LET JUSTICE ROLL!
August has always been a very special month: it is filled with a plethora of festivals, observances and events! As one looks back at August 2019 one cannot help but feel overwhelmed of all that has unfolded these past weeks! If one can summarize the recent past: locally, nationally and globally -into a single slogan, then it undoubtedly has to be the words of the Prophet Amos, “let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”(5:24)
Some years ago, the Catholic Bishops Conference of India decided to observe the Sunday following the Independence Day of our country (15th August), as ‘Justice Sunday.’That was certainly a significant decision. In the past, Justice Sunday (thanks to the then Justice and Peace Commission of the CBCI) focused on a theme for the day with a well-prepared liturgy and other content, which was sent out to all Dioceses in the country. Sadly, over the years this day has gradually slipped into the background and even into oblivion! Today, hardly anyone speaks about it, there is very little reference made to the Sunday and even if there is, in most cases, they are merely cosmetic exercises or tokenism!
This year ,Sunday 18 August was ‘observed’ by the Church in India as ‘Justice Sunday’. It was a fitting day for the Church in India to tell the country and the world that their only motivation is the person and message of Jesus Christ; that an authentic disciple of Jesus has no choice today, but to live the joy of the Gospels without compromise – to bear witness only to Justice and Truth! The country today is burning with injustices! Unfortunately, a sizeable section opts to remain in one’s comfort zone- through a silence which is complicit! This certainly does not speak well for the Church in India and particularly for its leadership! The mandate to take a stand for truth and against every form of injustice, comes directly from Jesus. Pope Francis has been reiterating this non-negotiable consistently!
Today, the ordinary citizen of India- particularly, the Dalits, the Adivasis, the minorities and the marginalized women and children, the poor and the unemployed, the vulnerable and the excluded – have to face a whole range of injustices. True, the Church in the past has done creditable work among these sections of society, especially in the fields of education and health care. Today a paradigm shift is needed in how we “do charity!” In his social Encyclical Letter ‘Caritas in Veritate’ (July 2009), Pope Benedict XVI emphatically states, “Charity in truth, to which Jesus Christ bore witness by his earthly life and especially by his death and resurrection, is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity. Love — caritas — is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace.”
On 5 August, the Government abrogated Article 370 and 35 A with regard to Kashmir. This was done in a totally unconstitutional and insensitive manner. There have been several protests against this dastardly deed. A team of well- known intellectuals visited Kashmir on a fact-finding mission, in the days after the abrogation of Article 370 and released a hard-hitting report ‘Kashmir Caged’ on 14 August in New Delhi. In their conclusions they say, “The whole of Kashmir is, at the moment, a prison, under military control. The decisions taken by the Modi Government on J&K are immoral, unconstitutional and illegal. The means being adopted by the Modi Government to hold Kashmiris captive and suppress potential protests are also immoral, unconstitutional, and illegal”.
On 24 August, a delegation of the opposition parties who flew in to assess the ground realities were turned back from the Srinagar airport itself! One of the best IAS officers of the country , Kannan Gopinathan sent in his resignation on 21 August to the Government, saying that he wants to speak freely about “the virtual emergency, that has been imposed on the people of Jammu and Kashmir” Almost four weeks after the abrogation of special status to Kashmir, the people there still live under mass imprisonment, with their human rights suspended or greatly curtailed.Without doubt, the Government will soon denotify the special status provided to other areas of the country, particularly in the North-East,depriving them of their legitimate rights and identities!
A few weeks earlier, the Government brought in ‘The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act – UAPA 2019 (Amendment Act)’ which clearly infringes on the fundamental rights of citizens. The amendments allow the Centre to designate individuals as terrorists and to seize their properties They are blatantly violative of the fundamental right to reputation and dignity which is a facet of the right to life and personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.
Harassment’s, intimidation and threats to human rights defenders, media personnel, intellectuals and other activists who have the courage to take a stand for truth and justice, continue with frightening regularity. Fr Stan Swamy and other front-line defenders from Jharkhand, those arrested after being falsely implicated in the Bhima Koregaon violence and several others. Freedom of speech and expression, the right to dissent is almost a thing of the past in an extremely autocratic atmosphere. Strangely enough, the prayer intention of Pope Francis for July 2019 was ‘for those who administer justice work with integrity, and that the injustice present in the world may not have the last word’. The ignominy heaped on women and children of our country continues unabated! Millions of our children are still deprived of their childhood! From farmers to sewage workers; from those who receive unjust wages to the unemployed – the vicious circle of poverty and injustice is hardly addressed!
The country has never been so corrupt. Law makers are bought to cross from one party to another –we have seen this happen in Karnataka, Goa and Sikkim. The CBI and the Enforcement Directorate will not investigate into corrupt acts and major scams like the Rafael deal, those who have made windfall profits from demonetization and those who toe the line of the current ruling dispensation. The Judiciary which is meant to be totally independent, impartial, objective and just, is hardly doing itself proud! A Madras High Court judge who in a judgement spews venom on the Christians; whereas, a Bombay High Court judge has the audacity to question why books like ‘War and Peace’ are kept by a person. Even on the Kashmir question , the Supreme Court has delayed the hearing for an inordinate period! Constitutional bodies in the country have today been totally destroyed of just made impotent!
