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'Agnes of God': Jesuit rights activist tells Christian groups not to be part of ban culture, Jesus was against it

By Our Representative
Well-known Ahmedabad-based Jesuit human rights activist Father Cedric Prakash has taken strong exception to certain Christian groups in Mumbai seeking ban on the play “Agnes of God”, directed by Kaizaad Kotwal. Protesting against staging of the play, Catholic Secular Forum and Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India sought ban on its production, saying it was a “misrepresentation” of Christian beliefs.
An American film made in 1985, ‘Agnes of God’ is based on a play (written in 1982) by John Pielmeier. The plot hovers around a young nun, her mysterious pregnancy and a dead baby. The nun insists that the child was of a ‘virgin conception’. “Both the original play and the film did not seem to have ‘offended’ people across the world all these years and even in Mumbai when it was first staged some years ago”, Prakash says.
Prakash reminds Catholic groups, “Article 19 of the Constitution of India guarantees every Indian citizen the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression. This same right also resonates in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”.
Heading Christian human rights NGO Prashant, which works among marginalized communities, he adds, “A healthy democracy has to promote freedom of thought and expression at every level and must have the courage to respect dissenting opinions and other voices. The only ‘ban’ that could be accepted on this freedom is a commitment to ‘ban the ban’.”
Prakash wonders, “Those protesting against the play might think they have scored some ‘brownie points’ but on the flipside they may have done the play a world of good because now with the free advertisement provided, several will now have heard of ‘Agnes of God’; will surely download the film, buy a DVD and even want to see the play!”
Reminding the Christian groups seeking ban on ‘Agnes of God’ that “for a disciple of Jesus, the ‘ban culture’ should be something that one should desist from”, Prakash insists in an article he has forwarded to Counterview, “Jesus took a stand on several issues of his time but he did not ban the women who brought their children to be blessed by him nor did he ban that sinful woman who wanted to anoint his feet with precious ointment.”
Pointing out that those who disagreed, “Jesus reasoned out with them, dialogued; he asserted his point of view”, Prakash underlines, “In his life on earth, Jesus very clearly shows us that his mission was inclusive. He welcomed sinners of every kind: those who exploited others to those who were adulterous.”
According to Prakash, “In all this, Jesus took an unequivocal stand for truth and justice. He had no qualms in calling the powerful and vested interests ‘a brood of vipers’ and ‘whitened sepulchres’. He identified himself totally with the victims of society knowing full well that it was they who needed someone to take up cudgels on their behalf. He was also sensitive; taking extra precautions not to hurt others unnecessarily.”
Asking Christian groups to desist from joining the ban culture, currently pervading India, Prakash says, “In the recent past, we have witnessed and experienced a spate of bans all over the country. People want to ban what we eat and what we do; what we see and what we read; Indian girls ‘should not dress up like this’ or ‘should not be out late at night’.”
Then, he adds, there have been instances where Muslims and Christians would not be permitted to enter a garba mandap in parts of Gujarat. “The list is endless indeed”, he says, adding, “The ‘ban culture’ is symptomatic of a society becoming more fundamentalist, fanatic and fascist.”

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