(Note: To refresh memories, Fr.Joseph Mattam sj, is the founder and dean of the Jesuit Regional Seminary in Gujarat, Vadodara (Baroda). Besides, he is a regular invitee to speak at national and international forums on religious issues, also to Indian Bishops’ Conference. His forte is writing on Theological and Scriptural issues. CCV published several of his articles. This time he is taking a shot at the emerging destabilized political situation of confusion, conflict, divisions and unrest plaguing the nation with no clear solution in sight.
When political and cultural turmoil take place in countries, we see religious leaders, especially bishops and clergy, men who have no vested interest, or supposed to have none, speak out for defending perennial truths and guide a confused people. This does not, or rarely happen, in India for lack of enlightened courageous men with vision, conviction and action. So it is very refreshing that Fr. Mattam, one of the noted Catholic clergymen, has come out with his forthright analysis of the present political situation in India. What is the way out when too many senior citizens are asking questions, demanding public discussion while the clergy whose proclaimed duty is to be uninterrupted preachers of the good news showing the way forward, keep their mouths constantly shut?
So may the CCV invite both bishops and clergy to follow his lead to speak out, as Jesus did once when faced with a sheep without a shepherd, to enlighten the public on socio-political and religious matters. Equally we request our readers to send in their considered reactions for or against. Also suggest at the same time practical course of action to be taken to bring about clarity where there is confusion, unity where there is division, peace and prosperity where there is murderous conflict, all for that real “Ache Din” for which all are yearning! james kottoor, editor.)
On May 26th the Modi government has completed three years and there have been various celebrations all over the country highlighting the great imaginary achievements of the government. The illusion that has been created and propagated is that the country is moving towards great prosperity which it did not have all these years. There is a whole propaganda team at work creating the illusion of everything is well, everything is better. This government has been great in image creation and creating illusions. Many TV channels are sold out to the Modi government.
Looking at random, one gets the impression that there is not much to celebrate, but a feeling that everything is not in order. Discrimination and violence against dalits and Adivasis are widespread. There has been centralization; the prime minister is everything; the cabinet seems to have disappeared in fact. One does not hear anything about the cabinet or any of the ministers. It is all Modi and Modi alone matters. Protests by farmers have increased in many parts of the country; they are suppressed everywhere; again many lives have been lost through police firing. The number of farmer suicides has gone up during these years. Most of the protests have been underplayed, given no publicity. The media seems to be completely sold out to the Modi government.
The Central government took an unprecedented step in November 2016, namely, demonetization. The government has praised the move as very positive; however, the government is unable to provide any reasonable argument for having taken such a drastic step without enough preparation and consultation. A majority of the country’s marginalized population, such as Dalits, Adivasis and fisher folk who depend on cash for their daily needs have been very badly affected. These people, who belong to the labour class and subsist on daily wages, have suffered a lot due to demonetization.
Most of the construction workers lost their jobs, or got jobs only for few days in the week. As they were not paid on time due to the shortage of money these people suffered enormously. It affected the auto-rickshaw drivers as they failed to pay loans they had taken to buy their vehicle. This also caused great suffering to fish vendors due to the lack of access to bank and financial institutions; they are caught in a debt trap, and are forced to become victims to money lenders at exorbitant rate of interest. Demonetisation has worsened the economic situation of the country. The media simply ignored the job loss, wage loses and the hardships the people had to undergo; no one talks about the number of people who lost their life by standing in line at the banks.
What is becoming evident to everyone is the growing influence of the multi-national corporations on government policies. The environment ministry has been granting clearances to many of the mining projects in environmentally sensitive areas without following proper procedures and ignorning the objections by the local people. The government is unconcerned about the Adivasi land rights. There is increasing break-down of law and order in Naxal affected Adivasi areas of the country especially Chhattisgarh where the security forces rape and kill Adivasis with impunity. With the present government openly siding with the private companies and corporations, the Tribals are left with no choice but to lose their land.
