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18 octobre 2007 4 18 /10 /octobre /2007 07:39
Lord Macaulay who had travelled across the length and breath of India as an administrator, observed in his address to the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835 that the backbone of India is her spiritual and cultural heritage.  This is true even today.  Every family has a special place or room for prayer in the house.  No village is without its temple or mosque or church depending on the kind of population.  Not a shop starts or closes work without adoring God.  No Indian starts writing without placing initially the symbol of God.  The Indian government declares around 20 days of national holidays for the religious festivals of the major religions:. Christians are honoured with national holidays on Christmas and Good Fridays, the Muslims get national holidays for Bak’s id Ramzan and Muharrum and the Hindus celebrate the birthdays of Rama and Krishna, the Deepavali etc.  People throng in millions to various religious shrines like Benares, Tirupathi, Palani, Nagore and Velankanni.  Children are taught to pray, the educational institutions start their classes daily with a prayer.  All meetings, conferences and seminars begin with an invocation to God even today. 
   
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Indians then are a very God fearing and deeply religious people.  However illiteracy has not been wiped out and the fundamentalist forces easily move the crowds to violence in the name of religion.

The country has been divided into high caste, low caste and untouchable groups for thousands of years.  After Independence, untouchability has been abolished by law though in certain areas it has still not disappeared:  people belonging to the untouchable group even today cannot enter the places of worship, eat and drink along with other castes, separate utensils; glasses are used to serve them…
The Government has several programmes for the upliftment of these hapless peoples.  They get scholarships for studies, reservation in jobs etc.  As the other caste people claim their share also, a quota system has been introduced: 18% for the former untouchables who are named Scheduled castes and Tribes, 27% for the lower castes and 55% for the rest.  Due to the advantages given, some groups of the high castes are demanding that they be considered as lower castes (Backward Classes) and given reservation for jobs and other benefits.  The priestly class known as Brahmins and the people of the high castes resent  the reservation policy as it cuts the monopoly they have   been enjoying in all walks of life.
 
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The Middle Ages in India saw a lot of invasions and wars and the society was weakened with the population striving for survival.  When the European merchants arrived in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, they could easily establish themselves and the British proving themselves to be more powerful than the other Europeans, over time, took control of the entire country and ruled over it for two hundred and fifty years.  The missionaries who came with the merchants had to cater initially to the high castes in their educational institutions and continue to tolerate the caste system lest they be treated as untouchables with all the new high caste converts.  The Jesuits tried a two tier system of missionaries, one serving the untouchables and the low castes and the other catering to the upper and Brahminical classes.  When the society of Jesus was suppressed in 1773 and the Foreign Mission Fathers of Paris took over the work, they gave up the two tier system and stopped the efforts at inculturation.  The Jesuits reentered after sixty years when the British Government had established itself in India.  Both the Foreign Mission Fathers and the Jesuits founded indigenous religious congregations, started seminaries, invited religious orders from Europe and started a member of educational and charitable institutions all over India.  However, till Independence, it was the Brahmins and the upper castes who benefited by the educational and other services offered by

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Christian institutions as well as those established and funded by the government.
They occupied all Government posts and consolidated their position. The missionaries expected Christian values to permeate in the hearts of the upper classes leading to the abolition of caste distinction. However, the cunning Brahmins and upper caste people foresaw the advent of an egalitarian society and got ready to perpetuate their hold on the population and the preservation of their privileges.  Slowly the lower castes who were also coming up, started clamouring for their rights and share of the public offices.  Political parties were formed like the Justice Party in Tamilnadu for the purpose.  The frightened Brahmins and the upper castes formed fundamental groups like Rashtriya Swayam Sevak (RSS), Bajrang Dal, The Shiv Sena, Hindu Munnani etc., training their youth in martial arts, brainwashing them with Hindu ideologies and instilling in them hatred for the other religions.  They have established themselves all over India, put their cadres in all the parties, set them up in all top positions so that only sympathizes of their ideologies are recruited in all important positions.  The Brahmins who are just 3% of the Indian population, are in all the sectors of activities in the highest posts.  Most Judges, Governors, Chief Ministers, CEOs of Post and Telecommunications, the Media, Banks….

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are Brahmins or of the upper Castes.  The minorities occupy the lower positions and undergo open or covert persecution.
Our Muslim brothers feel that calumny and slander against their community as being terrorist is their biggest problem.   Apart from calumniating, the Hindu fundamentalist forces perpetrate crimes and accuse innocent minorities of having committed  them.   At Godra in Gujarat,  a coach in a train was set on fire at a station in a Muslim area, Hindu pilgrims were burned  to death and a very big attack was carried on the Muslim population.
Hindu fundamentalists desecrate of break their own idols and spread the rumour that the minorities have committed the heinous acts.
Christian missionaries have been put to lot of suffering and persecution.  Many have been murdered, burnt, stripped and humiliated, imprisoned for flimsy reasons, their properties are confiscated or destroyed with the connivance of local authorities.  The officers make it difficult for the minorities to enjoy the benefits allowed by the Indian constitution.  Job vacancies are not easily filled up in our institutions which are forced to find their own resources to run them efficiently.  Justice is either denied or delayed.  For example, compensations have not yet been yet paid to victims of riots in Bagalpur of Bihar in 1989, nor to those of Godra in Gujarat.
   
