By Isaac Gomes
A traditional Easter greeting in the Western church is the exclamation “He is risen!” and the response is “He is risen, indeed!” The words are sometimes accompanied by the exchange of three kisses on alternate cheeks, depending on the church. In the Orthodox and Catholic churches, the greeting is called the “Paschal greeting” and is a very old custom.
The greeting is based on Luke 24:34. At first, the greeting was more common in Eastern and Byzantine liturgies than in the Western church. There is a tradition in the Eastern Orthodox Church that the saying was made popular by Mary Magdalene (who was the first to see the Resurrected Christ) when she supposedly addressed Emperor Tiberius in Rome with the words “Christ is risen.”
The book titled “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus”, by Gary R. Habermas, Michael R. Licona, Kregel Publications, 2004 prepares us to make a compelling argument for the historicity of Christ’s resurrection, even to those who do not accept the Bible as divinely inspired.
The resurrection of Christ gives us hope for salvation, our own resurrection, and eternal life. This salvation can be attained here on earth itself. For by conquering death, Christ reinforces the point that we can live our lives well and certainly not death and afterlife. Salvation means overcoming agonizing poverty and injustice. According to Dr Ella Bhatt, cooperative organizer noted social activist and Gandhian, who founded the Self-Employed Women’s Association of India “Poverty is violence perpetuated with the consent of society – a society that is silent or looks the other way in the face of poverty. Poverty strips away a person’s dignity, humanity, it corrodes the human spirit. There is no justification for poverty in India.”
Salvation means the Laity (which constitutes ninety-nine percent of the Church, according to Bishop Stephen Lepcha, Bishop of Darjeeling and Chairman of Bengal-Sikkim Regional Laity Commission) shedding its tag “sleeping giants,” waking up from its comfort zone and taking part in advocacy for justice, especially for the marginalised, and for protection of our fundamental rights guaranteed by our Constitution.
The miracle of five loaves and two fish symbolizes Christ’s concern for the marginalized – those on the periphery of the society. He always ensured that the masses who lapped up all his words, never went home hungry. This is why Jesus commanded Peter “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17). Though Christians in India constitute only 2.3% of the population, there are many who go hungry. Instead of getting caught in land scams and Mega Church Projects worth Rs 100 crore, if Church authorities undertake a diocese-wide mapping of the impoverished and the undernourished, they would do yeoman service in providing need-based succor to the poor by making good use of the Rs 100-crore budgets. Following this command of Christ to “Feed my sheep”, Jesuit Father Irudya Jothi, Director of Udayani Kolkata, along with more than 500 organizations, spearheaded the Right to Food Campaign in Delhi and was instrumental behind the legislation of National Food Security Act 2013. Because of this Act and after more than two years of persistent campaign by church-based and other voluntary organizations, West Bengal Government launched a scheme to ensure food security to 77 million of its poor people. The program, announced on 27 January 2016, under the National Food Security Act, promises to provide rice and wheat at two rupees a kilogram, at least one-tenth of the market price.
Something similar should be devised by our Laity in each diocese regarding Health Care, on the lines of Modi Care (Health Insurance announced in the Budget 2018). Conventional Health Insurance schemes are very costly and have doubled this year. Very few Christians, except the DINKs (Double Income No Kids), can afford Cashless Health Insurance Schemes at the current market rate. The church talks of Pastoral Plans with great fanfare but on ground hardly any concrete projects (on Education, Health, Housing and Women & Child Welfare) are visible. Most of the resolutions are purely academic and illusory and leave much to be desired in terms of impact on the community.
The Salvation of Easter also means freedom from ignorance of our Fundamental Rights and Duties. Rights and duties are two faces of the same coin. It is little wonder therefore that Bishop Stephen Lepcha of Darjeeling in his capacity as Chairman of Bengal-Sikkim Regional Laity Commission and Bishop Salvadore Lobo of Baruipur as the CBCI National Chairman of Social Communications, recently stressed on the imperative need for the Laity to know our Constitution. This has become all the more imperative in the light of the on-going storm over the alleged misuse of personal data amid the unfolding of Facebook-Cambridge Analytica (Parent company: Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) controversy which alleged an attempt to manipulate voters’ behavior by harvesting data from 50 million Facebook users. Readers must realize this is not storm in a teacup, but might result in a Tsunami. Therefore, our Lay Leaders must rise to the occasion and take up the Study of our Constitution and its dissemination in modular form, across parishes in India.
