A Gujarat Jesuit looks towards 2020
Through the lens of Human Rights and Justice.
This Presentation was made at the Gujarat Province Days with the theme ‘TOWARDS TWENTY – TWENTY’ held at Rosary School, Baroda on 27th April, 2012
It is good to be here! I want to thank Fr. Ashok Vaghela and the organizing team of our Province Days for inviting me to share my insights as to what we should do in order to better prepare ourselves to actualize the dreams for 2020, in the context of the reality we live in, and through the lens of Human Rights and Justice.
At the outset, it is important for me to share with you in brief a personal journey which has its source in the charism in the Society of Jesus. Our charism, we all know, is a product which springs forth from many different dimensions of our Society’s growth: the vision of our founder, his personal journey, the spiritual exercises, the Constitutions, the General Congregations over the years, etc.
I was born into the Society of Jesus in 1974, the year GC 32 began. As a novice first, and later on as a junior, perhaps the single most “Jesuit dimension” that fired my spirit and imagination was Decree 4 ‘Our Mission Today:
The Service of Faith and Promotion of Justice’ which while reemphasizing the charism of the Society of Jesus called for new responses to the various challenges which the world faced; this response, reiterated GC 32, has ‘to be total, corporate, rooted in faith and experience and multi-form’. Decree 4 makes no bones about what Jesuit mission is all about and how it should adapt itself to changing times and through relevant responses.
GC 34 went a step ahead and in Decree 2 ‘Servants of Christ’s Mission’ directed that, “More recently we have become increasingly aware of other dimensions of this struggle of justice.
Respect for the dignity of the human person created in the image of God underlies the growing international consciousness of the full range of human rights.” The promotion of justice signifies a call for the Society to insert ourselves even more profoundly in the concrete lives of peoples and nations – as they actually are and not as we think they ought to be.” (# 73)
Finally, GC 35, in the key Decree 2, ‘A fire that kindles other fires’, states “The service of faith and the promotion of justice, indissolubly united, remain at the heart of our mission” (# 15), and in Decree 3, ‘Challenges to our Mission Today’ emphatically describes the mission of Jesus saying, “he spoke to the powerful, challenging them to a change of heart. He showed special love for the sinner, the poor widow, and the lost sheep.
The kingdom of God, which he constantly preached, became a vision for a world where all relationships are reconciled in God. Jesus confronted the powers that oppose this kingdom, and that opposition led him to death on the cross, a death which he freely accepted in keeping with his mission.” ( # 14)
As Jesuits, none of us should ever doubt the fact that the promotion of human rights and justice is a non-negotiable and integral dimension of our Jesuit charism, even as our mission today beckons to new frontiers.
Having positioned ourselves in the directives and the thrust given to us by our last General Congregations, it is important for us to look at the reality of Gujarat today.
There is no doubt, that Gujarat, as a people and as a State, has made rapid strides in many fields over the past many years. An outsider to the State is always “charmed” by the good roads, the apparent prosperity in the cities reflected in the shopping malls and the high-rise buildings that catch one’s attention; that electricity is “available” almost round the clock. (no one highlights the fact that electricity per unit in Gujarat is the highest in the country. And of course, only the urban areas and the rich rural areas are beneficiaries to this).
Then again, people often speak of the premier institutions (like the IIM, NID, PRL, etc), the Expressways, the BRTS line of Ahmedabad etc – but these in fact are national or autonomous units / initiatives which have nothing to do with the State.
Besides, if we just spend sometime, we would realise that plenty that is being flaunted about the so-called progress and prosperity of the State is merely due to a propaganda blitz – through ‘paid media’ and through a Washington based publicist company ‘Apco Worldwide’ which boasts among its clients several dictators and fascist regimes from across the world. The dictum is Goebbelsian, ‘tell a lie a thousand times and people will believe it is the truth!’ But scratch the surface a bit, and we find a reality which will make one grimace and even struggle for breath!
• adivasis, dalits and other sub-alterns are denied basic human rights
• Muslims and Christians are treated as second-class citizens – many of them do not have access to quality education, good employment and other basic amenities needed for a citizen
• salt-pan workers in the Kutch area have to travel 15 to 20 kms away to get potable drinking water
• the clear nexus between Government and some of the corporate sectors raises serious issues with regard to land acquisition, displacement, tax-payer’s money being used for the purpose of industries, etc.
