Freedom is often confused with liberty, and in India the debate often veers around to appeasement of Minorities
Do we have freedom of religion in India, or freedom for religion? I daresay that we have freedom for religion, and a surfeit of it. In the name of religion we can do what we want, where we want, whenever we want; we can take out processions, block public thoroughfares, play loudspeakers all night – with total disregard for law and order, or the inconvenience caused to others. We also consider our personal laws and customary practices sacrosanct, and cry foul the moment anybody dares question or curtail this “freedom”. In my hometown, Kanpur, at Moharram, over one lakh young men charge down the streets carrying swords and daggers. They are known as Paikis. The district administration remains on its toes for several days, and cordons offseveral roads, blocking them with trucks, to prevent the Paikis from going offthe pre-determined route. This year this coincided with Dusshera and Durga Puja. It goes to the credit of the district administration and the community leaders that there was no untoward incident. But such occasions are like a tinder box that can conflagrateat the slightest misunderstanding, altercation or rumour mongering. Earlier Durga Puja was limited to the Bengalis, and Ganesh Chaturthi to the Maharashtrians. But now everybody seems to be “celebrating” everything. Besides the administration, Mother Earth also cries out in anguish. The Muslims bury their huge tazias, and the Hindus immerse their idols in their very own sacred river, the Ganga. Most of these idols are made from the highly toxic plaster-of-paris, using lead and chrome (heavy metal) based colours.Civil society, and even the courts, remains hapless spectators. Supreme Court (SC) orders are floutedwith impunity. The most recent instance was that of the height of matkas for Ganesh Chaturthi, which the SC had restricted to 20 feet. The Shiv Sena and its offshootscocked a snook at the SC, and pressed on regardless. There are exceptions though, when SC orders have forced temples and dargahs to open their doors to women.
Vatican II is totally against forced/ induced conversions: “It is one of the tenets of Catholic doctrine that one’s response to God in faith must be free. Therefore no one is to be forced to embrace the Christian faith against his own will.”
Overall though, we have an overdose of religion, or public profession of the same. Freedom is often confused with liberty, and in India the debate often veers around to appeasement of Minorities (read Muslim). So we need to distinguish between them. Freedom is what Mahatma Gandhi and other freedom fightersachieved by gaining Independence from the British. Liberty is what statesmen like Nehru and Ambedkar established through rule of law and building a modern nation State. Licence, like James Bond’s licence to kill; is what Godse did to Gandhi. Appeasement is when the State bends over backwards or through coercion to grant undue favours/ privileges to a particular group, like crores spent on Kumbh Melas or Haj pilgrimages.What does the Constitution say about religious freedom? The preamble of the Constitution says that India is a Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic Republic (42nd Amendment of 1976); to ensure Justice, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity (the last three were the battlecry of the French Revolution). As for Fundamental Rights, it says that “The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them” (Art 15:1). Further, “Subject to public order, morality and health .....all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience, and right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion” (Art 25:1). However the State may enact legislation “regulating or restricting any economic, financial, political or other secular activity which may be associated with religious practice” (Art 25:2a). The Catholic Church in particular respects Government’s authority over “secular activity”. In Canon Law this is referred to as “civil effects”,especially in matrimonial laws. It refers to “the competence of the civil authority in respect of the merely civil effectsof the marriage” (Can 1059). It forbids “a marriage which cannot be recognised by the civil law or celebrated in accordance with it” (Can 1071:2).Where do Christians stand vis-à-vis religious freedom? Christians, and more particularly the Catholics, are perhaps the most law abiding as a community, to the point of docility. We get “activated” only when priests and nuns are assaulted/ molested, or when institutions are attacked.But we don’t seem to show the same level of concern when we are not directly affected.Last Sunday there was a horrible train accident near Kanpur, where over 150 people died. I led a team of volunteers to help with blood donation for the accident victims. Since there was to be a Corpus Christi procession that same evening I requested some of our priests to cancel it, as it would be a counter witness. My appeal went unheeded, so we had a Corpus Christi procession with 150 corpses in the vicinity! How then can we expect sensitivity and sympathy from others in our own hour of need? Ironically, former Chief Minister, Mulayam Singh Yadav, thought fitto cancel his own birthday bash scheduled for two days later, out of respect for the dead. A far betterwitness than ours. There is a lesson for us in this. We Christians are usually protective of two of our rights – that of propagation of our faith, and to run our educational institutions. I will limit myself to the former, as there are many betterqualifiedthan me to speak on the latter.We often blame the BJP for trying to curtail freedom of religion and ban conversions, through euphemistically called “Freedom of Religion” acts! The firstsuch Act was based on the report of the Niyogi Commission and was enacted by the Congress in Madhya Pradesh in the 1950s. The Catholic Union of India (now AICU) countered this through its