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Moving Back to the Middle Ages

Archbp Thomas Menamparampil Archbp Thomas Menamparampil
28 Nov 2022
If choosing one’s profession or one’s life partner is a free personal choice for every individual to make, his religious choice is far more personal, no one has the right to come on the way.

Tagore dreamt of an India where the citizens would have the courage to hold their “heads high”. Martin Luther King dreamt of a homeland that would give equal respect to every citizen. An Iranian composer longs for a civilized culture in her country where children will not be forced to learn and live by the “ideologies of the Middle Ages”. 

Sadly, these are dreams that have failed. 

Recently, most Indians who sought to hold their head high have come under the scrutiny of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and suffered. African-Americans have just gone through a Trumpian wave of racial hatred. They are far from being in ideal conditions. Over 15,000 Iranian protesters have been held under detention, 300 lost their lives. Though millions of agitators have moved on to the streets, universities are up in arms and cities round the country are astir, the army seems to stand by the reigning regime. It seems most likely, medieval fads will be imposed, clear thinking banned, women marginalized, veils remain mandatory.

Is Law of Contradiction Always Valid?

Are things better this side of the Himalayas? What Sitaram Yechury notices in India is not mere Medieval stunts, but the nurturing of ‘irrationality’, ‘obscurantism’ and ‘personality cult’. What worries him most is the promotion of a system of education that follows Hitler’s model of imposing ‘blind faith’ and prevents ‘progressive attitudes’. The consequence that follows is this: the law of contradiction does not hold good any more. While Narendra Modi spoke at Bali of making G20 “inclusive” as he took over the leadership of the organization, minorities in India had been going through an experience of severe “exclusion” from their own citizens’ rights. More! Every day, papers carry accounts of minorities being harassed and jailed, Dalits being hunted down, their women being raped and killed. That is being ‘inclusive’ in India!

Amit Shah, addressing 450 representatives who gathered in Delhi from 75 nations to discuss the theme “No Money for Terror”, expressed an eagerness to expose the “doublespeak” of certain elements that sponsor violence. He intended to point to Pakistan. But what came to the mind of most Indians hearing of “doublespeak” were the contradictions in the mouths of our national leaders about CAA, NRC, Demonetisation, GST, performance of Modi, price rise, banning cow slaughter, and granting generous licenses to beef-exporting companies. A poor Dalit or a Muslim is murdered for killing his own cow to sustain his family, while those who export beef on a massive scale for gigantic profit are considered builders of national economy. Where is humanity? Where is consistency?

Modi, addressing the same audience in Delhi, insisted that anyone supporting radicalism should not have place in any country. But how has radicalism won an honourable place in India as we see cow vigilantes being garlanded by MPs, Masjid-destroyers lionized, spreaders of hatred glorified? Sankarshan Thakur says, “It is thus a sectarian sword becomes the essential arbiter of the law, let us not even speak of justice. It is thus that a call to murder becomes a patriotic act coming from some”. Is that anything but radicalism of the extreme sort?

A Fair Deal Should Be Both Ways

The Assam government was arresting some tourists from Sweden for attending a prayer service near Naharkatia, when Rishi Sunak, a person of Indian origin, emerged as the Prime Minister of Britain. According to Sunanda K. Datta-Ray, Sunak swears by the Bhagavad Gita, wears the sacred thread, remains a teetotaller and vegetarian, pays homage to the cow, and celebrates Diwali. In other words, liberal Britain allows people to be themselves, respects their personal convictions. Datta-Ray says, Sunak’s election glorifies Britain rather than India. “Britain has shown that it is civilizationally far ahead of India that is retreating behind the blinkers of the ritual mumbo-jumbo of just one religious group. India is not only corrupt, lawless and polluted; it is becoming increasingly bigoted.” 

Modi was quick enough to get Sunak to allow 3000 Indian students a year to study in the UK and work for two years. Will they need to keep away from any prayer-gatherings during their stay in Britain if they happen to be believers in some faith? Around 82,000 Indian students received US visa last August. Will they be arrested in America if they happen to join a puja service or light a Diwali lamp? And how many saffron saints are wandering round the globe propagating what they call ‘Sanatana Dharma’, each with his own interpretation of the Vedic heritage? If there is the law of reciprocity in trade, is there nothing like reciprocity in the area of cultural exchange and religious communication? 

If propagation of one’s religion is legitimate under the Constitution, what about the decision of the citizen that follows? If every citizen is free to make a choice of his own in the field of religion, why criminalize the propagator, why punish the free chooser? 

The Hot topic of the Day: ‘Conversion’

Be sure, something is in the air. Dreadful action follows dreadful words. Something awful is ahead for those who are accused of “conversion”. Popular opinion is being built up. The entire nation is being brainwashed. The Swedish tourists were arrested on the charge of ‘conversion’. A VHP-planned call for a law against conversion was linked with it. 

For getting a good certificate from the RSS to return to power, Hagrama Mohilary wrote to J. P. Nadda that many Bodo families were converting to Christianity against their will. He complained that there was mushrooming of churches in Bodoland. By raising an alarm about ‘conversion’, he hopes to get a high rating from the BJP High Command for taking back his lost position as the top Bodo leader. 

