A recent letter from Indian Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi calling for a prayer campaign ahead of national elections next May has sparked a backlash, mostly from politicians ignorant of history.
The letter was branded by the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as an attempt to dissuade voters from supporting it.
A clear understanding of how the church has functioned over the centuries, and how it does today, could help place the controversy in context.
The relationship of priests (or sants, mahants and mullas) to politics depends on the kind of society one lives in.
If one lives in a feudal society, theocracy is usually the rule, and religion and politics are blended, so that the religious values of the majoritarian community predominate, especially its idea of God (whence theocracy, God’s rule). Anyone who does not belong to this community is considered a heretic and deviant, and so persecuted.
Religious leaders (priests, sadhus, ayatollahs) play an important role in such societies. This was the case with medieval Christian Europe, and so it is in many majority-Muslim countries today. Hindu society in India is increasingly torn between a fundamentalist medieval outlook and adherence to the secularist principles of its constitution.
For India (like many countries of the West) society is officially secular, with a clear demarcation between state
The recent church controversy recalled Henry II’s exasperated outburst against his archbishop of Canterbury’s political machinations: “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” The gentle archbishop of Delhi has recently been in the eye of a storm provoked by his letter to all parish priests in the capital exhorting them to start a prayer campaign for the country and political leaders ahead of the 2019 elections. The prayer pleads for “all castes and creeds, all denominations and persuasions to live in harmony and peace far away from hatred and violence.” This is an unexceptionable invocation that the country would hope is answered.What has raised hackles is his allusion to “the turbulent political atmosphere which poses a threat to the democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution and the secular fabric of our nation.” Union Minister Giriraj Singh, the poster boy of militant Hindutva, accused the archbishop of nothing short of sedition for “trying to create a situation of civil war in the country” and for attempting “to break the country into pieces.” The only reasoned response was expectedly that of our home minister who stated that “India is a country where there is no discrimination against anyone based on caste, sect or religion. Such a thing cannot be allowed.”How do we negotiate the boundaries between religion and the state? What are the restrictions on religious leaders expounding on affairs of the state? These are some o
Half of India’s indigenous people are among the poorest in the country, according to a recent federal government survey, raising questions about the government spending millions on their welfare schemes.Some 50% of India’s 104 million indigenous people, locally called adivasis or original inhabitants, are in the lowest wealth bracket, the latest National Family Health Survey revealed.“The findings of the survey do not surprise us,” said Father Nicholas Barla, secretary of the Indian bishops’ Commission for Tribal Affairs.“But the bigger question is this: why do adivasis live in poverty despite the government spending millions on their welfare since India gained independence from the British 70 years ago?”Wealth brackets are based on the number and kind of consumer goods owned such as bicycles or cars. Markers such as sources of drinking water, toilet facilities and flooring materials used in homes also count in the rankings.Father Barla accused successive federal and state governments of sloppy implementation of welfare schemes. “No government has shown any interest in their development,” he said.“They [indigenous people] were cheated in the name of development as governments took their land for industries such as mining. They were displaced from their natural habitat, and without jobs many of them live in poverty in the slums of cities and towns,” the priest said.The latest federal budget allocated US$50 million, and similar
Today drinking mineral water has become a fashion. But you’ve probably wondered: Is fancy bottled water somehow better for you than plain tap water? Not necessarily. Besides, do you know the environmental impact of bottled water? Each year, more than 4 billion Pounds of PET plastic bottles end up in landfills or as roadside litter!Bring awareness on this important issue for various groups like school/college students, church groups, NGOs, Hsg society members etc.Fr Felix Rebello
I admire and fully endorse the priority of the new bishop of Ahmedabad. I am afraid he will face the greatest opposition from his own clergy and this for three reasons. 1. The shift from religion to spirituality will adversely affect the income of the clergy. 2. It will demand that the clergy be perceived less and less as ritualists and managers and more and more as persons endowed with values and depth. 3. That will just not be possible without radically revamping the whole seminary system. Among other things, this will mean that we are not just promoting our relatives, our caste members, the locals, etc.Subhash Anand, St. Paul’s School Bhupalpura, Udaipur-313001