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Interview With Fr Cedric Prakash

Interview With Fr Cedric Prakash

Fr Cedric Prakash SJ Awarded ‘Lifetime Achievement Award ’19’ by Delhi Minorities Commission

Fr CEDRIC PRAKASH SJ, a Jesuit of the Gujarat Province was honoured on 16 June 2020 with the ‘LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD 2019’ by the Delhi Minorities Commission, Government of NCT of Delhi.

Fr Cedric Prakash was one among the ten recipients to receive the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award 2019’. After the Award, Team Mangalorean.com caught up with Fr. Cedric and interviewed him on a whole range of crucial issues.

Excerpts From The Interview

TM (Team Mangalorean): At the outset, on behalf of Team Mangalorean.com, Congratulations on this well-deserved and timely ‘LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD 2019’ from the Delhi Minorities Commission.

TM: About the type of work you are engaged in, it is not easy: you have taken many risks, faced several threats- even death threats- what to you have to say to this?

FCP:  Well, I normally do not like to highlight this dimension of my life. Yes, Advocacy work; the struggle for human rights, justice and peace is not easy- it is fraught with risks. In most cases, one necessarily has to stand up against the big, powerful vested interests and those who are exploiting the poor and the marginalized. Today in India, it is clearly the ruling regime, their cohorts in the Sangh Parivar and their crony capitalist friends. This unhealthy nexus is destroying the Country in every possible way- particularly our pluralistic fabric and the values and freedom enshrined in our Constitution. One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to know what is happening around us. Yes, when you stand up against them you have to face the consequences: in the past I have been beaten up, received death threats, my office has been broken into and burgled, with computer data stolen; false cases have been foisted on me; attempts were made to impound my passport; besides, of course, being trolled and a subject of their hate and venom is a routine affair. However, I try to focus on what I can do and should be doing. Since I am a positive person, I don’t allow these aspects to get the better of me!

TM: Do Share with us about the inclusion of your story in the book by the Pope Francis & Friends – ‘Sharing the Wisdom of Time’ and about your meeting with Pope Francis in the Vatican last December.

FCP:  About three years ago, when I was in Lebanon, I suddenly got an email and then a call from Rosemary Lane, one of the editors from the Loyola Press in Chicago. She told me that they would like to interview me for a new book that they would bring out in October 2018. I readily agreed. The interview was long and detailed. Actually, I did not give much thought to it after that, but you can imagine my joy when the path-breaking book, ‘Sharing the Wisdom of Time’, was released at the end of the Synod of Bishops. Published by (www.loyolapress.com) the book is spread over five thematic chapters: work, struggle, love, death and hope. 

Pope Francis views elders as reservoirs of wisdom and historical memory and believes their insights will offer future generation’s much-needed understanding and direction. More than 250 people (between the ages of 65 and 100) were interviewed for this book; Loyola Press selected 90 of them (which make up the masterpiece book) and sent them to the Vatican. Pope Francis read every story, prayed over them, and responded with sensitivity and grace to 31 of the stories and the issues they raise. In his Preface, Pope Francis lays out his reasons for this collection of wisdom stories and the movement he hopes it inspires.

In a personal response to my experience that is published in the book, Pope Francis says among other things, “Father Cedric’s story is wonderful….The story of Father Cedric helps us understand that we must go beyond the inconveniences of life…..maybe with a sense of humour, and certainly with the conviction that all things can be resolved. The wisdom of age, accompanied by a sense of humour and a touch of irony, can help us to see our daily challenges in a positive way and avoid dramatization. We have to take a fresh and creative look at things. Love is creative, and it will not be overcome by the disasters and pitfalls of life. That’s the way love sees things”.

I was simply overwhelmed reading that wonderful message from Pope Francis In December 2019, and I was invited for a Conference to the Vatican; a special audience with Pope Francis was part of the programme. I had the privilege of having some extra value time with him. I still revisit the joy of that encounter: the way he listened to me and encouraged me to carry on the work I was doing!

TM: How do you assess the current scenario in India for human rights activism?

FCP:  The current scenario for human rights activism in India is extremely bad. We hear about threats, intimidation, arrests, foisting of false cases and even death for all those who take a stand for human rights, justice and peace. In December 2018 a young journalist Amit Topno from Jharkhand was brutally murdered for exposing some of the local mafias. Eminent journalist Gauri Lankesh and intellectuals like Dabholkar, Pansare, Kalburgi and others have been killed by right-wing elements. Well-known human rights activists Sudha Bharadwaj (Faridabad), Arun Ferreira (Thane), Vernon Gonsalves (Mumbai), Gautam Navlakha (Delhi), Anand Teltumbde (Goa) and writer P Varavara Rao (Hyderabad) and others, are languishing in jail on absolutely fictitious charges; my own Jesuit Companion 80-year-old Fr Stan Swamy was searched and hounded.

I am a close associate of Teesta Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand, I know how over the years they have been targeted and harassed in every possible way. Anti-CAA protestors are arrested today on fabricated charges. Writers and other dissenters are booked for sedition! There are several others – friends and colleagues who have to bear the brunt of a very repressive political system; the Government has also decided to snoop into our computers. Something totally unacceptable in a democracy – if this is not fascism at its worst – what is?

TM: What are the major threats facing India? What are the ways to tackle them?

FCP:  There are several threats facing India today. The major one is to our democratic traditions and to the freedoms and other values enshrined in our Constitution. India, in the last few years, has fared very badly on every human rights parameter. One experiences this all the time and everywhere. We see the erosion of ‘Freedom of Speech and Expression’, the Right to life and the dignity of the human person, a small fringe group of anti-nationals decide what we eat and see, wear and read or for that matter if women can drink in a bar. Lynching has become the new normal (recently a young Catholic boy was lynched in Odisha). ‘Freedom of Religion’ is a thing of the past! The Government is wedded to crony capitalism: we have seen it in demonetization and how they have mainstreamed corruption.

