Shri Narendra Modi,
The Prime Minister of India
Dear Prime Minister,
This is my third letter to you. This letter comes three days after we in the Church have celebrated Pentecost Sunday. The observance of Pentecost reminds us how people need to be empowered by the Spirit of God to bring about transformation in society, to be channels of justice and peace in the society. Political and religious leaders, engaged in transforming society, are reminded by the words of God: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit.’ And as we celebrated Pentecost Sunday on 23rd May 2018, churches as usual have prayed for God’s Spirit to guide and empower the rulers of our country, a prayer that is said every Sunday in most of our churches in India.
In my first letter (dated 14 April 2017) I wrote to you as an Indian citizen, joining all Indian citizens who are concerned about the state of affairs in our country, India. My second letter (dated 15th August 2017) was addressed to you by me as an Indian spiritual seeker of God’s reign of justice, love and peace in our beloved country India. I had thought I would not write to you anymore, but recent events have moved me in the Spirit to write to you again.
There is too much talk about the politics in our country being vitiated and polarized along religious lines, and propaganda being made that religious minorities are bent upon opposing right-wing forces in the country. Therefore, indirectly the strategy of fundamentalist forces, in the context of the forthcoming General Elections, is to gain the sympathy and support of the people of the dominant religious community. I am saddened to witness such distortions of the situation in our country, separating citizens from fellow citizens.
The crux of the matter is not any anti-government campaign of religious minorities; the crux of the matter is the worsening situation of violation of human rights in the country.
Allow me to elucidate just a few examples:
There is Caste-based discrimination and violence
Incidents of such injustice are well known to you. There seems to be no end to it. It grieves me (and would grieve you too) that on Pentecost Sunday, 23rd May 2018, a 30-year-old Dalit ragpicker was beaten to death over suspicion of theft from a factory in Shapar industrial area on the outskirts of Rajkot. Four persons were arrested and a 17-year old boy beat Mukesh Vaniya (30) to death and assaulted his wife Jaya and aunt Savita. While police said that the accused suspected Vaniya and his family members to be thieves, Vaniya’s wife Jaya alleged that the accused had first inquired about their caste, hurled casteist abuses, and then began thrashing them when they refused to clean up filth near their factory. A video of the incident — purportedly showing two persons taking turns to beat Vaniya, a ragpicker, with a stick while another person holds him by a rope tied to his waist — went viral on social media, reprising the Una atrocity of July 2016 when four Dalit youths were thrashed publicly over the skinning of dead cows. (https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/dalit-beaten-to-death-in-rajkot-5-held-after-video-goes-viral/articleshow/64264429.cms)
Injustice to Tribals/Adivasis
“Adivasis cannot be equal citizens until they are considered holistically as a part of cultural and ecospheres with unique customs and practices, and not just as welfare recipients receiving doles. Further, there cannot be the liberation of the Adivasi until the fundamental material issue of land alienation is addressed. But that is precisely what is being hidden.
Capitalism, especially its neoliberal versions now, will not allow the resolution of such a question, for accumulation of capital and land is built on such expropriation. And the state is an active accomplice in this predatory capitalism unleashing extraordinary levels of ‘legal’ violence against the Adivasis. If we hear regular stories of tribal resistances against corporations mining minerals in Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, it is because these States alone account for most of India’s bauxite, coal, iron ore, and chromite reserves.” (http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/the-adivasi-in-the-mirror/article22911351.ece)
Development at the cost of environmental and ecological concerns of the people:
Protests against Sterlite Copper’s operations in Thoothukudi (Tutucorin), which began nearly two decades ago, intensified earlier this year after the company announced expansion of its plant, entailing a doubling of the capacity of the smelter to 800,000 tonnes per year. At least nine people were killed in police firing on 22nd May 2018, as 15,000 people marched towards the collectorate demanding closure of the plant. Residents claim the plant’s operations have contaminated the ground water in the area, causing severe health problems. (http://indianexpress.com/article/india/what-is-the-sterlite-copper-plant-project-in-tuticorin-5187587/)
I am sure you will agree that when we talk about “sabka saath, sabka vikas,” (Together with all, Development for all) we need to discuss such developmental concerns with the people.
Crimes against women
The two sickening recent crimes – the gangrape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in Kathua and the rape and systematic exploitation of an 18-year-old woman (and her family) in Unnao – reflect a deep decay in our public institutions – political parties, the police, lawyers and the bureaucracy – and in society at large. Thousands of women and girls each year are victims of gender violence in India – and the most recent statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau show that crimes against women have increased 34% in the past four years. (http://theconversation.com/how-to-stop-violence-against-women-in-india-it-starts-with-training-police-officers-90251)
“Delay in judicial decision-making and the refusal of the police to register or dispose of reported cases make the consequences worse for the victims. The very survival of our faith in India’s democracy rests on facilitating a legal and public institutional system that actively encourages and supports the agency of women and their freedom. To ensure this, it is morally imperative for the police to act professionally and follow due process on matters of all crimes against women; and for lawyers and judges to turn up in court and do their jobs well.”(https://thewire.in/women/rising-number-of-crimes-against-women-reflects-decay-in-indias-institutions)
Freedom of Religion, a Constitutional and Human Right, being increasingly threatened
Last month, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has criticised India’s track record on religious freedom, placing it in tier 2, along with a dozen odd countries. USCIRF’s 2018 annual report states that religious freedom has shown a downward trend in India last year too with right wing nationalist groups making attempts to ‘saffronise’ the country “through violence, intimidation and harassment of non-Hindus and Hindu Dalits.”
The report also states: “At the federal level, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made statements decrying mob violence, but members of his own political party have affiliations with Hindu extremist groups and many have used discriminatory language about religious minorities.” (https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/us-raps-indias-religious-freedom-record/articleshow/63933499.cms)
The intention of this letter is not to highlight a long narrative of several instances of violation of human and earth rights. My concern is that such a situation should not be given an interpretation whereby the citizens of the country are polarized on religious grounds.
Frankly speaking, the whole country should repent.
What is needed is national repentance!
What is needed is reform!
What is needed is a spiritual resolve to make India the land of justice and peace preserving and enhancing its distinctive human and eco-diversities.
May the Spirit of God be upon you and us all!
May we all experience the anointing to usher in justice and peace for all!
A voice, among many voices, for human and earth rights
23rd May 2018