(Note: Fr. Cedric Prakash is an Indian Jesuit priest and committed human rights activist, is now with the Regional Advocacy & Communications Centre of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) Region, based in Beirut, Lebanon. Belonging to the Gujarat Jesuit Province of India, Fr. Cedric was until recently Director of "Prashant", a Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace, which he founded in 2001 in Ahmedabad. He has been at the forefront on issues related to human rights, justice, peace and other advocacy matters for which he has been honoured both in India and abroad. Notable among these is the Knighthood of the Legion of Honour, one of France’s highest civilian awards conferred on him in 2006. He has been a strong critic of Narendra Modi (since the time he was Chief Minister of Gujarat) and his hidden agenda to make India into a Majoritarian State by stifling freedom of expression, minority rights, and all forms of dissent including the Judiciary. This article by Fr. Cedric comes straight as an arrow which will shake up readers in their comfort zone and wake them up from their slumber. Through this forthright article, is Fr Cedric dropping a hint to the Indian Church too not to cold-shoulder Dissenting Voices which King Solomon would have considered "beacons of light"? Isaac Gomes, Associate Editor, Church Citizens' Voice).
Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
6th October 2017
Exactly one month after the brutal murder of Gauri Lankesh, the well-known journalist and activist, thousands of citizens gathered for a massive rally in Delhi on October 5th. It was truly a ‘March for Democracy’ demanding #JusticeForGauri and for intellectuals and journalists like Narendra Dabholkar, M.M. Kalburgi, Govind Pansare, Shantanu Bhowmick and several others, who have been killed in recent times, because of their courage to stand up for truth and justice.
The massive crowd comprised a large spectrum of civil society and included media personalities, human rights and social activists, students and academics, grass root workers and intellectuals. Their refrains were loud and clear ‘Protect Dissent and Democracy’, and say ‘No to Fear and Hate’. Posters and banners with slogans like “We are Gauri” and the words of Pablo Neruda “You can crush the flowers but you cannot stop the spring”, were carried by the marchers.
As if on cue, most of the so-called ‘mainstream media’ hardly gave this massive march the coverage it deserved! Several of the journalists and other media folk in India, are coopted, bought up or bamboozled into silence. Some are just frightened. Huge corporations that are in sync with a corrupt Government, through dubious ways, have taken over some of the major print and electronic media. More are apparently in the offing. There are a good many media ‘guys’ who scream themselves hoarse on their channels in efforts to mouth lies, half-truths, ‘feku-isms’ and toe the line of their political bosses.
Freedom of speech and expression is systematically being throttled in India; the marchers in Delhi, made this evidently clear to all. Few of the major newspapers in India are able to demonstrate the freedom, the courage, the objectivity and the intellectual depth which some of the US dailies do today, as they take on President Trump and his policies, incessantly. Fortunately, we still have some excellent journalists, in India today, made in the mould of Gauri, who are articulate and fearlessly take on the fascists and fundamentalists who are trying to deny the citizens of their legitimate rights.
Very significantly on October 5th, it was announced in Stockholm that the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2017 was awarded to English author Kazuo Ishiguro "who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world". Ishiguro has written several best-selling novels. He also speaks plainly on critical issues. Writing a powerful op-ed in the ‘Financial Times’ (July 1st 2016) a little after the United Kingdom had decided to leave the European Union, he raises a critical question as to whether Britain had voted for xenophobia; he concludes his article saying, “we need a second referendum, for or against a “Brexit Light”, that will unite Britain around its traditional humane instincts. And to isolate the racists who today deludedly believe they have won the backing of the country’. Words certainly very applicable to the situation in India today!
Fr Cedric Prakash playing with children in a refugee centre in the Middle East – RV
And he said: "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3)
More than 175 years ago, novelist and playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton in his historical play of 1839, ‘Cardinal Richelieu’ wrote those immortal words, "the pen is mightier than the sword." Richelieu who was the Chief minister of King Louis XIII, discovers a plot to kill him; but he is a priest and therefore unable to take up arms against his enemies. His page, Francois, points out to him, “but now, at your command are other weapons, my good Lord”. And Richelieu readily agrees, ‘the pen is mightier than the sword… Take away the sword; States can be saved without it!”
Across the world today, several dictators, fascists, fundamentalists and totalitarian regimes are afraid of the pen and use the sword to throttle freedom of speech and expression. Journalists and others who are visible and vocal in taking a stand for truth and justice, are harassed and incarcerated; brutalized and murdered. There is however, only one way forward: more power to the word! Therein lies our hope for tomorrow!
*(Fr. Cedric Prakash sj is a human rights activist. Contact:firstname.lastname@example.org)