The duty to study the Constitution applies to our Church authorities too, for many a time they cross the Laxman Rekha set by our constitution by taking shelter under the “Canon Law” as was done by Cardinal Alencherry at Kerala High Court recently. Salvation also means doing away with oral hire and fire, in our church institutions. Many church institutes resort to this malpractice and abysmal pay to the members of their staff. In Kolkata, there are several church-run institutes which pay teachers on the no-work-no-pay basis. Even Teachers who are on the payroll are paid a paltry salary in Rs 5000-6000/- range, without any Medical and Provident Fund benefits. According to CBCI statistics, church-run institutes control twenty-five percent stake in the Education and Health Sectors. Therefore, it is time our church-run institutes were more transparent in financial matters and paid their staff a humane salary instead of making them victims of Subsistence Theory of Wage or “iron law” of wage which do not even fulfill their basic needs. The Church is totally silent on these issues of oral hire and fire/ under-pay when it eulogizes its Archdiocesan/Diocesan Pastoral Plan on Education.
In case of Christian Minority Institutions (schools and colleges) which wear the “Minority Tag” and get tax and other sops, it is high time they tapped into their Reserve Funds to meet differential costs instead of passing on the entire burden on the parents. Last week there was a raucous at an elite missionary school in Park Street Kolkata. The school had hiked its fees by thirty-five percent. Understandably, parents especially those with more than one child in the school, were agitated as the annual salary increase in their places of work is only ten percent or less on an average. Our missionary schools and colleges have a lot of money in their Reserve Funds (which is why they do not show their accounts). Instead of passing all the burden of teachers’ salary hike and other school expenses, they should dip into their Reserve Funds which most elite Christian minority schools have been building up for decades. Certainly, parents cannot be made guinea pigs and Education cannot be allowed to be a Business Enterprise. These Missionary Minority schools and colleges used to get Dearness Allowance (DA) from their respective state governments. But in West Bengal, these institutes have refused to avail of this facility, because they feared the Government would depute its representative on the Managing Committee and in the process infringe upon their exclusive Minority Status. This is hogwash as our Constitution guarantees exclusive rights to institutes which have obtained minority status certificate Article 30 (1) of the Constitution and Section 2(g) of the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions Act (NCMEI) 2004 (2 of 2005) as amended by the NCMEI (Amendment Act 2006) Act. So this right is not so transient that it would be taken away if these institutes receive financial aid from the respective state governments. NCMEI Act is very clear on this and says “But if the institution is receiving any financial aid from the State then Sub-Article (2) of Article 29 of Constitution obligates the management to admit non-minority students to a reasonable extent.” The fact is though the Minority Institution Certificate is given to admit mainly students of its own community, reality check has shown that most Christian Minority Institutes in Kolkata, on an average, have only a maximum of ten percent students of its own community and the balance ninety percent comprises non-minority students most of whom pay up whatever the institute managements ask for. The reason they do not want any government nominee on the managing committee is that they do not want any scrutiny of their accounts. If they are transparent in their financial matters, then what is the fear of government scrutiny or independent audit? There is an English-medium Higher Secondary School (up to Class XII) on Park Street itself, which raises its annual fees between Rs 50/- and 100/- only! The school authorities also arrange for virtually free-studentship for the really needy ones, from its Trust Funds.
The Gujarat High Court on 27 December 2017 upheld the Gujarat Self-Financed Schools (Regulation of Fees) Act, 2017 that was passed by the state legislative assembly in March and ruled that private schools cannot engage in profiteering. A division bench comprising chief justice R. Subhash Reddy and justice V.M. Pancholi had in August reserved its order on a number of petitions filed by hundreds of self-financed schools that challenged the state government’s move to regulate fees through the Act. The division bench rejected all petitions challenging the state Act and said that it was within the state government’s powers to regulate fee structure for self-financed schools. It ordered the implementation of the Act from 2018. The Act prescribes an upper limit on annual fees of Rs15,000, Rs25,000 and Rs27,000 on primary, middle and high school education respectively.
The High Court bench rejected the contention of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE)-affiliated schools that the state government cannot regulate them. The court also rejected similar petitions by education institutions managed by the minorities (both religious and linguistic) that sought exemption from the state law. As this is a High Court judgment, it may be replicated in case of other states, and West Bengal, where there more than are 500 ICSE and CBSE schools, is no exception.
It is high time each Archdiocese/Diocese set up a Crisis Management Cell. It has been observed there is an instinctive attempt to sweep all grievances under the carpet. This will inevitably result in volcanic eruption as it has happened in Ernakulam Archdiocese (a la Cardinal George Alencherry).
It is also time each Archdiocese/Diocese appointed a paid lay spokesperson, who can face the National and Local Media, on issues that impact our community. He/she must be a person of integrity, adept in languages including the local language and should not be a dead-pan like our spokespersons who look pathetic on the national media.
Easter also calls upon our Lay Associations to introspect on how transparent and accountable they are to their members! Most of them are not. They, for example, the Catholic Association of Bengal, even refuse to show their audited accounts to their members, as if they were “Classified Information!”