SERVING   GOD   AND   COUNTRY

-          Fr. Cedric Prakash sj.  *

 

 

Dear Friends,

 

                                                                                  

I feel greatly honoured and privileged to address the Federation of Jesuit Alumni Associations of India gathered here together in Jamshedpur at its Fourth National Congress.

 

I also feel more humbled because over the years, Jesuit Alumni  have ranged from Presidents to the Captains of Industries; from Pioneers and Innovators to Doctors and Teachers; from earthy business people  to high profile Bankers; from Champions in Social Activism to dedicated grass-root workers.   It’s been a whole range of extremely illustrious and wonderful persons from all across the board who indeed make me feel small.

 

I also feel proud  because for over thirty years now, I have been  an integral part of this great band of men called “the Jesuits”; and for fours years before that, I was a student in St. Xavier’s College, Bombay, which automatically makes me  a “Jesuit Alumni” too.

 

My sharing this evening, is from the perspective of being a Jesuit Alumni and at the same time as an outsider.  The theme of this evening’s sharing is  “ Serving God and Country ”.   Blending the two is a difficult though not an impossible task.   What I would like to set before are some challenges and to see whether we can whether we can translate the words of our country’s poet laureate, Rabindranath Tagore,  “Into that Heaven of Freedom……let my country awake”  into concrete action.

 

SITUATING INDIA TODAY  :

 

India has it all :    a rich, diverse, multicultural, multi-religious society.  We have the highest peaks in the Himalayas, to the golden sands of Cape Comorin….We can boast of some of the wealthiest people in the world and yet, we have teeming millions who are unable to eke out a simple meal a day to survive.  We have our cities filled with consumer goods and high rise buildings but adjacent to them are thousands dwelling in slums without the bare necessities of life.

 

We have given to the world Gandhiji and the doctrine of “ahimsa”, yet, in Gandhiji’s Gujarat we have seen the most horrendous acts of violence and brutality.   We take great pride of being the largest democracy in the world, yet our dalits and tribals do not have a legitimate voice in many fora.   Though some women have been at the helm in the political sphere,  we continue to discriminate against women at every stage beginning with  female foeticide.   We have given to the world some of the finest brains in Information Technology and other scientific disciplines but our children continue to die because of malnutrition, malaria and TB.  We possess some of the best educational institutions in the world but large numbers of our people do not have access to basic / primary education..….the list is endless.  Our country indeed is one of stark realities of glaring contrasts with the chasm   between the rich and the poor growing at an alarming pace. 

 

I really do not intend elaborating on the Indian scenario any more because my task this evening is to set  before you some challenges.  It was necessary for me, to situate what I want to say, in the reality,  which is …..India.

 

MY WORK  :

 

Having said this, let me briefly share with you some of my involvements through the Ahmedabad based Jesuit Centre “ PRASHANT “, (A Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace) which I  now have the opportunity and privilege to direct.

 

We started PRASHANT a little over three years ago as a response to  the blatant human rights violations that took place day in and day out around us with the hope that we could usher in, in some small yet significant way, an environment of justice which would hopefully lead to lasting peace.  Over these three years, we have definitely created some impact at the local, national and international levels.  We have been able to bring to the attention of people how the flagrant violation of human rights will only end up  in the creation of a fractured and divided society..  We have remained consistent in our stand to uphold truth and justice. 

 

A classic case in point  has been the Gujarat carnage of 2002 which has seen violence at its horrendous worst; prejudice and discrimination against minority groups and a brutalization, at which any civil society would hang its head in shame.  Our response to this violence has been without fear because we do not want such acts of violence to be repeated anywhere else in this country or elsewhere.   We have tried to champion the cause of the victims, trying to enable them to see a glimmer of hope through the dark tunnel of despair.  Together with other groups, we are doing our best to bring those responsible for his crime against humanity, to book.

 

Very recently, we did a thorough research study of some of the text books very specially the Std. VIII Social Science textbook published by the Gujarat State Board of Textbooks.  For those of you who are educationists here, or parents with school-going  children, you will definitely squirm at the terrible factual inaccuracies, historical distortions, gross manipulations, and with atrocious grammar.  We have called for the withdrawal of this textbook and as I write this, we are even contemplating legal action so that this textbook is no longer studied by the students.  There are other textbooks which are as bad or even worse.  Whilst one has to condemn the so called educators in whose hands lie the future of our children, one has to also sympathise with those who are churned out from our factories of education….with such a textbook, one can expect nothing more but warped, distorted, prejudiced and unscientific minds ? 

 

My long years with the tribals of Gujarat, with the slum-dwellers of Ahmedabad, has made me realize that only when  we try to concretise the Universal Declaration of Human Rights …. Yes, only then will we be serving both God and country simultaneously.  

 

THE CHALLENGES  :

 

I  am sure that there are several ways by which you can serve God and country together.  There is a specificity about Jesuit identity.  So to you, Jesuit alumni gathered here this evening, I would like to set  three definite challenges by which you can serve God and country simultaneously.  

