On Sunday 23 March 1980, in powerful homily Archbishop Oscar Romero made a passionate plea for disarmament and peace; he minced no words as he castigated the Government and the military of his country, “I would like to make an appeal in a special way to the men of the army, to the police, to those in the barracks. Brothers, you are part of our own people. You kill your own campesino brothers and sisters. And before an order to kill that a man may give, the law of God must prevail that says: Thou shalt not kill! No soldier is obliged to obey an order against the law of God. No one has to fulfil an immoral law. It is time to recover your consciences and to obey your consciences rather than the orders of sin. The church, defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, of human dignity, the dignity of the person, cannot remain silent before such abomination. We want the government to take seriously that reforms are worth nothing when they come about stained with so much blood. In the name of God, and in the name of this suffering people whose laments rise to heaven each day more tumultuously, I beg you, I ask you, I order you in the name of God: Stop the repression!” He was assassinated the very next day!

Just about a year ago, on 14 October 2018, Pope Francis at the canonisation ceremony of Archbishop Oscar Romero lauded Romero for leaving “the security of the world, even his own safety, in order to live his life according to the Gospel, close to the poor and to his people, with a heart drawn to Jesus and his brothers and sisters.” He went on to add, “Let us ask for the grace always to leave things behind for love of the Lord: to leave behind wealth, the yearning for status and power, structures that are no longer adequate for proclaiming the Gospel, those weights that slow down our mission, the strings that tie us to the world.”

The situation in India today, on all fronts, would be much worse than that of El Salvador during the time of Romero. For almost six weeks now, Kashmir after the unconstitutional abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A is on a complete lockdown. Kashmiris are denied are basic rights and freedoms. The new ‘Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act – UAPA 2019 (Amendment Act)’ clearly infringes on the fundamental rights of citizens. Harassments, intimidation and threats to human rights defenders, media personnel, intellectuals and other activists, who have the courage to take a stand for truth and justice, continue with frightening regularity. Freedom of speech and expression, the right to dissent is almost a thing of the past in an extremely autocratic atmosphere. The ignominy heaped on women and children of our country continues unabated! Millions of our children are still deprived of their childhood! From farmers to sewage workers; from those who receive unjust wages to the unemployed – the vicious circle of poverty and injustice is hardly addressed! In fact, there is apparently a concerted effort to keep millions of people in a dehumanised condition.

The country has never been so corrupt. Law makers are bought to cross from one party to another –we have seen this happen in Karnataka, Goa and Sikkim. The CBI and the Enforcement Directorate will not investigate into corrupt acts and major scams like the Rafael deal, those who have made windfall profits from demonetisation and those who toe the line of the current ruling dispensation. The Judiciary which is meant to be totally independent, impartial, objective and just, is hardly doing itself proud! The National Register of Citizens (NRC) has excluded 19 lakhs people from Assam.

Fr Cedric Prakash SJ