For Jesuit activist, India is still ruled by tyrants after 70 years of independence

Fr Cedrik Prakash, who works for the Refugee Service in Lebanon, speaks on the 70th anniversary of India’s independence. The country has fallen into the hands of Hindu nationalists, and religious minorities, the education system, and freedom of expression are its victims. He cites the poem ‘Where the Mind does not Fear’.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Seventy years after independence, achieved at the stroke of midnight on 15 August 1947, India still needs to be awakened, this according to Fr Cedric Prakash SJ, an Indian priest working for the Jesuit Refugee Service in Lebanon.

Speaking to AsiaNews on the anniversary of the native country’s independence, he noted that “Exactly seventy years ago, it was freedom at midnight for millions of Indians, as the country made her tryst with destiny and awoke to a new dawn!”

Since then, “India has certainly made rapid strides in several fields these past years (thanks to our freedom fighters, the members of the Constituent Assembly and many others); however, if one looks back at various happenings in the country, one cannot help but conclude that as a nation, even at the ‘mature’ age of seventy, we still have to awake!”

In fact, “In recent weeks, we have witnessed several glaring examples of how corruption, communalism, casteism and criminalization of politics have seized the nation with a stranglehold.”

He cites some events, like the elections for the Rajya Sabha and the state of Gujarat, which were marred by corruption. He also expresses concern over the election of the new president and vice president, both from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

He notes the sad case of the deaths of almost 80 children in a hospital in Uttar Pradesh, killed when they were no longer given oxygen.

“All this and more, as efforts are made to plunge the country into abysmal depths,” he says.

Fr Prakash remembers that the 75th anniversary of the ‘Quit India Movement’, marked by the "selfless sacrifices of Mahatma Gandhi and other fighters of liberty" that led the Union to gain independence from British rule in 1947. The Rashtriya Swayhamevak Sangh, who refused to take part in the struggle back then, now “take[s] credit” for it.

Enshrined in constitution’s preamble “are the core values of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity whilst simultaneously guaranteeing the sovereignty, the secular and socialist nature of the country.

“Thanks to the visionary leadership of Dr B Ambedkar, this was ‘the idea of India’: which like a beautiful tapestry would preserve, protect and promote pluralism and respect the rights and freedom of every citizen.”

However, “The country today is a far cry from what is envisaged in the Constitution. The rulers today seem to have no qualms of conscience in destroying democratic values.”

The most striking example is the situation of religious minorities, Christians and Muslims. In recent months, a Christian clergyman has been killed in Punjab, cemeteries and churches have been vandalised in Goa, young Muslims have been lynched guilty of carrying or eating beef because cows are sacred to Hindus, an anti-conversion law was approved in Jharkhand that imposed up to three years in jail and/or a fine of 100,000 rupees (US$ 1,600) for offenders.

“The list is endless,” Fr Prakash writes, and “minorities in India have never had it so bad!”

Even though religious freedom is sanctioned by Article 25 of the Constitution, it has been in rapid decline in recent years.

According to the priest, this has been especially true since Narendra Modi, the former chief minister of Gujarat, became prime minister in 2014. His ideology is in sharp contrast with constitutional principles.

This is confirmed by Deepak Dhavlikar, a former Goa minister who said “I am confident that under the leadership of Modiji, India will develop into a Hindu nation.”

The first victim, according to the activist, is the educational system. Defamatory statements against Christianity in the textbooks of various states and the obligation to practice yoga and sing Hindu hymns in schools are some examples.

The goal is to “sanskritise” education and limit freedom of expression and speech. “Anybody who thinks, speaks and acts differently is bound to be hounded, harassed and victimised. False cases are foisted on them; raids by vindictive Government agencies make life difficult for those who have the courage to stand up and speak out!

To awaken from the tyrannical torpor in which India has fallen and return to the path of rights and democracy, Fr Prakash turns to a poem by Rabindranath Tagore, Nobel Prize of Literature in 1913, titled Where the Mind does not Fear:

Where the mind is without fear

and the head is held high;

Where knowledge is free;

Where the world has not been broken up

into fragments by narrow domestic walls;

Where words come out from the depth of truth;

Where tireless striving stretches its arms toward perfection;

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way

into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;

Where the mind is led forward by Thee

into ever-widening thought and action —

Into that heaven of freedom,

my Father, let my country awake.