THE ROLE OF THE MEDIA IN FOSTERING
JUSTICE AND PEACE
AMID RELIGIOUS PLURALISM
- Fr. Cedric Prakash sj. *
I feel very honoured and privileged to be invited to give the keynote address at the 11th National Convention of Christian Journalists on the theme “ The Role Of The Media In Fostering Justice And Peace Amid Religious Pluralism ”. I thank the Indian Catholic Press Association (ICPA) and in particular, its President Mr. Michael Gonsalves, for giving me this opportunity to be with you here today.
I neither have the professional qualifications nor the experience of a journalist. So attempting to address an illustrious group of professionals like you is indeed a daunting task. I must say, however, that for the last several years, I have closely interacted with the media at different levels and being the Secretary for Social Communications of the Western Region Bishops Council does give me a certain perspective. Nevertheless, I would like that what I am now going to say, to be taken in the framework of how “each one of us can do good, better”, and how we can contribute our mite in fostering justice and peace amid religious pluralism in our country today.
with the challenges I intend setting before you, I also offer you a
perspective which naturally has to be in and from
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 goriness 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.
one talks of the
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
early January, there was a week-long celebration in
the recent “visa catastrophe ” where Modi is concerned, brought to focus that
needs to make a careful analysis of the textbooks in
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 questions 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.
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
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, more than 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 :
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
THREE CHALLENGES :
What I have just said has a bearing on justice and peace in a multi-religious society. We cannot promote justice – peace if we do not address what is endemic first. Therefore, in the light of today’s theme, and in keeping with the name of your Association, I would like to set before you, three distinct yet interrelated challenges. These are :
Ø The challenge to be Indian
Ø The challenge to be Catholic
Ø The challenge to be Press (Journalist)
The Challenge to be” Indian” :
the heart of the Association, is that identity, called “Indian”. In the
context of what I have just shared with you about
“anti-national” or even branded as a “terrorist”. The problem is, they are setting the agenda for us and we are reacting to it ! The time now is for us to be setting the agenda and tell them that this is our country, we are Indian as much as they are and if they have any problems, it is they who need to be packing up…….
This, for the simple reason, that we have a Constitution which is Secular in nature and while we uphold the spirit and the directives of our Constitution, we need to uphold and cherish all that is ennobling, namely, truth, justice, liberty, peace of and for every single citizen of the country. It is these values and the fact that we are diverse and live in a pluralistic society that defines our “Indian-ness”. The yardstick is NOT : my religious beliefs or the language I speak or the clothes I wear.
The challenge therefore that I am setting before you, dear Writers, is that, whilst upholding and preserving the secular fabric of our Constitutions and that of the Country, you need to systematically destroy anything that corrodes or eats into the foundations. Only then can we regard ourselves as truly and authentically “Indian”.
The Challenge to be “Catholic” :
Here lies another challenge. Unfortunately, for many of us, the word “Catholic” is restricted to the narrow confines of our religion rather than its “universality” which it necessarily denotes. A case in point is some of our Catholic Weeklies/ Monthlies which are so insular: which only highlight some rather pedestrian happenings where Catholics are concerned or try to seek revenue from the “matches and dispatches” advertisements….Our Catholic periodicals need to be more focused, to take a stand for truth and justice and above all, create the necessary space for ours to enter the mainstream of society. They need to transcend and reach out to others much more.
We have been remembering in a very special way, our late Holy Father John Paul II who died exactly a week ago. Very strangely, his Forty-Fifth Apostolic Letter entitled “Rapid Development” published on February 21st , 2005 was written to all those “Responsible for Social Communications”. “The great challenge facing the media” he wrote “is to preserve free and open access while avoiding the manipulation of the media by ideological forces or the destructive use of the media to promote selfish materialism. Properly used ”, he stressed, “ the media “can and must promote justice and solidarity”.
The Holy Father further highlights three fundamental options which we are faced with, namely “formation”, “participation” and “the promotion of dialogue” . I think herein lies the true meaning of “Catholic”, wherein we become vehicles for reciprocal knowledge, of solidarity and of peace.
Therefore, for me, the challenge of being “Catholic” is essentially the ability to be “the salt of the earth” “the leaven in the dough” and “the light of the world”….. to be able to take a stand for what is right, for truth and for justice.
The Challenge to be “Press”
We thus come to the final challenge and that is the challenge of being a good and relevant “Press” or “Journalist” today.
the Apostolic Letter which I just referred to, the Pope empathically states “to
those working in communication, I extend the invitation which, from the
beginning of my ministry as Pastor of the
It is very symbolic that the theme of his address at his installation is re-echoed more than twenty-six years later, in his last written exhortation, and this, to people like you.
On a day like this, I want to use the exact words of the Holy Father, to you Journalists : “Do not be afraid of taking a stand for what is right, for what is truth, for what is just”. In his opening remarks, the President of the ICPA very categorically stated that one of the goals of this association is “to train Journalists with a conscience”. Make this happen.
In the wake of the Gujarat Carnage, we have had very few journalists to take bold and upright stands; some have definitely done it and for this, they are definitely paying the price. Our Catholic Periodicals must reflect such bold and courageous stands. Above all, I urge you to enter and to get others to enter the mainstream media, very specially the vernacular press.
The role of a journalist, I believe, is not only to inform but also to take sides. But in order to take sides, you must be informed, you must critically study and analyze situations and reality. You have to go out to the people to feel their pulse, to take opinions. When we water down all our writings with shades of grey, we are not providing our readers with that option they need to respond critically and positively to the happenings in society.
have tried to set three very specific challenges before you : they are all
inter-related. In a way, a description of your association; but they are also
fundamentals with which you can forge ahead. The theme of this National
Convention is extremely laudable. I am convinced that if our Christian Journalists
have to play a role in realizing it, then you must become more
We have listened to some excellent speeches in the earlier part of this Convention. Mere listening and agreeing to what is being said, does not change reality. Concretizing the proposals, taking a stand, will help us, perhaps, go, another step forward in this journey of a thousand miles.
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 Convention, 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,
My Church awake ,
Each one of us awake ,
Thank you very much !
This keynote address was delivered at the 11th National Convention of the Indian Catholic Press Association held in Goa on 10th April 2005, on the theme “ The Role Of The Media In Fostering Justice And Peace Amid Religious Pluralism ”.
* (Fr. Cedric Prakash S.J. is the Director of PRASHANT, the Jesuit Centre of Human Rights, Justice and Peace in the State of Gujarat. He is the Secretary for Social Communications of the Western Region Catholic Bishops Council. 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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