Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ | Clarion India
It’s less than three days. On 10 May, elections take place for the Karnataka state assembly. These elections are significant on several counts but above all, it will be a telling indicator for the 2024 general elections.
At the moment, the state of Karnataka is in a pathetic mess plagued with corruption, communalism, casteism, criminalisation of politics and crony capitalism. At the receiving end are the poor: daily wagers, casual labourers and migrant workers; the excluded and the exploited; the minorities and other marginalised sections of society! Above all, several efforts have been meticulously made to destroy all that is sacred in the Constitution of India and the pluralistic, secular fabric of the country. The one aim to usher in a state based on the fascist ‘Hindutva’ ideology by 2025 seems high on the agenda by the regime and their ilk!
Interestingly, their nefarious and heinous activities began quite some time ago! Attacks on Christians and their institutions in Mangalore and elsewhere in September 2008 were certainly part of a much wider and long-term plan! The letter below which was written a little after those attacks, is still very relevant today. Their modus operandi, their ability to manipulate, to turn even a tragedy as an ‘opportunity’ is there for all to see. Though this letter was originally addressed to the ‘Catholics of Mangalore’ it is today an urgent call to every citizen of Karnataka state who cherishes the values and freedom guaranteed in the Constitution
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE CATHOLICS OF MANGALORE
Dear Sisters and Brothers, Greetings of Peace and Love to each one of you!
I have just returned from Mangalore, after spending five hectic days there; during which I met with, listened to and spoke to hundreds of youth, men and women; religious and clergy. The days beginning Sunday, 14 September (the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross) have been very traumatic and painful for many across the board. “We never expected this to happen to us” is what several of you have been saying. Many others added “and we were totally unprepared”.
During the days there, I experienced the pain and suffering of several of the victims: those who were in the midst of teargas, those who were beaten up and brutalised by the brute force and insensitivity of the police, and even of those who spent some days in jail/police custody. The underlying feeling throughout was, “This violence was just too terrible for words”. It was also heartwarming to know how several of you literally stood firm to protect the church and its property. I have been tremendously edified by the heroics of many women (very especially religious sisters) who boldly faced the onslaught of violence. I was touched by the fact that several youths went to jail for no wrongdoing whatsoever, but only because their names were handed over to police officers, who demanded that this be done. I salute each one of you who have exemplified faith, courage and dignity to preserve the diversity and the secular fabric of our country.
Having said this, I need to share with you some of my reflections on the current happenings in Mangalore and other parts of Karnataka. What I write here is essentially based on the sharing of many and in no way should be misconstrued as ‘final words. I also share them because as a citizen of India, I feel I have a responsibility to do so:
* The attacks on churches and Christians are NOT a ‘one off’ affair. It is part of a systematic long-term project of the Sangh Parivar, which have an insidious, divisive agenda based on a fascist ideology.
* During these attacks, the fascists have effectively used age*old tactics like ‘hit and run’, ‘divide’ and ‘rule’ (it is not ‘you’ but ‘they’), “diverting from the ‘real issue’ (illegal conversion, foreign funds, etc.)
* It is blatantly obvious that they have trapped us in their subterfuge. We have fallen prey to their evil designs.
* What perhaps went awry, in their plans, was the groundswell of response, from the Catholic Laity, very specially the youth. This spontaneous response, both, on September 14 and 15, certainly put them on the back foot.
* The ringing (pealing/tolling) of church bells was a terrific strategy used on the part of the Catholics on both days. In doing so, we were reminded that God is with us and that we need to come together/remain united in the face of crisis. (At times during the Nazi regime, the Resistance Movements in parts of France also used to ring the church bells in times of danger).
* The police had no business entering church property, and very specially the sacred precincts of our churches. There is enough of documentary evidence to show how police have beaten up and brutalised people even inside churches and severely damaged church property.
* No acts of violence can and should be justified. However, it is anyone’s guess as to who threw ‘the first stone’ and to what extent were the Catholic youth actually involved in stone-throwing.
* In some Parishes, the police asked for a list of names of youth who they could arrest, and unfortunately, these were given, even when the youth were just sitting silently in the church compound.
