Pastoral brings to mind rolling hills, green meadows, scattered farms, standing crops, farms, sheep, fowl, horses, cow, smoke rising lazily from chimneys… and in the distance, the spires of a church. Peaceful. Idyllic. Pastoral.
Then comes a series of letters, and pastoral turns political. First, Archbishop of Delhi Anil Couto. He pens a pastoral letter. He speaks of “turbulent political atmosphere” in the country. He mentions the 2019 general elections. He brushes away criticism the letter targets the BJP, Modi!
Two weeks later, it’s Goa Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrao’s turn. The “Constitution” is in danger and human rights are being “trampled in the name of development”, he writes. As much as 26 percent of Goa is Christian. Archbishop Ferrao wants them to take interest in politics.
Ferrao cannot skirt the charge the church is butting into affairs political. “Today, our Constitution is in danger, reason why most people live in insecurity. In this context, particularly as the general elections are fast approaching, we must strive to know our Constitution better and work harder to protect it,” Ferrao writes in his pastoral letter.
The representative of the monotheistic religion goes on to warn his flock of the “new trend of mono-culturism emerging in the country” which “demands uniformity in what and how we eat, dress, live and even worship. Human rights are under attack and democracy appears to be in peril.”
‘Democracy in peril’ is a recurrent theme in all the pastoral letters so far written. It rhymes with words spoken by Rahul Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati, Sitaram Yechuri, Tejaswi Yadav, D Raja, and who else have you? Yes, Akhilesh Yadav and HD Kumaraswamy.
Actor-turned politician Kamal Haasan has voiced it but in Tamil. His erstwhile cohort Rajinikanth has not. But as far as the fate of his movie Kaala goes, he should be the one shouting “democracy is in peril”.
Ferrao says minorities are “living in fear for their safety” in India. “People are being uprooted from their land and homes in the name of development. The first victim of development is the poor person. It is easier to trample upon the rights of the poor because those who will raise their voice for them are very few.”
Couto and Ferrao live in different ecosystems. Delhi is not Goa. Whether the Constitution is getting trampled in Goa is not clear but Goa has a government, courts. There is no violence on the streets. And the Constitution cannot be stepped upon in the national capital. The four SC judges, who held a presser, spoke of “democracy in peril” but they did not spell out how?
In fact, Archbishop Ferrao is by far more elaborate. Christians number between 2-3 percent of the country’s population. In states like Goa, Nagaland and Mizoram, they do make a political impact. In Kerala, too. Common sense dictates the message is also for the “other minorities”, the Dalit and Muslims. But Muslims and Dalit do not need a Ferrao. Gorakhpur, Phulpur, Kairana and Noorpur indicate who they are voting. It is not the BJP.
All good. The danger is in the counter. The pastoral letters are being read in a different context by the ‘Hindu Indian’. There’s the smell of ‘evangelism’.
Those fighting for the archbishops’ right to freedom of expression question that if a mahant can be made ‘chief minister’, what’s wrong in an archbishop issuing a pastoral-political letter.
The counter to that is archbishops and cardinals are Vatican-appointees, ergo “foreign, diplomatic”, not permitted to speak on Indian elections.
Archbishop Filipe Nera Ferrao wouldn’t agree. He’s Indian. A ‘Catholic Father’, who appeared in the talk show the other night, put it this way to a VHP spokesperson: “Long after you are gone, I’ll still be around. When I die I’ll get my 2-and-a-half-feet by six-feet of India to rest in peace. I will have a tombstone with my name on it. What about you?”
Of course, the “you” will be ash. To each his own. That in a nutshell is ‘democracy’, isn’t it? The point is democracy is not in peril in India. Judges are holding court, even at midnight. Politicians are holding rallies. Voters are voting undisturbed. Elections are being won and lost. People are going to the cinema. Padmavati survived. So will Kaala. 2019 will come and go. Christians will RIP. And the Hindu will become ash!
Pastoral, idyllic, it may not be, but banana, it isn’t. Even if there are those who are going bananas! (IPA Service)