Again, it is quite some time that the VHP has been pressing for a law against ‘illegal conversions’, alleging that conversions are a threat to national security and social harmony. Voices increase. Shivraj Singh Chouhan condemns the conversion of tribals, threatening strong measures. Meanwhile, the headlines carry the news of the killing of a Kurmi in Madhya Pradesh. That is not a tragedy for Shivraj, but a tribal choosing Christianity is a horror!  

One step ahead, the Supreme Court warns against “forced conversions” made by deception, allurement, or intimidation. The Christian answer is this: a conversion made by force, fraud or allurement is not genuine conversion; the external religious ceremony is not valid, if there is no inner acceptance. He is not a Christian. You can rest in peace. But if there is genuine acceptance of faith profoundly transforming the heart, no power on earth has the right to interfere. 

If choosing one’s profession or one’s life partner is a free personal choice for every individual to make, his religious choice is far more personal, no one has the right to come on the way. The Madhya Pradesh High Court was very clear in specifying that there is no obligation to inform the District Magistrate about one’s change of faith. “The religious belief is a matter personal to a citizen”.   

“Vanvasis” Forever? 
We can well understand why in RSS understanding ‘conversion’ has always to be done by force. That is what they have been doing all the time, while making of non-Hindu tribals Hindus by force and intimidation. Mohan Bhagwat unveiled in Chhattisgarh a 12-feet statue erected to Dilip Singh Judeo, the champion of “Ghar Vapsi”, one day before the birthday of Birsa Munda. Tribals’ pride is India’s pride, Bhagwat explained. He claimed he knew them well, as he lived in a “Vanvasi” area of Nagpur. So, tribal communities are condemned to remain “Vanvasis” even when in urban centres or universities.

But the recent Hindutva “show” has been in the opposite direction. There is an evident effort from the side of the BJP-RSS to remove from them the negative image that they constitute an army of the Upper castes. But truth remains what it is despite display. There was perfect consensus on the choice of Droupadi Murmu for President. There is an all-out drive to honour tribal heroes like Birsa Munda and Dilip Singh Judeo. 

Those who are skilled in seeing deceptions will notice that Dalits and tribals are elevated to honorary positions, not decision-making teams. They are appointed to challenging situation like Kashmir and Ladakh, hardly ever to policy-shaping bodies. Token presences in abundance, course-changing roles hardly ever. With the narrowing of reservations and the New Education Policy strategy for the blocking of educational access to the weaker sections, those in command today are sure to remain in their positions, leaving the rest to remain Vanvasis and Slum-vasis for ever. 

Rights and Liberties of Citizens

Chief Justice of India D. Y. Chandrachud places a challenge before the nation. He says that the responsibility for ensuring that law does not impede rights and liberties is of every citizen. It does not depend on the Judiciary alone, it is a “collective responsibility”! Not everyone seems to have grasped the full significance of the challenge. It is our duty to create an intellectual atmosphere where public issues stand in the ‘court of the people’. It is you and I who have a duty, not to dictate but to discover what is right, even against the wave of a Majoritarian opinion. This we shall do through honest discussion in public. What is right emerges on its own strength. Undoubtedly there will be moments when partisan views gain the upper hand. We can totally disagree with an unacceptable opinion while showing the greatest respect for the one who proposed it. Aristotle wrote, it is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it.

Therefore, criticism of the Prime Minister’s policy is not disparaging of the leader of the nation. It is part of exercising the “collective responsibility’ we owe to the nation. There is no need for Modi to lament that he gets 2-3 kgs of gaali a day, seeking sympathy from uninformed crowds. 

Congress alleged that the PM was making himself a victim for votes, of entertaining a ‘gaali-grudge’ that does not pay. Fortunately, he admits that God has given him the capacity of recycling the abuse-bitterness into nutrition and positive energy. We hope that his colleague Amit Shah too develops this ability. For, how can we restrain ourselves from criticizing his irrational call for identifying 100 ‘infiltrators’ in every state and deporting them? Is the matter of deporting as simple as he thinks? Does he pay attention to an inter-civilizational understanding of what is fair in dealing with minority groups? 

We Are at a Crossroads
‘Conversion’-alarm is only one of the Majoritarian issues today. Another one that has come up for public attention is the Hindutva effort to claim for their community the sites of Kashi and Mathura mosques. Take note of the standard pattern:  first a mild suggestion, then a legal claim, followed by mob-pressure, softened by a judicial warning; then there is the return of higher decibels, qualified by sober suggestions, and then comes a final showdown: judicial decree or appropriation by force. 

All-India Muslim Personal Board and Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind has described these recent claims as the “opening of floodgates of litigation against countless mosques” and the widening of religious divide. Who is there to stop this, except the good sense of the majority? Or will we wait till the Buddhists claim back half the Hindu temples? Or the tribals demand back most? But no, let us not return to old outdated value systems of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”.

Recently Katerine Rundell’s biography of John Donne in the UK winning a Special Award drew public attention to its content. The relevance of its Central Message for our times must have been the chief reason for its selection. John Donne (1572-1631) had said, “No man is an island… Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind”. The death of a Ukrainian or Myanmarese matters to me. The wiping out of the life of a Dalit, tribal or Muslim, be he a Kurmi or a Kashmiri, is the elimination of my brother. People dying in police custody or on ‘forced flight’ is my concern! Let my cry be heard! Save us from these types of Medieval madness!

Woody Allen’s comment is relevant in today’s situation, “More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads today. One path leads to despair and utter helplessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly”. 

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