Minorities are on the back foot as never before! Lynchings continue as the ‘new normal’. Muslims and Christians are at receiving end of hate and violence. Every effort is being made to ensure majoritarianism and ultimately to impose the ‘hindutva’ agenda on the nation. So, the Prime Minister speaks about family planning, bringing in a national anti-conversion law, makes Parliament to abolish the ‘triple talaq’, wants to curb foreign funds to certain NGOs. All part of a well- calculated strategy! For the very first time, the UN observed 22 August as the ‘International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief’. In India today, there are thousands who are being persecuted because of their religious beliefs. The Himachal Pradesh Government recently passed an ‘anti-conversion’ law and if the grapevine is to be believed then the Central Government will do so too, as soon as possible.
The economy is in shambles. It has never been so bad in the country. The poor have become poorer; recession is at an all-time high! On 26 August the Reserve Bank of India agreed to a transfer of Rs 1.76 lakh crore from its surplus to the Central Government! This is unprecedented! It augurs ill for the future of the Indian economy! At the end of August, when the Government released the data of the Gross Domestic Product( GDP) for the quarter April- June 2019 it showed a growth of just 5%. It was the slowest pace of growth of the Indian economy in over six years!
The Indian rupee has fallen to an all -time low; today there are no ‘bhakts’ or ‘chamchas’ who have the courage to tweet about this horrendous reality, as they so brazenly did, during the time of Manmohan Sigh and the UPA Government when the economy was far better! Hundreds of thousands of workers from the auto and other industries have been laid off. Demonetisation has contributed greatly to the economic downfall of the country. It is poor and ordinary casual workers who suffer the most in such a scenario – since their purchasing power is drastically eroded! Nobody seems to have the guts to make this serious reality the main issue of the country today!
The recent torrential rains, floods and landslides in several parts of Western India: Kerala, Goa, Maharashtra and Gujarat – have rendered thousands homeless, destroyed our precious ecosystems in this area. Eight years ago, on 31 August 2011, ‘The Gadgil Commission’, (an environmental research commission named after its chairman Madhav Gadgil), submitted its report to the Government of India. The Commission made far -reaching recommendations on the ecosystems of the Western Ghats. Neither the politicians nor the corporate sector have taken the report seriously. Valuable natural resources continue to be plundered at will, the ecosystems are denuded and the environment destroyed!
The Church too seems have paid lip-service to what Pope Francis says in ‘Laudato Si’- “caring for ecosystems demands far-sightedness, since no one looking for quick and easy profit is truly interested in their preservation. But the cost of the damage caused by such selfish lack of concern is much greater than the economic benefits to be obtained. Where certain species are destroyed or seriously harmed, the values involved are incalculable. We can be silent witnesses to terrible injustices if we think that we can obtain significant benefits by making the rest of humanity, present and future, pay the extremely high costs of environmental deterioration (#36)”. The Narmada Dam is a symbol of all that is unjust in our country today – and most would not care if some thousands of Adivasis lose their lives when the gates of the dam are opened.
The draft Indian Forest (Amendment) Bill of 2019, circulated in March this year, will also become a reality soon. It aims at re-establishing state power over forests at the cost of rights granted to the forest dwelling tribals and other forest dwellers under the Forest Rights Act of 2006 (FRA). It is a clever ploy to derecognise the indigenous people of our country.
The ‘National Register of Citizens’ in Assam was published on 31 August .Over 19 lakh(19,06,657) persons were left out. Though these have been given a window of opportunity to prove their citizenship over a period of ten months – it is so obvious that Muslims ( apparently illegally staying in India from Bangla Desh) are being targeted in this exercise! West Bengal is bound to be the next port of call and the way the Government treats refugees like the Rohingyas goes against the grain and spirit of a country which in essence is inclusive and diverse. The draft of the ‘New Education Policy’ is an insidious way towards the nationalization of education.
The world observed Hiroshima (6 August) and Nagasaki (9 August) Days recently; the world saying “never again” to nuclearization and to the possibility of another holocaust. For the Indian Government it does not matter – a scandalous amount of money is spent today on buying sophisticated arms and ammunition and in the nuclearization programme. This is certainly a gross act of injustice when millions of people of the country do not have the basic necessities of life
Many Catholic religious congregations in India today fail to exercise the mandate which their General Chapters so gloriously pontificate! Those religious within the Congregation who try to stand up for truth and justice are side-lined, denigrated by their own suspended and even dismissed (as we saw in the case of Sr Lucy Kalapura recently)
Early in June this year, speaking to a summit of Pan-American judges Pope Francis said,
“We are living at a historical stage of change in which the soul of our peoples is at stake, a time of crisis in which there is the paradox: on the one hand, phenomenal normative development, on the other side a deterioration in the effective enjoyment of globally consecrated rights;”“the injustice and the lack of tangible and concrete opportunities behind such analyses [made] by people that are incapable of putting themselves in the feet—I do not say the shoes, because in many cases people do not have them—is a form of generating violence, silently, but in the end violence.” “We only remember and recognize this [injustice] when some people make noise on the streets,” but then “they are rapidly categorized as dangerous or troublemakers in an effort to silence them. There is not democracy when there is hunger, there is not development when there is poverty, there is not justice when there is inequality”
The challenge to the Church in India today is to visibly and tangibly accompany the poor and other victims of injustices! Jesus has mandated this : it is fundamental to Christian discipleship! Pope Francis spares no efforts to ensure it! We are called to realize the prophetic vision of Amos, “let justice roll!”
The Author- Fr Cedric Prakash SJ is a human rights and peace activist/writer.