Towards Just and Inclusive Communities
When the NCCI was first formed in 1914, the key verse which brought all the constituent units together was John 17:21 – “That they may all be one.” The emphasis was primarily on ecclesial togetherness in bearing witness to the gospel in India. Hundred years later, the key verse of the NCCI could well be said to be Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The emphasis is on giving expression to the several facets of togetherness: ethno-political, economic, social, and theological. Implied, within this verse from Galatians 3:28, is the concern for justice, love, and all embracing togetherness in society.
Concerns about Injustice and Exclusivity in India
The cry for justice and inclusivity arises within a context of socio-political, economic, cultural and other challenges in the country. While one cannot look at each of them in detail, a discussion of a few major ones will highlight the concern for promoting justice and inclusivity in the land.
The Evils of Caste and Ethnic Bigotry
Rohith Vemula was a Ph.D. scholar at the University of Hyderabad; he was a Dalit; he belonged to a poor family in Andhra Pradesh; he had dreams in his eyes; he loved science, stars and nature; he wanted to be a writer, a science writer. But on January 17, his life was cut short; he committed suicide. In his farewell suicide note, he lamented that “the value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing.” (cf. Cedric Prakash, “Murder Most Foul”, Indian Currents, 25 – 31 January 2016, p.36)
Rohith symbolizes the groanings of Dalits against the caste system and all the evils that it entails: the stigma of being born in an impure caste and therefore considered ‘outcaste,’ discrimination when it comes to matters of education, health, and employment, exclusion from positions of power and decision making, oppression in not being denied their rights, exploitation of their services, rape of their women, being made victims of communal anger of the caste people,. . . the list could indeed be unending.
Among the 8.2 percent of the tribal/adivasi/indigenous people population in India, over 90 percent of them are living under conditions of extreme poverty even though 15 percent of natural resources are in their home lands. About 50 percent of adivasis/ indigenous communities are displaced in the name of development. In terms of education, the dropout rate of children from tribal/adivasi/indigenous communities continues at 77 percent. The traditional rights of tribals over natural resources still lie with the State and the claim for their rightful use by the tribal/adivasis/indigenous people is not honored. The belief, identity and value systems of the tribal/adivasi/indigenous people are ignored even by the Arts and Culture department of the Government.
Despite positive political, institutional and financial commitment to tribal development, there is presently a large scale displacement and biological decline of Adivasi communities, a growing loss of genetic and cultural diversity, and destruction of rich resource bases leading to rising trends of shrinking forests, crumbling fisheries, increasing unemployment, hunger and conflicts. The Adivasis have preserved 90% of the country’s bio-cultural diversit,y protecting the polyvalent, precolonial, biodiversity friendly Indian identity from bio-cultural pathogens. Excessive and indiscriminate demands of the urban market have reduced Adivasis to raw material collectors and providers. In the caste inflicted society, the mainstream society does not include and relate to tribal/adivasi/indigenous people as human beings of dignity, rights and respect.
A 2004 report by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) highlights acts of omission and commission by law enforcement agencies. Despite the availability of voluminous and well researched material, no action against guilty officials is taken nor relief afforded to victims of violence, thus shaking people’s faith in the rule of law. In many cases, the members of the law enforcement agencies themselves are the offenders. Since complaints in atrocity cases are directed against the police and security agencies, effective redressal of grievances calls for police reforms, besides intervention in specific cases to enforce accountability of the guilty officials.
The NHRC report states that ever since the law against atrocities came into existence, Hindu fundamentalists have launched a campaign against it. Nowhere in the country has the law been effectively used. The police machinery resorts to various machinations to discourage registration of cases, dilutes the seriousness of the offences, shields the accused persons, and often inflicts the violence itself.
The political insensitivity to atrocities against dalits and tribals/adivasis is reflected in the reluctance to discipline the bureaucracy for its failure to implement the law fairly and objectively. The excesses of the police machinery and others are condoned or ignored to maintain the morale of the forces. The findings of a plethora of reports are not taken seriously by the political elites. Relief and rehabilitation measures are adopted indifferently or not at all.
The Evils of Patriarchy
As it is said, “The position and status of women in India is low despite the myth of her being considered a ‘goddess’ and ‘shakti’ personified. She may be the embodiment of power or Shakti but then there is the concept of this power having to be controlled and channelized and that controlling agent is conveniently man. So woman loses her individuality, her very right to exist for herself: she is to be protected by her father in her youth, by her husband after marriage and then by her son.” These ideas persist with little dilution to this day and have caused immense harm to the status of women. What is worse, her tremendous contribution in terms of work at home and outside is either ignored or belittled. An indicator of the low social position of girls in the society is the phenomenon of adverse sex ratio. In fact the more disturbing trend is the declining female population over the years.
