January 30th 1948 will remain etched forever in the conscience of the nation. On that fateful day at evening prayer, Mahatma Gandhi fell to the bullets of his assassin Nathuram Godse, in Delhi. Godse represented the fascist, fanatic, fundamentalist and ‘feku’ forces, which abhorred the values for which Gandhi, espoused all his life and particularly the idea of an inclusive, pluralistic and secular India. These forces unfortunately are still very alive in India and in several parts of the world today!
There are certainly those who disagreed with Gandhi during his lifetime and there are many who disagree with his philosophy and his methodology even today. Nevertheless, few will be able to contest the fact that Gandhi was a man of principles who lived and died for a cause. His life was frugal and exemplary and unlike several politicians today, he did not care leave alone crave, for the privileges and the trappings of power.
In his lifetime, he internalized and propagated two cherished values TRUTH (Satyagraha) and NONVIOLENCE (Ahimsa). This twin doctrine is today more than ever needed, as sizeable sections of India and other parts of the world fall easy prey to falsehood and hate; to divisiveness and violence. Gandhi believed in the spirituality of inclusiveness. For him, the Hindu Scriptures ‘the Bhagvad Gita’ and Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount”(particularly the section on the ‘Beatitudes’)had to be read and meditated upon simultaneously since he was convinced that they resonated with one another. He refers to this in his autobiography ‘My Experiment with Truth’
There was plenty of violence and bloodshed in the run –up to India’s independence. Gandhi truly desired an undivided India, in which Hindus and Muslims would live in peace and harmony. In October 1946, he spent weeks in Naokhali (today in Bangla Desh) literally bringing to a halt, in a non-violent way, massacres and mayhem between the two communities. On August 15 1947, as India celebrated her independence, there were no celebrations for Gandhi; he was back in Calcutta with his protégé Abdul Ghaffar Khan. He encouraged people to be non-violent and peaceful; he himself prayed, fasted and spun yarn. Those actions of his had a profound impact on the people- peace was restored. When C Rajagopalachari, the first Governor- General of Independent India, visited and congratulated Gandhi for restoring peace in the city, Gandhi said he would not be satisfied "until Hindus and Muslims felt safe in one another's company and returned to their own homes to life as before." He sincerely cared for those who were forcibly displaced.
On the day Gandhi was assassinated Pandit Nehru, India’s Prime Minister in an emotional address to the nation said, “the light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere! “He was just stating a fact. Darkness continues to envelop a good part of the world today; the very forces that murdered Gandhi continue to murder all that he epitomized. True there are some hypocritical gestures like usurping the place of Gandhi at the spinning wheel, for a picture on an official calendar. Gandhi never subscribed to showmanship nor was he arrogant. He fought against sectarianism and racism and would have left no stone unturned today to take sides with the refugees and other forcibly displaced people of the world.
Indian Catholics will observe a “Day of Peace” on January 30th. Significantly, in a message for the Fiftieth World Day of Peace (celebrated officially on January 1st 2017) entitled ‘Nonviolence: A Style of Politics for Peace’, Pope Francis emphatically states that, “violence is not the cure for our broken world.” He calls for a new style of politics built on peace and nonviolence, and at the same time for disarmament and the eradication of nuclear weapons. Both Mahatma Gandhi and Abdul Ghaffar Khan are referred to in this message as icons of nonviolence and peace. We certainly have much to learn from them.
The world today is in a turmoil as never before. In ways both subtle and direct; through discriminatory policies and executive orders; through manipulations and coercions, we witness the gradual break-up of our world, even as hasty and unwanted walls are built to keep people out. We need to do all we can to prevent the triumph of these forces who are inimical to the cherished ideals and values of Gandhi, the Apostle of Nonviolence. We must cry halt to their murderous march now!
30th January 2017
Fr. Cedric Prakash sj
Advocacy & Communications
Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) MENA Region
Rue de L'Universitie Saint-Joseph
Achrafieh 11002150 BEIRUT LEBANON
Tel:(Off)+961-1-332-601(Res)+961-1-200-456 to 58(ext-1703)
Skype:cprakashsj Twitter:@CedricPrakash and @jrs_mena
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NINE ON TEN
While writing about the Republic Day Parade (RDP) last year I said that I missed the rich timbered voice of Rini Simon-Khanna. I had also hazarded a guess that this year the Chief Guest would be the Emir of Kuwait . After watching this year’s RDP I got fiendish pleasure in being spot on last year.
Because this year Rini was a commentator on CNN18, the channel that I happened to be watching. Also because my prediction of the Chief Guest was very close to the target. After Buddy Barak in 2015 and Francois Hollainde (of France, not Holland) in 2016, it was the Crown Price of Abu Dabhi (a neighbour of Kuwait) this year!
Now to the parade itself. Rini, a veteran of several parades during her years with Doordarshan, rated it as 9/10. The other expert commentator Lt. Gen Narinder Singh (Retd), former Deputy Chief of Army Staff, gave the parade 9.5/10 as he felt that that there was nothing to find fault with. As far as clockwork precision goes, indeed there was nothing to be faulted. After seeing some of the pageantry associated with Trump’s presidential inauguration in the USA every Indian can proudly say that we outshine then on every score. Perhaps “developed” countries no longer assign importance to ceremonial grandeur the way we do. Our only rivals are the British, from whom we have inherited most of our ceremonial regalia anyway.
I always take great pride in our regimental pageantry. Maybe I am like the poor peasant who was overawed by the Emperor’s new clothes. We servile Indians look up to our rulers, be they the erstwhile gora sahibs, or our slavish mentality to political leaders like the late Jayalalithaa, Mayawati, Mamta, the fair-skinned Gandhi’s and our very own home-grown messiah, prince of all he surveys, Narendra Damodardas Modi!
What struck me about this year’s RDP was the rich cultural diversity. Our President Pranab Mukherji, cannot speak the national language Hindi. On the eve of Republic Day he called us a noisy republic (I rather like the term). Our Vice President Hamid Ansari is Muslim, our Prime Minister is from Gujarat. The Chief Justice J.S. Khehar is a Sikh. The bravery awardee, Hawaldar Hangpan Dada (posthumous recipient of the Ashok Chakra, the highest bravery award in peace time) was probably a Buddhist from the remote Tirap district of Arunachal Pradesh. Leading the veterans was Maj Gen (Retd) Cyrus Pethawala a Parsi, and one of the marching contingents was led by Captain Sunit Lopez, probably a Christian. What unity in diversity.
Among the first timers at this year’s parade were the indigenously build Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (never mind that they took 30 years to take off) and the Dhanush self propelled howitzer guns, similar to the Bofors one. The barrels of both are made in the Ordnance factories in Kanpur, my hometown. “The nation needs to know” (a quip from Arnab Goswami – Arnab who?) that most of the workers in these factories get over time every Sunday, because they hardly do any work the rest of the week! Aren’t we on a weak wicket (pun intended)? How wicked of me. What I was really thrilled to see was the Black Cat Commandos of the elite National Security Guard. Will they go after Hafiz Saeed in Pakistan the way America’s SEALS took out Osama bin Laden?
Now to the sidelines. The Crown Prince was looking suitably bored (our Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had actually fallen asleep surrounded by the Arab steeds) until he saw the camels. He probably thought they had a monopoly on the ships of the desert. Our camel mounted military band is reportedly the only one of its kind in the world.
Our military has several ethnic regiments like Sikhs, Rajputs, Dogras, Marathas, etc, so I was rather surprised to find two Gorkha Regiments in the parade. Is this because the present Chief of Army Staff, Gen Bipin Rawat, is from the Gorkha Regiment, as also his predecessor, Gen Dalbhir Singh Suhag? Apparently the present Directors General of Military Operations and of Military Intelligence also hail from the Gorkha Regiment. Shades of partiality perhaps? Again, we must gloss over the fact that the Gorkhas are from Nepal, not India.
