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Feminists on how clericalism and patriarchy have steeped in Church and the country

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ* 

There are books and books: some are meant to decorate bookshelves, others are read and forgotten; then there are still others, when internalised are inspirational, motivating the reader to action. ‘If Not Now, When? Disquieting Feminist Questions' clearly belongs to the last category.
Edited by Astrid Lobo Gajiwala, Kochurani Abraham and Prashant Olalekar SJ the anthology raises serious questions, it discomforts, it makes demands. The title says it all: disquieting feminist questions! If taken seriously, it challenges the reader to get out of one’s complacency, comfort zone! It is a must-read and a ‘must-act-upon-now’ book!
The book is divided into three sections, all inter-related:
1. Voices from the Margins
2. The Personal is Political and
3. Patriarchy, Power and the Catholic Church.
Twenty-five essays, interviews and insightful articles fill the almost three-hundred pages tome. The contributors belong to the entire spectrum of society: different voices but one in heart, soul and mind! In fact, all the articles merit independent reviews.
The style throughout is racy, without being superficial, raising pertinent questions and simultaneously providing possible answers, the contents are provocative yet dynamically positive.
For a discerning reader, it does not make for comfortable reading -- it is not meant to do so -- it is meant to ‘disquiet’ and it does so with brutal questions enveloped in sensitivity and finesse! Given the way clericalism and patriarchy are steeped in church and country, there will certainly some (or many?) who will not take kindly to the book. This is perhaps on expected lines! It will only go to prove the points made by the authors!
In her ‘Editorial’, Astrid Lobo Gajiwala gives the DNA of the book:
“This collection of essays is a chorus of feminist voices who speak truth to power, reclaim suppressed spiritualities, and dare to dream and to dissent. It brings to the centre, voices from the margins, in the form of conversations (some translated from other languages) and stories of unlettered and unknown women who have paid a heavy price for refusing to be ‘silent spectators'.
“It celebrates peoples’ movements that rise against targeted attacks on the constitutional rights of the people of India; global campaigns that fight for the rights of women in the Church; and the advocacy for earth democracy that goes beyond the concerns of humans to justice for nature, protection of livelihoods, and the free sharing of the earth’s resources.”

February 2022 was a special month dedicated to religious sisters and other consecrated women in the Catholic Church. Pope Francis in a style which has come to characterise him told religious sisters in a video message to fight back when they are treated unfairly or “reduced to servitude” by men of the Church.
“I encourage all consecrated women to discern and choose what is best for their mission in the face of the world’s challenges that we’re experiencing… I invite them to fight when, in some cases, they are treated unfairly, even within the Church; when they serve so much that they are reduced to servitude — at times, by men of the Church”.
In several ways this book addresses the Pope’s challenge!
In October 2021, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Pope Francis, the Holy Father presented the PM, with a bronze plaque with the incisive words of Prophet Isaiah (32:15) inscribed on it and a powerful symbol engraved. No sentence from Prophet Isaiah however, is a stand-alone; the book focuses on injustices, corruption and wicked rulers. Symbolically enough in 32:9ff the Prophet says, “Rise up women who are complacent, hear my voice.”
The anthology of women’s voices ‘If Not Now, when?’ is in fact prophetic like Isaiah -- an indictment of patriarchy both in Church and Country; a direction for women to no longer succumb to ‘tokenism’ which men hand-down so condescendingly; but for women to take their rightful and non- negotiable place in Church and Society. Given the UAPS of the Jesuits and the Synodal process begun in the Church, the anthology is a must read and a must-act-upon immediately.
The book is dedicated to Stan Swamy SJ and all defenders of justice, freedom, equality, inclusion and diversity
The book was first released on April 26, 2022, at a programme held at Bagaicha in Ranchi where Jesuit Fr Stan Swamy lived. The programme was organised to celebrate Stan’s 85th birth anniversary. Appropriately, “This book is dedicated to Stan Swamy SJ and all defenders of justice, freedom, equality, inclusion and diversity, especially the Bhima Koregaon activists who have taken a stand for justice without counting the cost.”.
It also contains some excellent pictures and a range of powerful quotes from Romila Thapar (“We have to recognise the inevitability of dissent in the events that shaped our history and that are now shaping the present.”) to Arundhati Roy (“The only thing worth globalizing is dissent.”)
Fr Jerome Stanislaus D’Souza SJ, the President of the Jesuit Conference of South Asia (JCSA) in the ‘Foreword’ to the book writes, “I am confident that this book will reach many hands and touch many hearts for a radical conversion and redemptive action in all, especially in those people of good will, who are committed to a life of equality, solidarity and justice. “
Given the grim reality both in the country and in the Church today, ‘If Not Now, When? Disquieting Feminist Questions’ is timely and much-needed! A direct call to listen to those voices who have the courage to ask uncomfortable questions and to do something about them! Will it ensure radical change? Perhaps that is a tall order for now!
The book however, is pregnant with hope, it is path-breaking; a step forward since it pushes one to say “it is not ‘when?’ it is now!” It is a demand to live and celebrate the feminine face of God in our world today! The only question one ultimately needs to respond to, is whether one has the prophetic courage to say an unequivocal ‘yes’ to the questions raised!
---
*Human rights, reconciliation and peace activist/writer

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