Furthermore, caste, class, education, income differentials sharply affect the low status of woman in India. A Dalit woman has to face double oppression, one from caste persons and another from the menfolk of her community. A factory worker is exploited by the factory owner but a women worker is exploited doubly and further she is vulnerable being a female. We can go on citing instances of the complex configuration of caste, class and gender. However, the net result is that woman in general is placed at the lowest rung of the ladder.
One may observe a different situation for urban middle class women. One of the most glaring and visible sights in the urban areas is that of proliferation of white collared women workers. The rising cost of living, access to education and social change in urban areas have led to the withdrawal of the taboos that earlier affected women of higher classes and have enabled some of them to enter new professions or occupations of their choice. But, these married and working women still live within the patriarchal, male dominated family structure. Hence a job, however prestigious or lucrative it is, does not absolve women from their familial role. Society still considers women’s role as primarily home makers.
Not only is the position of women low, they are also subject to various atrocities. One is dowry deaths. In some cases, husbands and in-laws will attempt to extort a greater dowry through continuous harassment and torture which sometimes results in the wife committing suicide. Another evil is honour killings such as in June 2012, when a father chopped off his 20-year-old daughter’s head with a sword in pure rage upon hearing that she was dating a man who he did not approve of. Honour killings can also be openly supported by both local villagers and neighbouring villagers. Some women are even murdered being accused of witchcraft ; poor women, widows, and women from lower castes are most at risk of such killings. The practice of female infanticide has taken on the dimension of the termination of a female fetus through sex-selective abortion.
Rape is one of the most common crimes against women in India where a woman is raped every 29 minutes. Although rapes are becoming more frequently reported, many go unreported or have the complaint files withdrawn due to the perception of family honour being compromised. Women frequently do not receive justice for their rapes, because police often do not give a fair hearing, and/or medical evidence is often unrecorded which makes it easy for offenders to get away with their crimes under the current laws. In India, though marital rape is not a criminal offense, 20% of Indian men admit to forcing their wives or partners to have sex. Domestic violence in its different forms such as spousal abuse, battering, family violence, dating abuse and intimate partner violence can be physical, emotional, verbal, economic and sexual. In India, it is said that 70% of women are victims of domestic violence.
Human Trafficking is another evil in which women and girls are once again subject to much exploitation and oppression. Kids especially girls and young women, mostly from Northeast India are taken from their homes and sold in faraway states of India for sexual exploitation and to work as bonded labour by the agents who lure their parents with education, better life, and money for these kids. Even these girls are forced to marry in certain regions where female to male sex ratio is highly disturbed.
In recent times one is witnessing incidents where the women from Muslim and Hindu community are facing similar obstacles. This relates to the issue of entry into places of worship. While the women from Bhumata Brigade are struggling to get entry into Shani Shingnapur temple (Ahmednagar, Maharashtra), the Muslim women are fighting a legal battle to restore their access to the mazar of Haji Ali dargah in Mumbai. In yet another incident the women are trying to get the right of worship in Sabrimala temple. In general, religious communities try to push back the women, to restrict their social space, all in the name of religion.
The Evils of Globalization
India, with its rich flora and fauna, exotic cultural and ethnic mosaic and fresh and unexplored ecosystems, and abundant natural resources, holds immense attraction for the trans-national corporations to engage in high investment mega extractive industries in India. At the same time, in order to attract them and get them on board, the Central and State governments in the country are altering their industrial and developmental policies for acquisition of land, by instituting Special Economic Zones (SEZs), developing Nuclear Power Plants (NPPs), constructing Highways and Ports, and so on. While India, as a country, has the largest number of people living below the poverty line (BPL), it appears to be shamelessly proud of having the world’s richest few individuals. In the name of economic development and poverty eradication, the governments lay out “red-carpets” for multi-national extractive industries, without considering their impact on ecology and human rights.
Globalization is considered to be the soft underbelly of corporate imperialism that plunders and profiteers on the back of rampant consumerism. There is a growing divergence in income levels between countries and peoples, with widening inequality among and within nations. Assets and incomes are more concentrated. Wage shares have fallen. Profit shares have risen. Capital mobility alongside labour immobility has reduced the bargaining power of organised labour.