Even in this time of the pandemic COVID-19, the Government has abdicated all responsibility. Our health infrastructure is a mess! Migrant workers are still desperate to return to their homes. We have seen heart-rending pictures and footage of their plight. The Government has begun collecting vast amounts of money under the ‘PM Cares Fund’ – but refuses to be transparent and divulge the accounts. The Government is busy most of the time trying to topple legitimately elected State Governments by buying up opposition MLAs.

The costs of diesel and petrol and other essential commodities are skyrocketing daily. With the auctioning of coal blocks in areas which are rich in bio-diversity, the Government clearly shows that it does not care for the environment! The poor become poorer every day. We are all aware of the plight of our farmers. There is empirical data to show how a minuscule percent of the Country’s population owns a mind-boggling percentage of the Country’s wealth. It was unprecedented that four Senior most sitting Judges of the Supreme Court held a press conference in January 2018 to warn the Nation of how the spirit and the letter of the Constitution were being systematically destroyed. We see how the judiciary has been destroyed to a great extent today. Almost all Constitutional and independent bodies have either been co-opted or like caged parrots! One can certainly go on highlighting several other threats which are prevalent in the Country today! Now we have China, Nepal and Pakistan all attacking us in different ways at the same time. Sadly, we have no leadership in the Country today!

These threats need to be tackled in an urgent and collective way at every level possible. Citizens from every walk of life must come out in large numbers – be visible and vocal – to ensure that democracy is saved and the Constitution is not changed. The fascist, fundamentalist forces must be put in place. We must hold political parties accountable for their misdeeds and ensure that they focus on Governance and on serving the people. Too much of ‘fekuism’: myths, lies, false promises have been foisted on the Nation. We must ensure that we exercise our franchise and motivate all others to do so. We need to educate people on our Constitutional values and fundamental rights. We need to engage with the media and also be active on it. Yes, all of us can do plenty to stem the rot that is taking place in the Country.

TM: What is the role of Christians and the Church in this scenario?

FCP:  Christians and the Church in India must play a very active role in addressing the ills of the Country. We cannot be fence-sitters. We have to be vocal and visible for a more just, free and equitable India. This, I believe, is what Jesus expects from us today. In February 2014, just before the General Elections that year the CBCI met in Palai Kerala on the theme, ‘Renewed Church for a Renewed Society – Responding to the Call of Vatican II’. In a significant message the Bishops said, “When we look at our Country, we see corruption plaguing every sphere of society. In such a scenario, Church institutions must be an example of transparency and probity. Another phenomenon is that of internal migration which, while opening opportunities to people, has torn the cultural and religious moorings that sustained them. Globalization too has brought in its wake problems like prolonged working hours which have disrupted family life. We witness the trend to fundamentalism which seeks to dilute the secular character of our Nation. Against this trend, we stand by the values upheld by the Indian Constitution and appeal to governments to respect these values”.

“The experience of God will lead us to involvement in and solidarity with the marginalized and the exploited, those suffering from disabilities, those living in the peripheries of economic, cultural and social spheres. We will speak out against all forms of injustice meted out to them, and we will defend their rights. We listened to the call of Pope Francis, urging us to “work to eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the integral development of the poor’ (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 188). We want the Church to be truly a Church of the Poor”.

Our Church leadership needs to take a cue from Pope Francis, who has been steadfast in his teachings on discipleship. In a path-breaking message for the World Day of Peace 2019, Pope Francis writes, “Everyone can contribute his or her stone to help build the common home. Authentic political life, grounded in law and in frank and fair relations between individuals, experiences renewal whenever we are convinced that every woman, man and generation bring the promise of new relational, intellectual, cultural and spiritual energies. That kind of trust is never easy to achieve, because human relations are complex, especially in our own times, marked by a climate of mistrust rooted in fear of others or of strangers, or anxiety about one’s personal security. Sadly, it is also seen at the political level, in attitudes of rejection or forms of nationalism that call into question the fraternity of which our globalized world has such great need. Today more than ever, our societies need “artisans of peace” who can be messengers and authentic witnesses of God the Father, who wills the good and the happiness of the human family”.

We have just begun observing a ‘Laudato Si’ year in the Church – we will have the courage to address systemic issues which are destroying the fragile ecosystems of our Country – or will we be comfortable with doing some cosmetic exercises only? Above all, we need to consistently remember the temptations of Jesus and have the commitment to shun power, privileges, possessions, positions. We have to be living witnesses in these critical times and show the Country that we are truly disciples of Jesus. As Church, as Christians, all of us are called to play a Courageous and Prophetic role in today’s India!

TM: Is Hindu majoritarianism a danger for the Church in India?

FCP:  ‘Majoritarianism’ anywhere is not good for the healthy growth of society- particularly in democracies. Majority communities must necessarily be sensitive to the rights of the minorities. However, in India, it is not about the ‘Hindu’ Majority but of a small group under the banner of the ‘Sangh Parivar’ who are a danger to the whole Country and not only to the Christians. They are desperately working towards the establishment of a ‘Hindutva State’; we need to be in the know of this. Efforts to change the essence of the Constitution are underway.

The Constitution is very clear: we are a sovereign, secular, socialist democratic republic. Changing any of these essential elements is non-negotiable. Whilst debate is always welcome- what constitutes the soul and character of our Nation, should never be tampered with.

(Courtesy: Mangalorean.com)

(Published on 22nd June 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 26)