Indian Church leader writes open letter to prime minister
Shri Narendra Modi,
The Prime Minister of India
Dear Prime Minister,
Though a Christian pastor, and serving the National Council of Churches in India as its General Secretary, I am writing this open letter to you as an Indian citizen, joining all Indian citizens who are concerned about the state of affairs in our country, India
You have been giving the country very impressive slogans about its future, be it “Achhe Din!” or “New India!” Harping on “Development” you have been advocating and initiating schemes such as “Make in India”, “Skill India”, “Start-up India”, “Digital India”, “Smart Cities”, etc.
The question which many would like to ask: Achhe Din for whom? New India for whom? The Preamble to the Constitution of India gives us a vision for all citizens:
We the People of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic, and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;
and to promote among them all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation
However many people who belong to your government, party, and other likeminded bodies give us a different picture of Achhe Din and of New India where the values of Justice, Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity are stifled. “Vigilantism” has become a popular methodology of such persons and bodies.
Cow Vigilantism: Cow reverence and cow protection has become a very serious concern among such people. They claim that the cow represents their religion and culture. I appreciate the cow symbol as it represents love, compassion, service, sacrifice, and non-violent living. People, when they become politically emotional about this symbol, tend to give expression to hatred, cruelty, harm, murder, and violent life-styles. I wonder whether the cow would approve of such things done in her name.
Yoga Vigilantism: Yoga as you are aware is primarily a spiritual disciple which uses physical exercises to facilitate spiritual realization of oneness with the ultimate. You will surely agree that there are different ways of spiritual realization in India such as bhakti yoga, karma yoga and the like. However when yoga is imposed as the only means of spiritual realization, and when notes and reports are made about people and institutions who do not want to practice yoga (though government departments say that its practice is not compulsory), then the spiritual yoga of “oneness and union” of heterogeneous and different people in the country is shattered. Furthermore, you will agree I am sure, that commercial yoga for solely for physical benefits does disservice to the ideology of yoga.
Religion Vigilantism: India as we all claim is the “home” of people of different faiths and ideologies. We often quote the saying “ekam sat, vipra bahuda vadanti” (That which exists is ONE sages call it by various names) respecting the diversity of spiritual perspectives. Or again, we declare “ayam bandhurayam neti ganana laghuchetasam udaracharitanam tu vasudhaiva kutumbakam” (Only small men discriminate saying: One is a relative; the other is a stranger. For those who live magnanimously the entire world constitutes but a family). The constitution of the country recognizes the diversity of faiths and traditions and therefore the country prides itself in being secular. However distinction is still made in our country on the basis of religion. For instance, Christian and Muslim dalits are not eligible to receive affirmative action assistance which is provided to dalits of other religious persuasions.
A knowledgeable person like you knows how different religions have evolved in history. As you look at what we know of early civilizations in our subcontinent, there were different indigenous people with their respective social practices, cultures and religions. Even the people of Indus Valley Civilization had their own religion which scholars are yet to fully comprehend. What the early Aryans followed could be called Arya Dharma. The term Hinduism was nowhere in use. Therefore do you think that the kind of strategy used in “ghar wapsi”, making people ‘return’ to the Hindu religious fold be justified? Moreover the Constitution of India guarantees freedom to all to choose and follow the religion of their choice. The Constitution also allows persons to bear witness to their faith. This is not proselytization. Therefore do you think that the actions of politicized religious groups in disturbing worship services of Christians, showing no respect for their holy places, alleging that conversion is being attempted/done, physically assaulting pastors and evangelists, desecrating church buildings and symbols, with the tacit support of some of the police and other authorities, are justified?
You have publicly condemned the church bombings in Egypt on 9th April 2017 (Palm Sunday), but on that same day, in some of the states of India, Christian worship services have been disrupted. Will the government wait till church buildings are also bombed in India to make statements of condemnation? Please keep in mind that, every Sunday, thousands of churches in India pray for the President and the Prime Minister of India, as well as the Governor and Chief Minister of their respective states.
Citizenship Vigilantism: It is quite intriguing that today citizenship is being defined in different ways. If one abides by (and even praises) what the government in power says, one is a good citizen. If one is to criticize what the government says or does, one is termed as anti-national. In a democracy, there is space for expression of different and even opposing viewpoints; such expressions cannot be termed as anti-national unless they are against the very constitution of the country. To make matters worse, if a body’s views do not agree with those of the government and if that body receives due partnership support from funding agencies abroad, then its FCRA registration is under threat of being cancelled.
