An Indian Catholic places candles at a crucifix on the occasion of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God at St. Mary's Basilica in Secunderabad on Jan. 1. (Photo: AFP)
The year 2020 began, as every new year does, with the promise of hope and possibilities. It soon turned into a nightmare. Covid-19 ravaged our world. Even the mightiest nations on earth have felt the chill, with 356,000 dead in the United States alone.
But with far fewer deaths from the pandemic, India still suffered possibly its worst social impact. It ruined the lives and livelihoods of over 1,000 million marginalized and vulnerable Indians. These toiling and exploited citizens have a historic resilience and a spirit strengthened and not broken in struggle and will spring back to a better life.
Our hope is rooted in our belief that the rest of the country, its government at the center and in the states, and its institutions have learned lessons. When governance failed and institutions let down the people, including the migrant laborers trudging back home from closed factories, common people were roused by the misery and pain they saw in the images on their TVs and social media. Religious groups, healthcare workers and youth risked their lives to provide the much-needed relief.
But more than the pandemic, 2020 is also seared in our memories for the corporate-driven, undemocratic, authoritarian and anti-poor government unleashing one policy and program after the other to grievously injure the constitution and ethical governance. In cold blood, this encouraged targeted hate which often resulted in violence against minorities and the poor, often leaving many dead in its wake.
The 2019 protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) were crushed in the Covid-19 curfew. Ministers and politicians spewed political venom. Police impunity reached heights not known in the past. The climax is the series of ordinances by several states in the strange dog-whistle name of “love jihad” which target Muslim men, rob Hindu women of all agency, and put fear in the heart of the women, Christians, tribal people and Dalits.
In between terrorizing students and youth, governments jailed brilliant scholars and ageing activists, many critically ill, on charges of treason, using courts to keep them in jail without bail. The government enacted ordinances and framed policies without any debate inside and outside parliament when citizens were grappling with the deadly pandemic.
Long-term damage to citizens is done by the National Education Policy, FCRA Amendment Act, Environmental Impact Assessment, three labor ordinances and three farm ordinances. The tillers of the soil are forced into an unequal equation with the national and international corporate sector. Farmers from across the country have laid siege to the national capital, demanding that the government repeal the rapacious laws. Democratic and secular forces stand in unity with the farmers in what they see is a common struggle to wrest back democracy. Though the government and crony media have blacked it out, the alternative people’s media is carrying the message to the remotest villages of India.
The farmers' agitation also reminds the people of what the government failed to do by way of reforms in education, electoral processes, ecology, labor laws, judicial, police and prison systems.
The Indian Christian community has an opportunity to recognize our constitutional and religious responsibility to the emerging India. We are called upon to respond in actions based as much on Gospel as on constitutional values. To be able to do that, we would necessarily have to understand the multiple, and multi-layered crises we face as a community and as a people. The issues are both external and within the community.
The external crises include denial of the constitutional rights of women, children, Dalits, tribal people, most backward castes and minorities, aggressive monoculture, market-led wants, the corporate-driven economy, donor-driven development, fundamentalism and fascism, breakdown of family, cultural and moral values, and poverty amidst plenty.
Most people are on the move and have become migrants and refugees and not citizens. Increasing technology results in insecurity, which is aggravated by diminishing opportunities for educability and employability for a major segment of youth from rural, marginalized and excluded communities. This indicates a disordered and disintegrating nation and an undemocratic, authoritarian and autocratic regime.
The crises within the Church include heightened clericalism and patriarchy, sexual abuse, aggressive pursuit of consumerism, careerism and individualism, often uninspiring and weak leadership which encourages cronyism and mediocrity, caste, ethnic and regional, denial of proportionate representation and participation of Dalit Christians, and insensitivity to the struggles of tribal people.
A singular lack of meaningful planning and implementation, monitoring and evaluation, deficiencies in competence, commitment, passion and creativity in mission remain the order of the day.
Emerging India and the crisis within the Church demand a positive and proactive response from the Christian community.
Now it is do or die
The Indian Church cannot remain a mute spectator, nor pretend to be safe. If we fail the nation, our fellow citizens may not stand by Indian Christians when we and our identity face an existential threat from fascist, authoritarian and autocratic governments.
Some possible internal programs of action are:
— Let us be observant, gather information, study-analyze the emerging issues.
— Let us organize webinars, seminars, meetings on issues that affect the common masses. Also, on constitutional and human rights, policies and programs of the government that are detrimental to the poor and vulnerable, especially women, Dalits, tribal people, minorities.
— Let us use social media to highlight national issues like the farmers’ and anti-CAA movements.
— Let us join, support other initiatives taken by civil society and human rights groups.
— Let us participate in activities, public programs, initiatives, campaigns, dharnas, rallies, sign online petitions of CSOs, etc.
— Let us publicize secular efforts, initiatives in our churches, institutions and invite credible persons from civil and secular organizations and other religions.
— Let us start or join youth clubs, peace clubs, eco clubs, women’s forums, Dalit forums, tribal forums, etc.
— Let us be linked with local, diocesan, institutional and congregational, inter-church commissions and forums that are outward-looking and have credibility.
— Let us identify a spokesperson on secular and social issues in our institutions, dioceses, congregations and collectives of the Christian community to join in solidarity.
— Let us pray without ceasing. Pray within the Christian community and with people of other faiths for God’s intervention to protect and promote life, livelihood and rights of all citizens.
Some possible external programs of action are:
— First and foremost, the Indian Church should realize this fundamental fact: no farmers means no food and no bread. It is the hard labor of the farmers in sun and rain, day and night, which provides bread and wine for the Eucharist.
— The Indian Church should join others in support of various movements that are going on in India. Media reported that Delhi police on Dec. 1 stopped Bilkis Bano, who became a symbol of the anti-CAA protests at Shaheen Bagh, from entering the Singhu Delhi-Haryana border. But she became a witness to her faith as a believing Muslim and human being.
— Medical personnel supported the protesting farmers by providing a free medical camp. The Church has done well providing health care during disasters. Indian Christians need to be present in all situations and not just in relief and charity.
— Committed Indian Christians hang their head in shame when they realize that some of the warring churches have invited Narendra Modi to resolve the conflict between them. Instead of aligning with the ruling establishment to save its minority status and its business interests, the Indian Church should undertake actions that resist the sinister plans of this fascist and exploitative government.
— The Indian Church should base itself broadly and call for fasts and prayer to save the constitution and ultimately save democracy, secularism and itself.
— It should join actions such as fasting in solidarity and social media engagements; create posters; use the pulpit to raise awareness among its faithful; join demonstrations and protests.
— The Church has a responsibility to engage with its various constituencies, especially students and youth, to prepare them to be part of wider civil and secular organizations. Planned and executed orientation programs for them will build at least the future generation to be more socially conscious and committed citizens and Christians.
We the undersigned share this statement with you seeking your endorsement and to invite you to be part of this enterprise: John Dayal, Brinelle Dsouza, Hartman De Souza, A.C. Michael, Rosamma Thomas, Virginus Xaxa, David Selvaraj, Devasagaya Raj, Roselle Solomon, Ajaya Singh, Ranjan Solomon, Cedric Prakash, Sujata Jena, Tony Dias, Denzil Fernandez and Prakash Louis.
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.