Skip to main content

Has Church in India 'mainstreamed' Pope Francis' call on human rights violations?

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*
May 24, 2020 completes full five years of Pope Francis’ path-breaking and incisive Encyclical Letter ' Laudato Si ' -- On Care for Our Common Home. It was the first major Papal teaching on a subject of critical importance namely ‘the environment’. ‘Laudato Si' meaning “Praise be to you" are the first words of the celebrated ' Canticle of the Creatures' of St Francis of Assisi.
The Encyclical which came months before the landmark 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, (COP 21) which was held in Paris in fact set the tone for world leaders to come to grips with real causes which were responsible for environmental degradation and which ultimately caused climatic changes with disastrous results everywhere.
In the opening statements of the Encyclical, Pope Francis makes his intention clear “to address every person living on this planet” (#3). He says: 
“...this sister (mother earth) now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life” (#2).
In the first Chapter, he states that “we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation” (#48); he deals here with several ‘aspects of the present ecological crisis’: pollution, waste and the throw-away culture; climate as a common good; displacement and migration caused by environmental degradation; access to safe drinking water as a basic and universal human right; loss of bio-diversity; decline in the quality of human life and break down of society; global inequality. He also denounces unequivocally the use of pesticides and the production of genetically engineered (GE) crops.
Pope Francis strongly notes that “the earth’s resources are also being plundered because of short-sighted approaches to the economy, commerce and production” (#32). In making such statements, in taking a stand for the ‘care of our common home’, Pope Francis has indeed created several enemies among the rich and powerful-who are bent on profiteering; those engaged in the extractive industry by plundering very precious and scarce natural resources.
This was indicative from the fact that Gallup Poll conducted in the United States a little after the Encyclical was released, showed that his ratings had plummeted by more than 18% points among fairly large sections of Americans and particularly the wealthy and other vested interests.
Pope Francis certainly did not lose any sleep because there was a drop in his popularity; he has been in consistent in his love for the poor and his commitment to the protection of the environment. Throughout the Encyclical, insists that we have been called to be stewards of the creation which God has entrusted to us.
He ensures that ‘Laudato Si’ focuses on human rights violations and injustices. He does not mince words when he says:
“...in the present condition of global society, where injustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable, committing oneself to the common good means to make choices in solidarity based on a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters” (#158).
What is paramount in the final analysis says Pope Francis is a radical commitment to ensure positive change, which is the need of the hour. For this he says, every section of society must play a definite role in a collaborative and concerted manner. The Pope does not spare the priests of the Catholic Church and he calls upon them to engage with the faithful on environmental issues.
Further, he challenges international and national Governments and mechanisms saying: 
“...the same mindset which stands in the way of making radical decisions to reverse the trend of global warming also stands in the way of achieving the goal of eliminating poverty. A more responsible overall approach is needed to deal with both problems: the reduction of pollution and the development of poorer countries and regions” (#175)
‘Laudato Si’ is a document which disturbs and at times has a threatening tone. Therefore there is always the danger that many would like to cosmeticize this powerful document: to tinker with bits and parts, to be selective and comfortable in its reading; to do non-threatening acts like growing trees, propagating alternative technologies, not using plastics, having environmental education, making environment project work etc.
Whilst all these acts are suddenly good and may lead to something more sustainable, ‘Laudato Si’ is path-breaking, radical in nature, it makes one uncomfortable and touches every single dimension of our human existence. The Pope invites all to an ecological conversion, to change directions so that we can truly care for our common home; not to pay heed to Pope Francis’ prophetic words; to rubbish this timely and important message or to relegate it to mere tree-planting would certainly be a great disservice not to the Pope but to Planet Earth!
On April 22, Earth Day, Pope Francis praised the environmental movement, saying it was necessary for young people to “take to the streets to teach us what is obvious, that is, that there will be no future for us if we destroy the environment that sustains us”. Recounting a Spanish proverb that God always forgives, man sometimes forgives but nature never forgives, Francis said, “If we have deteriorated the Earth, the response will be very ugly." He further went on to add:
“We see these natural tragedies, which are the Earth’s response to our maltreatment. I think that if I ask the Lord now what he thinks about this, I don’t think he would say it is a very good thing. It is we who have ruined the work of God.” Saying the Earth was not an endless deposit of resources to exploit, he said, “We have sinned against the Earth, against our neighbour and, in the end, against the creator.”
Pope Francis notes: Earth’s resources are being plundered because of short-sighted approaches to economy, commerce and production
Interestingly, a lead article in ‘The Hindu’ (May 23, 2020) says that during lockdown the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEFCC) panels cleared or discussed thirty projects in biodiverse forests. 
The projects including mining and a highway, were brought up during virtual conferences; but Environmental scientists say that site inspections are a ‘crucial component’ of project evaluation. In fact the current Government has clearly abdicated its role as the protector of India’s rich biodiversity. 
Almost all forests from the Aravallis in North India (incidentally the Aravallis are regarded as one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world, which acts as a water recharge zone, are green lungs which shield the dust that blows from the Thar desert for most of North India and ultimately saves a vast region from desertification), the rich bio diversity areas of Dehing Patkai and Dibang Valley in the North East, Talabira in Odisha, Hasdeo in Central India, Western Ghats across West and South India – all these are being indiscriminately being opened up to industries.
Not only is biodiversity being destroyed but the people living in these forests, the adivasis, and the indigenous peoples will certainly lose their natural habitat. Already the regime has made its intentions clear to deprive those who were living in the forests for centuries, of their legitimate rights to these forests.
In another blatantly anti-environmental decision, the Finance Minister announced a few days ago commercial mining of coal by the private sector, ending government monopoly on the sector. When the world is doing away with fossil fuels – India is helping a few rich to destroy our fragile ecosystems and amass huge wealth.
The recent Amphan cyclone which has devastated the lives of millions overnight and the Covid-19 pandemic are no flashes in the pan. .These have their roots in our consumeristic lifestyles our callous attitudes towards the environment and our lust for profiteering which makes us very insensitive to the destruction of our fragile ecosystems.
In the context and mandate of ‘Laudato Si’ what has been the stand of the Church in India...
  • have we internalised the document, individually and collectively: made it our own?
  • do we take a stand on human rights violations and injustices (#158) 
  • are we truly concerned about the ‘jal, jungle aur jameen’ of the adivasis? The way the Government and the powerful are trying to deprive them of the forest lands?do we truly identify them, accompany them in their struggles? 
  • do we have the courage to take on the powerful vested interests: be it the Government or even some of our ‘benefactors’ who have no qualms of destroying the environment? ( the destruction of the Aravalli range and the Western Ghats, the Narmada Dam, Sardar Patel Statue, Mithi Virdi, mining, the polluting industries – the list is endless) 
Not being able to say an unequivocal ‘yes’ to any of the above is a clear indicator that we have not (individually and collectively) mainstreamed the spirit and message of ‘Laudato Si’ but in fact been a betrayal to it!
It is the ‘Laudato Si’ week and the Global organisers have given us a Common Prayer for this fifth anniversary; we need to say it with one heart and in one voice:
"Loving God, Creator of heaven and earth and all that is in them,
You created us in your image and made us stewards
of all your creation, of our common home.
You blessed us with the sun, water and bountiful land so that all might be nourished.
Open our minds and touch our hearts, so that we may attend to your gift of creation.
Help us to be conscious that our common home
belongs not only to us, but to all future generations,
and that it is our responsibility to preserve it.
May we help each person secure the food and resources that they need.
Be present to those in need in these trying times,
especially the poorest and those most at risk of being left behind.
Transform our fear, anxiety and feelings of isolation into hope
so that we may experience a true conversion of the heart.
Help us to show creative solidarity in addressing the consequences of this global pandemic,
Make us courageous to embrace the changes that are needed in search of the common good,
Now more than ever may we feel that we are all interconnected,
in our efforts to lift up the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.
We make our prayer through Christ our Lord.
Amen”

