Question: Daniel Joseph
What do you think is the political identity of minorities in India? The good will of the minorities seems to ebb away in the context of intolerable cultural pride especially in the Hindi heartland of India? What should be my approach to the present situation as a Christian?
Answer: Saji Mathew Kanayankal CST
The question is very relevant today, especially as we are waiting for the result of the election to the 17th Parliament. During this election campaign, we have witnessed many hatred speeches, slogans and defamed statements against the religious minorities. Whatever is the result, the spat through the social media and the derogative messages will have its long-lasting effect and it will intensify the existing atrocities against the minority communities. In the context of the present socio-political scenario, most of the members of the minority communities have fear for their future. Moreover, it is shocking and alarming that some of the enlightened educationists, well accepted bureaucrats, as well as ardent political leaders become part of the extremists’ movements in the banner of development for mere temporal personal gains.
CHALLENGES TO THE SECULAR FABRIC
When we reflect on the present context of India, the threat to the secular fabric of our country is vivid. The governments-both in the centre and in various states-with the ideologies of saffronisation focus on the customs, traditions and beliefs of the minority in many ways. In spite of the constitutional protection, the minority communities, especially in the Hindi heartland, experience discrimination and exclusion. During the last few years we have witnessed many sectarian revolts, insurgencies and communal ethnic conflicts. The public protest against minority communities became frequent and many social segments of the society are being excluded from the socio-political life of our nation. With the baggage of colonial domination and trauma of partition, the problem of discrimination and exclusion becomes acute. The horror and agony of Kandhamal and Godhra are still haunting its victims and the minority communities live with the trauma that it may repeat at any time, especially in the places where their influence or presence is insignificant.
The identity of our nation, which is visualised and propagated by the independent fighters and the modern thinkers as multi linguistic, pluri-religious and multi-cultural, is under danger. The democratic institutions such as Supreme Court, CBI, RBI and Election Commission have become vulnerable, insecure and endangered. At the top of the bureaucracy, the ideologies of Sang Parivar are well established with the intention to change the secular constitution. Their ultimate objective is to make a ‘strong nation-state’ with one language, one culture, one religion and one ideology. The ideology behind the political slogan- ‘Congress Mukt Bharat’ will not be limited to the ‘mukt’ of the ‘grand old political party’. It will be the ‘mukt’ of many secular, social and democratic ethos of our country. The Sang Parivar creates a new conscience that they alone can save India from all its enemies, and the process of eradication includes all those who oppose their ideas. The tag of ‘national security’ is used many times by them to defend themselves. We have also heard of slogans: ‘hate Christians’ and ‘hate Muslims.’ The thinking and teaching of the great nationalists’ leaders such as Gandhi, Nehru, Ambedkar, Azad etc are little known or ignored to the youth and children of the contemporary India and the ideologies of Hindu fundamentalists such as Hedgewar and Gowalkar get prominence in the educational system.
THE QUESTION OF POLITICAL IDENTITY
The political identity of a society is closely linked with the notion of nation-state, the dominant mode of political existence in modern times. The cultural construct and political construct play key roles in the formation of a nation. In the history of India, the independent struggle has offered a great possibility in the formation of the modern political construct. In the midst of the unimaginable diversity, farsightedness and imaginative vision of the architects of the Constitution brought unity and oneness. They visualised an India that accepts and respects multiplicity of cultures, religions, faiths, traditions and practises. Under the able leadership of the post-independent leaders, especially with the iron will of Sardar Patel, the political unity of India was materialised and our leaders were very well educated and open to the cultural diversity of our country. In spite of the pains of the partition, people with different languages, cultures, casts, and religious practises came under one umbrella to build the nation with new vigour and hope. Though all the evils of our society could not be eradicated, they taught us the lessons of tolerance, respect and mutual understanding between religions, cultures and languages and India always has its pride in its ‘unity in diversity’. However, the identity of the minority in India is questioned and challenged today especially by the forces of Hindutva who tend to ignore or supress cultural identities and try to defend themselves in mono-cultural terms with enforced structural centralisation and compulsive cultural uniformization of communities. So, they divide the people on the basis of religion, culture and caste or any other possible way.
