CHALLENGES   TO   OUR   FORMATORS :

A   PERSPECTIVE   FROM   GUJARAT

                                                                                                           -    Fr. Cedric Prakash sj.  *

 

 

 

 

Friends,

 

I feel very honoured and  privileged  to be invited  to address this august gathering of

Professors from Major Seminaries in India deliberating on the theme “Christian Patriotism :  Formation for Witness” at this National Seminar organized by the International Association for Christian Social Teaching (IRCOM) in collaboration with the Department of Philosophy, Loyola, Chennai, Arul Kadal (the Jesuit Theologate), Chennai and Department of Christian Studies, University of Madras.  In particular, my thanks to Prof. Dr. G. F. Xavier Raj, the Co-ordinator of the Seminar.

 

It is not always that someone as “unqualified” as me is invited to address  intellectual giants who have specialized in areas of Philosophy and Theology and who are responsible for the formation of future generations of Priests, Religious and others  who attempt  to deepen and broaden their knowledge on these two branches, so essential to spirituality.   

 

In the light of the theme of this National Seminar, I would like to share with you  my views  on some of the challenges which should necessarily confront a Formator in the India of today.  And since my experience is essentially in and from Gujarat, that will also be the perspective and context of  this sharing.

 

 

THE   GUJARAT   REALITY :

 

In order to contextualize this presentation I need to briefly highlight the reality which has been existing in Gujarat for the last five years or so…..

 

The  27th  of February 2002 and the days that followed will definitely go down in history as a period not merely of utter chaos and violence but of reprehensible acts which could put any civil society to shame.   One need not go into the details and the goryness of the carnage which saw the brutal murder of more than 2000 Muslims, the disappearance of and / or the migration of several thousands, the injuries to hundreds of thousands , the brutal rapes of several women and arson / loot and the destruction of homes and property of the Muslims. 

 

Earlier, in 1998 / 99, Christians and Christian institutions were the targets : Churches were burnt and / or destroyed; Bibles were burnt and even a dead body was exhumed from a grave.  Some Christians were beaten up and Christians from all over the State were terrorized and intimidated.  Whilst the attack on the Christians is nowhere in comparison to the one on the Muslims; the fact remains that minorities in Gujarat very specially the Muslims and Christians continue, even today to be at the receiving end of those extremists who swear  by Hindutva : an ideology which is both fundamentalist and fascist.

 

When one talks of the Gujarat reality, one cannot deny that civil society has not sufficiently  responded to what has happened or is happening.  There have not been any mass protests, no movements or no charismatic leadership to put a stop to the juggernaut  that literally oppresses every one in its way.   There can be a variety of reasons for this lack of response but at the basis of it is that selfish attitude “as long as it is not happening to me why should I bother !!!”

 

Having delved briefly in the context  I would like to illustrate it with more vivid dimensions in order to emphasize the extent to which things have permeated in Gujarat

 

 

Vibrant Gujarat

 

From yesterday (January 11th), there is almost a week of celebration in Gujarat.  There is a new slogan which the Chief Minister of Gujarat and his coterie have coined for the State – “ Vibrant Gujarat ”.  They have been propagating this slogan for the last couple of years :  during the Navratri festival in October and now again during this Uttrayan festival (the kite-flying one).  The dynamics are blatantly obvious :  a crude attempt to project that all is well and hunky-dory in and with Gujarat.  Hoardings across the State and glossy advertisements in Magazines speak about “a feel-good atmosphere”.  The main roads are freshly paved and the main paths of the city have been given a whitewash.  A very typical manipulative strategy (in a way  also proclaimed by the previous BJP-led NDA Government which spoke about “Shining India”).  In order to pretend that everything is normal in Gujarat  -  and what has taken place in 2002,  is just history.  This we know is far from truth !

 

 

Textbooks  :   

 

one needs to make a careful analysis of the textbooks in Gujarat to realize to what depths manipulations can take place. History is tampered with right from the starting point when a child which is being formed is made to believe that the starting point of Indian history is the Vedic age rather than the Great Indus Valley Civilization.  As one grows up, one is taught that the  caste system is good for society and that women have to play a secondary and obedient role.  There are far more dangerous aspects when the students are given a very positive view of nazism “since Hitler lent dignity and prestige to the German race”,  and for the main problems of the country….guess what ?  it’s the minority community !  And who are the minorities ?  They are the Muslims, Christians, Parsis, Jews and  other “foreigners” !    We have done a very systematic research study on several of the textbooks including a very recently introduced one for Std. VIII.  The text- books blatantly demonize minorities like Christians and Muslims and have very strong prejudices against the tribals, dalits and women.

