare India as a Hindu State for it will violate the BASIC STRUCTURE (which is sacrosanct) of the Constitution and the Supreme Court of India as the arbiter of constitutional amendments, will put its foot down. There is no doubt a concerted trend of MAJORITARIANISM and intolerance which is setting in, but this is just to polarise voters. The common citizen should understand this ploy and exercise discretion/ discernment to see through which political party has election manifesto for the Common Good of all citizens. One must be watch out for the three very high profile exists that have taken place under the NDA regime. These are: (1) the exit of Reserve Bank of India governor, Raghuram Rajan' (2) the resignation of Arvind Panagariya as Vice Chairman of the government think tank NITI Aayog and (3) the stepping down of Arvind Subramanian yesterday as the Union government’s chief economic adviser (CEA). The first two are already in the USA in academia, while Arvind Subramanian too will go the USA to take care of pressing family commitments. The NDA government is also without its Chief Statistical Officer. This is a really weird situation, with half a Finance Minister who has been unwell for quite some time.
Regarding Dr Kottoor's argument "why do today’s politicians allege that bishops are driven by a hidden political agenda, even when they do not deal in any party politics?", certainly our bishops do play politics. They do so at all levels – both inside the Church and outside as the Pastoral Letters of the three Archbishops reveal to all, except to those who prefer to wear blinkers or rose-coloured spectacles. Throughout Church history, starting with the Popes, the Church has been in politics, even the crowning of emperors. To thwart Church's dominant role in politics, Emperor Napolean Bonaparte was the first who took (read snatched) the crown from the Pope Pius VII to crown himself and his wife Josephine. The only difference is that the bishops / cardinals do not take part in active politics, they fire over the shoulders of their flock. In this respect Chhotebhai who is the National President Emeritus of the All India Catholic Union, hits the nail on the head in his article ONE LETTER TOO MANY (A sequel to “Men of Letters”) which was published in CCV in June 2018. He wrote: "My wife, who is far wiser and more practical than me, has a different take. She says “Let the bishops stand for election”. Let them walk through the grime of overcrowded city slums, or the dusty and parched lands of distant villages. Only then would they understand what electoral politics is all about. They may then refrain from issuing more such “pastoral letters”.
Let us hope this Modular exercise of Constitutional studies in our Missionary Schools (it is already in the curriculum of many ICSE schools) is launched soon and the timeframe is specified. Similar timeframe must be set by CBCI for installation of Parish Finance Committees (PFC) in all parishes of India. CBCI cannot take piecemeal approach.