I write this piece in a spirit of sincere and respectful dialogue. I am genuinely moved by the generous words of admiration and appreciation Jaitirth Rao has written with regard to the Jesuits he knew in his student days, and by the repeated expressions of loyalty to his alma mater. Therefore, let me approach his article titled “Marxist Jesuits are not for tribal welfare. India and Indian Catholics both must realise that”, published in ThePrint on 15 July 2021, by considering him not as a determined adversary but as a mistaken dialogue partner.
For now, I ignore several gross generalisations, unsubstantiated claims and unfounded allegations that Mr Rao makes regarding Indian Christians, Catholics, Jesuits, priests, liberation theologians and theologies. I even overlook the desperate attempts to link the terms ‘Christian’, ‘Jesuit’ and ‘Marxist’ as if they are synonyms. Let me refrain from commenting on the rather vicious and vile branding techniques that are so glaring throughout the commentary. Of late, this has become a familiar game of the votaries of the majoritarian autocracy, intent on enabling and empowering the corporates to maximise their profits by defrauding and depriving the tribals of their jal, jungle and zameen, which, unfortunately for them, sit on huge reservoirs of rare minerals and expensive ores.
“Give the dog a bad name and hang him” is the obvious ploy here. Mr Rao is not alone in this. It has been going on for a few years and has now reached gargantuan proportions. It is part of a carefully crafted and meticulously managed project. And, tragically, its latest and most illustrious trophy is Father Stan Swamy. Still, let me leave all this aside and focus instead on a singular issue of presenting the ‘larger picture’, which Mr Rao also claims to do.
The larger picture
The emergence of liberation theology in Latin America in the late 1960s, which saw its peak in the ’80s and early ’90s, needs to be seen in the context of those countries. A few oligarchies — a microscopic minority with the military and armed gangs at their disposal — monopolised the State economies while the vast masses of impoverished citizens were condemned to live in destitution. These hapless citizens were imprisoned, raped, tortured and massacred for raising their voices against the gross violation of human rights, terrible injustice and inhuman conditions in those countries. It is in such an intolerable situation that Christian theologians began to ask: Has God anything to say to His tormented children? Please note, God and not Marx!
Long before Karl Marx was born, there was another, much greater and more universally followed Prophet of human liberation: Jesus Christ. It was Jesus who said that He was sent “to give good news to the poor and to proclaim a time of liberation for the oppressed” (Gospel of Luke 4:18). It was Jesus who made justice, reconciliation and peace the essential criterion of being a Christian, when He declared that whenever someone gives bread to the hungry, a cup of water to the thirsty, clothes the naked, shelters the homeless, befriends the stranger and sets the prisoners free, it is as good as the deed having been done to Him (Gospel of Matthew 25:31f). Jesus identified Himself totally with the deprived, defrauded and discarded. It is this commitment to Christ that led liberation theologians like Gustavo Gutierrez and Jon Sobrino to study the Holy Scriptures for an answer. And the Holy Scriptures did give the answers, loud and clear.
The God of the Bible declares: “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So, I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians.” (Exodus 3:7-8). The truth that the deity does not look the other way when human beings suffer is found also in Bhagavad Gita (4:8): “To protect the righteous, to annihilate the wicked, and to re-establish the principles of dharma I appear on this earth, age after age.” Of course, some may object that these texts are cherry-picked according to the convenience of the theologians. However, such an objection may be resting on a genuine ignorance about the central ‘semantic axes’ of the religious texts in relation to which all other scriptural texts need to be understood, critiqued, and followed in practice.
Integral liberation advocated by the Bible is the core, sum and substance of liberation theology. And that, precisely, is the reason why, for the perpetrators of injustice who do not mind selling the poor for a pair of sandals (Book of prophet Amos 8:6), and for whom monetary profit has become god, liberation theology becomes a bitter pill to swallow. The point is not whether or what liberation theology has to do with Marxism, but what it has to say about injustice and inhumanity in the world.