 

 

Census on Muslims and Christians :    

 

In February 1999, the Government of Gujarat conducted a census on the Muslim and Christian communities of the State.  The census included such hideous questins like “which are the foreign countries supporting them” “what are the arms and ammunitions they possess” etc.  Justice Calla of the Gujarat High Court in a suo motu judgment regarded this census as “unconstitutional and discriminatory” but referred it as a PIL to a Full Bench.  Before the final judgment could be delivered, the Gujarat Government announced that the census was withdrawn and that they had not  authorized it….but the damage was done.  In March 2002, in the wake of the onslaught on the Muslims and their establishments, it was clear that a lot of the information that was collected earlier was used viciously against them.  For example, even if there was a Muslim partner in an establishment run mainly by others of the majority community - that Muslim part was targeted and destroyed.  Besides, hotels with such innocuous names like “Tulsi”, were singled out and razed to the ground because of their Muslim ownership.  The census and the questioning of Christian and Muslim institutions have still not stopped. Recently they wanted to know whether we are employing any ex-military personnel in our institutions.

 

 

Patrikas   :

   

Propagating false and malafide information through Patrikas (pamphlets) has been a strong point of the Hindutva elements.  These Patrikas are carefully designed,  very selective in what they want to project, and  with a language which is very vitriolic.  The are usually in Gujarati and / or Hindi and easily find their way in large numbers to the slums and to the villages.  There is a very effective distribution network usually consisting of street urchins or unemployed youth.  Even a couple of days ago, several of the new pamphlets were brought to my attention.  As in the last few years, just before Christmas, these Patrikas do their rounds in several areas of South Gujarat, very specially in areas which have some Christian presence like in the Dangs District.

 

 

Freedom of Religion Act :

 

On 26th  March 2003, the Gujarat Government unanimously passed  the Freedom of Religion Act.  This Act is absolutely draconian in nature and goes against the Constitutional freedoms guaranteed under Article 25. of the Constitutions.  The noteworthy point of this law is that one needs to take “the permission” from the civil authority before one changes one’s religion ;  besides contravening this law would mean imprisonment / fine for the violator and it is doubled if one happens to be a tribal, a dalit or a woman.  The irony is that, even today, almost two years after its promulgation, “the rules” necessary for the implementation of this law are not in place, so petty officials obviously use this as a Democles’ sword, like it was done to a group of dalits who wanted to embrace Buddhism recently.  

 

 

Visits and enquiries from officials   :   

 

Then there are the official visitations which come from the Charity Commissioner, the Registrar of Society, the Income Tax, the FCRA Department, the Police…..yes, all routine and all seemingly innocuous but the undertones are clear.  The insinuations  are not subtle.  The modus operandi is to attack where one is vulnerable and only on “official matters”.  So, several of the Muslim and Christian institutions are subject to these visitations and well, can one complain about it or question as to why only the minority institutions are singled out   ?

 

 

Indiscriminate use of POTA  :   

Very recently, the Central Government repealed the form of POTA (The Prevention of Terrorism Act)  which was introduced by the previous Government.  However, many of us are still not satisfied with this because we have been demanding “repeal of POTA with retrospective effect, and cancellation of all POTA charges in Gujarat, in recognition of the painful fact that the State Government openly misused this draconian Act to victimize exclusively, members of the minority community with very little genuine evidence.  Attempts by the Gujarat Government to pass a POTA-like law should be firmly resisted by the Central Government”.

 

 

CHRISTIAN   PATRIOTISM  :   FORMATION   FOR  WITNESS :

 

At this juncture, I would briefly like to touch upon the theme of this National Seminar.  True, there are several presentations  over these next three days that will provide meaningful interpretation  and insights to the theme.  But I cannot resist from saying that  that “Patriotism” is not about “flag-waving” and “sloganeering “ but basically a genuine attempt to be authentic and loyal to the values and directives enshrined in the Constitution of a Country.  For me, the secular character  of the Indian Constitution and the principles of liberty, quality and fraternity enshrined in them are critical in defining this authenticity and loyalty.  Bearing witness as a Christian citizen, is the ability  of one, to ensure the safeguarding of these principles and to ensure that they are realized in the everyday life of every single citizen specially if they  are poor, marginalized  or belonging to the  subalterns of society.

 

No, I am not attempting any definition of any of the concepts which make up the theme of this Seminar.  I have just tried in a rather simplistic way, to accentuate on necessary elements  of the theme, which in a way,  will reemphasize what I will now be saying. 

 

As I said earlier, those of you who have gathered here are in a position of eminence.  You are responsible for the formation of so many young men and women.  Most of them will ultimately play important roles in the service of the Church and of the country.  It would be presumptuous on my part to think that you are not aware either of the situation that exists in India or the challenges that confront each one of us.  However, in the context of the Seminar, I would like to pose some of these challenges  to you in order to enable this Seminar to articulate relevant responses. 

