The diversity in India. The two sides of the coin to construct Peace and Reconciliation
George Kannantanam cmf
President of The Sumanahalli Society
The Context of India
What is the best in India? For Kolkatta, the capital of the West Bengal State of India, the biggest celebration is Durga Puja. This Hindu festival week-long-long celebration in the first week of October. Every grapple sets up a makeshift tent, installs the idols and pictures of goddess Dwhicha and is visited by everyone neighborhood. This year’s biggest attraction is the tent created by artisans at Sreebhumi Sporting club in Lake Town, wherein they recreated the architectural splendor of St Peter’sPeter’sca. It was built in three months within 54 feet wide and 65 feet tall structure. I was surprised that they retained most of the paintings connected to Christian traditions with only the Durga in the middle. A Hindu goddess in a Church. It is a temple inside a church. There is a huge rush to see the place, and people come to pray here.
What is the worst in India? Two days ago, on the 28th of September, the Government of India banned the Popular Front of India (PFI) and its associates as an unlawful association. There have been several instances of international linkages of PFI with global terrorist groups, and they have been working covertly to increase the radicalization of one community by promoting a sense of insecurity in the country. As a result, hundreds were arrested in the nationwide crackdown. PFI is just one of the many radical groups in India which threaten its existence as a democratic and secular country.
All this is happening in the 75th year of the Independence of India. We celebrated Independence Day on the 15th of August with the beautiful name, Azad ka Amrit, meaning ‘the elixir of the energy of independence. The ‘government is celebrating it with a series of events. I was wondering whether there was anything to celebrate. This made me take a closer look at what India was in 1947 and what it is today.
Changes along the time in India
The life expectancy of the people of India in 1947 was just 32 years. Only 18% of the population were literate, with just 8% of women. India had just 50,000 doctors. But a person born today in India can expect to live for 70 years. India now has 1.3 million doctors, serving practically every country globally. We have achieved a literacy level of 78%, with women having accomplished 70%. This is even though we moved from a country of 320 million people to a nation of 1420 million people, making it the most populous country in the world and pushing China to second place. It is the seventh-largest country by area, the most populous country, and the most populous democracy in the world.
The most spectacular development has been on the economic front. It is the world’s largest economy by nominal GDP and the third-largest by purchasing power parity (PPP). The 1992 budget opened the Indian economy to the global market bringing a new life to the economy. India had166 billionaires and 700,000 dollar- millionaires by 2020.
The economy is growing at 7.3%, while many economies are struggling. However, the growth in higher education, agriculture, and medical sectors has been spectacular. We supplied vaccines to over 100 countries during COVID. India has provided nurses, teachers, and of course, religious too for many counties worldwide.
India: a country full of the diversity
India is probably the country with the widest pluralities in the whole world. India has the most languages, officially 22, but over 700 languages are spoken. Many world religions originated here, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism, while we have a sizeable number of people from every religion living in the country. The rare phenomenon of caste, with 3000 castes and 25,000 subcastes, divides society into numerous subgroups. No other country has so much ethnic, linguistic, religious, and cultural diversity. It is a miracle that India stayed together as one sovereign socialist democratic republic for 75 years despite such diversities. This is the most important reason to celebrate.
It is also a time for introspection and evaluation. India is a mixture of the best and the worst. This applies to richness and poverty as well as tolerance and fundamentalism. While India produced the third richest man in the world a few weeks ago, Mr. Adani, India moved up the ladder with the most people living in hunger, almost 300 million as per official statistics and probably many more in real terms. India has the most significant number of people with disabilities, including leprosy, tuberculosis, and HIV. There have been tremendous initiatives to provide the lower socio-economic groups with toilets, medical insurance, ration, free gas, and so on for the poor. But they have not been able to create the expected changes due to failures in implementation.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which came to power in 2014, continues to rule India for a second five-year term. BJP is a Hindu Nationalist party with Rashtriya Swayamseva Sangh (RSS) as its idealogue. They fan Hindu nationalism for their political gains, thus creating a rather difficult time for the other minorities, including Christians, who are just 2.3% of the population. Being a minuscule group in most States, the majority party and religion do not bother much about the Christian votes, making Christians a politically non-significant group. While India has been able to retain the pillars of democracy, the legislature, the judiciary, and the executive, in relatively good health, the fourth pillar, the media, has recently been very partisan and under the control of the corporates, a phenomenon seen of course, in other parts of the world as well.
The Catholic Church and Claretian Missionaries’ actions
Church in India has contributed to the health and education of this big nation with a vast population living in poverty, unemployment, and illiteracy. Missionaries from England, Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, and others worked in various pockets of India creating institutions of merit that developed into premier centers for education and health in modern India. As a result, the Christian community in India has 11 medical colleges, 600 hospitals with 80,000 beds, 3000 social and health centers, and 55,000 schools.
Claretinas had a swift development in just 55 years of history in India, with more than 500 members and five Major Organisms. We work in most of the country’s 36 States and Union Territories. We are involved with all areas of ministries, from running parishes to schools with committed interventions for the peripheries with various social ministries. Our involvement with the tribals, the destitute, and those with disabilities and terminal illnesses like leprosy and HIV /TB are efforts to bring Jesus’s love to the last, the least, and the lost in society.
There is a need to move to a more rights-based approach and network with the larger organizations involved in social change. Claretians need to adopt the movement approach in social involvement rather than just maintaining institutions. We must be prepared to deal with disasters that have become a regular aspect of life in various parts of the country.
I have been involved with various social issues for three decades. I have not experienced difficulty working in multi-religious, multi-cultural, or multi-linguistic scenarios. Many of my partners in the mission for the poor are people from other religions and languages. They are glad to accept our leadership roles and willing to journey with us as collaborators for social interventions. Most of our resources are provided by people of other faith and culture. Our inmates look up to us as a Father, sometimes as their God. Recently a former inmate of the Sumanahalli leprosy center, where I work now, returned after five years and said, “In my “village, there are many temples, but I could not find God there. In Sumanahalli, there is no temple, but I can feel God here.”
As “Claretians, our commitment is to do what is urgent, timely, and effective. By this standard, there are too many things to be done in India. CMF must be very picky in our investment of resources, both personnel, and material. Our commitment to the peripheries has to be the primary concern. The challenge of present-day Claretian is to grow out of one’s none’s confines of language and state and caste to be reborn to become a true Indian. The call is to incarnate oneself to one of those groups of people who struggle for their survival in the country, giving them love, light, and life.