The marching contingents, as always, were followed by the cultural floats. Despite their vibrant colours they seem largely contrived. In fact Gen Narinder Singh, who has been associated with 30 RDPs, frankly admitted that many of the dances are not traditional folk dances. They are fabricated to fit into a fleeting rhythmic pageant. The only novel float was the one from J & K, with snow and mist from the ski slopes of Gulmarg. The one on Goods and Service Tax was literally skittled out, with all nine pins down. Haryana’s focus on the girl child seemed hypocritical, as it has one of the lowed sex ratios, and highest instances of gender injustice. The Khadi India float had a guy with a laptop, something proponents of cottage industries consider anathema! Both Gen Singh and Rini agreed that the Goa float always attracted the highest TRPs and maximum applause. India liberated Goa in 1961. Maybe the rest of India now wants to shed the mantle of tradition and embrace the liberal life style of Goa. Indeed the RDP does raise several issues, and the hidden desires of an aspirational young India.
Last year I had wondered why our White Revolution (biggest producers of milk in the world - spearheaded by the late Verghese Kurien of Amul), Yoga and Bollywood were not featured in the parade. Next year I propose that we also have a float on cricket, the national pass time. This year it would have been fun if the Reserve Bank of India had a float with black money being deposited in a Magic Machine, and white currency floating out at the other end. Surely that would have generated the maximum TRPs, more than Goa’s floating cassinos!
On a more serious note - what do those who watch the RDP feel? Is it just a momentary high, like an ecstasy drug? Do we then revert to our usual drab crabbity lives? Are young people inspired to join the defence services that are facing am acute shortage of officers? What of active participation in the National Cadet Corps (NCC) or National Social Service (NSS)? I thought the latter had ceased to exist, but was pleasantly surprised to find a unit from the Ewing Christian College in Meghlaya. As Rini Simon said, in a 1½ hour pageant you see the whole of India encapsulated. It makes me proud to be an Indian and to serve my motherland in various ways. The Parade would indeed be 9/10 if more than 9 or 10 young people are inspired to serve the nation.
NATIONAL VOTERS’ DAY: JANUARY 25th - Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
In a significant decision, the Union Cabinet in 2011, under the stewardship of the then Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, decided to celebrate January 25th as ‘National Voters’ Day’, which is also the anniversary of the foundation of the Election Commission of India(ECI). The focus of the day is to encourage many more young voters to take part in the political process.
The hallmark of a vibrant Democracy is the power and the ability of the people to exercise their franchise freely and fearlessly. Analysis of past elections in India, do provide a healthy picture of the number of people who cast their votes; in most cases, it has been about 55% to 65 %( sometimes more sometimes less).
In many countries, the ‘right to vote’ is a fundamental right, but in India, it is just a legal right. All should however regard that exercising one’s franchise is a sacred duty. There is also an apathy among sections of the people: their names either do not figure in the electoral rolls and even if they do, they just do not cast their vote on Election Day.
On the other hand, there are others who are consistently disenfranchised; these include non-citizens, the poor, the homeless, the displaced/refugees, minorities, criminals, disabled. One of the most subtle ways is for a registered voter to be denied exercising one’s franchise on the day of elections, simply because one’s name has ‘mysteriously’ disappeared from the electoral rolls. The polling officers say that they can do absolutely nothing about it. Denying several legitimate voters their right to vote can easily change the result of a particular constituency.
That corruption is rampant, pre-election and during elections in India is no big secret. The ‘demonetisation’ drive by the current Government is an effort to stymie the other political parties in the upcoming State elections, after making it safe for themselves and for their corrupt friends. The buying of voters, the capturing of booths, the tampering of the EVMs, and the rigging of elections has certainly been part of the election process in India. For the last several years however, the ECI has been playing a stellar role in ensuring that the elections in India are generally free and fair; but recently, two former Election Commissioners of the country have gone on record to say that the ECI can do precious little to actually check corruption during election time.
Beginning February 4th, and spanning five states (Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur), India enters a long and critical election season. These elections will target approx.160 million voters and is once again expected to be a defining moment in Indian politics. The voters in these States certainly need to prepare themselves conscientiously for these elections; and others, for the ones in their States and the General elections due in 2019.
Whilst voting cannot and should never be made compulsory, here are some guidelines, which could be helpful for all:
Ø Visit the website of the Election Commission of India: www.eci.nic.in
Ø It is the RIGHT and DUTY of every citizen of India, above the age of 18 years to exercise his / her vote.
I. THE ELECTORAL ROLL:
· if you are above 18 years (on January 1st) and a citizen of India, you must have your
name on the Electoral Roll (ER)
· it is a basic and important identity for every adult citizen of India
· check immediately whether your name is on the ER (by visiting the ECI / your State
CEO website / Taluka Office / Collector’s Office / the local branch Office of a
national political party)
· for inclusion of one’s name on the ER, you will have to fill Form 6
· ask the concerned Officer on what date you should return to check whether your
name is in the ER or not
· for any objection or inclusion of name/s, you will have to fill Form 7
· for correction of entries in the Electoral Rolls, you will have to fill Form 8
· write your complaints to the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of your State
and to the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Delhi
· always retain copies of your application / letters, signed by the receiving Officer, for
· ensure that you have the Elector’s Photo Identity Card (EPIC)
· (remember having an EPIC does NOT mean that your name is on the ER)
· Check periodical advertisements in National/Regional newspapers regarding the updating of the Electoral Rolls of your State; adhere to their deadlines
· help the poor, vulnerable, differently-abled etc.to have their names included on the ER
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II. POLITICAL INVOLVEMENT:
· get involved in mainstream politics
· encourage / support political parties which focus on governance and on issues
related to transparency, human rights, justice and peace and the safeguarding of the
Constitutional Rights of all.
· check out the candidates, the parties wish to nominate for a particular seat
· even if a candidate is ‘good’ we must be cautious of the party s/he represents
· organize public debates / dialogues with them and assess their views / opinions /
promises / track-record
· study their Election Manifesto of the previous elections and based on this manifesto,
see whether the ruling party / sitting candidate has fulfilled the promises made
· assess their views on the poor and on discriminated/ vulnerable communities like the tribals, dalits,women, children, minorities, differently abled and oriented persons; and also on critical subjects like water, education, food security, ecology, employment, agriculture, health, displacement, nuclearization, military warfare and globalization
III. ON VOTING DAY:
· cast your vote FEARLESSLY
· encourage all others to FREELY cast their votes too
· vote for a party / individual that is NOT corrupt, criminal, communal and / or
· if you notice any bogus voting, rigging or booth capturing, bring it to the notice of
the police / Election Officers immediately and preferably in writing
· make sure that the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) you use – works correctly
· you have the right to exercise your franchise as “None of the Above” (NOTA) under
Rule 49 – O
IV. AFTER ELECTIONS:
· find out the details of your elected representative (name, address, telephone / fax
nos., email id, website/blog, facebook page, twitter account etc.)
· arrange that organizations, villages / groups invite the representative to share his / her views about the area for the next five years
· ensure that you keep in touch with him / her constantly
· remember that they have budgetary allocations for their constituency; find out for
what programmes this money is being utilized
· insist that your views / concerns are voiced in the assembly / parliament
· ensure that they do NOT endorse any draconian or anti-people legislation
· remind the representative that as a voter you have a right to ask for his / her
resignation for non-performance (we do not have the power ‘to recall’ in India)
V. REGARDING CONCERNS / COMPLAINTS:
· any concern / complaint in the context of the Electoral Rolls must be sent in writing
(registered post / courier) immediately to your State CEO/the CEC
· serious concerns like the disenfranchisement of a whole community / village must
be brought to the notice of: The Chief Election Commissioner of India,
Nirvachan Sadan, Ashoka Road, New Delhi-110 001
[ECI control room: Tel.: (011) 23710000 / 23718888 & 23717391 to 98 / 23717141
to 43 Fax: (011) 23713412 email: email@example.com]
· the above may also be informed about any irregularities regarding the elections
VI. OTHER INFORMATION:
· visit/read the section on “Systematic Voter’s Education & Electoral Participation(SVEEP)” posted on the ECI website for detailed information
· use “The Right to Information” – to obtain essential information of a political
party / candidate / elected representative
Ø Celebrate January 25th : ‘NATIONAL VOTERS’ DAY’
It is said that, “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”; exercising ones right to vote is the first step towards this!