Liberation theology unequivocally condemns all injustices, whether they are perpetrated by capitalism, liberalism, socialism or any other ‘–ism’. It is a blatant falsehood to say that liberation theology is inspired by Marxism. Its origins lie in the Bible. If Marxism, too, speaks in terms of justice, liberation, injustice, oppression, etc., it does not follow that Marxism has inspired liberation theology.
The worshippers of Mammon, of course, will be very happy if religion were restricted to some pious practices, platitudes and prayers such as Gregorian chants and Latin singing, as Mr. Rao seems to advocate. For then, they can go on a looting spree and their profits could sky-rocket unhindered. But that would not be the ‘dharma’ that the texts from the Bible and Bhagavad Gita would support. Both the Bible and the Gita reveal a God of compassion and mercy, yes, but also a God of justice and freedom.
If Jesuits, priests or anyone else from any religion has made justice and reconciliation the core of their philosophy, then that indeed is the greatest sign of their being truly God-fearing adherents; for God himself does not remain silent in the face of injustice, oppression, deceit and fraud. One doesn’t need to bring in Marxism or Maoism or Naxalism here unless, of course, they are being carefully guided by a hidden agenda of branding inconvenient defenders of human rights as Maoists or Naxals in order to justify their elimination. Justice and reconciliation among people of this earth is the divine concern and by that very fact should also be the human concern. It is certainly the core concern of every Christian, of the universal Church, and, therefore, of the Jesuit Order. No apologies for that whatsoever.
This is the larger framework within which the arrest and death of Father Stan Swamy and the undeserved sufferings of many others who are still languishing in jails for concerning themselves with justice need to be seen and evaluated. Why was Fr Stan Swamy arrested? Why was he repeatedly refused bail? Why did he die? Did he ever even once advocate any violence? Did he ever, even once, promote a violent overthrow of the State? Did he ever, even once, attend a Maoist or Naxal rally? He had never, even once in his long life, visited Bhima Koregaon. And yet, false accusations were piled on him and he was thrown into jail without a speedy trial. Why? Because he had become a painful thorn in the sides of an oppressive, unjust and cruel majoritarian autocracy and its crony corporates. That is why Father Stan Swamy had to die.
It pains me to see how easily one can brand a whole group of innocent, decent and dedicated persons in order to de-legitimise, disenfranchise and disqualify them, as Mr. Rao’s article does so cleverly and unscrupulously, appearing to be reasonable, sober and full of goodwill. It reminds me of Germany’s Nazi propaganda — Once you brand someone as ‘rats’, ‘pigs’, ‘vermin’, ‘pests’, ‘anti-nationals’ and ‘Communists’, they cease to be human beings. And when this vicious propaganda is repeated, again and again, the simple, gullible people become convinced of the veracity of such accusations. It is then that the branded lot can be treated as one wishes. One can conveniently close their ears to what those who have been de-humanised have to say; for they are robbed of their credibility. Then they are deprived of their freedom, their dignity and their very life. That is exactly what happened to Father Stan Swamy. But he is not alone.
Finally, the atrocious accusation of Jesuits or Catholics declaring a war against the Indian State and on the Hindu community reflects an age-old tactic of creating an ‘other’ that is deemed necessary to have a common threatening enemy for ‘us’, so that ‘we’ can all be tied together and fight the evil ‘other’. Where is the proof? Where is the evidence? Where are the names?
Fortunately, though, not all is lost. There are still many men and women who are objective, unbiased and independent in their thinking. They will affirm that even an iota of human sanity will testify that all the quality education imparted by the Jesuits and Christian institutions, all their work towards the social uplift of the downtrodden and in the health care sector for centuries and even now, can by no stretch of imagination be the cannonball to demolish the Indian State and the Hindu community. An ordinary Indian citizen, irrespective of his/her religion, knows it. One cannot fool all the people all the time. And, there is a God in heaven who sees clearly what terrible things are being done in this country and He will make sure that the present scourge will soon be lifted and we will be able to breathe free again.
Dr Joseph Lobo is a Jesuit priest, trainer and writer. Views are personal.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)