publication “Truth Shall Prevail”. The Arunachal act was the most stringent, and harshly implemented by overzealous officerwhile the State was still a Union Territory. Subsequently people’s power has reduced that Act to a scrap of paper. The most recent was the one enacted, again by the Congress, in Himachal Pradesh, before Assembly elections. (It didn’t help them.)Incidentally, till date there has not been a single conviction for “conversions” despite several Acts being in force. When the previous Maharashtra Government (again Congress) planned to enact such legislation I drew the attentionof the Chief Minister to this reality. His officduly acknowledged my objection.However, we should not be complacent, because among the penal provisions are conversion by fraud, inducement and invocation of divine displeasure. Vatican II is totally against forced/ induced conversions. The “Declaration of Religious Freedom” (Dignitatis Humanae) states that “It is one of the tenets of Catholic doctrine that one’s response to God in faith must be free. Therefore no one is to be forced to embrace the Christian faith against his own will” (DH 10). The reference to “divine displeasure” can place us, especially over enthusiastic evangelical preachers, on a weak wicket. If one were to say “You will go to hell if you worship idols”, then that would be against the law. Even an invitation to a healing convention could be interpreted as an act of inducement. Some Christian preachers believe in “scriptural fundamentalism”, taking the Gospels too literally, without understanding their context. They quote Jesus’ last command to preach and baptise (cf Mat 28:19), forgettingthat judgement will be based not on Mat 28, but on Mat 25, on what we have done for the least of the brethren” (cf Mt 25:31-46). Again Vatican II is very clear on who can be saved. The “Dogmatic Constitution of the Church” (Lumen Gentium) which is the foundation of our ecclesiology today states “Those also can attainsalvation who through no fault of their own do not know the gospel of Christ or his Church, yet sincerely seek God, and moved by grace, strive by their deeds to do his will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does divine providence deny the help necessary for salvation to those who without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God, but who strive to live a good life, thanks to his grace” (LG 16). This means that even professed atheists can be saved, and echoes the mind of Jesus that “he causes his sun to rise on the bad as well as the good, and sends down rain to fall on the upright and wicked alike” (Mat 5:45). Let us then be imbued with the spirit of the Gospels and the teachings of the Church.Religious freedom in India cannot be cocooned from what is happening across the globe. A dangerous trend of right wing nationalism (garbed in religion) is spreading its tentacles across the globe – from the Middle East, to India, Europe and now the USA. We should not lose our sanity, sense of justice, and concern for the underprivileged. While the entire world has turned anti-migrant (read Muslim), Pope Francis stands out as a man who speaks up for them. The Jesuits in the Middle East have a special ministry for migrants, now entrusted to our very own Rev Cedric Prakash SJ.The second trend, particularly in India, is to propagate religion in the name of “culture”. The RSS repeats ad nauseam that it is a “cultural organisation”! Attemptsto introduce Yoga, Sanskrit, Vedic Maths, rewriting history, etc. are all part of this religious thrust garbed in culture. Let us not be fooled. The extreme right is now following the strategy of the Left – use infiltrationnot confrontation. It is their thin edge of the wedge, or the proverbial camel’s head in the tent! The beef ban and stringent provisions against cow slaughter are another instance of one person’s belief being foisted on another.Those who have studied the Questionnaire in preparation for the Uniform Civil Code will again findthat it is a clever attemptat infiltration,in order to wrest control. I have filedmy detailed objections before the Law Commission, and asked the AICU to do the same. However, I don’t findthe CBCI or the bishops particularly concerned or agitated. Is this because “personal laws” affectthe laity more than them? Marriage, divorce, succession and adoption – these are “lay” issues.If we constantly look inwards at our own country we could feel despondent. But if we see what is happening in the global context, including in our immediate neighbourhood (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Nepal) then we can safely say that we Christians in India are relatively safe. There is no doubt that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. Hope also springs eternal in the human breast. Yes, there is much that should change in our country, but I would put it differently.I am not a perfect human being, and have many failings and shortcomings. Should my dear wife divorce me because of my failings? Hopefully not! So too, if we are wedded to our country, we cannot leave it to its fate. We need to be involved in civil society, the media, secular and civic organisations that are working for the good of the country. I feel that the goodwill of the vast majority of our countrymen is the biggest safeguard to our religious freedom. Sure we are serving our country through a myriad educational and health institutions. We should not negate that goodwill through an inordinate desire to “convert” others, or by conducting Corpus Christi processions when there are corpses all over. Let us then enjoy our freedom coupled with liberty, justice equality and fraternity; and not seek licence or appeasement.(The writer is a former National President of the All India Catholic Union. This article is based on his talk on “Freedom of Religion in India – with special reference to the Christian community”, at a public meeting organised by the All India Catholic Union at Mangalore on November 26.)
