“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than this” (Mark 12: 30-31). These intertwined commandments of Jesus to his followers are central to His life and mission on this earth. The parable of lost sheep, coin and son as narrated in the 15th chapter of Luke, vividly tells the readers about God’s love for humankind and to allow us to feel how sincere God’s desire to save humankind is.
Jesus spelt this out in his own manifesto before beginning his mission: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Luke 4: 18-19). Based on these Gospel traditions, Christianity has evolved a ‘Vision of Human Beings’ which believes that each person is loved by God; this love invites us to love others in freedom and responsibility; each human being has fundamental right and dignity; we have rights and responsibilities.
As an Indian, a Christian and a Jesuit, I was impressed by the language of Jaithirth Rao (not sure if it is his original name or also not sure if he actually was a student of the Jesuits) who wrote a piece titled “Marxist Jesuits are not for tribal welfare. India and Indian Catholics both must realise that” in the news portal The Print, but totally disappointed by its content. It would be expedient if he reads and re-reads his article and see whether he has been true to facts. He has taken to falsehood to tarnish the image, history, tradition and heritage of Jesuits and the Indian Church.
By labelling Marxist Jesuits, he has employed the age-old strategy of the dominant caste, class and patriarchy to name and discredit someone in the public. If the vested interests called Fr Stan Swamy ‘anti-national’ and ‘Maoist’, the so-called Jesuit student labelling Jesuits as ‘Marxist Jesuits’ proves where he belongs. Stan had hoped for an opportunity to clear this accusation but his martyrdom did not permit him to do so. The Jesuits, Christians and conscious citizens, cutting across caste, class, gender, religion, and region, have the responsibility to expose people like Rao and prove who are ‘anti-nationals’.
Rao seems to have a fundamental issue with the Jesuits for being part of the lives and struggles of the Tribals of India. He forgets that it is the fundamental mission of the Church to be at the side of the Tribals against the exploitative Dikus. Dikus is a term by the Tribals of central India to describe the ‘outsiders’. But the term does not only refer to outsiders but every exploiter of the Tribals. Jaithirth is upset that the Jesuits are working with them for their development and emancipation and not opening cheap and best run education institutions to cater to Jaithirth’s caste, class and gender.
He goes to the ridiculous extent of wanting the ‘padre to be a benign, helpful and healing figure’. He and his likes are upset with Fr. Stan and others for being in the forefront to take up the issues of displacement, disappearance of tribal youth, detention of thousands of youth in jail without even trial on false cases. Above all, Rao seems to be upset that Stan and others stand with the Tribals even if they themselves may not be Tribals in the struggle for Jal, Jungle, Zamin aur Zamir, that is, water, forest, land and dignity. The caste, class and gender that Rao comes from can only use Tribals to be their domestic helps and labourers and exploit their rich natural resources and displace them.
Jaithirth’s knowledge about the issues he writes is extremely shallow and substandard to say the least. He states, ‘Liberation theology is profoundly anti-capitalist, anti-markets and justifies violence using selective quotations from the gospels. They like to talk about the reference in the gospels to Jesus throwing out money-changers from the temple...’ For the knowledge of people like Rao, liberation theology arose from the fact that the existing theological tradition was no longer capable of explaining the unexplainable oppression and exploitation of the poor. The moral, religious, spiritual, social and economic challenge of poverty and oppression need not only a theoretical explanation but an answer to the question why exploitation exists and how to change it. It attempts to interpret Christian faith through the point of view of their sufferings and their struggles to attain human dignity.
Liberation theology critiqued society, religious institutions and Christianity through the eyes of the disenfranchised due to which their critiques labelled them as socialists or Marxists. Taking cue from Bishop Helder Camara’s life and mission, Indian Jesuits who adhere to Gospel and Constitutional values neither engage in violence nor propagate violence. The very socio-economic, cultural and political structure which is exploitative, repressive and oppressive is in itself violent in nature. Those who want to change this do not engage in violence but resist the violent use of power, position and privilege. To label Jesuits as proponents of violence is baseless.
Deep desire of Rao and his likes in proposing the parable of the talents is to keep creating opportunity for a small minority through the cheap and best educational institutions by the Jesuits so as to keep the vast masses in poverty and misery. Rao and the likes are mortally scarred that if the masses get educated and demand for their rightful place in India, this skewed, hierarchical, oppressive and exploitative structure would crumble.
