(Note: Kolkata witnessed a powerful seminar on the status of Christians vis-a-vis the current political scenario in India, on 9th July 2017, at St Xavier's College auditorium which was packed to capacity. This seminar followed a similar programme organised by Bangiyo Christiyo Parisheba (BCP) and Nabayon at YMCA Chowringhee Kolkata on 1st July 2017 – reported in the Herald Kolkata 07-13 July 2017. While the BCP Seminar stressed on the urgent need for Unity of all Christians in spite of the Institutionalised Indian Church divided into 500 denominations all over India and called for a People's Movement, the seminar at St Xavier's was resplendent with contrasting pictures of stark realities, optimism, pragmatism and several practical directions to the Laity. Report by Isaac Gomes, Associate Editor, CCV).
On Sunday 9th July 2017, there was a seminar at St Xavier's College Auditorium, Kolkata from 4-7 pm, to commemorate Laity Sunday. The topic was "CURRENT POLITICAL SCENARIO AFFECTING CHRISTIANS IN INDIA." The speakers in sequence were:
1. Dr John Dayal
2. Mr Derek O’Brien, Member of Parliament Rajya Sabha and
3. Archbishop Thomas D’Souza, Archbishop of Calcutta Archdiocese.
Dr John Dayal was the first speaker. He began with a poser “By the partition of India and by accepting Pakistan as a nation, did we also agree that after 70 years we would become a Hindu Rashtra?” His next question was “Are religious minorities cautious in India?” He then mentioned of his friend Saeed Naqvi, a senior Indian journalist, television commentator and interviewer, who informed him that the hottest debate now was: “Is the egg vegetarian or is it non-vegetarian?” By this question Dr John Dayal felt that his friend possibly implied what is beef and what is not in the light of lynching by cow vigilantes and what is happening in Bengal. Dr John said that Indian scientists have recently invented a pocket-sized instrument that can instantly detect whether a piece of meat is beef or something else – a feat which is worthy of Nobel Prize or a patent. Mr Naqvi felt there seems to be a design to make religious minorities same as those in Pakistan – subdued without rights – where women get raped, forcibly married or converted, threatened to be executed without rhyme or reason, where Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman was on a death row on charges of blasphemy.
Dr John said as a reporter he has seen Muslims kill Hindus and Christians; Jews kill Palestinians; Palestinians kill Jews; Hindus kill Muslims and Sikhs; Buddhists who look so peaceful like Dalai Lama kill Christians and Hindus in Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Burma; and Hindus kill Christians in Kandhamal Orissa. He said he has seen bloodshed by people of all faith, however pure and peaceful their founders were including Jesus’ own. He said he was very worried as to what sort of response we can give. Are we aware of what is happening to minorities? Can we think coherently and define strategies after realising the conspiracies? Do we have the unity, physical or numerical strength to work out a strategy or alliance to be able to respond? Or just pray? He said that the Church is the first original civil society – civil in all senses of the word. Only a cleansed and strong church can think coherently, become a focal point to respond, with others coming together. Can it deliver? Do we have a shattered church divided by rites on economic, social and caste status?
He said there is a growing belief in the present dispensation that divisive politics will lead to political power.
Jesus said: “Love your neighbour as I have loved you”. But have we as a people voiced our love and support for our brothers and sisters in distress? We have remained silent in the face of lynching of Dalits by cow vigilantes. We have not spoken the truth on many occasions. We have not shown oneness and solidarity in civil society which has shown the courage to protest. Many in the Church leadership say “Give to Ceaser what is Ceaser’s.” But can we give up our conscience or moral standard? We are Jesus’ children. Can we be safe when our brother is targeted? This must weigh heavy on our minds.
Jesuits and Salesians have a proven track record of having brought education to India. William Carey brought the letters. But now every Tom, Dick and Harry with half a million dollars is setting up a university in Delhi, Bangalore and other parts of India. Every 20 kilometres one can find a university. In spite of this, our record in education and health stands. Others have just built on our record and we are no longer indispensable as before but at the same time not dispensable. We cannot become dispensable as a people of faith, for that is our struggle.
The Church is a moral and ethical watchdog. It makes Christian faith in India, a pillar for the civil society of the country, to play an important role to safeguard the constitutional values of India that underpin the idea of India. The idea of India is based on the value of Dharma enjoining the civil society and the common citizens in reclaiming citizenship and pristine constitutionality to proclaim these values. He called upon the Archbishop of Calcutta and Derek O’Brien to give the leadership India requires at this juncture, to strengthen our courage and resolve.
The National Education Policy (NEP) attacks two important aspects of education: (1) The search and inquiry for truth (2) It introduces falsehood. It brings into History Mythology, it purges entire communities of their history, it simply erases their history as if they never existed. We think it is a minor encroachment on Article 30 that we can combat in High Courts and the Supreme Court. But if the foundation has been erased, what will you challenge?
Religion and the State should be absolutely separate. Slowly the State is creeping into religion and religion entering the State. It is a two-way traffic with dangerous consequences. The Indian Judicial Academy at Bhopal MP invited RSS Chief to address young judges. Instead of the RSS answering for their sins, they are teaching our judges Good Governance and Justice! He ended by asking "So what has Ceaser given us?"