• thousands of fishermen all along the coast have lost their livelihood because of certain ports and other mega-projects
• a Government of Gujarat profile of 18,066 villages of the State has revealed that a significant percentage of the villages of the State do not have potable drinking water, toilets or educational facilities
• Gujarat ranks a poor 12th in the country in issuing forest land to the tribals
• the Sabarmati River “is one of the most toxic rivers” in the country
• the Freedom of Religion Act, 2003 is one of the most draconian laws in the country
• freedom of speech and expression is consistently and subtly attacked in this State
• sex ratio has dipped to a new low with just 918 females to a 1,000 males as against the national average of 940 (female foeticide is rampant)
• child labour is rampant in Gujarat with thousands working in the cotton fields of Sabarkantha, the brick-kilns, in the ‘kitlis’, and in several other areas of the unorganized sector
• Hunger and malnutrition (are) worse in Gujarat. Almost 45 percent of children in Gujarat are malnourished. A larger percentage of children go to bed hungry.
• In terms of infant and maternal mortality, Gujarat’s record is poorer than other states
• Gujarat ranks 18th among all Indian states in terms of literacy.
The list is endless indeed, and one can go on listing the many human rights violations and injustices which abound in the State of Gujarat, which is home to us Jesuits!
Challenges: There is no doubt, that the Society of Jesus in Gujarat has done outstanding and pioneering work in every possible field, particularly for the poor and marginalized here. Some of our great visionaries and pioneers are here with us today. For their painstaking efforts, ‘for giving and not counting the cost’, we all need to be profoundly grateful to them. Personally, I salute them!
However, as Companions of Jesus, we need to be greatly troubled by the reality which is the lot of our people today. We need to be challenged by this reality. We need to revisit the mandate each one of us has been given and see how best we can actualize our dreams for 2020…..through a collective vision and concerted action.
In the context of the Gujarat reality, we definitely could / should be doing several things; among them:
• to ensure a paradigm shift in our mission (we need to immediately get out of the benefactor / welfare approach and start accompanying the people in their quest for human rights, justice and a more dignified life)
• to make our mission truly encompassing and inclusive, with a faith-justice mandate being the overriding factor in every ministry
• to prepare ‘men for and of the magis’ demanding that from the very start of their formation, they immerse themselves in the real issues of the ordinary people of Gujarat
• to establish centres of excellence which will engage in serious reflection and research, produce relevant literature on major social issues, hold public debates, engage in Advocacy on the pressing issues of our times and be open for all men and women of goodwill
• to mainstream Human Rights Education in all our schools, very particularly from Standards VI to VIII
• to promote human values among all sections of society: a lifestyle which is simple; a clear definite stand against consumerism, corruption, the criminalization of society, communalism and casteism
• to be sensitive about the persons we identify with; very particularly in inviting dubious persons as Chief Guests / Guests of Honour to our institutions, or being co-opted by them for the sake of privileges, favours or petty gifts
• to take a stand against communal fascist and divisive forces who divide society, particularly on grounds of religion, caste and class
• to collaborate more effectively and meaningfully with other religious (particularly Sisters), the laity and others, on human rights issues – (as JESA is currently doing with regard to Right to Food Campaign); to trust and empower our laity much more.
• to keep our doors / gates of our institutions more and more open to other men and women of goodwill, invite them and join them in our common quest for a more just and humane Gujarat
• to engage with people’s movements of our times even at the risk of losing the goodwill we might have generated from among the rich, powerful and influential of society
• to never fear taking a stand against powerful vested interests (whoever they are) even if it means losing (some of our material, ‘rights and privileges’)
• to get out-of-our-boxes; the security of our ‘comfort zones’
• to play a PROPHETIC role in Gujarat today
Conclusion: Finally, the defining quality of St. Ignatius of Loyola is that he always took a stand and wanted his companions (WE- each one of us) to take a stand, whether it be in the Kingdom Contemplation or on the meditation of the Two Standards. (St. Ignatius never wanted compromises or half-hearted measures); ‘mediocrity’, he was convinced, had no place in the formation or in the life of a Jesuit.
• As Society of Jesus in Gujarat, what are the choices as we move towards 2020? It is clear, that we have to take a stand on the growing and glaring injustices and human rights violations that are all around us. We need to respond to the cries of our people. We need to be like Ignatius, men of VISION…. more VISIBLE and more VOCAL in taking sides with the poor, the marginalized and other vulnerable communities of our State.
• Some may say that there are other avenues, other possibilities of actualizing our dreams. There is no argument about that but let’s ask ourselves first, if we have the courage to sit, in humility, on the ass of St. Ignatius and allow the Lord’s Spirit to lead us towards a more meaningful 2020?
Thank you very much!
(*Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace)
Source: Fr. Cedric Prakash sj