January 24th 2017
Fr. Cedric Prakash sj
Advocacy & Communications
Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) MENA Region
Rue de L'Universitie Saint-Joseph
Achrafieh 11002150 BEIRUT LEBANON
Tel:(Off)+961-1-332-601(Res)+961-1-200-456 to 58(ext-1703)
Skype:cprakashsj Twitter:@CedricPrakash and @jrs_mena
Like us on https://www.facebook.com/JRSMiddleEast
Catholic youth told to think as Indians first
A Supreme Court judge has urged Catholic youth in India to give top priority to their nation.
“I was born an Indian first, then a Catholic Christian. So all Christians are first Indians and then Christians,” Justice Kurian Joseph told the concluding session of the tenth national youth convention
Some 5,000 young Catholics from India’s 171 dioceses attended the January 18-22 convention held at Mangalore, a port city in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. The addressed various issues affecting the nation and young people in the country.
Justice Joseph, in his valedictory note, reminded the participants about their constitutional rights and duties. “We not only have the constitutional rights but also the duty to follow the Constitution,” he said and urged them join nation building and to establish God’s kingdom on earth. He asserted that the youth must first become responsible citizens and become agents of change in the country.
The convention ended with a mega peace rally held in the heart of Mangaluru city. J.R Lobo, who represents Mangaluru South Constituency in the Karnataka legislative assembly, joined Ivan D’Souza, a member of legislative council, to release pigeons to mark the launch of the rally.
Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore, head of the Catholic Church in Karnataka, flagged off the rally from Rosario Cathedral. It ended at St Aloysius College grounds.
In his presidential address Archbishop Moras asserted that Indians have the fundamental right to profess their faith and “no one can take it away from us.” He urged the young people to fight together for justice while upholding Christian values.
Bishop Aloysius Paul D’Souza of Mangalore advised the youth to witness Christ in their region.
Lobo commended the youngsters for maintaining discipline during the rally. He urged them to take active part in the church as well as civil activities. He asked Church leaders to set up centers to train youth to work for the community.
Oscar Fernandes, a Member of Rajya Sabha, welcomed the delegates to Mangaluru, popularly known as Rome of the East. “There is no difference in serving God and Serving the nation. It goes in hand in hand. Youths should make use of all opportunities they get in their life to serve the humanity,” he added.
Cardinal Oswald Gracious, head of the Latin rite in India, led the Mass on the concluding day. In the homily, he called upon the youth to follow Jesus. “Each one of us can have personal relationship with Jesus. Each one of us can meet Jesus. Following the teachings of Christ will help you to walk his way. Transform society and bring a change by following Jesus,” he added.
The Mangalore bishop, who led the Mass on January 21, reminded the youth about the need to commit to Jesus and to his cross.
Ivan Fernandes, permanent deacon and assistant director of Youth Ministry of Bombay archdiocese, recalled Pope Francis’ call to youth to not become Christian couch potatoes
Cardinal George Alencherry, who led the Mass on January 20, urged the Catholic youth to console those suffering because of various reasons. “We are unique in the eyes of our Lord and nobody can replace us. We are wanted by the Lord to proclaim his word and continue his ministry,” said the head of the Syro-Malabar Church.
Talent in Mumbai’s Weddings & Funerals - Don Aguiar
If you live in Mumbai then you have something to look forward to. Forget about the get together and normal functions, you are about to get an insight on the rich and famous weddings and funerals – a gigantic leap into commercialization of the system.
It is not a question of sitting silently; it is not a question of chanting a mantra. It is a question of understanding the subtle workings of the mind. As you understand those workings of the mind a great awareness arises in you, which is not of the mind. That awareness arises in your being, in your soul, in your consciousness
I have attended weddings of friends, colleagues or their families I know. I have also been to funerals to grieve with people I know or knew. But there is a completely different world out there. A world that is far more egalitarian that does not breed familiarity but just recognizes commercial interventions. A world which invoices your emotions and pays for your presence.
So in today’s demonetized India we are still able to monetize presence at weddings and funerals and there are dolts who specialize in this: mostly from Bollywood which includes actors, past and present; those who may have acquired early fame but are cast always and these are the people who attend weddings and funerals for money: yes if believing that is even possible. So if you are a current star, you can charge Rs 1 crore per wedding; if your last film was in the 1980s you could, if the host has a decent memory get about Rs 2 lakhs and if you are eminently forgettable then just a business class air ticket and stay at some crappy five-star hotel will suffice.
So upon greater investigation this is what I have learnt. There are event management companies that actually manage talent: yes this is what these shameless freeloaders are called. They are the ones who are ferried from wedding to wedding or from funeral to funeral. These event management companies will then brief them as to which side they are from: so a program will be handed out to them so that they don’t confuse the bride with the groom’s mother. Or for that matter the groom with the local state Chief Minister which is understandable given how intellectually innocent some of this ‘talent is.
So depending on which side you are from, you will either be a baraati or from the girl’s side and they will then naturally offer you color coded turbans and / or color coded couture. So once you arrive at the venue, you will be taken right to the middle at the peril of the blokes getting married because as one remembers at any Indian wedding the presence of the groom and the bride is either incidental or hazardous. Once this talent has surfaced in the middle of the party, they will then be introduced as ‘family friends’ who ‘we’ve known for ages’ and ‘much before he became such a famous star’. This is the opening act for the evening. The talent will then proceed to get inebriated since how much small talk can you indulge in with someone from Pune who trades in automobiles?
Once inebriated this ‘talent’ is then encouraged to dance with the family and other sundry animals and one must respect the fact, that the talent does it with aplomb since this is the only acting role they get nowadays: once you’ve done the token dance and been photographed by everyone and hounded for selfies with some of the ugliest people on the planet, you can safely depart, until of course the next wedding.
Everyone is happy. The out-of work celebrity finally gets to do a job; the star-struck automobile contractor gets to shake his booty with an aging gorgon and all your relatives think you have deep-rooted contacts in Bollywood.
Funerals are more expensive. The ‘talent’ gets to charge more. Because it’s much longer and more arduous and mostly non-air conditioned. Also, there is more physical work. If the chap you’ve been hired by is a masochist, he may insist that you also lend your shoulder to the carrying of the body. In addition to this burdensome weight you may also have to cry and it’s here where you are trapped because it won’t be fine form to whip out some glycerin from a bottle which says hand sanitizer: this is where the ‘talent’ has to fall back on years of experience of crying in some godforsaken films and one has to hand it to them: they do a great job.
I have seen some of them actually invoke their method-acting skills and also wail loudly with the right pitch which is difficult to do when you are inhaling flesh and sandalwood smoke blended into a fine fragrance. Also, funerals tend to be more energy-sapping but then many have a package deal: the simplest package is the funeral; the more complex one is the ‘three for-one’: simply put this includes the funeral; the prayer ceremony and a home visit so that the building blokes know how close you are to this lot who’ve lost someone.
So the next time you see ‘talent’, please be kind. It’s a tough life and a hard job and someone’s got to do it.
Why India shouldn’t forget the murder of Graham Staines
India, January 22, 2017: Manoharpur is a small village in Keonjhar district in Odisha.
In the intervening night of 22 January and 23 January, Manoharpur hit newspaper headlines when Graham Staines, a 58-year-old Australian Christian missionary was burnt to death along with his two sons – 10-year-old Phillips and 7-year-old Timothy. Staines and his sons were sleeping in their station wagon in front of a church in the village, when the car was attacked by a mob.
The mob was led by Dara Singh, a local leader with alleged links to Bajrang Dal. It was a landmark moment in India; revealing fissures in its secular history and uncovering a narrative of ugly violence against Christians in India.
Who Was Graham Staines?
Graham Staines was a Christian missionary who worked with leprosy patients in Mayurbhanj district in Odisha for nearly 30 years. He had come to India from Australia in 1965 and had never left the country. The family had opened a leprosy home at Baripada and his work among adivasis and lepers was well-known. News of his death caused distraught to those who knew him in Baripada, according to India Today.
“It’s as if we all have had a personal bereavement,” said District Collector R Balakrishnan. For the past 35 years, dressed in casuals, sporting his trademark hat and wheeling his rickety bicycle, Saibo – as he was popularly called – was a fixture in Baripada where he did “God’s work”, tending and nursing leprosy patients in a specially-run home on the town’s outskirts.
Why Was He Murdered?
