Need to fight culture of silence, fear: Minority Commission member
By Ajay Kumar Singh
New Delhi: Sister Antasia Gill, newly elected Christian member in the Delhi Minority Commission, has set her priorities right. “I have to bring out the unheard voices and concerns of the community before the administration,” says the Presentation nun who goes by the name Sister Sneha.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal included teacher-turned-social-worker-turned lawyer when his government reconstituted the minority commission on July 14.
Sister Gill sees the new position as an opportunity to work for the people. “It is also a huge responsibility,” says the nun who hails from Jammu and Kashmir.
Ajay Kumar Singh of Matters India interviewed Sister Gill first time after her appointment. Excerpts:
MATTERS INDIA: What are your sentiments on being appointed to such an important post?
SISTER ANTASIA GILL: it is a moment of joy for my congregation and for me too, as I get the opportunity to work for my community and my people who are in troubled waters from all directions. It is also a huge responsibility entrusted to me on behalf of Delhi minority groups, who feel voiceless, helpless and even sidetracked from the main stream of our population in the country.
What are your responsibilities?
It is mandate to be a voice of the community and for the minority too. I have to do advocacy and lobby for the minority communities. I am expected to represent and redress concerns, issues and needs of the community. I have to bring out the unheard voices and concerns of the community before the administration to address it positively. The commission is meant to be a bridge between government and community to fill the gap.
What are your priorities?
Although there are a lot of concerns and issues of the communities; we would prioritize it with the passage of time. Our commission would prioritize issues. I have been going through files these days. We would process the issue of getting the land allotted for cemetery for the Christian community.
We will also follow up on atrocities, cases and attacks on Christians and churches; monitor the progress made in those cases. We shall take note of complaints from every individual as well as community, keep a tab on media reports to understand the community’s concerns. We will also pursue and monitor the progress too.
Another priority is developing Christian Heritage Centre in Delhi; where Christians from every part of India — from Kanyakumari to Kashmir irrespective of their languages and cultures –find a place to live. They are a sign of unifying face. The proposed center would make the Christian community feel at home and show to the world the face of unity and solidarity as much as kindness and love.
The Minority Commission is a good team and I am sure we would be able to address concerns of the minority. We shall make the concerned people and authorities accountable for the lapses as well as make the administration responsible for the betterment of the community in all respect.
There is a growing sense of fear and insecurity among minority communities in the country? What could you do to dispel them?
Fear has been creeping into our community for a long time. We should break our silence and impunity. I do see there are systematic and well-orchestrated attacks on Christians and Muslims as happened in Delhi sometimes back.
How will the community benefit from your new post?
Being a Catholic, a Catholic nun, social worker and advocate, I would address the community’s problems. I am not alone. I am associated with the National Council of Churches in India, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and other Christian groups. There are diverse movements of Dalits, minorities and other groups. The Commission would collaboration with them to ameliorate their plight to the extent possible by involving state and Central governments.
Please say something about your background.
As for me, I was born in Ranbir Singh Pura in Jammu and Kashmir, close to International Border with Pakistan. We are three sisters and three brothers. After completion of my intermediate, I studied in Jesus and Mary College, New Delhi where I received my bachelor’s degree in sociology. I joined the Religious Order in 1985; influenced by Irish Sister, Loyola Beck, who was in my high school. She visited the poor and needy families, hospitals, orphanages as well as prisoners. I was touched by her love, kindness and compassion for the poor and needy people.
My first profession was in 1989. As a junior sister, I started visiting slums and other areas in Old Delhi. I told myself that if my ministry is socially relevant, my life will have a meaningful. I was teaching in Presentation School and but felt urged to serve the slum children in whatever way I could. They were cut off from the mainstream.
My works with poor in slums got boasted when I joined the Jesuit parish; Jahangir (north Delhi) in 1994. I told my provincial Sister Grace Chacko that I am interested to work for vulnerable slum and poor people with the Jesuits.
In order to work more systematically, I went for my Master in Social Work from Nirmala Niketan, Mumbai University. On my return in 2006, I started with social work centers in Rohtak, Haryana, focusing on the plight of Dalit and women. After sometime, I had moved to Bhopal (capital of Madhya Pradesh state), where I came across with the sexual assault case on a 3 year old tribal girl by a 15-year-old neighbor. Although, both were Christians, I did take up the issue with women organizations, and police commissioner. I was discouraged by the police who told me that it is a fake case. But I did not leave the police station until police acted on the complaint and filed an FIR.
I realized I was unable to take up such cases that required legal knowledge. Hence, I went to study law. When I completed the course, the legal unit of the Indian Social Institute (ISI) had a vacancy and I was asked to join. My role was to prepare document on legal issues and organize para-legal trainings. I was not satisfied with my work as legal aid trainer and legal-aid documentation officer. However, my stay at ISI for one and a half years was useful one but I wanted to support the common people through judiciary, seminars, workshops, training, discourses etc.
Thus I joined Human Rights Law Networks (HRLN) in 2012. It was a very good experience at HRLN as we used to visit Tihar Jails to understand the plight of prisoners and bring it to the notice of jail authorities for improvement. I found that many prisoners languished in jails without any crime committed by them.
One incident that has huge impact on me was the Dalit Christian Rally in 2013 in New Delhi. Scores of Religious Sisters were beaten along with people and were taken to police station. Yet, there was no fear and anxiety among us; but it increased our urge for justice for our Dalit brethren. I felt that I should contribute more by joining groups and movements for justifiable issues. The rally changed my perspective.
I did see earlier a lot of Muslims from Uttar Pradesh were attacked while bringing cattle to Delhi. The attacks were systematically and consciously planned. A similar pattern could be seen in the attacks on churches.
What are immediate challenges before the Christian community?
Our Institutions, schools and organizations are under scanners and harassed too. Why should there be instructions that force school to undertake yoga? It is a deliberate imposition of ideologies on our institutions. Moreover, there are attempts to malign the image of our institutions, schools and orphanages with the bogey of conversion. We have made huge contributions in nation building. We have work with other religions to foster religious freedom guaranteed to us. We have been fighting biased perception and myths about conversion. Nobody can deny our equal rights and citizenship enshrined in the Preamble of the Constitution. We should fight for our minority rights and human rights too. Why should we be scared of it, being the citizen of India? We need to stand up and play our role to safeguard it to an extent possible for us.
How has your congregation received your appointment?
Our congregational charisma is parallel to my stand for poor, minorities and voiceless people. It is a moment of joy for my congregation as I get the opportunity to work for the people. It is also huge responsibility.
What are your responsibilities?
My appointment is mandate to be the voice of the community; do advocacy and lobby for the minority communities. I am expected to represent the concerns, issues and needs of the community.
Although, there are lot of concerns and issues of the communities; we would prioritized it. I was going through the file; I realize the great need for burial places for the community. The commission would process the space for cemetery for Christians. We will also follow up on the atrocities cases and attacks on Christians and churches; monitor the progresses.
We will address every individual as well as community complaints; have tab on media reports to follow up the concerns of the community. We shall pursue and monitor the progress.
Another priority is to develop a Christian Heritage Centre in Delhi. The national capital attracts Christians from every part of India from Kanyakumari to Kashmir irrespective of their languages and cultures. So a place for Christian interface will be a sign of unifying face. Here the community would feel at home; and will show its unity and solidarity as well as kindness and love for others.
How do you find your colleagues?
The Minority Commission has a very good team and I am sure we would be able to address the concerns of our people. We shall make the concerned people and authorities accountable for the lapses as well as make the administration responsible for the good of the community.