The deepening of poverty and inequality — prosperity for a few countries and people, marginalisation and exclusion for the many — has implications for social and political stability among and within states. The rapid growth of global markets has not seen the parallel development of social and economic institutions to ensure balanced, inclusive and sustainable growth. Labour rights have been less sedulously protected than capital and property rights, and global rules on trade and finance are inequitable. This has asymmetric effects on rich and poor countries. Even before the global financial crisis (GFC), many developing countries were worried that globalisation would impinge adversely on economic sovereignty, cultural integrity and social stability. “Interdependence” among ‘unequals’ translates into the dependence of some on international markets that function under the dominance of others. The GFC confirmed that in the absence of effective regulatory institutions, markets, states and civil society can be overwhelmed by rampant transnational forces.
Commenting on the dark side of globalization, Paul Gilding in his book, The Great Disruption , published in 2012, argues that there are finite resources on this planet, and that environmental issues, inequities and financial crises are bringing the world to the brink: “I look at the world as an integrated system, so I don’t see these protests, or the debt crisis, or inequality, or the economy, or the climate going weird, in isolation — I see our system in the painful process of breaking down…. the rich are getting richer and the corporations are making profits — with their executives richly rewarded. But, meanwhile, the people are getting worse off — drowning in housing debt and/or tuition debt — many who worked hard are unemployed; many who studied hard are unable to get good work; the environment is getting more and more damaged; and people are realizing their kids will be even worse off than they are.”
Gilding goes on to assert, “From terrorism to global warming, the evils of globalization are more dangerous than ever before. What has gone wrong? The world became dependent on a single superpower. The current U.S. strategy is to push for more trade, more connectivity, more markets, and more openness. America does so for a good reason—it benefits from globalization more than any other country in the world. The United States acknowledges globalization’s dark side but attributes it merely to exploitative behavior by criminals, religious extremists, and other anachronistic elements that can be eliminated. . . The dark side of globalization, America says, with very little subtlety, can be mitigated by the expansion of American power, sometimes unilaterally and sometimes through multilateral institutions, depending on how the United States likes it. In other words, America is aiming for a “flat,” globalized world coordinated by a single superpower.”
The Evils of Fascism
Reflecting on the state of affairs in the country, Dominic Emmanuel writes in his updated article(Deccan Chronicle, March 21, 2016), “Undoubtedly, the majority vote, which the Bharatiya Janata Party, received in the 2014 general elections, and the hunger to capture more states has emboldened hatemongers to have a go at the minorities, particularly Muslims and Christians. Whether it is the issue of making the Bhagavad Gita India’s “national scripture, the allegation of money from beef exports being pumped into terrorism, promoting Sanskrit as the third official language, preventing distribution of chocolates by Santa Claus in schools, ‘love jihad’, or rewriting history in a way that only glorifies Hindu culture, in just six months of the BJP coming to power, there seems no end to the ways the minorities in India are being marginalised and intimidated.” Indeed we are living in times, when fascist forces in the country are enforcing their version of cultural and political nationalism in the name of democracy. Those who oppose their intolerant ways are declared as anti-nationals.
In an article entitled, “They call us anti-national” (http://scroll.in/article/802210/they-call-us-anti-national-anand-patwardhan, Jan.21, 2016) Anand Patwardhan , while tracing the trends of fascism in the history of India, observes:
Their founding fathers came from the most conservative Brahmin castes, with enormous faith in the culture that empowered them. They opposed the mainstream secular freedom struggle and started to mobilise along religious lines from the early 20th century. . .They, along with the Muslim League, instigated unparalleled bloodshed during Partition. At the dawn of Independence in 1947, they rejected the tricolour national flag and flew only their saffron flag . .
In 1992, they demolished the Babri Mosque and destroyed the fragile unity between Hindus and Muslims. They targeted and murdered Christians working for the educational and medical needs of Adivasis . . . Other communal riots in Muzaffarnagar and many other places followed as when required by the exigencies of elections. . . From 2013 on, they murdered three well-known rationalists and many unknown ones, as well as threatened scores of others.
Today, they and their mushrooming affiliates are giving arms training to vigilante groups across the countryside to attack minorities in the name of a beef ban and love jihad. Their rapidly growing youth wings are terrorising campuses across India, opposing all other student bodies be they secular, democratic, Gandhian, Left, Dalit or any combination of these. . . Their ideology now combines a medieval cultural mindset with a free market economic model that surrenders sovereignty and natural resources to foreign multinationals, modern avatars of the East India Company.