On the night of the murders, Staines had gone to Manoharpur village for a festival. Dara Singh claimed that Staines was involved in forced conversions of adivasis. On the night of 22 January 1999, Singh got some followers together and went to Manoharpur village. Angered by Singh, the mob poured petrol over their car and set it on fire. Reportedly, Staines and his sons tried to escape, but was prevented doing so by the mob.
KR Narayan, the then-President, condemned the incident in harshest of words. He said Staines’ murder was,
A monumental aberration of time-tested tolerance and harmony. The killings belong to the world’s inventory of black deeds.
LK Advani, the then prime minister despatched a three-member cabinet team to Manoharpur and announced a judicial inquiry headed by a Supreme Court judge DP Wadhwa. The case was handed to the CBI for investigation.
However, in the aftermath of the incident, Gladys Staines, wife of Graham Staines, repeatedly stated that her husband was not involved in forced conversion of adivasis and lepers.
Why Was Staines’ Murder Significant?
Attacks on Christians in India
Graham Staines’ murder was significant as it came on the heels of a list of violent crimes against Christians. Reportedly on 24 February 1999, the then-home minister LK Advani stated that there were 116 communal-based crimes against Christians in 1998. Churches were also destroyed in the Dangs in Gujarat in 1998. So, Staines’ murder brought violence against Christians in a sharp relief, causing widespread outrage in India.
Even now, when incidents of attacks on Christians rise and periodically made headlines, Staines’ murder is referenced with respect to its brutality and the anger it generated.
Passing of Juvenile Justice Bill 2000
Another implication of the Staines’ murder was the passing of the Juvenile Justice Bill 2000. The law was debated and passed after 13-year-old Chenchu Hansda, an accused in the Graham Staines’ murder, was sentenced to life term. He was the first to be arrested for the crime and was seen by witnesses at the spot of the crime. When the Odisha High Court acquitted 11 accused in the case, a fresh appeal was made against Hansda’s sentence, reports Scroll.in.
What Did the Wadhwa Commission Find?
The Wadhwa Commission, led by Justice DP Wadhwa, was constituted with two objectives. One was to investigate the facts and the circumstances of Staines’ and his sons’ murder. Two, to determine the role, if any, played by authority, organisation or individual in connection with the murder.
The Commission held Dara Singh to be guilty of Graham Staines’ murder, but dismissed allegations that he was affiliated to the Bajrang Dal. This was a controversial decision as it has been written in the aftermath of the Commission’s report that there was plenty of evidence linking Singh to Bajrang Dal.
Dara Singh was a known criminal in the district, with reportedly nine police cases registered against him at the time of Staines’ murder.
After the Wadhwa Commission report, the National Minorities Commission inquired into the Staines’ murders and highlighted Dara Singh’s linkage with Bajrang Dal.
What Punishment Was Given to Dara Singh?
In 2003, a trail court in Khurda convicted all 13 accused. Dara Singh was awarded death sentence, while others were given life imprisonment.
In May 2005, the Orissa High Court commuted to life imprisonment the death penalty imposed by the sessions court on Dara Singh on the grounds that it couldn’t be considered as the ‘rarest of rare’ case.
Dara Singh then appealed against his life sentence in the Supreme Court, but his appeal was dismissed and the SC Bench confirmed the High Court judgement in 2011.
Where is Gladys Staines and Her Family?
Gladys Staines continued to stay in Odisha with her daughter Esther. In 2003, she told the media that she has forgiven the killers of her husband and two sons. According to a report in The Hindu, she said:
I have forgiven the killers and have no bitterness because forgiveness brings healing and our land needs healing from hatred and violence.
In 2005, she was awarded the Padma Shri by the President of India for her work with people suffering from leprosy.
- the quint
Divorce decree by church not valid, can't override law: SC
The Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed a plea that sought recognition to divorce decrees passed by ecclesiastical courts to Catholic couples.
A bench of Chief Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud dismissed the public interest litigation filed by Bengaluru-based Clarence Pais, who urged that divorces granted by canonical courts should also be recognised as valid as was the case with 'triple talaq' under the Shariah law.
The petitioner contended that if divorce decrees passed by ecclesiastical courts were not recognised by the civil courts, a large number of Christian men will face prosecution for bigamy under the Indian Penal Code if they remarried after getting favourable divorce decrees from the canonical courts.
The court order, which dismissed the three-year-old PIL filed by Clarence Pais, an advocate and a former president of the Catholic Association of Dakshina Kannada in Karnataka, may also have a bearing on a clutch of petitions that have sought declaring triple talaq as unconstitutional and illegal.
But a bench led by Chief Justice of India J S Khehar dismissed the petition filed by Pais, and invoked a judgment holding that parliamentary laws shall override personal laws and that “statutory provisions shall prevail and override any personal law”.
The bench, however, said that the petition was “devoid of merit” and deserved to be dismissed in view of the 1996 judgment which had settled the law on the point of marriage and divorce among Christians. The court said that a divorce decree can be passed only by a district court or a high court, authorised under the Divorce Act.
The bench said that the PIL lacked merit after what the apex court said in its 1996 ruling and would be dealt with right away.
Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code prohibits and punishes remarriage if a surviving spouse and a valid marriage are surviving.
Section 494 deals with marrying again during the lifetime of husband or wife. "Whoever, having a husband or wife living, marries in any case in which such marriage is void by reason of its taking place during the life of such husband or wife, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine."
Under the Christian canonical law, Catholics are required to marry in a Catholic church and the same could be dissolved by the canonical court only. The marriage and its dissolution by any authority other than the church is not recognised by it.
Pais had sought declaration that the canon law as the personal law of Catholic Christians in India and that the dissolution of marriage by these courts as binding and recognised.
The petition cited Article 372 of the Constitution, which provides for continuance of several existing laws and their adaptation even after coming into force of the Constitution.
Article 372 says: "Notwithstanding the repeal by this Constitution of the enactments referred to in Article 395 but subject to the other provisions of this Constitution, all law in force in the territory of India immediately before the commencement of this Constitution shall continue in force therein until altered or repealed or amended by a competent legislature or other competent authority."
Referring to Article 372, the petitioner said, "All the laws in force include not only the enactment of the Indian legislature but also the Common Law of the land which was being administered by the courts in India. This includes not only the personal laws -- namely the Hindu and Mohammedan laws -- but that of Indian Catholic viz. the Canon Law..."
Of Politicians, Priests & the Common Man- Don Aguiar.
One unmistakable indication of our country which professes to be democratic and tolerant: Does it accord freedom only to accepted and acceptable ideas and beliefs or does it also accord freedom to the thought we hate?
For Five Thousand Years the politician and the Priest have been in the same business.
They are thought to be great leaders and saints; in fact they are conspiring together against humanity. The politician rules the outside and the priest the inside, supporting each other in their attempt to dominate humanity.
In the climate where many people are not happy with their personal life, social environment and politics, it is easy to project this anger energy without reflection and without understanding where the roots of the problem really are.
From occupy Wall Street to the Arab Springs, from the elections of the first Black President in the US to a new Pope who promises to use St Francis de Assisi as a role model the roles of priest and politicians in our public life have recently captured the attention of our times often just initiating another round of hope and subsequent disillusionment. In other words willingly or unwillingly, we keep digging ourselves deeper into the mess we are in.
You have to be aware who they really are. The problem is that they are thought to be great leaders, sages, saints, mahatmas. All these people have to be exposed because they are the causes. For example it is easier to understand that politicians are the cause of many problems - wars, murders, massacres, demonetization, poverty, communal disharmony and hatred, blackmailing, rapes and much more It is more difficult when it comes to religious leaders because nobody has raised their hands against them,. They have remained respectable for centuries and as time goes on their respectability goes on growing. The most difficult job is to make you aware that these people knowingly or unknowingly - that does not matter – have created this world.
We must examine not only the profound influence of religion and politics in society but also its influence in our inner world. To the extent we have internalized and adopted as our own the values and belief systems of the ‘powers that be’ we have boxed ourselves in, imprisoned our values and tragically crippled our vision of what is possible. A new kind of world is possible – but only if we understand clearly how the old has functioned up to now. And based on that understanding, take the responsibility and the courage to become a new kind of human being.
