Fr. Cedric Prakash S.J.,
Human Rights activist / writer, Ahmedabad
Recently you wrote an article on the ‘new emergency’-in it you also referred to Jesuit Fr Stan Swamy of Jharkhand. What is happening to him, Father? What really happened in Bhima Koregaon?
Bhima Koregaon is a village with historical significance in the Pune district of Maharashtra. It became the rallying point for Dalit activists on 1 January 2018 when violence broke out here during its 200-year commemorative event. A battle was fought here between the forces of the Peshwa and the British on January 1, 1818. The British army comprised primarily of Dalit soldiers. The Peshwa army had an upper caste domination. The Dalit-dominated British troops defeated the Peshwa army. In recent decades, Bhima Koregaon has become a symbol in Maharashtra for celebrating Dalit pride. The year 2018 marked the 200th anniversary of the victory of Dalits over the upper caste people, as it is viewed now. The speeches made at the Elgar Parishad conclave triggered violence the next day during the commemorative celebration of the Bhima Koregaon battle. The event had been organised by the Bhima Koregaon Shaurya Din Prerana Abhiyan. Violence erupted at Bhima Koregaon. The activists blamed the Hindutva outfits and the ruling BJP for the violence. The accused were charged with waging war against the nation. The Pune police raided the residence of Jesuit social activist Fr Stan Swamy at Ranchi in Jharkhand and claimed to have seized some “electronic devices and other material.” Fr Stan is well-known for championing the rights of the downtrodden particularly of the Adivasis. According to the police, the raid was conducted as part of the ‘ongoing probe’ in the Bhima Koregaon case in which nine well-known human rights activists were earlier arrested on flimsy charges and for allegedly having some ‘links’ with Maoists. They seem determined to arrest Fr Stan too; so far, they have not succeeded. Basically, the government does not tolerate anybody who defends the rights of the poor and the excluded.
Do you think the nation is in some sort of an emergency now?
It is so obvious that we are living in a ‘state of emergency’ today! For example, the mainstream media hardly covers the atrocities on the Dalits the Adivasis and the poor of the country! Recently a 500-year-old Dalit temple ‘Ravidas Mandir’ was destroyed in Delhi. There were huge Dalit protests in Delhi-totally blacked out by the media! Then we have the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir – its three weeks now– the place is still under siege. There is no freedom of speech and expression! Then we have the case of Sanjiv Bhatt – who has been given life imprisonment on a most preposterous charge- just because he had the courage to take on the Government! It is very clear that the government will not tolerate dissent or any kind of opposition! They are vindictive! They do not give importance to the democratic space that is needed in the country.
Even now, there is lot of lynching taking place all over the country. What is the government doing about it?
The government is doing practically nothing – in spite of clear directives from the Supreme Court. Lynching goes on unabated! Then the Hindutva leaders spew. Some prey upon Muslim woman. Some say Christians should be sent out of the country. See, we are ruled by leaders who represent a pervert and exclusive ideology- they stop at nothing in order to achieve their anti- Constitutional goal of a ‘Hindu Rashtra.’
Are you of the view that upper caste domination is taking place everywhere?
‘Hindutva’ is essentially an ideology of the upper castes! It is fascist in nature and highly divisive. Sadly, it seems to be gaining ground in the country!
What do you think is the future of the country?
The times are indeed dark! Here I am reminded of the poem “In Dark Times” – by Bertolt Brecht the anti- Nazi poet, who was not afraid of taking a stand against Hitler and his fascist regime! However, I am an optimist – I see hope. This darkness too will pass away! I believe in the resilience of the ordinary Indian citizens. They still live in diversity, in pluralism, in the multiplicity of languages, religions and cultures. In their joys and dreams! All that will be the saving grace! I see light at the end of this dark tunnel! We shall overcome!
What about the politics of the opposition?
Unfortunately, the opposition is not united in the country. They regard one another as adversaries! But, here too, I am hopeful. They will finally realize it is also bad for them. We need a strong opposition. We do need the opposition to work together for the good of the country- for the future of our children!
The notion of freedom itself is in danger. Do you think our people are not paying enough attention to it? Are they easily selling themselves to slavery?
Yes, I think so. Our people have become very self-centered. We hanker after material comforts. See how even the elected MLAs of another party are so easily bought up by the ruling party! In general, most people do not want to get out of their comfort zone. Therefore, they are not able to look at the big picture. Everybody should be able to take a stand for the rights and freedoms of the other!
What is happening to the youth of India?
The youth of the country are certainly a major concern. They have genuine anxieties like unemployment. But most of them are running after instantaneous and temporary ‘lollipop culture’. They need to realise that they the future of the country and the hope for tomorrow. We need youth who are able to take a stand for justice and truth in the country; youth who have the courage to reach out to others!
There is a saying that everybody likes to be a fascist, to dominate, to make slaves and to subjugate other people. Do you think that kind of mentality is creeping into our people’s mind?
I don’t think it is true about everyone;most Indians, I am convinced are service oriented; they sincerely want to give their best to others. There are of course a few exceptions.
Is the consumer attitude influencing our people?
True, consumerism has greatly influenced our people! We live today in a highly material, competitive and selfish world! Profiteering is what seems to matter! A selfishness has permeated into several:I don’t care what is happening to others. I exploit them. I denigrate them. I even try to destroy them as long as I have an upper hand.
India is said to be a religious country. What kind of religiosity are we speaking of?
India is definitely a country of many and great religions!Most however, focus on ritualistic practices, not witnessing. Every religion calls for a meaningful witnessing. Every major religion, Hindus, Islam or Christianity, appreciates the witnessing value of the faithful. Itis really about how we look at our neighbour, how we work for the common good, how we are able to share what we have, how we are able to give the best to others, and how we work for the good of all. I personally think this is the essence most religions!Sadly, religion is conveniently used to divide and polarize people!
Do you think that Christianity is rising up to show a way to the world?
Pope Francis is leading by example! He has taken an unequivocal stand on several issues which are critical today! He speaks about the environment. See what is happening to it now? Global warming and climate change today wreak havoc! We have had torrential rains, floods and landslides all along Western India! The Amazon forests are on fire! All this as Pope Francis reminds us has to do with greed, our highly consumeristic pattern of living. The rich do not want to accept it. Pope Francis challenges them to live a simpler life! Personally, I feel that we as Christians have to play a more prophetic and witnessing role in society today.
How have we become a hateful people who harp on divisiveness?
Politics in India has become very divisive. There are some who spew venom and indulge in hate rhetoric! They denigrate others so easily! Citizens need to become more mature and see through the politics of hate and divisiveness!
Are you apprehensive about the future of Christians and Muslims in India?
The minorities in India are surely in for some hard times! Both Muslims and Christians have been targets of a systematic campaign of hate! There have been several attacks in the recent past! They will have to struggle. But they should not be afraid in taking a visible and vocal stand for truth and justice. I believe that we will come out of this struggle only by doing something in that direction.
Do you think the Muslims are now a hated people in India?
There is certainly a bogey created about Muslims! This is certainly not right! We need to understand that in every society, in every religion there are both good people and bad people! It is wrong (and unchristian) to label an entire religion just because of the misdeeds of a few!