AHMEDABAD, (JESA) — Dear Sisters and Brothers, Greetings to each one of you! We write this “Open Letter” addressed to all the laity, priests and religious ofGujarat in the context of some recent developments which have been taking place in our state under the banner of “Sadbhavna”.
At the outset, we wish to bring to your kind attention the words of our Holy Father Benedict XVI “Love ‘caritas’” is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace. It is a force that has its origin in God, Eternal Love and Absolute Truth.” (Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate)
These promptings inspire us to share our thoughts with you with the hope that all of us will contribute towards a more humane, just, inclusive and peaceful society inGujarat. It is exactly ten years since the Gujarat Carnage was carried out in our State. Thousands of our Muslim sisters and brothers were brutally murdered, raped, dispossessed of their land and property. What took place during those terrible months is beyond description. There are volumes of writings, audio visual materials, witnesses and victims who suffered and saw their loved ones die. For those who want proof of this carnage, there is no dearth of it.
There is also no denying the fact that the Government of Gujarat headed by the current Chief Minister made this carnage happen and saw to it that all preventive actions were curbed. As early as December 2003, the then Chief Justice ofIndiaV.N. Khare presiding over a Divisional Bench criticized the Government of Gujarat saying, “I have no faith left in the prosecution and theGujaratgovernment. I am not saying Article 356. You have to protect people and punish the guilty. What else is raj dharma? You quit if you cannot prosecute the guilty.” And in a landmark ruling on February 8th, 2012, the Acting Chief Justice of Gujarat Bhaskar Bhattacharya, very emphatically stated, “Gujaratgovernment’s inadequate response and inaction (to contain the riots) resulted in an anarchic situation which continued unabated for days on, the state cannot shirk from its responsibilities”.
Whatever, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) report says and does not say; lapses and manipulations therein; the complicity and the culpability of the Gujarat Government is beyond doubt.
Against this background, we are painfully aware that some of us have participated in the Sadbhavna programmes that have been organized all over the State under the leadership of the Chief Minister and a political party which blatantly is averse to an inclusive society and in preserving the secular fabric of the country enshrined in the Constitution of India.
This is not a matter of who is right or who is wrong. We are aware that a particular Sr. Secretary of the GOG and several District Collectors were instructed in no uncertain terms to bring in as many Christians as possible, particularly priests and nuns in their ‘religious robes’ to these Sadbhavna gatherings! We are also aware that some of us were threatened and even a carrot was dangled before them saying that ‘this permission or privilege will be granted etc. if you come’.
The purpose of this letter is not to find fault, but rather critically reflect and discern on what should be our response and action in such a matter. What is the prophetic role expected of us? What would be our response to those who divide and rule? lay heavy burdens on others? who do not guarantee Constitutional rights and freedoms to their own citizens? Secondly, it is also the stance we take and the image we portray to others – very specially the poor, the marginalized, the minorities and other sub-altern groups of our State.
- Perhaps, we have forgotten the way the Christians were attacked in 1998 & 99 and continued to be alienated in so many subtle ways in this State.
- Perhaps we have forgotten the venom that was spewed on the Christians during the last Shabri Kumbh a few years ago.
- Perhaps, we have forgotten the Freedom of Religion Law which has been enacted in our State and which is perhaps one of the most draconian laws of the country.
- Perhaps, we have forgotten that part of our heritage Christian cemetery in Ahmedabad was razed to the grounds by bulldozers just a couple of weeks ago.
- Perhaps, we have forgotten that in the name of development, hundreds and thousands of poor are evicted from their homes from the banks of River Sabarmati, from the forest lands ofSouth Gujaratand from areas in which mega industrial projects have been given prime importance.
- Perhaps, we have forgotten, that a large section of dalits in our State have still nowhere to go.
- Perhaps, we have forgotten thatGujarathas one of the highest rates of female foeticide in the country the list is endless indeed!
We believe, that as followers of Jesus, he taught us how to love, to stand for justice and also to forgive. However, forgiveness and reconciliation has to be viewed from the perspective of social sin and violation of human rights. A simplistic view of forgiveness from a social context becomes highly questionable and in a way defeats the meaning of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This Sacrament is always in the context of realization and sincere remorse.
Today is Ash Wednesday and in his Lenten message to us, the Pope challenges us all, when he says, “The verb used to express fraternal correction – ‘elenchein’ is the same used to indicate the prophetic mission of Christians to speak out against a generation indulging in evil (cf. Eph 5:11). The Church’s tradition has included “admonishing sinners” among the spiritual works of mercy. It is important to recover this dimension of Christian charity. We must not remain silent before evil”.
The question we need to ask ourself is whether we see the need and importance of truly playing a prophetic role in today’sGujarat. Whose side are we on?
We take hope from the message of the recently concluded CBCI 30th General Body Meeting which was held inBangalore. In a Statement dated 8th February, 2012, the Bishops emphasised, “We sensed in our hearts our country is Yearning for a Better India.
Our country has been noted for its deep spirituality, its saints and sages, its rich diversity of cultures and religions. People yearn for the ideal enshrined in the Preamble of the Constitution of India of a Sovereign, Socialist Secular Democratic Republic which will secure for its citizens JUSTICE, social, economic and political; LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation. But this yearning has remained largely unfulfilled… the Church does not wish to rest on her laurels. She recommits herself to being a prophetic Church, taking a decisive stand in favour of the poor and marginalized. How does she as a prophetic Church plan to contribute towards a Better India?”
Yes, it is a question each one of us needs to ask and answer ourselves urgently today: what is our prophetic role, as Church, to build a betterGujarat?
Forwarded by The JESA – Gujarat Commission, SXSSS, PB 4088, Ahmedabad – 380 009