As a Jesuit, I am ashamed of myself if Rao was a student of Jesuit institution since he is deeply engrossed in a condescending attitude by saying ‘helpless tribal people’.
Fr. Stan and others are part of the lives and struggles of the Tribals not because the Tribals are ‘helpless’ or people on whom we take pity. Nor we are part of the lives and struggles of the Tribals because we are friends of the Maoists. Since, Rao has taken to spread falsehood, it is expedient to rectify this. Being part of the lives and struggles of the Tribals is by the motivation received from the Creation Story where it is stated that, “God created human beings in His own image and likeness” (Genesis 1:27) and Article 46 of the Constitution which protects the rights of the Tribals.
Also, Jesus demands of his followers, “Whatsoever you do to the least, you do to me”. Among the least he counts the poor, prisoners, blind, and exploited who needed accompaniment. It is this accompaniment that the Jesuits universally chosen as one of their preferences for the next 10 years. That is, “To walk with the poor, the outcasts of the world, those whose dignity has been violated, is a mission of reconciliation and justice”. The Tribals, Dalits, children, women, most backward castes, minorities and all the other exploited and oppressed of this country are the central focus of the life and mission of Jesuits and the Church.
Rao lets the cat out when he asks for ‘accommodative position of the Church and the order’. Basically what he and his likes are asking is to keep the status quo going, do not rock the boat. That is, keep your eyes closed to the oppression and exploitation of the Tribals, Dalits, minorities, women, children, youth and students. Only provide cheap and best education which leads to gainful employment through which the well-to-do people can continue to oppress the less privileged ones.
Jaithirth’s divide and rule policy comes to the fore when he states, “They have also enthusiastically embraced ‘cultural Marxism,’ which in the West attacks White male dominance and in India has chosen to attack Hindu male dominance”. Nowhere the Jesuits and the Church singled out Hindu male dominance. Further, it is not just the Jesuits or the Christians but conscious citizens and committed activists, academicians, students, youth, minorities, backward castes, etc. who have been critiquing and opposing anti-people, anti-poor and anti-constitutional engagements. This is not acceptable to Rao and his likes.
As the saying goes, ‘the thief gets himself caught’, the statement of Rao clearly articulates his maliciousness. He says, “A violent, revolutionary change is, therefore, considered necessary and desirable. They want to overthrow Indian society and specifically Hindu society”. Every Indian Christian and Jesuit would only laugh at this utter foolish and baseless statement. Every Indian Christian and Jesuit wants development, peace and justice within the framework of the Constitution. But this is for all the 130 crore Indians and not just for a few dominant caste and class Indians.
To maliciously state that the Jesuits are against Hindu society is far from truth and trying to divide the Indian society for some ulterior motives. Millions of Indians who have been protesting against the inhuman treatment meted out to Fr. Stan and all falsely arrested by the present regime are Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jains etc., religiously and people who have faith in Indian Constitution and not in divisive politics.
The seemingly simplistic statement of Rao at the end, “To manipulate tribals and set them up against a powerful State and against immediate neighbours may end up being the most cynical, sordid and dangerous of approaches” need to be responded with the words of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. “We must make our political democracy a social democracy as well. Political democracy cannot last unless there lies at the base of it social democracy. What does social democracy mean? It means a way of life, which recognizes liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of life… On the 26th of January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality…We must remove this contradiction at the earliest moment, or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which this Assembly has so laboriously built up” (Speech by B.R. Ambedkar on 25th November 1949, in Constituent Assembly Debates, New Delhi, Lok Sabha Secretariat, 1989, Vol. IX, p 979).
Mahatma Gandhi said: “According to me the economic constitution of India, and for that matter of the world, should be such that no one under it should suffer from want of food and clothing. In other words everybody should be able to get sufficient work to enable him to make two ends meet. And this ideal can be universally realized only if the means of production of the elementary necessities of life remain in the control of the masses. They should be freely available to all as God’s air and water are or ought to be. Their monopolization by any country, nation or group of persons would be unjust. The neglect of this simple principle is the cause of the destitution that we witness today in India” (Kumar. Theory and Practice of Gandhian Non-Violence. p 100).
From the above pages, it can be concluded that all the exploited and oppressed of this country stand together not to overthrow anyone or anything but to reinstate the Constitutional values of ‘Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’. Every Indian irrespective of his or her caste, class, gender, religion and region has to be given the opportunity to work towards this dream of a “Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic Republic”.