Thus as a result of hate-campaigns, movements of separatism, extremism and intolerance, which are being promoted and sustained by right-wing political ideologues, our country is a land of groaning humans and groaning creation. India, one of the most diverse countries in the world, belongs equally to all persons who make it its own, regardless of their religious faith or ideology, their caste, gender, class, language, ethnicities, physical and mental abilities, gender identity and sexual orientation. This is the promise that we had made to ourselves during the Independence movement. This is the soul of India’s secular, socialist democratic Constitution. This is what we have to uphold and strengthen.
The Sufferings of the Disabled
Disabled persons constitute one of the most disadvantaged groups in India. As per 2001 census, 21.9 million or 21,906,769 people were disabled in India, constituting 2.13 per cent of the total population. Out of the 21,906,769 people with disabilities, 12,605,635 were males and 9,301,134 were females. This included persons with visual, hearing, speech, locomotor and mental disabilities. Seventy five per cent of persons with disabilities lived in rural areas, 49 per cent of disabled population was literate and only 34 per cent were employed.
What prevents disabled peoples from living a life like anyone else, going to school, participating in family celebrations and employment is not the individual’s impairment, but how society interprets and reacts to it. Life is made difficult not so much by the individual’s medical condition, but mainly by a hostile physical and social environment which excludes disabled people from all spheres of social life, including taking part in celebrations, political decision-making or religious worship (cf. Prashant Srivastava & Pradeep Kumar, “Disability, Its Issues and Challenges: Psychosocial and Legal Aspects in Indian Scenario,” Delhi Psychiatry Journal ,Vol. 18, No. 1, April 2015, p.195.)
At the policy level, progressive legislation, schemes and provisions exist for the disabled. But at the ground level, the disabled continue to be neglected and marginalised, with the onus of care on the family rather than the community. India needs to mark a shift from the medical model of intervention to community-based rehabilitation of the disabled. The disabled are prevented from accessing opportunities in education, employment and leisure, or participating in public life. The Modi government, calling the disabled as Divyang (Divine Body) promises to address some of these problems through its “Accessible India” programme. But even persons with divine power cannot fulfil their just aspirations given the present infrastructural context.
For instance, the disabled face difficulties in finding and using common furniture such as couches and recliners, getting through house doors (especially closing doors behind them), getting from door to parking lot over curbs, getting from chair to vehicle (sometimes riding in their own chair in a specially-equipped van), driving, exiting their vehicle (usually but not always made easier by a rear-exit ramp), getting from parking lot into many institutions or places of business over curbs, and going up steps and over thresholds, reaching over standard-height counters, reaching higher grocery-store shelves and cooler cases, fuelling their vehicles at self-serve stations, getting around in narrow business aisles (especially when “normally-abled” people have parked their shopping carts in the middle of the aisle), traveling by any form of mass transit (bus, train, airplane), passing through metal detectors, and traversing any sort of staircases or (even short) vertical blockades (curbs, steps, et al) in general, using public restrooms, eating in bench-only or counter-only diners, using any sort of conventional weighing scales, traveling on any unpaved surface (sand, gravel, grass, dirt, mud) etc.
Every year on December 3, tall promises are made on account of it being the World Disability Day, but no one is ever punished for the regular cases of discrimination. The Constitution secures to the citizens including the disabled, a right of justice, liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship, equality of status and of opportunity, and for the promotion of fraternity. Article 15(1) enjoins on the Government not to discriminate against any citizen of India (including disabled) on the ground of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. Article 15 (2) States that no citizen (including the disabled) shall be subjected to any disability, liability, restriction or condition on any of the above grounds in the matter of their access to shops, public restaurants, hotels and places of public entertainment or in the use of wells, tanks, bathing ghats, roads and places of public resort maintained wholly or partly out of government funds or dedicated to the use of the general public. Women and children and those belonging to any socially and educationally backward classes or the Scheduled Castes & Tribes are not being given the benefit of special laws or special provisions made by the State. One could go enumerating various constitutional provisions which however in general are not ensured in daily life.