Mr Derek O’Brien began by saying that he was an optimist while Dr John Dayal was a realist. He said instead of the topic being "CURRENT POLITICAL SCENARIO AFFECTING CHRISTIANS IN INDIA" , he would rather term it "CURRENT POLITICAL SCENARIO AFFECTING INDIANS" as otherwise we can get bogged into the 2.3% population bracket. We must think broad to assess a very realistic picture of the current political scenario in India. He began on a very pragmatic note and dispelled a number of notions. He said that the popular notion of Christians to others was that in times of persecution, they hold candlelit processions with nuns in front. Then he enlightened the audience on the number of Christian MPs in the Parliament. He said things were not as grim as some Christian leaders portrayed it. He proved it by statistics. He said for one constituency an MP represented 15 Lac people. In terms of Community-wise breakup of MPs, he said for every 40 Lac Muslims there is one MP; for every 17 Lac Sikhs there is one MP; for every 13 Lac Hindus, there is one MP and for every 10 Lac Christians, one MP. So according to statistics, Christians though they form 2.3% of the Indian Population, community-wise they are best represented. He further added that going by election results, there are 15 constituencies where Christians constituted more than 40% of the electorate. Out of this 6 constituencies were in Kerala and the rest in the North-east. So on an average there should be 15 Christian MPs but actually it is 27 Christian MPs! Out of the 20 MPs who sit on the front row at Rajya Sabha, 4 MPs i.e. 20% are Christians – Kurien and Anthony from Kerala, Tirkey from Orissa and Derek from West Bengal. So he asked why we Christians are complaining, for we are very well represented in the Parliament. This is the Good News. The Bad News was how to get most of them work together.
He also cautioned the packed assembly against being swayed by Whatsapp messages especially religious ones and circulating them like wildfire. He emphasised that before circulating these one should get them verified whether they are “fake”. There are two to three places where a message whether it is fake or real can be authenticated. Failing this verification, members of a community will get worked up and make an issue out of the messages. Once “we are the oppressed minority” takes root, polarisation works. He advised that we should not get into a situation where we can get polarised because it will not help us but the perpetrators who plant these fake messages.
Mr Derek also mentioned that forums like this should be replicated in rural Bengal and that Kolkata, Park Street and Peter Cat restaurant do not represent Bengal. He said we tend to be a little elitist – English speaking and Peter Cat eating and stressed that real Bengal is beyond Kolkata. We need to be more inclusive and find a simple way to stay in touch. Mr Derek said if there is any Christian issue, he must be informed at his email ID firstname.lastname@example.org so that he may take it up in the next Parliamentary session. He also said that the current political equation is very clear. It is BJP-RSS versus the rest.
On being questioned about reservation for Christians, Mr Derek categorically said NO. The reason he gave was the Christian Educational institutions were providing quality education and therefore equipping their students to stand on their own feet without taking the crutch of reservation. Also Christian institutions were providing teaching and other jobs to Christian candidates on a preferential basis. (Isaac's note: Indian Constitution does not allow any reservation for minorities: Najma Heptullah – Hindustan Times, 30 August, 2014. She said "My focus is always education. I reject the ways in which the carrot has been shown to minorities all these years that you should have reservation in jobs. It won’t be possible because of the Constitution… so why do things you can’t do?" ).
During Question:Answer session, Mr Derek brought up the issue of giving admission to Christian students in Christian Minority institutes. The Archbishop of Calcutta cleverly cited the Catholic Bishop Conference of India (CBCI) Educational Policy which stipulates that each Catholic child will get admission into a Catholic school. Mr Derek countered that it was not the admission but the huge dropout of Christian students after classes 5-6 that needs to be arrested in elite Christian institutes. He said he received many complaints that Catholic students were being thrown out of elite missionary institutes. He reiterated arrangements should be made that no Christian student drops out and all of them complete at least class XII. There was a thunderous clap from the audience for they realised Derek was talking of development at the grass-roots.
What Mr Derek left unsaid was Christians were denied admission in St Xavier's College (percentage of Christians is abysmally low and St Xavier's (now a University) has not come up with the statistics to the contrary). There should be transparency as maintained by Mr Derek's alma mater Scottish Church College which clearly states on its website (General 39%, Christians 30%, SC 22%, ST 6% and Physically Challenged 3%) and also the fact there is no management quota. St Xavier's College / University has unspecified management quota. Mr Derek also mentioned that Christian colleges should hold counselling sessions for parents why their children were rejected. This St Xavier's never does. Also with its huge fees, St Xavier’s creates an entry barrier for economically weak meritorious Christian students. How many parents of Christian students can afford Rupees Six-Eight Lac for 5-year M.Sc. Multimedia Self-financed course? Incidentally Mr Derek is an alumni of Scottish Church College.
Both the speakers 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.
ARCHBISHOP THOMAS D’SOUZA
The Archbishop of Calcutta Archdiocese spoke last, from the CBCI standpoint on the Church response to the present developments affecting the Christian Community of India.
He said there are challenges within the church like declining family values, lack of understanding of marriage as a sacrament, growing consumerism, addiction to modern gizmos and social media, large scale migration within the country (for jobs), increasing gap between the rich and poor, narrow unitary culture, unemployment, increasing intolerance, pornography, and growing criminalisation and terrorism. He said the church needs to respond to these – it’s a necessity. Wellbeing of the family and society is very important. He said there should be frequent visits of Parish Priests to families for pro life issues, promoting family prayers and family meals, decrease of vocation, shift of emphasis from maintenance to mission, and integration of parishioners with Parish Pastoral Council. He said the Laity must be encouraged to share the priestly, prophetic and kingly ministry of the clergy.
He said there was a need for value and quality education especially for those on the periphery of the society; and for more Christians to go in for Civil service, judiciary and politics. There is also a need for advocacy for human rights especially women’s safety and empowerment, and enhancing critical thinking. This will help uphold truth and dignity which is the same for all. He urged the audience to always support the truth for truth will win ultimately.
To a question on casteism in Christianity, he 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.
As Mr Derek O'Brien summed it so aptly, forums like this on Laity Awareness must not be restricted to Calcutta Archdiocese but must be replicated in the rural belt all over India, for a ripple effect.