Can only sadhus and not bishops comment on issues of national concern?

Societies that are not fully secularized, clergy does have a hold over society in worldly matters also


By Ram Puniyani

The archbishops of Delhi and Goa recently asked their parishioners to pray for the nation, as human rights were under attack. Subsequently, a Vishwa Hindu Parishad spokesperson Surendra Jain on June 7 stated that the church in India was trying to destabilize the Modi government.

Archbishop of Delhi Anil Couto wrote to all parish priests and religious institutions in the Archdiocese of Delhi on May 8, asking them to pray for our nation. The letter begins with the observation “[w]e are witnessing a turbulent political atmosphere which poses a threat to the democratic principles enshrined in our Constitution and the secular fabric of our nation.”

The letter then requests the 138 parish priests and 5 religious institutions within Delhi to observe ‘a Day of Fast every Friday… offering our penance and all our sacrifices for our spiritual renewal and that of our nation.’ More recently, Archbishop of Goa and Daman Filipe Neri Ferrao said that human rights are under attack and the Constitution is in danger, and it is the reason as why most people are living in insecurity.

Ferrao, in his annual pastoral letter addressed to “priests, religious, lay faithful, and people of goodwill,” asked Catholics to “play an active role in the political field” and to “shun sycophantic politics.” “As the general election is fast approaching, we must strive to know our Constitution better and work harder to protect it,” and added “democracy appears to be in peril”.

Low-level, scattered anti-Christian violence is spreading and most of it goes unreported in the national media. Incidentally the World Watch List 2017 ranks India 15th worst among nations where Christians are persecuted. Four years ago, India ranked 31st on the list.

Both archbishops’ words are cries of anguish on the present plight of religious minorities in India. Both the letters in a way are an expression of the cry of anguish of the plight of religious minorities in India today. Anti-minority violence has seen a quantitative and qualitative worsening during the last few years. Anti-Christian violence has not reached terrifying proportions, which is why many national commentators even question its occurrence.

But, the fact of the matter is that low-level, scattered anti-Christian violence is spreading and most of it goes unreported in the national media. Incidentally the World Watch List 2017 ranks India 15th worst among nations where Christians are persecuted. Four years ago, India ranked 31st on the list.

Vijayesh Lal of ‘Evangelical Fellowship of India’ states that ‘it has documented some 350 cases of violence and other forms of persecution against Christians last year. That is more than double the rate compared with the 140 annually before the BJP came to power. This is highest after the anti-Christian pogrom in Odisha in 2008.

Around Christmas in 2017, carol singers were attacked and cases against them were filed on the charges of conversion in MP. The community leaders point out that in their observation such incidents have gone up, more so as the ground level leaders of such attacks are not reprimanded from the top, leading to increase in the culture of impunity.

A series of Hindu godmen and women are dominating figures in Hindu nationalist politics. A number of Maulanas too have been part of the political arena. So to reprimand archbishops just for expressing their opinions is very unfortunate. They too are citizens. They too are concerned about the state of affairs in India today.

Yet many Hindu nationalists have been demanding to know how Church leaders can make statements which have political implications, and how could they voice their opinion on issues which can affect political outcomes.

But before the brutal murder of Pastor Graham Staines in Keonjhar, Odisha in 1999, one hardly ever heard any statement by heads of any Indian church. Since then, some from the clergy have been expressing the feelings, hurt and injury of the community in the wake of this violence and later incidents of violence directed against the Christian minority.

The atmosphere in India has become more intolerant, more frightening and Muslims and Christians both have been on the receiving end. Should not men of God speak on Earthly matters? It is true that a yogi should not be a commissar; a yogi should not be in the business of business, because the secular and profane worlds are different.

But in societies like ours, which are not fully secularized, clergy does have a hold over society in worldly matters also. That’s how a sadhu can become Chief Minister.

A series of Hindu godmen and women are dominating figures in Hindu nationalist politics. Politicians wearing saffron contest elections and are part of politics. Likes of Sadhvi Uma Bharati, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, Yogi Adityanath and Sakshi Maharaj are ruling the political roost while wearing the cloaks of divinity!

There are a number of Maulanas too who have been part of the political arena, beginning with Maulana Azad. So to reprimand archbishops just for expressing their opinions is very unfortunate. They too are citizens. They too are concerned about the state of affairs in India today.

(Source: The National Herald)

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9 thoughts on “Can only sadhus and not bishops comment on issues of national concern?

  1. Brother Mathew is right when he writes that Christian leaders of all denominations must speak aloud at this critical time and that it would be timidity if Bishops keep silent. However, Catholic are hardly 2% of Indian population and do not matter much in tilting the scales of power in elections. Moreover, Catholic educational and medical institutions cater to all the Indian citizens, irrespective of caste and creed. Under such circumstances, the Bishops should not limit their ‘bravery’ to the Catholics alone gathered inside a Church to pray, but should come out on the streets and make their ‘wise’ political views known to the remaining 98% of populace, too, by holding public meetings separately or along with other political party leaders or any other means found suitable by them.

    1. Thank you Sister Monica for your king compliment.

      As you have suggested, it is high time that the minority Christians get out of the four walls of the Church and seek the help of the millions of educated people who were educated in the Christian Institutions; since the Christians are under attack by the BJP Government and their street goons which came into power through mere 31% of the votes.

  2. Very open and impartial statement about the fundamental rights of the Bishops. In the article, the author has given the solid proof of the double persecution in 2017 against the Christian minority when compared with 2016.

    At this critical crisis faced with the minority Christians of India, if the Bishops are trying to keep silence, it is their timidity and the oppressors have won the game plan. And so, the Christian leaders of all denominations must speak loud.

    Now the whole world knows the Hindutva theocratic territoriality spirit to intimidate the minority religious people of India who were living without fear and attack.

  3. The respectable writer’s logic is flawed on three points. First, the Bishops were criticized for expressing their political views inside the Church, by way of issuing pastoral letters, treating the faithfuls as captive audience, without considering the fact that Catholics are scattered among various political parties, including BJP. The Bishops as Indian citizens are free to express their political views outside the Church, by convening press conference, issuing press release or giving interviews to newspapers.Second, the Hindu sadhus mentioned by the writer are in active politics. They have won elections and have taken responsibility of their constituency, whereas the Bishops do not stand for elections. Third, the Hindu sadhus do not take orders from a foreign sovereign power, but they are independent individuals. The Bishops on the contrary are subject to the authority of the Pope. They are accountable to the Pope, the sovereign emperor of Vatican City State. When Bishops say something negative, it gets wider publicity all over the world and image of India gets affected. The independent thinking laity members in India did not quite appreciate the issuance of the ‘pastoral letters’ with political overtones.

  4. Puniyani has been selective in his quotes. This is not about praying or even about human rights. The moot question is of religious leaders making statements with political ramifications. In TV debates when the BJP is pilloried it invariably defends itself by saying “Oh the Congress also did it”. Now the supporters of the bishops have adopted a similar approach – if Hindu leaders do it why can’t we?

    Remember that two wrongs do not make a right!

  5. RamPunyani views things in an unbiased way. He analyses issues with a balanced mind. But some of our Catholics view and comment in a different way,as if bishops are guilty. How sad,!

    1. Quite bothering and bewildering to read the critical spirit of the believers while the Bishops are standing firmly for the rights of the Christians. It seems like the believers are plagued with the spirit of fear under the Hindutva rulers. How commendable it is, Dr. Ram Puniyani who was born in Nagpur, the center stage of the RSS movement, also he is highly educated and known all over India and abroad for his strong stand for secularism.

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