05/10/2021, 13.19
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Msgr. Menamparampil: 'The ideology of the Modi government at the root of the Covid disaster'

by Giorgio Bernardelli

The archbishop emeritus of Guwahati speaks about the tragedy of the pandemic in his country: "They did not listen to the expert’s alarms: their political agenda took precedence over the protection of the people. Will the premier at least have the courage to apologise?".

Guwahati (AsiaNews) - Coronavirus in India is the tragedy of a country "which was too committed to its myths to listen to the alarms of experts". And now will Prime Minister Modi "at least have the courage to apologize?," wonders Archbishop emeritus of Guwahati, Msgr. Thomas Menamparampil.

The prelate, one of the most authoritative voices of the Indian episcopate, answered some questions sent by AsiaNews, offering his thoughts on the pandemic that relentlessly continues to claim thousands of deaths every day in the country.

The 84 years old Salesian was, until 2012, the archbishop of Guwahati, the capital of the north-eastern state of Assam. In 2009 - after the persecutions against Christians in the State of Orissa - Benedict XVI entrusted him with the drafting of the meditations for the Via Crucis at the Colosseum.

Archbishop Menamparampil, what do you feel in front of the images of the struggle for survival in India that the whole world is seeing?

The alarming reports about the Covid-19 situation in India that have reached out to the rest of the world is really true. What we learn within the country from official sources is greatly controlled. Some sections of the social media may be exaggerating in their reports. So we need to be careful. However, the actual situation is tragic beyond description. Patients have been struggling both for a bed in hospitals and for oxygen in hospitals themselves. Many remain in verandahs, courtyards, entrance spaces. It is heartbreaking!

What is the situation in Guwahati, your city?

Here in Assam the situation is far better than other places in India; may be, because our people have greater resistance to the virus or because this region is relatively isolated from the rest of the country.  I have been moving round to the villages and offering masses and other services. Nevertheless, we too need to be careful having lost a few priests and sisters, and several thousands of people in addition. We are helping patients in our hospitals. Meantime, people working elsewhere are coming back, bringing the virus this side as well. But our situation is far better than what we hear about other places.

What is striking is the contrast between the image of India that Prime Minister Modi has spread internationally in recent years and the real situation in the country. Why this gap?

The way the Administration has handled the pandemic has been most distressing. They did not listen to the warnings of experts. Their political agenda had priority over protection of people from Coronavirus. The most painful fact in India today is that the official machinery has been busy dragging society into an imaginary world of Self-Importance. They propagate myths of ancient grandiosities based on a legendary past. There are opportunists who accommodate to these erratic ventures to please the policy-makers, though they actually give the least importance to these idle tales. The true greatness of India based on genuine history is damaged in the process. As of now, all official reports from India have lost their “credibility” before World agencies, even in areas of economic performance, growth statistics, health care accounts, realized plans, or projections for the future. 


Even in the pandemic, is the Modi government trying to silence those who criticize, as it did with Father Stan Swamy, the 84-year-old Jesuit in prison for more than six months for defending the rights of the poor?

Yes, that's right. Critics are hastily accused of “sedition”. The saving feature of Fr. Stan Swamy’s case is that there is an enormous amount of public sympathy for him and admiration for the work he and his colleagues have done for the tribal poor. More and more people believe that tribal land ought to be protected. The way his case has been handled has been truly humiliating for India. However, there have been some changes in the Judiciary of late, we hope things will turn for the better.

In such a dark situation, what can the Indian Catholic Church do today?

As a micro-minority, we Christians need to be careful how to deal with the situation. The question is not one of immediate change of government. The majoritarian attitude that has been cultivated and fostered is not likely to change too much in the future as well, no matter which person or which party is going to be in power. We need to learn to dialogue with the majority community and work towards reasonableness and a fair deal, while placing official policies on the scale for discussion and submitting issues to debate, and exposing decisions that can turn disastrous for the whole society. This is not going to be easy. We will have to join hands with all “people of good will” in this effort. But we are optimistic. Indian society as a whole is open-minded. As for a few opportunists and radicals, they are to be found in every society.

Will India Change After This Pandemic? And what changes do you hope for?

With our people’s excessive belief in karma (fatalism), I am afraid, society will take this tragedy as a transitory disaster, which they have to get over and forget. I am not expecting any conspicuous changes. But I hope that the Government will decide to spend a greater share of the GDP on health. Unfortunately, some of the states that have been hit badly by Covid-19 have a record of malnutrition especially of women, poor hygiene, inadequate diet, high infant mortality, medical neglect, etc. These deficiencies have to be remedied. In these endeavours, the Church is ever ready to help. We would be happy if at least the “arrogant” attitude of the present ruling team can be softened by realism and if they decide to put aside some of their unscientific and obscurantist ideas and prejudices. Boris Johnson and even Bolsanaro apologized to their nation for not taking Covid-19 seriously at the beginning. I will be happy if Modi does the same. Will he?


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