The worrying part is that those accepted and acceptable ideas and beliefs though intended from the politicians and priests, could well usher in authoritarianism based on the belief that they are infallible and are the best to administer the country. It would also provide ammunition to those opposed to their authoritarianism and worst portray them in a ludicrous light.
Repeated pummeling of our country by the present government is seen to have snatched the ground away from the common man. When innocents are repeatedly being accused it’s becoming almost unacceptable to talk of avoiding the language of dishonesty or upholding the rule of law or avoiding non ethical doings.
The news papers tell us that the government accords freedom only to accepted and acceptable ideas and beliefs and that in order for them to maintain their sectarian and nationalist line/identity has for this purpose put together a strong media and communication team that ensures that anyone or everyone putting out anything that is not as per the government requirements or their party ideology or the governments line of thinking and action is threaten to keep quiet and made to toe their line which indicates the governments intolerance to those who opposed or criticize their line of thinking or action and the freedom guaranteed by our Constitution to express the thoughts we hate.
The common man has thus become an endangered species of late….. The common man everywhere is winning only rarely. It is so much easier at present towing the government line to be sectarian and nationalist than accommodative and universal. And this could well be describing the plights of the common man out here.
REALISING A DREAM -Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, today it is important to celebrate his memory, to pay heed to the rich legacy he has bequeathed to us and to see how best we can realise his dream in our world today!
‘MLK’ as he was fondly known, was a true champion of civil rights. He was unable to accept the injustices that were heaped on his fellow blacks. He was convinced that,”injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." He left no stone unturned to be visible and vocal in his quest for a more just and equitable society. He emphatically stated that “our lives begin to end the day we become SILENT about things that matter”. He reminded those who were afraid to take a stand that, "in the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."
MLK was never afraid of the ‘powers’ and ‘vested’ interests that controlled the destinies of his people. His was a prophetic and selfless leadership; it also put him at great risk; for him, "the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy;” and further, "there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right." He did not spare those who were unable to deal with the truth, “nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." Ultimately, “we must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience."
Non-violence was the strategy, which King adopted; he always acknowledged the inspirational role of Mahatma Gandhi in his life. In 1964, when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize he said, “non-violence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Man must evolve for all human conflict a method, which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”
There is no denying that MLK was deep in his Christian faith and in the values enshrined in the Gospel. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Faith is taking the first step even when you do not see the whole staircase."
He desired a society in which people were able to trust one another, "People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they have not communicated with each other." He also wished for a society, which is founded on mercy, "we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies." A society in which we can truly be of service to one another, "everybody can be great ... because anybody can serve. You do not have to have a college degree to serve. You do not have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love."
Martin Luther King had a dream, which he shared with all, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. I have a dream a state sweltering with the heat of injustice sweltering with the heat of oppression will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character; that one day little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain and the crooked places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”
In our world today, we experience an upsurge of xenophobia and jingoism; of racism and casteism; of discrimination and divisiveness; of hate and violence. In several countries today, we have rulers who have institutionalised and mainstreamed attitudes and practices that go against cherished human values and even the most basic of civil behaviour.
MLK challenges every one of us today to have the courage to realise his dream and for what he epitomised in his lifetime!
January 16th 2017
Fr. Cedric Prakash sj
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Portugal knighthood to Eduardo Faleiro
Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa on Jan 12 honoured former Union Minister of State for External Affairs Eduardo Faleiro with the 'Grande Oficial da Ordem do Infante da Henrique', the Portuguese national order of knighthood.
The order was bestowed on Mr. Faleiro (76), a veteran Congress leader, by Mr. Costa, at the residence of the Portuguese Consul General here.
The order is bestowed on individuals for services in the expansion of Portuguese culture, its history and its values.
Mr. Faleiro, who has studied in Portugal, has been an MLA in Goa and an MP of both the Houses of Parliament. He is credited with the establishment of good diplomatic relations with Portugal as a Minister of State for External Affairs.
Paulo Varela Gomes, a historian and former director of the Fundacao Oriente, an institution engaged in cultural activities in Goa, was posthumously awarded a Cultural Merit Medal. Gomes’ wife Patricia Vieira accepted the medal.
Speaking on the occasion, Costa said that he was proud of being a person of Indian origin with roots in Goa. He said his acquaintance with Faleiro is for the last several decades and that Faleiro regarded increased cooperation between India and Portugal as being in the interest of both the countries.
Faleiro said that it was a privilege for him to be honoured with this important condecoration, the Order of the Infante D. Henrique. He said that it was an honour for all of us to have Antonio Costa as the Prime Minister of Portugal.
Mr. Costalater attended a function organised at the Fundacao Oriente, in Fontain has, the Latin heritage quarter in the city.
“We must not just look back to our shared history but also look ahead and create newer ties,” said Mr. Costa.
Costa is on a seven-day long official visit to India.
NEW YEAR RESOLUTION 2017 - Don Aguiar.
As we bid goodbye to 2016 and as per tradition it is time to list our resolutions for the New Year Many of these are familiar to you dear readers but they bear reiteration nevertheless. If they are easy to follow don’t abandon them in the first week itself.
Regardless of what calendar we use, our New Year resolutions seems like a game we play with ourselves. Many a times this resolve loses it strength, to which someone rightfully quipped, "A New Year's resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other.” Hope it is wrong, but we know why it is true.
Time was approaching the New Year and everybody was busy making arrangements about how to welcome it and make resolutions for the New Year. My colleague who was totally confused and unable to come to any conclusion, asked his guru: If one were to make only one New Year’s resolution, what would one suggest?
His guru responded in this very unique way:
This and only this can be the New Year’s resolution: I resolve never to make any resolutions because all resolutions are restrictions for the future. All resolutions are imprisonments. You decide today for tomorrow? You have destroyed tomorrow. Allow the tomorrow to have its own being. Let it come in its own way! Let it bring its own gifts.
Resolution means you will allow only this and you will not allow that. Resolution means you would like the sun to rise in the west and not in the east. If it rises in the east, you will not open your windows; you will keep your windows open to the west.
What is resolution? Resolution is struggle. Resolution is ego. Resolution is saying, “I cannot live spontaneously.” And if you cannot live spontaneously, you don’t live at all – you only pretend.
So let only one resolution be there: I will never make any resolutions. Drop all resolutions! Let life be a natural spontaneity. The only golden rule is that there are no golden rules.
The greeting ‘Happy New Year’ is actually a wish that one and all may discover more happiness for themselves in the coming year, by renewing not the year, but oneself.
The year cannot be changed! This is a time for renewal. This is the reason so many people make New Year resolutions. Year after year they do it. “I’ll get up early in the morning.” “I must go to Church daily”, “I must meditate regularly.”...... Not even for three days are they kept. If the courage to change is absent, no progress is possible.
Buddha truly experienced a ‘Happy New Year’ when he became Buddha. One day he decided that he wanted something else out of life, and having decided, he worked towards it consistently. Thus Siddhartha blossomed into Sri Buddha
Do not waste time speculating over what would happen in the New Year. If your actions are good, your future is bound to be good. The future of the nation depends on your actions. God is a witness; He neither protects nor punishes you. Each one is responsible for their pleasure or pain.
In this New Year, develop new and sacred feelings and make everybody happy. Do not struggle for money; strive for love. Once you develop love, there will be no scope for evil qualities like anger, jealousy, etc. If your thoughts and actions are good, your future will be good. Then the whole country, nay, the whole world will prosper. Pray for the peace and prosperity of the entire world. Peace can be attained only through the practice of human values
INTO THE NEW YEAR - Don Aguiar.
I have always maintained that the beauty of being an Indian and living in this country is that no day is ever the same. Every day a new realization, a thought, perhaps a revelation emerges and then you begin to re-imagine the year gone by.
The Christmas season has moved into the New Year. As we still continue to enjoy the warmth and cheer of the season: the invention of anything that can then be made newsworthy and so on. Life, as if coming to a standstill. People pouring over Facebook posts of their friends to see where they have splashed around this Christmas/New year; this is also the wicked season. Marriages that were never meant to be use the partying to come apart and then when you can cheat on your spouse in much cooler climes and that too within the precincts of malls and stores, the combination is unbeatable.
