First they came for the women. Then they came for the Christians. Then they came for the nuns.
Shock. Horror. Outrage. Another church burnt, another place of worship desecrated. Another group of Christians attacked.
Each new episode seems to evoke the same response and the words have begun to lose meaning and impact, feelings have begun to get numbed. Yet, the recent gangrape of an elderly nun in West Bengal has jolted not just the Christian community, but many in our country into searing awareness of the intersecting levels of rampant communalism, religious fundamentalism, political manoeuvring and economic imperatives.
Is this what we want our country to be? Is this who we are as a people? Can we just let it happen?
As a woman, as a Christian, as a nun, I find myself struggling to remain calm and rational while discussing these issues with students. But the maelstrom of emotion that threatens to engulf my sanity will not be so easily ignored. Gripped by anger, I want to lash out against the forces that seem to be rioting unchecked across the country. Forces that target the vulnerable, the defenceless.
As a woman, I am involved every time a woman is attacked, raped, killed. Rape has always been the “ultimate” weapon against not just a woman but against all womankind, and against the entire community to which the raped woman belongs. Imposing what a patriarchal mindset calls a “fate worse than death” upon the victim, it proclaims the power and supposed invincibility of the rapist. It underlines the vulnerability of the victim, and worst of all, it imposes the burden of shame and guilt upon the victim. She, not the perpetrator, is “dishonoured.” And the family, the community, is “dishonoured” as being so weak and spineless that they cannot protect the “honour” of their womenfolk. As a woman, and as a teacher, I have to come to daily grips with the challenge of changing this mindset.
As an Indian Christian, the attacks on the community and on Christian places of worship in my own country leave me aghast, shaken to the foundations in my belief that as Indians we bring a large acceptance and understanding to our multiculturalism. Shaken also in my belief that this is fundamentally a law-abiding country. Questioning the value of our protected status as a minority community, guaranteed by the Constitution. Confused, bewildered, struggling to cope with a sense of a betrayal of trust. Struggling to hold on to my belief that we are essentially good people, that my neighbours and I are essentially one people, united in our plurality.
And then, as a nun. As nuns, we are women, but consecrated women. As nuns, we are Christians, but consecrated to a particular way of life. Our vocation calls us to serve God in and through our brothers and sisters in a variety of ways, like education, healthcare, counseling. But knowing all along, that the core of our vocation is to be as like our role model—Jesus—as we can be. To make counter-cultural choices. To be witness by our very lives to an alternate worldview that runs counter to the consumerist, competitive world we inhabit. What do these attacks say about the way we are viewed by those among whom we work?
So, I don’t know. In the last few months, the escalation of such communal attacks has been frightening. That I am outraged as an Indian, as a woman, as a Christian, as a nun, every time something like this flares up, is an understatement. But there is a terrible fear of what is going to happen to this country. We—as Indians, as human beings—need to speak out, to protest, to demand action from the elected authorities and from our law-makers and law-enforcement agencies. There is no room for neutrality, our silence can only indicate acquiescence.
In the words of Pastor Niemöller, speaking at his trial in Nazi Germany:
First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.
(Dr. (Sr.) Ananda Amritmahal, Principal, Sophia College for Women, Mumbai. This appeared in Quartz India)