 

 

THE  CHALLENGES  :

 

The vastness and the diversity which characterize the Indian sub-continent that necessitate  challenges are many :

 

 

§         A Spirituality that is Incarnational :

We have just concluded a National Seminar in Bangalore on “The Church in India in the  Emerging Third Millennium”.  Over and over again, the “formation” that is taking place in our Seminaries came in for heavy criticism.  Several of the participants felt that what is being dished out is far removed from the incarnational spirituality that Jesus talked about.  The Seminar strongly felt “that the syllabus of the Seminaries and formation centers should be restructured in such a way that the future Priests should be able to face the realities of the third millennium meaningfully and  effectively in the fulfillment of their mission”.

           

This definitely poses a very serious challenge to those responsible for formation.  An Incarnational Spirituality presupposes an attitude which is open to the workings of the Spirit an intellect which is able to grasp and interpret the “Signs of the times “ and an unflagging commitment to act in an appropriate and effective manner.  The question we need to ask ourselves is whether the formation provided by us is  motivational enough ‘’to pitch ones tent amidst the people of God”.  It calls for great discernment  which could even demand a radical transformation of structures from the concrete monoliths that symbolize our Houses of Formation to tarpaulin tents which definitely are symbolic of vulnerability yet theologically deep enough to characterize the reality of the “pilgrim people”  journeying towards the establishing of “Gods Kingdom” on this earth.

 

 

§         A Formation that is Contextual :

In several ways, this challenge overlaps with the previous one.  But I would like to make a distinction in saying that while the previous challenge is foundational, when I speak about context, it is essentially about  “A way of Proceeding”.

 

In the National Seminar I just referred to, Fr. T K John sj. of Vidya Jyoti presented a rather elaborate paper entitled “Formation in Context”.  In setting the tone of this challenge, I would like to quote him verbatim “ Since only regulations of a general nature can be made, owing to the wide diversity of peoples and countries, each nation or rite should have its own Programme for priestly Training.  This should be drawn up by the Episcopal conference and should be revised at regular intervals and approved by the Holy See.  In every such programme the general regulations will be adapted to the circumstances of time and space, so that priestly training will always answer the pastoral requirements of the particular area in which the ministry is to be exercised” (Optatam Totius, No. 1).

 

The text advocates contextual formation.  The hidden and operative question, which is answered, is whether formation in the Catholic Church, by its very nature global universal and quite centralized, should have uniform training or whether it could have varied kinds of formation ?  If it could have variety in formation, how far and in what areas can there be uniformity and in which areas one could have variation and diversity.  The text boldly asks for formation according o the exigencies of the actual pastoral situations that are varied and diverse.  In fact what is implied in this text is the very principle and method implied in the mystery of the Incarnation.  The event and process of the incarnation provides us with the essentials of a formation programme both in content and the method. ”

 

Going back to the Gujarat window where one would find every strain for contextualization I sincerely think that not enough is being done sufficiently to contextualize formation in India.

 

 

§         An Intellectual  Depth that is Critical :

We have to be humble enough to accept that our Seminaries and other institutions are symbols of power.  Unfortunately, most of this power is in the material and perhaps in that of the personnel.  While I have already spoken about the spirituality dimensions, I would like to emphasize here, the tremendous lacunae that exists in producing  giants of intellectual caliber and substance.

 

The structure of a Seminary is geared towards learning.  We have ample space, the necessary environment, huge and well stocked libraries.  But one needs to look at the output  and see whether the corresponding amount is being generated. 

 

One has to admit that there is a paucity of intellectual intervention both in the Spiritual and the Secular dimensions.  Solid research has become the responsibility only of a few while the necessary intellectual stimuli to wider society hardly exists .

 

I have referred earlier to the Patrikas being dished out by the Sangh Parivar.   I really do not  propagate that we have to become “reactionaries” by trying to react to all the malicious and false propaganda that is being dished out very consistently by them.  Though what they produce is absolutely rabid, I really do not think that we should be naïve  and to think that their centers of research do not have the depth and gumption to study our works and our actions thoroughly.  But their cleverness makes them selective and in fact, I make bold to say that they are several years ahead of us.  Their research centers have all our documents, well studied and researched.  A classic case is the way Arun Shourie was invited to one of our  CBCI meetings, some years ago, and was able to turn and twist several of the statements in the book he spawned entitled “Harvesting our Souls”. 

 

The question we need to raise here is whether our houses of formation have the capacity to become “Vibrant think-tanks” ?  Whether the newspapers we receive every day  become the basis for our documentation centers ?  Whether our reading of newspapers and magazines is relegated to the superficial and the cosmetic ?……I have noticed sometimes and told  rather often how several of “ours” can waste precious time glued before the TV either watching a cricket match or some substandard film.  Formators are sometimes afraid to take up the challenge headlong and demand a certain amount of intellectual discipline from those who are entrusted to their care.  This we know will never arrive if we are dissipated and lackadaisical in our approach.