Mobile App, Website launch and Felicitation
Mobile App, Website launch and Felicitation was held with the seminar on 26th November 2016 in Mangalore.
National Seminar on Religion & Freedom Consensus of Minorities in India
National Seminar on Religion & Freedom Consensus of Minorities in India was held in Mangalore on 26 November 2016.
CATHOLIC UNION CONDEMNS THREATS TO ARTISTES, WRITERS AND INTELLECTUALS
CATHOLIC UNION CONDEMNS THREATS TO ARTISTES, WRITERS AND INTELLECTUALS
AICU deeply concerned at unabated lynchings, hate speeches inciting violence, and government’s failure to check communal polarization
MUMBAI, NOVEMBER 20, 2017
[The following press statement was issued at a press conference in the Mumbai Press club by Mr Lancy D Cunha, the National President of the All India Catholic Union, and dr John Dayal, Official Spokesman and former President. The press was also addressed by Mr Dolphy D’Souza, Former National vice president and former President of the Bombay Catholic Sabha and Mrs Rita D’Sa, president of the BCS. The 97 year old AICU celebrates its 100 years in 2019.]
The All India Catholic Union, the country’s largest movement of lay Christians, is deeply concerned at the government’s failure to condemn and contain the threats to freedom of expression in the country. The threat to the the life to the artistes and director of the period drama film Padmawati, to the OBC writer Prof Kancha Iailiah, and the social media threats to activists Kavita Krishnan, Kavita Srivastava and others reflect a speedy breakdown in the rule of law.
The continuing hate speeches by leaders of the Sangh parivar, among them senior members of the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the total impunity have triggered the lynchings of Muslims and Dalits in the name of the cow in states stretching from Assam to Rajasthan and Gujarat. Religious minorities are being coerced, threatened and targeted by religious and cultural-nationalists.
The recent double episode in Madhya Pradesh where the police dragged out Christian children from trains and arrested their trip escorts is evidence of how state police and justice systems are targeting the Christian community. In both these cases, false cases of forcible conversion were made.
Such incidents do not augur well for the freedom of religion in India. The situation is aggravated by several recent steps taken by the government, including the enforcing of the NEET admission tests which deeply impact the future of minority students seeking admission in professional education institutions. The proposed new National Education Policy continues as a threat with reports of rewriting curricula, and the corporatisation of education.
A small example of government’s indifference to the sentiments of religious minorities is the 12 % tax imposed on Wooden Crosses and Rosaries, the prayer beads used by Catholics as part of their religious practices. We demand the GST be removed on all religious artifacts.
The Catholic Union has been in the forefront of the rights of Dalits and Tribals, specially those professing the Christian faith. AICU has filed a writ in the Supreme court together with others demanding Scheduled Case rights for Dalits professing the Christian Faith. We hope the courts will take a decision at an early date as this impacts the civic and human rights of a large number of people in the community.
The AICU executive is meeting in Trichy in December to further refine its programme to celebrate its centennial in 2019.
Released to the Media by the official Spokesman, Dr John Dayal. He may be contacted at +91 9811021072 email@example.comJohn Dayal
Day three of AICU AGM
Post mass and part of the elections
Day three of AICU AGM
Mass on the last day of the AICU meeting
Day one of AICU AGM
AICU AGM held in Kolkata in September 2016
Day two of AICU AGM
Award Ceremony at AICU AGM held in Kolkata in September 2016