REPENT AND REFORM, O BELOVED COUNTRY!
Shame, O Beloved Country!
The two recent instances of the shameful rapes of young girls in the states of Jammu and Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh have brought ignominy to India. Such incidents keep on happening. The body of an 11 year old girl was raped, tortured and strangulated to death was found in Surat about 13 days ago. A 17-year-old girl was gang-raped in Patna early on 14th April 2018 in Patna. On the same day a 24 year old woman was said to be gang-raped by two youth on Yamuna Expressway. It is indeed ironic and horrible that Indians, who worship many Goddesses daily, have no respect for the country’s girls and women.
Worse still, in Kashmir as police tried to file charges against the men in the town of Kathua, local lawyers shouted Hindu nationalist slogans and tried to block investigators from entering the courthouse. BJP ministers in Jammu and Kashmir state’s coalition government attended rallies in support of the accused that were organised by the Hindu Ekta Manch, a nationalist group.
Similarly in the Unnao, Uttar Pradesh, the girl who was raped tried to kill herself on April 8, 2018 in front of the home of Yogi Adityanath, Uttar Pradesh chief minister, alleging the police had refused to register her case. A day later, her father died in police custody after he was beaten by Sengar’s brother, who has since been arrested.
Vrinda Grover, a Supreme Court lawyer who specializes in sexual assault cases, remarks, “Systems are manipulated from the investigation stage onwards, the processes of law are subverted by those in power. The Unnao case is the most brazen illustration of this. . . The police facilitated the beating to death of the father of the girl. If the police is going to not act according to the law, but at the behest of the accused, then there can be no hope for justice. Today, law and justice are a mirage that we are offering the women of this country.”
In addition to this culture of sexual violence and rape, there are several other evils our country is experiencing. Religious minority groups, particularly Muslims and Christians, continue to face increasing demonization by hardline Hindu groups, pro-government media and some state officials. Adivasi communities continue to be displaced by industrial projects, and hate crimes against Dalits remain widespread. Authorities are openly critical of human rights defenders and organizations, contributing to a climate of hostility against them. Mob violence, including that by vigilante cow protection groups, is being intensified. Press freedom and free speech in universities has been coming under attack. The Supreme Court and High Courts deliver several progressive judgments, but some rulings undermined human rights. Impunity for human rights abuses persists.
And much it grieves our hearts to think what humans have made of humans!
Our Voices and Efforts for Change, O Beloved Country!
As citizens of the country, we all want such evils to be purged. As the NCCI, we have been engaged in campaigns such as “Zero Tolerance to Violence against Women”, “Thursdays in Black” (a campaign in which people are asked to wear black clothing or simply a badge, which shows others that they are tired of putting up with such violence, and which calls for communities where humans can all walk safely without fear; fear of being beaten up, fear of being verbally abused, fear of being raped, fear of discrimination), “White Ribbon Campaign” ( in which men and boys, wearing the White Ribbon, declare that they will never commit, excuse, or remain silent about men’s violence against women), and “16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence” (The campaign runs every year from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day).
Similarly the NCCI is engaged in campaigns related to injustices perpetrated on marginalized, oppressed communities such as the Dalits. We observe “Dalit Liberation Sunday” on the second Sunday of November every year, and “Black Day” on 10th August every year (protesting the injustice meted out to Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians who have been denied affirmative action benefits of the government till today). We are also engaged in the “No one can serve Christ and caste!” campaign within the church. Likewise the NCCI has been persevering in seeking justice for tribals and adivasis who are being cheated, exploited, trafficked and forced out of their rightful inheritance of jal, jungle and jamin. The NCCI also takes up the cause of people infected and affected by HIV and AIDS, persons of gender and sexual diversity, people with disabilities, and the poor who are affected by systems of globalization. Through all these engagements, the NCCI is committed to the gospel of justice, love and peace.
Our Dilemma, O Beloved Country!
Not only the NCCI, but also several churches, councils, forums, faith-based organizations, NGOs and civil society bodies are committed to values of justice, love and peace. Yet one is alarmed that the forces of injustice, hatred and violence are on the rise.
The systems, and the structures that they give rise to, have engendered an environment and ethos of self-centred individualism, of craving for power and privilege, of communalism and fascism. Thus individuals and groups are trapped with the systems which humans have created. As Pope Francis puts it: “Even today we raise our hand against our brother… We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves as if it were normal we continue to sow destruction, pain, death. Violence and war lead only to death.”
As Christians, we have had and continue to organize gospel programmes, conventions and revival meetings in which the focus is on saving individual souls. While some are born again (and it is important that individual turn to God), others back-slide in the mean time! While individuals undergo change, the society and its systems remain as they are, with all their political, economic, social and religious inter-play, perpetuating corruption, injustice, ill-will, and violence. And so the maze of webs of Caste, Patriarchy, Hetero-normativity, Globalization, Class, Fundamentalism, Communalism, Fascism and the like continue to trap, influence and regulate life. Therefore even the well-intentioned projects and programmes for justice, inclusivity and peace do not have the desired impact.
Repent and Reform, O Beloved Country!
While endeavors and ministries of churches, councils and other bodies to bring about change are important, what is required is social/national repentance. Without such community repentance, our services and ministries remain largely as programmes and events. The call of Jonah to repentance was not given to individuals. It was given to the whole city of Nineveh. The call of John the Baptist was to the whole society of the rich, the religious, the tax collectors and soldiers. The call of Jesus was to the whole community: Repent for the reign of God is at hand!
What is needed is community engagement in reform. As we read through Nehemiah chapter three, we find different groups of people engaged in rebuilding the wall: priests, Levites, civil leaders, perfumers, goldsmiths, merchants, and the Nethinim. Both men and women were involved in the work. No class or sex was either too high or too low for the task they had to do. The entire community was engaged in reform.
Alan Paton’s book, “Cry, the Beloved Country”, published in 1948 is an insightful but tragic novel narrating the destruction of the people because of the impact of colonialism, racism, and the values and life-styles of the whites. “Repent and Reform, O Beloved Country!” is a call to us to address the challenges of the times in the spirit of the Nazareth Manifesto of Jesus Christ (Luke 4:18-19).
Rev. Dr. Roger Gaikwad,
National Council of Churches in India