Humanity: Our First Religion and Best Safeguard
Fr. John Snehanand IMS
We are all deeply shocked and moved by the enormity of the cruel violence in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, killing around 350 innocent persons, including more than 50 children and injuring many more. It has also left much more psychological and social scars on the people who are left behind. Solidarity, support and prayers pour in from different corners of the world and especially the Christian community in India. It is heartening to see that the Muslim community in Sri Lanka has come out openly in support of the Christians there; and similarly even some of the Muslims in India too condemned all such terrorist attacks and violence. Incidents like this awaken the compassionate core in our hearts and reveal our humanity. It is even now not too late for all the civilized humans, irrespective of their affiliations of religion, nationality or race to stand together and take a clear stand against any form of terrorism. The reported news from Sri Lanka that the army has killed all the family members of the alleged terrorists does not help the cause but can only bring in more retaliation.
It is alleged that the incidents are a reaction to the recent incidents in Christchurch, Newsland. Security forces in some parts of India and the world over as well as the custodians of many churches are seeking ways and means to safeguard the church buildings and sites.
The Prime Minister of Newsland showed us the way for the best security as she stood by and supported the Muslim community after the Mosque attacks there. Her spontaneous responses were examples of outstanding ‘statesmanship’, deep compassion and humanity within her. She stood by the community in its hour of loss, hurt, grief and distress. It was truly comforting and at least paved the way for healing and reconciliation and also thwarted any backlash in the country.
Perhaps not sufficient number of Christians and churches loudly and clearly condemned the incident or expressed solidarity for the Muslim community in Newsland. Christians are known for their tolerance, compassion and forgiveness and the community leaders urge us not to retaliate. It is indeed based on the example and life of Jesus. ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not, what they do’. The gospels and especially the Sermon on the Mount is our guide.
However, we do not often come out sufficiently open and condemn the incidents of violence or human right violations, when persons of other communities are the victims. There have been some positive responses in this area as for instance, several Bishops and the Christian community in Delhi and some local churches came out against the brutal murder and rape of an innocent girl in Khatua, J.K. last year. I am aware that some local groups in Varanasi and elsewhere do express solidarity and condemn hatred, violence and human right violations against people irrespective of their ethnicity, religion or nationality. A well meaning Brahmin lawyer in South India remarked to me in 2008: “I like you Christians. But what I don’t understand is that you people come out to the streets only when Christians (especially priests, nuns) are attacked or their property destroyed. You are generally silent when human rights violations occur against other groups.” This happened when I had gone to him to seek legal help when a few of our students were attacked and beaten up by sympathisers of the Sangh Parivar in a southern state. I could not but agree with him to a great extent.
Violence begets violence. Insecurity and fear are the underlying cause of most violence, hatred and retaliations. I believe all the wars and hatred of each other or groups of people spring from deep hurt, fear and insecurity. Wounded persons (psychologically, physically, socially, economically or politically...) or groups of persons/communities most often retaliate by violence, unless he/it/they are healed or moved by a different set of values as shown by Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela and such persons.
One of the best means of Evangelization today is to comfort victims of hatred and violence, stand by them openly by public protests in media, silent candle light marches, public prayers, even economic or political support and affirmative responses in favour of the victims. This should become a habitual and spontaneous Christian response today to any form of human right violation, terrorist violence, racial violence as is occasionally seen in the US, or as what happened in Newsland. We need to ensure that all such positive responses need to be highlighted in the media for the benefit of the victims and a clear signal to the perpetrators of the crime.
This is even more important in India as there are any number of human right violations, spread of hatred against communities/races, atrocities against weaker sections – women, children, tribals, dalits, minorities or even against members of the majority communities. Our voice as the Christian community needs to be heard at all times, especially against major incidents. This should happen irrespective of the colour, race, religion, gender of the victims. The only criterion is that these are violence against human beings and hence against humanity.
Similarly, facts and fictions are blurred today. Influential persons, political leaders and many in the media are seen to be spreading falsehood, rumours, outright lies, hatred and they get away easily. They are guided by immediate personal political or economic interests. If it is not checked in time our nation will soon become a ‘country of liers’, and hatred and violence will be on the increase. Most people are getting influenced by prejudices, lies, hatred towards persons and communities. It has become almost impossible to discriminate between truth and falsehood. The youth and the future of our nation are at stake.
Evangelization and Christian witness today should mean standing by the oppressed in any form as has always been the Christian tradition. Pope Francis has been taking a clear stand on migrants. At times it seems the community is afraid to take a stand. The Christian community in India, especially the official bodies at the national and regional levels should be more alert to various incidents of violence, terror and hatred in any form and against any group of people at the national and global levels and take a clear stand against any form of oppression and violence. This should be borne out of the Christian principles of compassion, love, truth, justice and universal communion. This is also the best safeguard and protection for the Christian community and its institutions.
Around 50-60 years ago, when I was younger, we all interacted well in schools and neighbourhood with all people and all of us belonged to different religious or caste groups. Today I notice the situation is very different and most people seem to be prejudiced and limit their interactions. The most potent weapon against hatred and violence against any groups the world over is to rebuild the trust between the communities by removing prejudices and learn to freely interact with all as human beings. Can we Christians and our community leaders take the lead to build up such human communities to spread love,f compassion, love and truth?
Fr. John Snehanand IMS