The Christmas/New Year season is always consistent. The real news dries up. The warmth and cheer allows for no decision-making or for any confrontation. It is about as mellow as mellow can be. Then there is, of course, the ultimate family gets together: which is just about as believable as the unity within the family. Most of these get together are meant to settle disputed wills or some plot of land somewhere in India. The cashmere brought out, albeit perfumed in naphthalene balls; gowns worn with gay abandon and the suit will take its own place.
The Indian Christmas and New Year began in right earnest. The same sales; the same food, and for god's sake, even the same people. If you need a break go to a museum or to the Opera or to a play. You may see no one you've spent a year avoiding.
As the last days of 2016 were approaching 2016 looked at the young 2017 and held her with a stare. 2017 out of respect to the elder would normally look down or away; averting direct eye contact during a conversation: but this time 2016 literally held 2017 eyes to his and said in a soft voice for all the people eager for 2017, “If you are comfortable with yourself, then you will want to forget the past, ONLY THEN YOU CAN MOVE ON.” This is 2016 advice to all the people eager for 2017.
Loneness during the holidays is often associated with older people, but new research has revealed that millennial also struggle not only with isolation but stress and anxiety during what is supposed to be one of the happiest times of the year.
Every year there is extra pressure to be happy, to have love around you – and for some it feels the loneliest because of this. Their depression and anxiety always gets worse in December. The burden of financials affects half of millennial compared to a fifth of older people. Compounding this is the pressure to keep up with friends and present the perfect Christmas online.
Brimming social calendars unbridled indulgence and cozy evenings with beloved and missed family members make Christmas a source of strength before the long year ahead for many. But for those who struggle with mental illness or have far from nuclear families the holiday season is one they can’t wait to see the back of.
Back in school children of different beliefs shared family get together experiences during their Christmas/New Year or Christmas time holidays, a revelation of their growing up years –
The Teacher asked young Patrick Murphy: "What do you do at Christmas time?"
Patrick addressed the class: "Well Miss Jones, me and my twelve brothers and sisters go to midnight mass and we sing hymns; then we come home very late and we put mince pies by the back door and hang up our stockings. Then all excited, we go to bed and wait for Father Christmas to come with all our toys."
"Very nice Patrick," she said. "Now Jimmy Brown, what do you do at Christmas?"
"Well, Miss Jones, me and my sister also go to church with Mum and Dad and we sing carols and we get home ever so late. We put cookies and milk by the chimney and we hang up our stockings. We hardly sleep, waiting for Santa Claus to bring our presents."
Realising there was a Jewish boy in the class and not wanting to leave him out of the discussion, she asked, "Now, Isaac Cohen, what do you do at Christmas?" Isaac said, "Well, it's the same thing every year .. . Dad comes home from the office, we all pile into the Rolls Royce and then we drive to Dad's toy factory. When we get inside, we look at all the empty shelves . . . and begin to sing: 'What A Friend We Have in Jesus'. Then we all go to the Bahamas."
WISH YOU A HAPPY NEW YEAR 2017.
Former deputy mayor, social worker Judith Mascarenhas no more
Tribute: Recalling Judith - Politico-social activist, blend of courage and compassion
By John B Monteiro
Mangaluru, I had interviewed about a decade ago Judith Mascarenhas, who passed away on January 9, for a now-defunct English daily. Since then I used to run into her, always with a benign smile, at public functions – reflecting her interest and concern in various issues. Here is a fond recall.
"What is in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet".
- Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet
She sported a long name – Judith Mary Rita Mascarenhas – and for good reason. When her mother was expecting her, there was uncertainty about the baby’s safe delivery and doubt about its mother’s survival. Then it was vowed that if things went well, the baby would be named after St. Rita – the saint of the impossible. Then a leading priest of the day, a close friend of the family, came up with the name of Judith that has a biblical history. That Judith was a religious woman of the ancient Jews who saved her town from conquest by entering the camp of the besieging Assyrian army and cutting off the head of its commander, Holofernes, while he slept. That she swept the commander off guard by her beauty and charm, made him drink to the point of sinking into deep sleep and her using his own sword to behead him are associated details. When she came out from his tent in the camp displaying his head, the invading army fled in panic. And her second name, Mary was the favourite of devout Catholic families. She had exhibited the right combination of compassion and courage symbolised in her names, in her decades of public service and activism.
Judith had inherited her social service legacy from her parents, Aloysius I Mascarenhas, a noted Konkani poet, journalist and a social activist, and Magdalene M Mascarenhas who combined teaching with social service. Aloysius was the founder of Society of Vincent de Paul, committed to the uplift of the downtrodden, in Mangalore diocese. He set up the Diocesan Arbitration Court to save people from court litigation and launched the first Konkani magazine, Dirvem.
Last of her parents’ eight children, Judith was born on December 22, 1931. She did her education throughout at St. Agnes College, completing BA in 1953 with a high rank in the university and first in the college. She completed BT in 1956, again with a high university rank. She initially taught at Sophia Cambridge School in Bangalore for two and a half years and switched to Capitanio High School in Mangalore for the rest of her teaching career, till she took voluntary retirement in 1983. Even while she was teaching in Capitanio, she would often be distracted by the suffering people on the road and there were instances when she would first attend to such cases even at the risk of being late at the school. This must have annoyed the school authorities and realising this she plunged whole time into social service by taking recourse to a provision that allowed teachers with 20 years of service to take leave on loss of pay up to five years.
During this period, Judith lobbied with the then chief minister, Ramakrishna Hegde, to extend the benefit of pension, available to teachers in government schools conditional on 20 years of service, also to non-aided school teachers. Once she succeeded in this, she resigned her job and got into full time social service – falling back on her pension.
Then, in 1983, there emerged a provision for 25% reservation for women in civic elections. Political parties were searching for winnable candidates. Knowing Judith’s passion for social service, some well-meaning friends persuaded her to enter politics. For practical reasons, she contested on Janata Dal symbol and she turned out to be the only woman to win from her party compared to nine from the Congress. Judith won the election for three consecutive terms – first in the reserved category and the next two in the general category. She became the deputy mayor of the Mangalore City Corporation for 1999-2001. She lost the election in 2002.
Judith admitted that being deputy mayor made it easy to move things in Bengaluru. She said that politics offered a readymade platform to do good. She also conceded that being a party Corporator one had to compromise one’s independence. She pushed through many measures for her constituency and the city at large. One of the things she doggedly pursued and succeeded related to metering water for apartment buildings. Earlier, the total consumption by the building was billed involving higher rates for higher slabs of consumption. Her reform involved dividing the total building water consumption by the number of flats and then applying the lower rate.
Judith networked with a number of NGOs and advocated that her fellow Catholics should go out of the church compound and join the mainstream movements for social action. When she became the Corporator, she launched a bimonthly magazine, Nagaradeepika, to communicate with her constituents. One of her concerns was to save the Kadri Park, part of which had been surrendered for commercial developments, for the citizens of Mangaluru.
Asked why she had remained a Miss, Judith said marriage and social work go ill together. "If you are married, your first duty is to your family. It cannot be 'Urige upakara, manege mari'". (Benefactor to the country, curse at home). For the same reason, she had ruled out adoption. "I do not want to be tied down to one or two children and would rather have more children under my concern". So, Judith struggled on with optimism and on a positive note unto the last.
PROTECT MIGRANT CHILDREN - Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
On January 9th 2017, in an address to the members of the Diplomatic Corps from 181 countries accredited to the Holy See, Pope Francis said, “children and young people are the future; it is for them that we work and build. They cannot be selfishly overlooked or forgotten…I consider it a priority to protect children, whose innocence is often violated by exploitation, clandestine and slave labour, prostitution or the abuse of adults, criminals and dealers in death.” and further, “I think of the young people affected by the brutal conflict in Syria, deprived of the joys of childhood and youth, such as the ability to play games and to attend school”. His message was loud and clear, a necessary step for security and peace everywhere, is to invest in children and particularly those who are directly affected by the numerous wars and conflicts of our time.