The UPA had introduced the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill in the Rajya Sabha in 2014. The Bill was supposed to replace the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 but had to be sent to the Parliamentary Standing Committee after several disabilities groups expressed concerns about various provisions. The committee gave its report on May 7, 2015. The Modi government must work sincerely to pass the law that views disability through the lens of rights and entitlements, not charity and goodwill (cf. Yogesh Vajpeyi, “Its Time Government Passed the Pending Bill to Give Equal Rights to the Disabled” The New Indian Express, 02nd January 2016. http://www.newindianexpress.com/magazine/voices/Its-Time-Government-Passed-the-Pending-Bill-to-Give-Equal-Rights-to-the-Disabled/2016/01/02/article3205259.ece)
Numerous Categories of Injustice and Exclusivity
One can go on citing so many different categories of injustice and exclusivity in the country: migrants, asylum seekers, political detainees, ethnic and religious minorities, elderly people, children, sexual minorities, people living with HIV and AIDS, etc. All excluded groups have certain experiences of pathos in common such as: poverty, marginalization, oppression, victimization, rejection and discrimination. These include experiences of violence, physical, psychological and emotional suffering, demonization, humiliation, rejection, the experience of being made to feel that oppression is the result of personal or inherited sin, a religiosity that is considered liberal, and the experience of having their voices silenced in oppression.
The need to foster solidarity among excluded people as they struggle to dismantle structures and cultures that exclude and deny, and as they strive to realize the vision of more just and inclusive communities, is a gospel imperative. A 2009 Theological Roundtable on Churches’ Response to Human Sexuality jointly organized by the National Council of Churches in India and other Indian Christian bodies in Kolkota on 5th – 6th Dec. 2009 sent this Message to the Indian Christian Communities:
We believe that the Church as ‘Just and Inclusive Community’ is called to become a community without walls, to reach out to people who are stigmatized and demonized, and be a listening community to understand their pains, desires, and hopes.
We envision Church as a sanctuary to the ostracized who thirst for understanding, friendship, love, compassion and solidarity, and to join in their struggles to live out their God given lives.
As indicated in the quote above, the excluded people also have experiences of hope–in the form of resistance, celebration, solidarity and a vision of a new society. It is these experiences of hope that inform this exercise of discerning the directions for the pursuit of just and inclusive communities. We have to move towards articulating the contours of a theology from within the church, from a legitimate part of the church who are excluded within and who yearn for its transformation so that the church is able to hold itself forth as a sign, as an alternative to the unjust, discriminatory and oppressive world and its institutions.
Theological Perspectives on Justice and Inclusivity
The commitment to justice and inclusivity draws its mandate from the message of God in the Bible.
God stands for Inclusion
The very act of creation bears witness to the God of loving creative inclusion. The world God creates is marvellously varied, with thousands of different flowers and leaves, stars and planets, mountains and meadows, fish and fowl. God loves diversity. Variety and differences are not to be rejected but to be celebrated. As God’s image bearers, all human beings without exception are endowed with dignity and share in responsible nurture of all creation. As God blesses them with fruitfulness, all their descendants without any exception also share equally in this dignity and stewardship. Human beings also image God in their capacity for loving relationships with God and with one another on the principles of justice and peace. All physical, gender, generational, racial, cultural, intellectual, talents, skills and other diversities should be cause for celebration and joy, for complementarity, deep communion and mutual edification. Diversity is enriching; it releases creative energies that in turn increase diversity. Such diversity should be maintained and enhanced through just, loving inclusive relationships.
As Paul puts it, there is “one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all and in all.”(Eph.4:6). This Creator God loves all without any discrimination (cf. Matt. 5:44-45). And so we are called to love God and neighbour, indeed all creation (cf. Mk.12: 29-31). So also the eschatological vision of God in Christ as Paul declares is: “He has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”(Eph.1:9-10)
Exclusion is Sin!
This is “where sin comes into the discourse as it causes and justifies rupture of relationships – between persons and with creation. In other words, actions – words and gestures, of exclusion are to be seen as sin. Since these patterns of human behaviour emanate from and find legitimacy in institutions, be they civil or religious, the systemic / structural nature of sin also needs to be recognised. This is important because many actions of exclusion tend to find fault with those who are excluded than with the ethos – of structures, culture, norms, beliefs, superstitions, etc., which creates the space for such.” (cf. WCC Report of the Theological Consultation on Just and Inclusive Communities, La Paz, April 29-May 3, 2007,
The La Paz Report observes: “There are a variety of ways in which the value of the human being is conceived. For example, dominant philosophical notions emphasise on the human ability to think and rationalise – ‘I think therefore I am’. The Protestant work ethic suggests a person’s humanity and worth in his/her capacity to work. In some contexts, such as that of the Dalit community, one’s status determined by birth/descent, defines one’s worth as a human being. People with disabilities, among others, are often told that they are disabled because of either personal or inherited sin. Women and children are perceived to be weak, inferior or dependant and therefore discriminated or abused. On account of these notions, the dehumanisation, experiences of violence and abuse of the disempowered sections are either ignored or legitimised.”