We know even today there are around 300 million people without access to electricity. There are five lakh vacancies of teachers in government primary schools and 14 per cent of secondary schools do not have the prescribed minimum number of teachers. A big number of schools are managed by single teachers. Without exception, even poor parents report that government schools are not teaching and so all those who can afford send their children to private schools, incurring enormous economic burdens.
Lack of will on the part of the government to ensure greater accountability and transparency in its functioning, can be inferred from its various actions and inactions in the last three years. The implementation of the Lokpal law has been languishing since the BJP came to power three years ago. There is a determined move against the policy of reservations. The government’s promise to ensure development of all has proved a failure. It is not even able to ensure safety for the marginalised sections. Dalits and Adivasis all over the country are forced to live in fear. From a Dalit perspective, injustice, oppression and discrimination have escalated. Human rights came under sustained assault by state and non-state actors; there have been attacks on African students which the government does not want to recognize as racist attacks. Violence against women in general is increasing.
The NDA government, which came to power in 2014 with a landslide victory, has forgotten the great promises it had made at that time. Nothing is heard about the great promises Modi made during the election period like depositing 15 Lakhs rupees in the account of every Indian; fantastic promises were made, but nothing has come of those promises. People obviously have forgotten those promises.
The state has constantly suppressed any dissenting and questioning voices. Freedom of expression has been systematically suppressed and people have been persecuted. For example, Teesta Setalvad has been subjected to judicial persecution, harassment and intimidation, for she had stood with the victims of the Gujarat riots. The killing of a leader of the Hizbul Mujahideen in July 2016 sparked widespread protests. Security forces used excessive force against demonstrators on several occasions; at least 14 people were killed and hundreds blinded by the use of pellet-firing shotguns.
Cow on centre stage
After all the talk of the temple, now the cow has been brought to the centre stage; cow protection is the most important task of the government today; people and their well being do not really matter to the government; the cow and its protection are the most important concerns of the Modi government. In the name of the cow how many people have been killed in different parts of the country? The cow has always been an effective weapon for the BJP not only to divide the people communally but also to divert their attention from real national concerns. Vigilante and cow protection (self appointed) groups harass and attack people, especially Muslims and dalits in various states, especially in Gujarat, Haryana, Rajasthan, MP., and UP.
For the Prime Minister’s mantra of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas to ring true, words need to translate to action. These slogans have merely remained on paper. Contrary to the tall claims of the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister, the economy is facing a slowdown.
Much noise had been made about the so called “surgical strike”; no doubt the army has been active and has done well, though the situation in Kashmir and the terrorist attacks from Pakistan continue unabated. The situation in Kashmir has become so bad, that even girls have taken to stone pelting.
Myths taught as science
The autonomy of the educational institutions, especially higher education has been taken away; mythical stories of the Vedic times and earlier are now made into scientific truths for the modern students. The promotion of Hindutva, the Gita, Yoga, surya namaskar, etc have become the main concerns of the government. The spirit of intolerance that is growing in the country led to the murders of Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M.M. Kalburgi. The protest by Kanhaiya Kumar, the protests in Ramjas college, the Hyderabad University, the agitation in Una, Gujarat all show the dissatisfaction with the Modi Government.
Cry of Farmers ignored
What is obvious is the rise of the Hindutva forces in the country and the centralization of the cow. Real concerns like joblessness, the increasing number of rapes and murder of women, attacks on dalits, the agonizing cry of the farmers, all these receive hardly any attention from the government; but the cow has become the rallying point in the country. The Hindutva forces are becoming so assertive that we can no more hope for a country which is religiously, culturally and linguistically pluralistic, growing based on the values of the Indian Constitution.
The Kashmir situation has significantly worsened. On all fronts the government has been a failure; they have resorted to the cow as an escape. The cow slaughter is a state matter; the central government has no say in the matter.