 

It is high time we realize that we need to set the agenda based on the secular fabric of our country.  We have to provide that intellectual stimuli which the people of India, from every walk of life, need.   Without wanting to be unduly negative, I must admit that there are several examples worth emulating all over the country.  Let me just name the Satya Manthan Sanstha started by Bishop Patrick D’Souza in Varanasi which has been producing excellent and simple little booklets which helps negate the untruth dished out by the Sangh Parivar.

 

 

§         A Stand That is Courageous :

Our formation tends to be very insular.  If the surroundings around us are on fire, we have no problems of continuing our studies of Sacred Scripture.  When Gujarat was burning, our Major Houses of Formation did not think it fit enough to stop their classes and insist that the students respond to the reality around them (in sharp contrast was the time when I studied in Vidya Jyoti in 1984….in the wake of the assassination of Indira Gandhi and the slaughter of innocent Sikhs, we literally stopped – learning Theology for almost a month - so that we could live Theology in the brokenness and the pain of the city of Delhi).   

 

For too long, as Christians, we have adopted the easy way out : either not getting involved or saying “we need to turn the other cheek”.   The issue at stake is not our own personal survival but that of larger society very specially the marginalized and the vulnerable.  We need to stand up, be counted and speak out fearlessly for truth and for justice, always championing the cause of those who have been weighed down by oppressive structures.  We need to join other movements in order to make our voice doubly heard.

 

Our Houses of Formation should therefore become vulnerable enough to be able to speak out against the injustices and other evils of society, to have that prophetic mission which will denounce the evil in society in order to announce all that is good;  they have to become places of HOPE where those who are victimized and brutalized  can find a safe and secure haven.  It might involve allowing our fortified structures to even crumble.    I don’t think we will have too many counter arguments to this if we have totally understood the person and message of Jesus Christ and all that he has stood for.  The social teaching of the Church has constantly stressed on this dimension. 

 

We forget that we have to be the light, the salt, the leaven of this earth – need we say more ?

 

 

CONCLUSION :

 

The four challenges which I have set before you today are nothing new.  I have tried to reiterate them with my own background from Gujarat and my limited experience.  Besides, I am convinced that Jesus Christ today wants us to rediscover a new way of being Church in an Indian context.  We have been too stifled, too afraid and too spineless to take up this challenge.  Like Pope John XXIII  did forty years ago, we once again need to open the windows of our Houses of Formation to allow a fresh breath of the Spirit to overwhelm us and in fact to overpower us.

 

The document on Ecclesisa in Asia (21 – 22)  boldly states  : “Seminary formation in India should discerningly draw upon India’s rich cultural and spiritual heritage as well as its contemporary experience of modernization, gobalization, scientific progress and struggle for human rights and

 

social justice.  It should promote inculturation in areas of theological and philosophical reflection, liturgy, catechesis spirituality and lifestyle in order to provide an Indian countenance to Jesus.”.  The moot question we need to ask ourselves at this Seminar :  Are we prepared to translate these lofty words into concrete action ?  Will we have the conviction and the courage to open the dusty tomes and transform our Houses of Formation into that light, salt and leaven which I referred to, a little while ago… ?

 

People often smile when they listen to me harping on the words of Rabindranath Tagore over and over again….. but I am convinced in the context of this National Seminar, his prayer has a lot of relevance.  I would like you to join me in praying this prayer for ourselves, for our Church and for our country :

 

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high,

Where knowledge is free,

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls,

Where words come out from the depth of truth,

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection,

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sands of dead habit,

Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever widening thought and action,

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let

                                                                       Each one of us awake ,

                                                           My Church awake ,

                                                                       My Country awake !

 

Thank you very much !

 

           

 

This paper was presented at the National Seminar for Professors from Major Seminaries in India  held at Sacred Heart Seminary, Chennai from 12 – 14th January 2005, on the theme “Christian Patriotism :  Formation for Witness”.

 

 

*   (Fr. Cedric Prakash S.J. is  the Director of PRASHANT,  the Jesuit Centre of Human Rights, Justice and Peace in the State of  Gujarat..  Fr.  Prakash is also a member of the Citizens for Justice and Peace that set up the Concerned Citizens’ Tribunal to look into the Gujarat Carnage which took place in 2002; he has also testified before the US Commission on  International Religious Freedom on the carnage.    He is actively involved in issues related to communal harmony, justice and peace.  In 1995, he was awarded the Kabir Puraskar by the President of India for the promotion of communal peace and harmony.)

 

 

 

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