Pope Francis has been consistent in his focus on the painful reality of migrant children. On January 15th 2017, the Catholic Church will once again observe the ‘World Day of Migrants and Refugees’ and in a hard-hitting message for the day on ‘Child Migrants, the Vulnerable and the Voiceless’ Pope Francis writes, “I feel compelled to draw attention to the reality of child migrants, especially the ones who are alone. In doing so I ask everyone to take care of the young, who in a threefold way are defenceless: they are children, they are foreigners, and they have no means to protect themselves. I ask everyone to help those who, for various reasons, are forced to live far from their homeland and are separated from their families”.
There are today innumerable stories on the suffering of children who are in the midst of war or are fleeing war and persecution. From Syria to Myanmar; from Congo to Colombia; from Afghanistan to Sudan – the plight of migrant children labouring long hours in sweatshops; toiling in fields; begging on streets; or just left to the vagaries of hostile environments could make the coldest hearts thaw. The dead body of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year old Syrian child, which was washed up on a beach in Turkey early in September 2015, will forever be etched in the memory and conscience of anyone who cares.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) states that, “Over half of the world’s refugees are children. Many will spend their entire childhoods away from home, sometimes separated from their families. They may have witnessed or experienced violent acts and, in exile, are at risk of abuse, neglect, violence, exploitation, trafficking or military recruitment”. Pope Francis reiterates this situation in his message also emphasizing that these children are deprived “of rights intrinsic to childhood as sanctioned by the International Convention on the Rights of the Child”.
Pope Francis calls upon the Christian community and the world at large to respond to the reality of the migrant children by working towards protection, integration and long-term solutions.
He highlights the importance to adopt “every possible measure to guarantee the protection and safety of child migrants, because these boys and girls often end up on the street abandoned to themselves and prey to unscrupulous exploiters who often transform them into the object of physical, moral and sexual violence.” He does not mince words when he says, “if more rigorous and effective action is not taken against those who profit from such abuse, we will not be able to stop the multiple forms of slavery where children are the victims”.
The integration of migrant children is also essential; to have adequate policies and also the necessary financial resources to ensure for their assistance and inclusion. All are aware of how several ‘host countries’ create all possible obstacles to deny refugee children with appropriate formal education, healthcare and even with much –needed recreational facilities.
Finally, Pope Francis makes “a heartfelt appeal that long-term solutions be sought and adopted. Since this is a complex phenomenon, the question of child migrants must be tackled at its source. Wars, human rights violations, corruption, poverty, environmental imbalance and disasters, are all causes of this problem… far-sighted perspectives are called for, capable of offering adequate programmes for areas struck by the worst injustice and instability, in order that access to authentic development can be guaranteed for all. This development should promote the good of boys and girls, who are humanity’s hope”.
A visionary but very strong challenge indeed! The moot point, as we observe the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, is to ask ourselves and those in power, whether enough is being done for the voiceless, vulnerable and invisible child migrant of today? And if not, to get involved in more concerted action now! We need to be a STRONG VOICE for the voiceless and vulnerable migrant children TODAY!
12th January 2017
* (Fr Cedric Prakash sj is a human rights activist. He is currently based in Lebanon, engaged with the Jesuit Refugee Service(JRS) in the Middle East on advocacy and communications. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org )
OFF THE MARK - chhotebhai
This title could mean two things (double entendre). Firstly, as in a race, it could mean that one was off the mark in a flash, as the starter called out, “On your marks, get set, go”. Secondly it could mean that one had gone off track or missed the mark. I mean both things – taking off and missing the mark; double entendre.
Two Marks come to mind, Rebecca Mark, and Mark Zuckerberg. The first Mark was the stunning blonde CEO of the Enron power project in Dabhol, Maharashtra. Every time she crossed her shapely legs she had the Maharashtra State Electricity Board officials drooling. Writing in the Times of India for Valentine’s Day in 2002 columnist S.S.A. Aiyar had this to say, that she was “remembered not for her business acumen, but her looks, clothes and legs. Many Indians dreamed of being her Valentine. Gossip columnists claimed she won the Dabhol contract because of her sex appeal”! Unfortunately, that was not enough to get the project off the mark (first meaning) and it ended up being way off the mark (second meaning).
She has much in common with the other Mark – Zuckerberg. Both are or were CEOs, both are/were fabulously rich and both went to Harvard. There the similarity ends. Zuckerberg is 30 years younger than Rebecca. He is of course the CEO of Facebook (FB). Despite a net worth of 50 billion US dollars he draws a salary of just one dollar. He has pledged 99% of his wealth to charity through the Chan Zuckerberg Foundation, named after him and his Chinese doctor wife, Priscilla Chan.
I am not on FB, as I prefer to meet people face to face, and read or write books. So what has attracted me to this other Mark, and occasioned this piece? It is a statement he made recently at Christmas time. In his holiday message he wished people a “Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah”. Somebody responded to his greeting by asking him if he had now become “religious”, as he had earlier called himself an atheist?
He reportedly replied, “No, I was raised Jewish, and then I went through a period where I questioned things, but now I believe that religion is very important”. It is this statement that got me thinking, and not the other Mark’s assets.
Another juicy bit of information came from the Pews Research Centre in America. In 2014 those professing to be atheist, agnostic or religiously unaffiliated rose to 22.8% of the population, from 16.1% seven years earlier. The figures from India are a study in contrast. Unfortunately, the Govt of India has not, till date, released the religion wise figures of the 2011 Census. I fail to understand what the previous UPA Govt and the present NDA Govt are trying to hide from the public. I must therefore fall back on the figures of the previous Census conducted in 2001. It has a provision for “religion not stated”., which may not necessarily be the same as those claiming to be atheist or unaffiliated. Nevertheless it is something to go by. In a population of 1,028,610,328 the number of such persons was 727,588, or just 7 in 10,000. Their Decadal Growth Rate from 1991 was 75%, as against 23% for the entire population. So we may conclude that such persons grew at more than three times the average growth. It is till a far cry from the figures in the USA.
That being as it may, why is it that an increasing number in the West are professing to be atheist or agnostic, as distinct from the “religiously unaffiliated”, that would admit a belief in God but not in any particular religion? I see two reasons for this trend. The first is the declining dependence on Providence. Earlier, if there was no rain a farmer would storm the heavens. Now he simply switches on his tubewell, and gets all the water he needs. So too for the answers to life. One earlier turned to God; now one turns on Google! Has God then become infructuous or redundant?
When the West was inundated with the hippie culture and the unending Vietnam War, the iconic Time magazine published a cover story on 8/4/66 “Is God Dead?” My answer of course is that God is alive and has withstood the test of time (pun intended), though Time’s sister publication “Life” is now dead!
It is in this context that Mark Zuckerberg’s profession of faith, if I may term it that, assumes significance. He is filthy rich and super intelligent. After searching for answers he has apparently found something that makes him publicly admit that “religion is important”. I would therefore deduce that he is now a theist, who believes in God, regardless of what religion he professes.
The second reason for people turning away from religion, especially the organised or institutionalised variety, is their disgust and dismay at the hypocrisy of so-called religious leaders. Jesus himself called them hypocrites, likening them to whitened sepulchres (cf Mat 23:27); people who were a stumbling block themselves, and blocked the path for others too (cf Mat 23:13). Jesus did not condemn the drunkards and prostitutes. But he reserved his harshest criticism for the hypocritical religious leaders of his time (cf Mat chapters 6 & 23).
In my 65 years of life I too have been through stages of blind faith, rationalised religion, and now an emphasis on spirituality rather than religion. Yes, I use the breviary and rosary and believe in the Eucharistic Sacrifice; but I give novenas, adorations and Corpus Christi processions a very wide margin.
I believe in the teachings of Sacred Scripture and the prophetic vision of the Second Vatican Council. I still believe that the Catholic Church, despite its many shortcomings, is the best of organised religion. But I also have a growing distaste and disappointment with the way the Catholic Church has withdrawn into a comfort zone of institutions and worldly splendour. So I am not surprised that many who may not have had the opportunities that I had, to associate with wise and holy persons, have chosen to call themselves atheists etc. I also feel that I have no right to impose my religious beliefs on my adult children. They need to search and find their own answers.
As a social and civic activist I interact with a wide cross section of society. This includes Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Parsi leaders (both lay and cleric), Christians from other churches, and even Marxists at the other end of the spectrum. It is impossible to judge who is a better human being or closer to God. I have seen some avowedly atheists who have shown greater love and concern for the poor and needy than so-called “religious” leaders.