Through this powerful Encyclical Pope Francis puts one pertinent question “what kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” (#160). Do we have the courage to answer this question and act now?
---
*Human rights and peace activist/writer

Comments

TRENDING

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Examples of support to Hindu temples, scriptures, saints by 'Muslim' rulers galore

Siya Ram coin issued by Akbar By Bharat Dogra* At a time when the country as well as the world are passing through very difficult times leading to more urgent need for strengthening national unity for meeting several big challenges ahead, unfortunately disputes relating to religious places have been allowed to raise their ugly head once again. It is well-realized by now by many people that it is not historical facts but narrow considerations of political gain and spreading of fanatic ideas of intolerance which are behind such mischief, but due to the increasing threat of mob violence and patronage available at higher levels to groups spreading intolerance many people are reluctant to openly and fearlessly express their views. Hence there is urgent need for broad-based peace committees with wider social support to spread the message of communal harmony and to appeal against the dangers of spreading false messages regarding places of worship which can ultimate

Gyanvapi case: Use of 'illegal' lawfare to keep the communal pot simmering

By Venkatesh Narayanan, Bobby Ramakant, Manoj Sarang* With a steady drumbeat of bad news for the lives of ordinary citizens --  inflation at a multi-year high , rupee at an all-time low , negative job creation and when all forward indicators as seen by industry leaders point to recessionary clouds on the horizon , what’s a serially-incompetent government to do?  Dust out their time-tested-citizen-distraction playbook. The Gyanvapi-Masjid case is all of this -- as a weapon of mass distraction. This zeitgeist of our times is best captured by a recent opinion piece : "The idea is to keep the pot on a perpetual boil, simmering at the top, whirling feverishly beneath. A restless society forever living precariously on the precipice arouses distrst, uneasiness, fear and discomfort, That is a toxic panoply for manufacturing rage, which can then be effortlessly mobilized at short notice. BJP is creating an eco-system of real-time instant delivery of hate-mongers. That is how we are sudde

