The resistance of young Indians

While the youth of India are seized with anger at an unjust law, church leaders are mum, dumbstruck, silent
The resistance of young Indians

Young activists hold placards and a national flag to protest against India's new citizenship law during a demonstration in Bangalore on Jan. 9. The Indian Church has been silent on the issue. (Photo: Manjunath Kiran/AFP)

"As a student I completely uphold the sanctity of the Indian Constitution and stand by my duty to abide by it. This has been my individual form of protest in a desperate, non-violent attempt to save the basic fabric of our nation,” said the tweet of a student from Kolkata city.

The last weeks of 2019 and the first weeks of the new year have been times of fear, tension and anguish for thousands of Indians because of the infamous National Register of Citizenship (NRC) and its accompanying Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

But paradoxically, they have also been a time of hope and assertiveness, as millions have come together to resist its implementation. Millions have challenged the CAA because it is blatantly unconstitutional, divisive and in fact too clumsy and complicated to implement.

In other words, millions have chosen to resist.

And in the vanguard of the resistance are the students of our colleges and universities. They have challenged this act by word and deed, in protest marches and sit-ins, with posters, songs and slogans, with online petitions, tweets, rallies and speeches.

This is an entirely spontaneous and collaborative movement, and it is also in a way leaderless. But it has engendered phenomenal support not just from the campuses of every major college and university in the country but also from ordinary men and women, from the film world, from literary circles, and even — cautiously — from politicians of all stripes.

As one journalist put it, agitation thrives on the discovery of solidarity and friendship. That is why our university campuses have risen together in support of their comrades in other cities. 

Until the 1980s, most  universities were elitist and caste-saturated. But the slow march of literacy has led more and more students from marginalized communities to enrol in higher education than ever before. In this women have been in the forefront, even though deprived communities like the Dalits, tribals and Muslims are also there, but in fewer numbers.

Wouldn’t it be so much better if these young men and women were told  ust to sit quiet and study? But they cannot. Never has India had so many young people as a percentage of its population. (By 2022, the median age in India will be 28. China 37. Europe 45) And never have they had to confront such uncertainty regarding their future — socially, economically and, now with the CAA, politically — from a government that just doesn’t seem to care.

For more than marks and jobs, the young also desire a new kind of society to overcome the sense of powerlessness so many feel from being trapped in their own caste hierarchies. This is why the blatantly unconstitutional legislation of the NRC-CAA has made it all a matter of life and death.

For it’s only in upper-class living rooms that India looks like a place with lots of potential, an economic powerhouse and a political superpower. Everywhere else, it is a putrid, rotten society, deficit in most  areas of  the Human Development Index, torn apart by caste, class and religion.

For what the youth of this great nation actually want is dialogue, employment, a thriving economy, people’s welfare, non-interference in one’s food habits or religion, and to get this country onto a much better developmental platform. They all want to witness India’s spectacular inclusive growth.

Subverting the constitution

Instead, what we are seeing today is a monstrous attempt by the Sangh Parivar to subvert the secular, socialist and democratic Constitution of India and to replace it with a feudal, oligarchic and authoritarian structure, in which the ordinary man and woman is crushed.

The CAA in a nutshell aims to grant citizenship to all religiously persecuted migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, provided they are not Muslims.  The onus of proving that one is not a migrant rests with individuals. That’s where the National Registry of Citizenship becomes frightening, because cleverly the government has not declared which documents are necessary.

The amended act will hurt the poor and the illiterate most of all — and this means most Indians. Across its vast countryside, millions of men and women — Dalits, tribals, other backward castes — will be disenfranchised if they lack the necessary papers. And, if not allowed to vote, summarily excluded from all government benefits.

This is what fascism is — reducing everything to an organized uniformity the better to control the masses, to obliterate all protest and pluralism, to promote a cult of vainglory for the leader, based on a bogus history.

And most of all, to create a fictitious enemy in order to keep the nation continually in fear.

The silence of pastors 

In all the turbulence of the present time, where do Christians look for inspiration and guidance? The answer: from our bishops and clergy whose task it is to lead.

Then why is the Indian Church so silent, so timid? How many bishops have issued directives, called for consultations, issued public statements of support to the demonstrating students, encouraged collaboration and “issue-based support” with other minorities?

Today when the youth of India are seized with anger at an unjust law, and college campuses across the nation have risen in protest, church leaders are mum, dumbstruck, silent. Not a single word of encouragement, of clarification.

Is it not time for our church leaders at an all-India level to come together on an emergency basis and take a clear stand, and set up groups of strategic thinkers and planners to give an evangelical response to the situation?

But no. The fact is the leadership is nervous and afraid, and there are many reasons for this. We are scared of being trolled and ridiculed. We are scared of going to jail, of being tortured. We are frightened because of what "they" will do to our schools and colleges. Will our bank accounts be frozen, police raid our premises, or false charges be made against us?  

In fact, the Church in India shares the weaknesses of most other Indians — the factionalism arising from tribalism and caste. This indigenous mentality of so many Christians is expressed in rivalry, contempt for those from an “inferior background,” caste conceit and the inability to work with others.

The Church and young people

The 2018 Synod on Youth and vocational discernment recognized the importance of the perspectives of the young. Under the guidance of Pope Francis, we stand by their side and glimpse the future with them. We walk with them to perceive and discern where the Spirit is leading our world.

Most of the Church’s work with youth is of two kinds — image and character-building, and outreach programs to the marginal. There is usually little political content in either, and in fact there is a marked distaste for getting mixed up in “dirty politics.” There is also a shying away from ideology.

As a result most young people — and older people too — live unaware of their constitutional rights and liberties. In fact, most are quite ignorant of the Indian Constitution and how the present political dispensation is obsessed with subverting it. In spite of being frequently recommended, even a cursory study of the constitution is singularly absent from our schools and colleges. In such a context, what can “secular, democratic or socialist” really mean?

A mature secular society opens up spaces for the complex dimensions of human freedom, especially religious freedom. But Indian society, by and large, is anything but mature and secularized. It fact, under the present government, it is rapidly sliding back into a feudal and regressive state.

In a mature secular society, conditions must be created for the emergence of personal religious processes, independent of social or ethnic pressure. Conditions that allow people to ask profound questions and to choose freely to follow their personal vocation and to adopt a lifestyle in honest consonance with it.

Never has the Ministry of Truth and Reconciliation been of greater importance. Never has the Church’s presence with youth been more vital. For if there is one word which sums up the attitude of young men and women in the country at this time, that word is “Resist!”

Father Myron Pereira SJ is a media consultant based in Mumbai. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of ucanews.

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