By Udayanath Bishoyi
Bengaluru, April 29, 2019: India’s Catholic theologians have decided to collaborate with civil organizations and people of good will to check forces of religious fundamentalism, bigotry and discrimination.
Since past few decades, communal identity construction has emerged in the Indian society that undermines the country’s pluralistic nature.
“The great constitutional values of the democratic republic are under great threat,” bemoans the Indian Theological Association (ITA), a band of women and men committed to promote the development of an Indian Christian theology.
The association held its 42nd annual meeting at the National Biblical Catechetical and Liturgical Centre, Bengaluru, southern India, with the theme, “Whither India.”
“The founding fathers and mothers of the Indian Constitution framed the centrality of our composite culture in building of our nation together with its social equality, economic parity and religiocultural harmony,” the April 25-28 meeting pointed out.
According to 74 women and men theologians from various parts of India who attended the meeting, what is happening now in India is the exercise of power by a political minority over majority, leaving the latter depoliticized and powerless.
“There is misuse of power by evoking sentiments of religious fanaticism by powerful groups that threatens India’s secular democratic traditions,” the meeting warns.
It regrets that the economic liberalization and globalization India introduced since 1990s have only made the rich richer and powerful. “The elite section have benefited from these trends whereas there is sense of alienation by the subaltern and other backward groups. A large majority of the people are becoming poorer and poorer,” the meeting added.
While on the one hand the government provides legal support and protection to the corporate groups while on the other farmers committing suicides due to crop failures and mounting debts.
Many Indian youths are unemployed. Government machinery like judiciary and other government institutions are used for selfish political interest, the theologians observed without mincing words.
“In this situation many experience discrimination and exclusion. Sectarian revolts, insurgencies, communal and ethnic conflicts and public protests are becoming frequent.”
Minority groups, the meeting noted, are in a disadvantaged position in spite of all constitutional protection.
“The present situation of our country seems to be moving in a wrong direction which we need to prevent in solidarity with our fellow citizens of good will,” they assert.
God’s children are the every Indian who has been created in His image and likeness. Dehumanization of Dalits, tribals and subaltern erodes the dignity of humanity and insults the creator, the meeting said.
The theologians also noted that during his time Jesus had resisted the religiopolitical and cultural systems of power that were oppressive of the subaltern society. Jesus radically called for human freedom, equality, justice and fellowship, they explained.
They also asserted that as followers of Jesus they oppose every fundamentalist ideology within and outside and work for inclusive life with values of the Gospel. They urged Christians to look for a new way of living Christian life, a life that witnesses Jesus Christ and the gospel values.
“As little flock, the Indian Church is called to be leaven of society,” the meeting pointed out.
Christians, they say, have to be free from exclusivist thinking and affirm and respect other faith groups.
God who is revealed in Jesus Christ is a God who always sides with the poor, oppressed and discriminated and struggles with them to regain their humanity and dignity.
“We are to be contrast community, living in our Indian polity with effecting a qualitative difference, becoming agents of redemption by opposing violence, corruption and preventing moral decay in the society,” the theologians say.
They also point out that what attracts Indians is the person of Jesus not the Church’s structures or paraphernalia.
The theologians want the Church to use all possible ways to make the constitutional values get rooted in the public space. “In our schools and institutions enhance and make constitutional catechesis, students from their initial start of schooling start to love by heart the preamble of our constitution.”
Other ways are promotion of conscientization programs on gender equality, communal harmony, network with public movements, through community radio, folklore and street plays.
Other areas of intervention are enhancing interreligious dialogue, promoting the current issues such as unemployment, problem of farmers, oppression of women, environmental protection, strengthening the subaltern groups.
The theologians want the voice of the poor to be highlighted through print and electronic media.
“We work for harmony, mutual understanding, work for peace and reconciliation, defeat the forces of hate and violence by promoting a politics of pluralism and inclusion that ensures justice, equality, liberty and fraternity for all. Joining hand with secular voices and forces work towards the welfare of all- the ongoing struggle for the Reign of God.”
ITA was founded in 1976 as an open forum of Catholic theologians of India to engage in theological discourses and help develop an Indian and Asian Christian theology that embodies the struggles and hopes of the people in the region. It often reflects the trajectory of the Indian Church and society.