The Church is also guilty of practicing injustice and exclusion. “In reality, however, mission, money and political power are strategic partners. Although our theological and missiological talk says a lot about the mission of the church being in solidarity with the poor, sometimes in practice it is much more concerned with being in the centres of power, eating with the rich and lobbying for money to maintain ecclesial bureaucracy. This poses particular challenges to reflect on what is the good news for people who are privileged and powerful.” (cf. Together towards Life: mission and evangelism in changing landscapes: a new WCC Affirmation on Mission and Evangelism, para 49)
The above mentioned document, Together towards Life, critically observes:
The dominant expressions of mission, in the past and today, have often been directed at people on the margins of societies. These have generally viewed those on the margins as recipients and not active agents of missionary activity. Mission expressed in this way has too often been complicit with oppressive and life-denying systems. It has generally aligned with the privileges of the centre and largely failed to challenge economic, social, cultural and political systems which have marginalized some peoples. Mission from the centre is motivated by an attitude of paternalism and a superiority complex. Historically, this has equated Christianity with Western culture and resulted in adverse consequences, including the denial of the full personhood of the victims of such marginalization. (para 41)
A major common concern of people from the margins is the failure of societies, cultures, civilizations, nations and even churches to honour the dignity and worth of all persons. Injustice is at the roots of the inequalities that give rise to marginalization and oppression. God’s desire for justice is inextricably linked to God’s nature and sovereignty: “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords….who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who also loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:17-18). All missional activity must, therefore, safeguard the sacred worth of every human being and of the earth (cf. Isaiah 58). (para 42)
Justice and inclusivity: God’s Mission in Christ
The document, Together towards Life goes on to declare:
“The affirmation of God’s mission (missio Dei) points to the belief in God as One who acts in history and in creation, in concrete realities of time and contexts, who seeks the fullness of life for the whole earth through justice, peace and reconciliation. Participation in God’s ongoing work of liberation and reconciliation by the Holy Spirit, therefore, includes discerning and unmasking the demons that exploit and enslave. For example, this involves deconstructing patriarchal ideologies, upholding the right to self-determination for Indigenous peoples, and challenging the social embeddedness of racism and casteism.” (para 43)
“Participation in God’s mission follows the way of Jesus, who came to serve, not to be served (Mark 10:45); who tears down the mighty and powerful and exalts the lowly (Luke 1:46-55); and whose love is characterized by mutuality, reciprocity and interdependence. It, therefore, requires a commitment to struggle and resist the powers that obstruct the fullness of life that God wills for all, and a willingness to work with all people involved in movements and initiatives committed to the causes of justice, dignity and life.”(para 45).
We are thus challenged, as the la Paz document puts it, to “formulate Christologies based on concrete experiences of exclusion, emphasizing the broken Jesus on the cross and the Christ who articulates and integrates the broken creation in the resurrection. This may include using language which speaks of a Jesus, the sinless and incarnated son of God, who takes upon himself the identities of those who are exploited and excluded, such as those with disabilities, of colour, of despised caste identities, of the marginalised Indigenous Peoples, abused women and children, the aged, those of different sexual orientation, etc., in order to expose the life-denying tendencies of certain cultures and structures that govern human relationships. Such a pluralistic understanding of Christ enables the church – the body of Christ to be an inclusive community.”