Please try to imagine how hurting it is for Indian Muslims and Christians to be labeled as anti-national just because they are followers of non-Indic religions!
Caste Vigilantism: Caste atrocities are not a new thing in our country; they have been perpetrated right from the days when the “jati” system started governing society. However the casteist mindset still continues in 21st century India. Dalits in particular are at the receiving end of all caste driven injustices and atrocities. Majority of the dalits are denied their right to dignity, to water, to education, to employment, to health care and so on. The religiously politicized powers see to it that the dalits remain crushed. You are also aware of dalits committing suicide as they see no hope in the system in which they are trapped. You also are aware how dalit women are exploited, even raped and killed by certain casteist forces. Women’s bodies are “played with” to shame the dalit communities.
In today’s India, one does see governments praising Ambedkar and introducing schemes for dalits in his name. Are the schemes really reaching the real dalits? More than schemes what is required is a change in the casteist mind-set of Indians. Stricter and stricter laws are being promulgated to curb the slaughter of cows. How about introducing stricter laws for caste atrocities?
Culture Vigilantism: Dear Prime Minister, we all pride ourselves in being a country of so many different and diverse races and cultures. It is but natural that we have heterogeneous expressions of cultures in our country. Yet once again we keep on hearing of attacks on certain groups of people because of their dress, their food, their way of celebrating festivals and events, and so on. Even couples in some places are now afraid of going out together in public lest they will be subject to police harassment.
One does not deny that diversity of races and cultures does not mean that people can do what they like; one has to be responsible in the way one conducts oneself in society. However culture vigilantes are seeking to convert the entire country into one regimented uniform society thereby reducing this country to a one coloured culture.
Dear Prime Minister, we all want India to develop. You have brilliant ideas and great schemes. We congratulate you for the same. But are your programmes and schemes really promoting the growth of the thousands of people languishing in poverty?. While publicity and social media make bold claims about the poor being benefitted, the middle class to some extent and the rich are the main beneficiaries of development plans and projects. Part IV of the Indian Constitution which talks about Directive Principles of State Policy asserts that the state shall strive to secure a social order in which justice – social, economic and political – shall inform all the institutions of national life; that the state shall strive to minimize inequalities in income; that operation of economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment; etc. These guiding principles are far more important today as your Government commits itself to development.
The culture of bribery and corruption still continues in many government offices all over the country. In order to see that files move smoothly, we have to pay a price. To get permissions and licenses, we have to give money. To avoid the harassment of frequent visits to police stations and to get our cases quickly resolved we have to grease palms. How then can development happen? When donations to political parties are exempt from certain restrictions how then can development of the ordinary citizens be ensured?
Dear Prime Minister, all of us, including Indian Christians want our country to develop. The Christian community has been continuing to make its contribution through educational, medical and technical institutions (Many of our great Indian leaders have come out of our institutions). We have been serving through orphanages, old people’s homes, homes for women in distress, rehabilitation centres for drug addicts, facilities for the disabled, services to HIV infected and affected people, solidarity with dalits and tribals/adivasis, and offering help in times of natural calamities. All because of the ideology of some politicized people and the immunity they enjoy in taking the law in their hands that our development service spaces are being shrunk.
We all need to be vigilant about vigilantism!
May the Spirit of God envision and empower you in your commitment to just and inclusive sustainable development for all!
An Indian Citizen
14th April 2017
Good Friday (The Day commemorating the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ)
(Roger Gaikwad has been the general secretary of National Council of Churches in India, the apex body of the Protestant and Orthodox Church Societies in the country, since 2010. The 64-year-old Church leader has a doctorate in theology from the Serampore University. Gaikwad served the university as a senator during 2011-2014, representing the Presbyterian Church. In 1981, he explored Karma and Transmigration in Modern Hinduism at the United Theological College, Bangalore. He has also researched on the thoughts of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Aurobindo and Sarvapalli Radhakrishan. Gaikwad taught at the Aizawl Theological College, Aizawl, Mizoram, from 1978 to 2010.)