But I also suspect that Indian Marxists are not really atheists. I have noticed that most of their leaders are Brahman. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that they could never establish a pan-India footprint. I also find that religion and caste are so deep-rooted in India that they have not left even the Marxists unscathed. I may in passing add that Marx is an anglicisation of the original German name – Ma rks!
I would end this piece with a teenage experience. I had just come out of the swimming pool in the Cawnpore Club (it has retained its anglicised name) and was in the men’s dressing room. Near me were two burly young Parsi men resplendent in their manhood. One said to the other, “I don’t believe in God”, to which the other retorted, “I don’t believe what you are saying”! This “locker room talk” has remained firmly etched in my memory for fifty years. Many people may externally express to be atheist. It could be fashionable or politically correct to say so. But deep down in their hearts there could be that spark of the divine that they may not consciously profess.
My dear wife invariably falls asleep in church, especially during boring sermons. She has the gift of wisdom. She says, “So what if I fall asleep? If I am sitting in the sun and I fall asleep I am still receiving the sun’s rays”. I bow before my wiser half. It lends credence to my credo that even if there is a breed that has no creed, but does good deeds, then God is not dead to them. That is why, concurring with my wife’s innate wisdom, Vatican II, in the “Dogmatic Constitution of the Church” unequivocally states, “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).
So as we begin a new year I see hope in what Mark Z said. I don’t know if his legs are as shapely as that of his namesake, but he does seem to have his head in the right place, as he shapes the future of another generation. Truly he is off the mark (the first meaning). With faith in God and hope in humankind let us also do likewise.
* The writer is a former National President of the All India Catholic Union
Gifts for the New Year 2017 -Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
Christmas Season is a time for gift-giving; that New Year’s Day falls bang in the midst of it, adds to the significance of the season. In welcoming and celebrating the first day of 2017, there are eight wonderful gifts, one should give to oneself and to others today and for every day of the year. These are:
Gift of Peace
It is a much-needed and perhaps the best gift we can give ourselves and to each other this Christmas. Real peace is a vibrant, living and tangible one. It is not the peace of the graveyard, but the peace which ordinary people can experience in the marketplace, in a crowded railway station, in a shopping mall, in a place of worship in a discotheque- yes everywhere where they can rub shoulders with one another and create space for the other, irrelevant of the colour of one’s skin of or one’s ethnicity or religion or caste or class The peace of equality and dignity. The first message which the angels give to ordinary shepherds whilst heralding the birth of Jesus is “Peace on Earth: to all men and women of goodwill!” Today is the World Day of Peace and we pray for the gift of Peace for ALL!
Gift of Nonviolence
On this World Day of Peace, Pope Francis has given the world a very relevant theme to reflect and act upon ‘Nonviolence: A Style of Politics for Peace’. In his message he emphatically says that, “violence is not the cure for our broken world.” Pope Francis also reminds us of icons of nonviolence and peace like Mahatma Gandhi, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Leymah Gbowee and the thousands of Liberian women – all of them deserving of emulation. It is certainly not easy to be nonviolent in a world that seems to have institutionalised violence. The most prized gifts for little children at Christmas are toy guns and violent video games. We easily blame ‘terrorists’, conveniently forgetting those who profit in manufacturing and peddling arms and ammunition to every side in a war. We have seen enough of violence in this past year (last night a New Year’s party in Istanbul was attacked killing almost forty revellers), wars and conflicts at every level: countries at war, civil wars and domestic violence. Nonviolence is the gift we need for a meaningful and lasting peace.
Gift of Justice
Much of the conflicts in today's world are because of injustices meted out to particular sections of society. Deprivations, exploitation, human rights violations abound everywhere. We generally don’t seem to care about them –as long as we are not affected! Just a few days ago, a UN Security Council resolution on the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, has been totally disregarded, even as most countries of the world support the Palestinian cause. Then we have the UN Climate Change Conferences which have resulted in the ‘Paris Agreement’ and which today has been signed by 194 countries. However, in a deplorable U-turn some countries feel that they can no longer be held responsible for the climate changes the world has been subjected to. Human rights defenders, the world over, have become soft targets for the powerful. We need to be united and resolute, wherever we are, in fighting injustices. We need to gift ourselves with a more just world!
Gift of Truth
The so-called ‘powerful leaders’ of our world embark on outrageous lies to keep people divided, submissive and subjugated We experience it happening all the time: from India to the United States! In India, these myths, half-truths and preposterous reasoning have been given a new name ‘fekuisms’. During the time of Hitler, the underlying principle was “repeat a lie a thousand times and it becomes the truth”; something which his propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels mastered to perfection. The propagation of untruth is today regarded as ‘Goebbelsian’. A large section of the media today is coporatorised, bought up or just kotows to the ideology of vested interests. Mahatma Gandhi together with his doctrine of nonviolence (ahimsa) was also adamant on ‘the force of truth’(satyagraha), Truth seekers and whistle-blowers are hounded and done away with. Our world desperately needs to mainstream truth as never before!
Gift of Liberty
Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us that “a piece of freedom is no longer enough for human beings...unlike bread, a slice of liberty does not finish hunger. Freedom is like life. It cannot be had in installments. Freedom is indivisible--we have it all, or we are not free!”. People everywhere continue to be denied their liberty: millions forcibly displaced: child- labourers robbed of their childhood; women dominated and oppressed by patriarchy; higher castes enslaving those below them; the many in prisons without a fair trial; migrant workers tied up in feudal systems- the list is endless! Then there is ‘fear’ – which grips so many in society today. We label the ‘other’ so easily; we become suspicious of their dress or the language they speak! Liberty is a priceless gift and we need to reflect it in our attitudes, in the way we treat and reach out to others.
Gift of Joy
We celebrate today the feast of Mary Mother of God and we are reminded how Mary kept " all things in her heart”. The sublime joy of Mary, a mother and our Mother, as she looks upon her son Jesus. True joy is something internal and deeply spiritual. There are of course the external manifestations of celebration: as the clock struck twelve last nights, there were fireworks and shouting, the honking of cars and the hooting of trumpets from Tonga to Samoa, over a twenty-two hours’ period. All were certainly happy to say ‘goodbye’ to one year and ‘welcome’ the other. The fact is that external manifestations of joy however necessary, are short-lived. The world cries for the simple joys of life: the ability to spend time with the poor and the excluded; the orphan and the old; the sick and the lonely. To reach out to another in silent, hidden, unassuming ways. The gentle touch, the warm embrace! We all need to experience that real joy and to share it with others every day of 2017!
Gift of Love
Joy which brings fulfilment, is also love which is tangible. Many in our world today have become pawns to the venom spewed out by our so-called ‘leaders’ who spare no efforts in making their hate and divisive agenda reach every corner of their constituency. They easily discriminate against the vulnerable; use the most derogative language; talk about building walls and have no qualms of conscience in being ready to unleash a nuclear war. The world urgently needs the soothing balm of love: to touch, to heal, to make whole again. The love that means, compassion and mercy; that demonstrates reconciliation and forgiveness. It is the basic tenet of every major faith of this world. Love, we know, never fails. It is a fool-proof way to negate the blood and the hate that has spilt everywhere. Love indeed is the greatest of gifts-and has to be manifested in deeds!
Gift of Change
Today at the helm of the United Nations we have a new Secretary General, Antonio Guterres; the world looks forward to his stewardship with much expectation. Ban Ki- moon who has just laid down office after ten years, certainly did a great job in the face of many difficulties and hostilities Guterres brings to his office a hands on experience of dealing with refugees and displaced persons as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for almost ten years, earlier. The world certainly needs change at every level; but we all need change for the better. It does not matter who we are, what we do or the position and the power we hold- what will ultimately triumph is our belief that we can contribute positively to our world. We need to be the change we want to see- very specially in the small, simple, ordinary things of daily life.
Above all, as we enter the New Year 2017, we need to have the courage to gift ourselves with PEACE, NONVIOLENCE, JUSTICE, TRUTH, LIBERTY, JOY, LOVE and CHANGE and the humility to share it with others!