This varsity succumbed to extra-academic mobocracy, 'ignored' Hindutva archives

By Shamsul Islam* Open letter to Sharda University vice-chancellor Sub: Discarding a Question on Linkages of Hindutva with Nazism/Fascism is blatant Academic Dishonesty! Dear Professor Sibaram Khara Saheb, Namaskaar! According to your esteemed University’s portal: “The name of University, 'Sharda' is synonymous to 'Goddess of knowledge and learning-Saraswati'. She is identified with 'veena', an Indian musical instrument and the ‘lotus’, where she resides. The lotus in our logo symbolizes the seat of learning that the University is created for.  "Variety of colours signify the variety of disciplines the university offers and the overlap between petals creating new colours demonstrate the ethos of collaboration between students and teachers of different programme, nationality, creed and colour working towards creating new knowledge…the University's cherished mission to provide education beyond boundaries and to facilitate the students and faculty to achie

Whither climate goal? Increasing reliance on coal 'likely to worsen' India's power crisis

By Shankar Sharma*  Recent news articles, How to shock-proof India’s power sector and Power minister points finger at states for worsening electricity crisis , have highlighted a few current problems for the ongoing power sector issues as in April 2022. However, there is a lot more to it than a few temporary solutions as indicated in the articles. It should also be emphasised that it is techno-economically impossible to completely shock-proof a highly complex and geographically wide-spread vast power network, such as the one in India, which is only getting more and more complex with the passage of each year due to some irrational policies/ practices in the sector. A business-as-usual (BAU) scenario, wherein more and more of conventional technology power plants, including coal power plants, will be added in the near future, will also necessitate the increased complexity in the integrated national grid, and as a result the instances of power shortage/ disruptions can only escalate for

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Targeting mosques, churches: 'Roadmap' for 2025, RSS' centenary year?

416 years old Our Lady of Health Church, Sancoale, Goa  By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*  Fascists use manipulative strategies aimed at whipping up sympathy and support from the majority community, to which they normally ‘belong’. They do so in a variety of insidious and subtle ways. In the past few months, they have gone overboard in their efforts to denigrate and demonize minorities in India, particularly Muslims and Christians. They have spewed hate and divisiveness through their venomous speeches; incited people to violence and have effectively used officialdom to further their vested interests. The results are there for all to see: greater polarisation of the majority community in a country which prided itself for its pluralism and diversity. Their meticulously planned agenda is in order to gain absolute power of the country in the 2024 national elections. More so it is also a roadmap towards 2025 when the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) will complete one hundred years of its existence.

Dalit scholar's comment on Lord Shiva 'harming' Muslims, 'damaging' secular cause

Shahid Siddiqui, Bobby Naqvi By Our Representative   Bobby Naqvi, who is with the "Gulf News", and is a well-known name among Muslim intellectuals, strongly objecting to the social media post of Prof Ratan Lal, has said that "a big reason for majoritarian hatred against Muslims is irresponsible remarks by people like Prof Ratan Lal of Delhi University." In a Facebook comment , which has attracted paise, among others, from journaliat-politician Shahid Siddiqui, Naqvi said, "Their commentary on Hinduism and icons of Hinduism (while angering religious and liberal Hindus alike) also triggers a massive backlash against Muslims. When the likes of Prof Lal criticize Hinduism on social media, Hindus bring Islam and Islamic practices and ask 'what about this' or 'what about that'." Naqvi insists, "Muslims (without their fault) and Islam get caught in this crossfire between the so called Hindu liberal class and the religious Hindus. And the ult

Govt of India 'compromising' on mandate to regulate gene technologies, protect nature

Counterview Desk  In a letter sent to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and other related ministries and departments, the Coalition for a GM-Free India has raised "serious concern" over the guidelines notified for Genome Edited Organisms, in which major exemptions from regulations have been offered to certain categories of Genome Edited Organisms/Plants and products. A letter signed by Sridhar Radhakrishnan and Kapil Shah, co-convenors of the NGO network, addressed to Union Minister for Environment, Forest & Climate Change Bhupender Yadav, said, the Office Memorandum, dated May 17, 2022 of the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science & Technology about Safety Assessment Guidelines, which follows the Office Memorandum dated March 30, 2022 of the MoEFCC, said, the move "essentially amounts to entry of risky GMOs through the backdoor. Text : Coalition for a  GM-Free India is a national volunteer-driven platform of hundre

Why there's strong likelihood India may resurrect its presence in Afghan capital

By Anand K Sahay* Since India evacuated its mission in Afghanistan once the Taliban re-took Kabul last August practically under American aegis, following what came to be called the Taliban’s Doha “negotiations” with the US, New Delhi is evidently doing a re-think. It is considered likely that an Indian representation will soon be restored in Kabul, even if this will be small and not at the level of ambassador. This is reflective of realistic thinking. Of course, there can be no question at present of according recognition to the Taliban regime. That is likely to happen when a broad consensus amongst the leading powers emerges. Currently the Taliban government is not helping its own cause of gaining world recognition- which will help it access overseas funds at a time when the country is in dire straits- by imposing severe restrictions on women and girls in serious violation of human rights. More basic is the issue that the Taliban regime is not considered r