The document, Together towards Life asserts:
“The good news of God’s reign is about the promise of the actualization of a just and inclusive world. Inclusivity fosters just relationships in the community of humanity and creation, with mutual acknowledgement of persons and creation, and mutual respect and sustenance of each one’s sacred worth. It also facilitates each one’s full participation in the life of the community. Baptism in Christ implies a lifelong commitment to give an account of this hope by overcoming the barriers in order to find a common identity under the sovereignty of God (Galatians 3:27-28). Therefore, discrimination of all types against any human being is unacceptable in the sight of God.” (para 46)
“Jesus promises that the last shall be first (Matthew 20:16). To the extent that the church practises radical hospitality to the estranged in society, it demonstrates commitment to embodying the values of the reign of God (Isaiah 58:6). To the extent that it denounces self-centredness as a way of life, it makes space for the reign of God to permeate human existence. To the extent that it renounces violence in its physical, psychological and spiritual manifestations both in personal interactions and in the economic, political, social systems, it testifies to the reign of God at work in the world.” (para 47)
In our inclusivistic commitment particularly in our affirmative action for those on the margins, Paul’s analogy of the human body is very motivational: But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it. (I Cor. 12: 22-26)
So also are the words of Jesus widen out understanding of who is a Christian: “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ (Matthew 25: 34 -36)
The La Paz document however strikes a note of caution:
“The theological vision of inclusivity does not present the need of excluded peoples being included into existing structures and practices. Rather, inclusion is here defined as the realisation of communities in which those who exclude and are excluded, oppress and are oppressed move towards each other in love and compassion so that both are transformed through an encounter with one another and create new communities which are truly just and inclusive.”
The Groanings for Just and Inclusive Communities
The word, ‘Groaning’ has two important implications: The first one is suffering, thereby signifying the injustices and violence in the world. This has been quite evident in the world around us. The second one is the pangs of giving birth thereby signifying hope. It is to this second implication that we now turn.
As the La Paz document puts it,
“Excluded people believe that resistance to injustice, exclusion, discrimination and derision – through affirmations, attitudes and actions, is also a valid form of spirituality. Resistance may take the form of either subversive action in opposition to powers that oppress as well as celebration of life in spite of the oppressors.
“The spirituality of excluded people resists and condemns the systemic / structured sins of exclusion and depravation – of racism, casteism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, patriarchy, homophobia, xenophobia, suppression of indigenous groups, marginalization of people with disabilities, and materialism that dehumanises people and destroys the creation. Such resistance is not based on the objective conditions of oppression but also on the eschatological hope through which excluded communities have imagined a new creation of just and inclusive structures and communities within which all humanity have a place to be and to flourish: ‘I came that they may have life and have it abundantly’ (John 10.10).
“Grace is understood as the experience of God’s love that inspires, directs and empowers the excluded communities to envision, work towards and experience individual and social transformation. There is life, new possibilities for life, for transformation of both the offended and the offender in spirituality that is grounded in resistance to life negation.”
India has been experiencing these groans of reformation, revolution and transformation since the past 50 years. Since the mid-1970s India has experienced women’s movements, environmental movements like Chipko (hugging the tree), Save Silent Valley Movement, Jungle Bachao Andolan (‘Save the Forests’ Movement), movements against big dams (Narmada Bachaao Andolon), regional autonomy (separate statehood within Indian Union) movements like the Telangana, Vidarbha, Gorkhaland, Uttaranchal, Jharkhand, Bodoland movements, movements for the assertions of caste identity like the Dalit Panther Party , Namantar Andolan, Bahujan Samaj Party, Pro-Mandal Commission Movements (movements in favor of reservations for the socially and economically backward classes in government jobs and in education), and the radical Maoist movements since mid-1980s in the agriculturally backwards parts of the country. In recent years, movements against big hydro and thermal projects and dams, movements against nuclear and defense projects (e.g. Anti-Missiles Base movement in Baliapal Bhograi, Odisha, Anti-Nuclear Power Project in Haripur, West Bengal, movement against Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project in Maharashtra. POSCO project in Odisha, etc.), Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption, Movement for Right to Information, Movements of agriculturalists’ against land acquisition, civil liberty and human rights, gay rights, children’s rights, and numerous localized social movements for employment, livelihood security of the poor, safety and dignity of women, tribes, dalits, low castes, religious minority groups, and movements for ensuring the secular democratic character of the country, have surfaced in many parts of the country.
Had Jesus lived in India and initiated a movement for reform in the country his “Nazareth Manifesto” as found in Luke 4:18-19, he might have been articulated it thus:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me and I have been anointed to proclaim
good news to the poor, afflicted by globalization-financialization;
release to prisoners, falsely implicated as “anti-national”;
recovery of health and dignity to the disabled, persons infected and affected by HIV and
AIDS, and the sexually stigmatized;
to set at liberty those who are oppressed: the dalits, the tribals, women, youth and children;
to proclaim God’s jubilee year of justice, love and inclusivity.
Rev. Dr. Roger Gaikwad
National Council of Churches in India