In fact, the question of identity is very much related with the question of citizenship, for it is citizenship that ensures participation in the affairs of the society. It is by the citizenship that a person becomes the full member of a nation-state with its civil, political and social components and s/he can take up an active role in the policy making and building up of the community. The very idea of the citizenship of members of the minority communities is in crisis and their fundamental rights are denied and/or suspended in many ways. In a broader sense, the public space for the minority is denied with the slogans to ‘Move to Pakistan’ or ‘Go to Italy/Rome’. Any citizen needs a public space to actualise his/her political identity. As Hanna Ardent observes, a public space enables individuals to fashion a world for free political discourse and action. It is in the public space that the citizens meet one another, exchange their opinion and debate their differences, and search for a collective solution for their problems. The idea of polis in ancient Greece, where the persons who were not permitted to enter into the public space were considered as slaves, is an apt example. Concern for the public space is a concern for justice and its participation includes struggle against all kinds of injustice and unjust structures. According to Swami Vivekananda, the exclusive philosophical vision leads the people and nation to destruction and death. The inclusive ideology respects different identities and even celebrates the differences and thereby open to the diversities and multiple cultures and beliefs. The constitution of India offers such an opportunity to every citizen.
THEOLOGICAL AND SPIRITUAL INSIGHTS
Though we have few incidents in the Bible in relation with the struggle of the minorities, for our present reflection we will concentrate on two major events, the Exodus and the Exile. These were the examples in which we see that Yahweh expresses his solidarity with a side-lined minority group. The Exodus event is the foundational God experience of the people of God. Prior to this liberative experience, they had to undergo different experiences of rejection, oppression, discrimination and suffering. In its deeper sense, Exodus is not a single event, rather it is a metanarrative, with deeper and different experiences of a group of events. The biblical story of Exodus tells that the Lord is with the oppressed, with the suffering and He hears the cry of the people and intervenes in their life appropriately.
Among the many experiences of the Exodus, the election of Moses and his intervention in the process of liberation have a special political significance. Moses remains as an architype – the symbol of the intervention of the Lord-in a very specific manner. The person with stammering becomes the spokes person of the people of God and he is purely guided by Yahweh Himself. In history too we see the emergence of great leaders as an effect of the continuous struggle of the people. The long years of Indian Independent struggle has given birth to Mahatma Gandhi, who could contribute a new vision even to the entire world. Similarly, we also have great leaders like, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela who helped the concerned people at the time of their long years of struggle and distress. Such great leaders encouraged the people by giving them new insights and vision developing their spiritual insights. The oppression and discrimination will lead to a liberative experience with new nuances, visions and reformations. India, which is politically corrupted, economically unjust and socially disfigured, needs a total reformation and renewal. As modernity has influenced the Indian Independent struggle, the present political situation also will lead to a total reformation of the current Indian society.
In biblical view, the exile is seen as a punishment to the people for their forgetfulness of Yahweh and the transgression of the covenant. The 6th century BC was a time of the turmoil and upheaval of geopolitics in Judah. By that time, instead of just and God-fearing kings of ancient Israel, the power was taken by the unjust kings. It is true that Jerusalem has grown into a great power, but the wealth was concentrated in the hands of a few and their greed for power and money has unbalanced the social rhythm of the society; the exploitation of the poor and the land had heaped on. Above all, they have engaged in self-destruction through its foolish disregard of life’s eternal ordering, neglecting God and His covenant. According to prophet Jeremiah, the exile, which affected all- the king, priests and the rich as well as the poor- was a punishment for disregarding the covenantal fidelity and ignoring the creational design of God.
On the other hand, the exile was a time of reconstruction of the community. For Jeremiah, the indictment and punishments was not the end, it was a sign, a time for learning and renewal, a time of internal reshaping and deepening of the spiritual rationale of the community. The exile has to be purified by the proclamation of the new law and the new covenant, and the rebuilding of the ‘damaged’ temple. The reconstitution of the community and deepening of their faith have taken place at ‘diaspora,’ with the experiences of out-rootedness and strangeness. Similarly, an inner purification of the institutionalised Church and its moral integrity is inevitable in the present India. There is no other time in India like today, that the hierarchy of the Church is being accused of and the authenticity of its spiritual and moral integrity is flawed. As the exile demands a complete revival in which the community should shape its life according to the demands of Yahweh, the present crisis should lead us to purification and self-renewal. In the words of Pope Francis; “we need an interior certainty, a conviction that God is able to act in every situation, even amid apparent setbacks.”
Finally, the role of Christians as minority in India can be symbolised with two examples from the New Testament-the salt and the yeast. A pinch of salt may appear insignificant but it can create great effect. Pope (emeritus) Benedict XVI in one of his works says about the ‘creative minorities’-a path way to creative hope rather than impotent anger or vengeance. Instead of being discouraged and defining it in terms of the worldly power, faith helps and encourages us to draw nearer to God amidst separateness, uprootedness and discriminations. Even when we are politically and culturally powerless, the Christian vision of love and tolerance has tremendous staying power, just as a few grains of yeast, if they keep they freshness, their can leaven the entire lump.