 

1.            Stand up and be Counted :

 

I am sure all of us will remember our school days when we had to “stand up” in class.  It could have been because of an answer we had to give to our teacher; to receive an appreciation or a prize and perhaps more often than not, “stand up” was that bark because we were caught either talking in class or indulging in some prank.  This “standing up” has nothing to do with our school days.  I am talking about  standing up for truth and justice, for fair play and honesty.  It is definitely not a great honour to be told that we in India live in one of the most corrupt countries of the world.  It’s just taken for granted that we have to give a bribe to get things done.  So many of us are just too afraid (definitely for many reasons – real and imaginary) to take a stand on the side of truth and justice.

 

Mahatma Gandhi would not have been able to ensure independence if he had not launched his “satyagraha”.  This frail man was able to take on the mightiest of the world. 

 

A true Jesuit Alumni, will never be part of a conspiracy of silence; he will have the courage of his convictions, he will be able to take on head front the criminalization, communalisation and corruption that exists in our society.

 

One of my saddest  experiences in Ahmedabad was that inspite of having hundreds of students who have passed out through the portals of our educational institutions, there was hardly any alumni who came out during the carnage that  engulfed Gujarat in 2002 to say that the violence and hate had to stop.  I really think that there would have been a different history if some of our prominent alumni had the courage to take a stand.

 

2.                  Provide Enlightened Leadership and Good Governance :

 

A significant characteristic trait of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Founder of the Society of Jesus,  it was that he was a visionary leader who was able to discern, read the signs of the times and be able to respond in a creative way.

 

The Constitutions of the Society of Jesus is still studied in several  B-Schools all over the world as a classic treatise on good governance.  Ignatius of Loyola wanted governance which was far sighted, disciplined and which provided the necessary space for compassion, creativity and intellectual freedom.

 

It is not without reason that Jesuit Institutions the world over, as I said in my opening remarks, has given the world  some of the finest in these spheres.

 

In the last few years however, there has been a marked deterioration in this sphere.  Somewhere down the road, we have lost sight of the “ Magis “  – the need and importance for all-round excellence, to be able to provide what is generally termed as “servant leadership”.  One notices falling intellectual standards everywhere.  The bottom line is no longer for healthy debate but rabid authoritarianism.  Intellectual civil discourse has been sabotaged by what is crass and debasing.  The  politics in this country hardly focuses on good governance but is taken over  by pervert ideologies.   The common people have been forgotten;  money and muscle rule the roost.

 

It is not without any reason that in an address to Jesuit alumni more than 30 years ago, Fr. Pedro Arrupe the then Superior General of the Society of Jesus said :

 

It is you, graduates of our institutions working in concert with other members of the laity, who bear the responsibility of bringing Christian thought to grips with the issues of justice, peace and welfare which affect modern life.  Should you not be at your post or remain indifferent, you may well be failing deplorably, and responsibility for that omission you cannot run away from.  Neither the Church  as such nor the Society of Jesus can directly enter the political arena by espousing a party line or a particular ideology.  It is the laity who must make the concrete choices, and for that an adequate formation and awareness are indispensable.

 

3.            Be  Men and Women for Others :

 

There is a centrality in Jesuit vision and mission and that is being “persons for others”.   My third and final challenge therefore to each one of you is to become more and more “persons for others” very specially for the poor and the down-trodden, the victimized and the marginalized.

 

I need not elaborate on this point.  We live in a world which has become highly globalized but more and more selfish and individualistic.    We are caught up in a rat race of  consumerism and cut throat competition.  We do not realize that there is a grown chasm between the rich and the poor and we may be the cause of it.  As Jesuit alumni, do we have the courage to become “beacons of hope” ?  Will the fettered of this world take solace and hope that there are Jesuit alumni who are ready to break their chains of oppression and exploitation ?

 

CONCLUSION :

 

As I said in my opening remarks, I think there is no other way to conclude this sharing on “Serving God and Country”, than in the words of Rabindranath Tagore.  Join me therefore, my dear Sisters and Brothers, in praying with him to our Eternal Father, for ourselves 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, led my country awake !

 

 

(This paper was presented on 30th October 2004, at the Fourth National Congress of the Federation of Jesuit Alumni Associations of India held  in Jamshedpur from 29th to 31st October 2004)

 

 

*  (Fr. Cedric Prakash sj. is the Director of  PRASHANT, the Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace in Ahmedabad.  He is actively involved in issues related to human rights and justice and the promotion of communal harmony and peace.  Among his several awards is the Kabir Puraskar from the President of India in 1995 for Communal Harmony and peace.)

 

 

 ‘ PRASHANT ’,   Post Box  4050,    Navrangpura,  Ahmedabad   380 009  Gujarat,  INDIA

Tel:   0091 79 27449744 /  27455913        Fax:  0091 79 27489018      Emailsjprashant@icenet.co.in

 

 

14th October 2004