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It is not denied that certain minority groups have reacted violently when their rights were curtailed, and their property destroyed as for example in Coimbatore where the muslim merchants were forced to flee for their lives leaving their shops and properties and their sons when they grew up set up bombs to show their resentment.
In this context how does the Church react and what does it do to help in the normalization of situations?
The Indian Church consisting of 18 Catholic Archdioceses with 105 suffragans, the protestant Church of North India and that of South India, CNI and CSI respectively and a few Christian sects like the Seventh Day Adventists, the Pentacostals, and the Assembly of God, are  working at unity of Christians first.  It was providential that the former chief minister of Tamil Nadu Ms.Jeyalalita enacted a law curtailing the freedom of propagating one’s religion with strigent punishment.  Muslims and Christians thronged in Chennai to protest against it and many leaders of the major political parties in the opposition came to address the protesters.  It has brought about a solidarity among the muslims and Christians in the state of Tamilnadu.
The Church through its Caritas agency in all its dioceses, always rushes to the rescue of every of victim of natural calamities and religious repression.
   
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Many proactive long term projects have been undertaken to foster harmony among the peoples.
Several priests have become registered lawyers to plead for the causes of victims of discrimination.
Ashrams and dialogue centres have been opened in almost all the dioceses and social amity and collaboration are fostered.
In Christian institutions the youth are taught courses on World Religions and made to understand that trying to contain violence through violence in retaliation is like putting out fire by pouring petrol.
As pioneers, the Jesuits have made an option for the poor and admit 30% of strength from the oppressed classes, giving them scholarships, free meals, accommodation etc. and their example has been followed by other congregations and a slow transformation is taking place in the right direction.
Our own Association for Christian Social Teaching has conducted a number of seminars to bring together Christians and men and women of other faiths, thanks to the help of our President Manfred Spieker and Don Patrick and the subsidies of MISSIO, and  MISEREOR of Germany.  I may mention the National Seminar in 1993 with 300 people from all major religions to mark the tercentenary of St. John de Britto, a Portuguese Jesuit who was martyred at Oriyur,  100 kms east of  Madurai.  The theme was “The Challenges to

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Religious Pluralism”.  Dr. Spieker gave the key – note address and a book was published with all the papers presented at the Seminor.
State level cultural competitions to promote Religions Harmony were organized to mark the Platinum Jubilee of Loyola College, Chennai,  in the year 2000 and thousands of young students from all over Tamilnadu from High school to University levels took part in the various competitions.  The Chief Minister of Tamilnadu, Dr. Kalaignar M. Karunanidhi attended the valedictory function and gave away the prizes to the winners.  The Government has instituted an annual prize for the institution which excels in activities promoting Harmony.
In spite of all these efforts there are problems from time to time.  We have sown the seed.  We have to wait.  As Saint – Expiry would say in Terre des Hommes if we are planting the seed of an oak tree we cannot expect to take shelter under its foliage in the near future.
The problem of terrorism and insolence is very complex.  There are many factors apart from the religious fanaticism.  The economic inequalities, the mistrust, the selfishness in people and many other factors foment intolerance.
Ignorance is the worst divider.  Knowledge of the other human beings will help us to appreciate the many good qualities in them.  So bringing leaders

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of various communities in dialogue and initiating common programmes of service to the local population will foster mutual trust and respect.
The Basic Christian Communities that are formed in every Indian parish can be encouraged to help in this effort.
Our Muslim brothers also make some efforts to bring about religious harmony.  They award prizes to top rankers irrespective of religious or caste distinction in the whole state of Tamil Nadu.  They have bi–weekly  programmes on the TV to propagate the message of peace and unity.  The church could get closer to the Muslim brethren in this field.
If Reconciliation is social healing, it has to be effected in all spheres of life.  We work to get broken families reconciled through marriage week-end programmes.  Mgr. Lawrence Pius is in charge of the Family Commission of the TNBC and is still animating the week ends.  Fr.V.S. George S.J, my illustrious successor, is one of our team priests. My wife Philomena and I form part of the executive teams.  Sr. Cecilia who has attended our meeting in Rome has started regular programmes for engaged couples to prepare them for a happy marriage thus preventing  clashes in the families as time passes by.
Thus AIESC is a partner to  the Church in India in its efforts to bring about a harmonious society.
Deo Gratias!

Prof. Xavier Raj
Loyola College - Chennai

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