* On the very first day, members of the Sangh Parivar took responsibility for the attacks. This would not have been possible if they did not have the full patronage of the state government and the support of BJP higher-ups. Government officials and police clearly acted as footstools for the whims and fancies of their political masters.
* A few days before these attacks, a highly inflammatory and defamatory booklet was printed and distributed outside the gates of several educational institutions in Mangalore. The booklet held the Christians responsible for the killing of a Swami in Orissa. The police did nothing to stop those responsible for the distribution of the booklet.
* The Sangh Parivar, with all its affiliates, is a fascist organisation, out to destroy the secular fabric of the country. They DO NOT represent the vast majority of the Hindus in the country. It is dangerous and immoral to enter into any negotiations or deals with them. When one does so, one provides them legitimacy, which they desperately hanker for. Above all, one is manipulated into a vulnerable position carefully designed by them (“you are also the criminals”).
* Large sections of Indian (Hindu) society regard the Sangh Parivar as a terrorist group and would like that they be BANNED.
* The dharnas/demonstrations by the Catholics have proved that “Satyagraha” (the force of truth) given to us by Mahatma Gandhi is a very effective weapon to counter hate, prejudice and violence in this country.
In the context of the above, I would like to make the following suggestions/remarks:
n The machinations of the Sangh Parivar are going to continue for a long time. Please do not be fooled if there are utterances that it is all over.
n It is important to document/study/analyse the way they work. This should be done through well-established ‘Resources Centres’ which can also serve as nodal points in times of crisis.
n We need to carefully study the various statements of the chief minister and the home minister of Karnataka. There are several contradictions in them. Do remember that fascists always indulge in techniques which are Goebbelsian: “Tell a lie a thousand times and people tend to believe it”
n We need to be a Communicating Church with a very effective coordinating mechanism in which power and responsibility is shared at every possible level and especially among all sections of the laity.
n We need to SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER (Archbishop Bernard Moras’ bold statements to the chief minister are an excellent example for all of us).
n We need to formulate responses and strategies for the long term. We need to set OUR agenda, very specially to preserve and enhance the constitutional rights and freedom of every single citizen (the Sangh Parivar tries to make us reactionaries to its devious agenda).
n We should not give up any of our routine programmes/functions/celebrations. Every effort has to be made to show the fascists that we are citizens of this country with the rights and freedoms guaranteed to every citizen.
n Our response has to be broad-based. It should certainly include all ethnic groups within the Catholic community. It should include all denominations of the Christian faith (e.g., at the national level, we do have the ‘National United Christian Forum’ and in Gujarat, we have the ‘Gujarat United Christian Forum’). Above all, it should include all men and women of goodwill. In this last category, we will have thousands of young men and women belonging to every faith, who have passed through the portals of our educational institutions, and who even hold important positions in society, in government and in industry. They MUST be part of this broad-based response.
n The police officers responsible for these heinous acts should be brought to book immediately for dereliction of duty. is an understandable fear among members of the community from doing so, fearing revenge, but unless some beginning is made by civil society, we will never be able to make the police accountable and in adhering to their sacred mandate of protecting the life and property of every single citizen.
Above all, ‘DO NOT PANIC!’ ‘DO NOT FEAR!’ The Lord is with us and has told us over and over again that we should “FEAR NO ONE” on this earth…Being a citizen of India is our birthright. Let us hold our heads high and cherish the eternal values given to us by Jesus. The Indian Constitution also guarantees many of them. Being Indian is our birthright and no one can deny us that and no one can treat us as second-class citizens in our country.
With warm wishes and prayers, in solidarity, Fr. Cedric Prakash sj 25th September 2008
Hopefully, the above letter will serve as a clarion call to the people of Karnataka to wake up now: go out and exercise your franchise and motivate others to do so too! It may be just too late – for you to cry tomorrow! Awake now and Act: the result on 13 May has to be for a more democratic India where truth, justice, liberty, equality, fraternity and pluralism are given their due importance!
Fr Cedric Prakash SJ is a human rights, reconciliation and peace activist/writer. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org