- Fr. Cedric Prakash sj. *
I feel greatly honoured and privileged to address the Federation
of Jesuit Alumni Associations of India gathered here together in
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,
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.
We have given to the world Gandhiji and the doctrine of “ahimsa”,
yet, in Gandhiji’s
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
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
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
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
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
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 ?
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
* (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
‘ PRASHANT ’, Post Box 4050,
Navrangpura, Ahmedabad 380 009 Gujarat,
Tel: 0091 79 27449744 / 27455913 Fax: 0091 79 27489018 Email: email@example.com
14th October 2004