What would Sri Krishna do? – Gary Gutting

Krishna & Arjuna

• The interviewee for this article is Prof Jonardon Ganeri, currently a visiting professor of philosophy at the non-sectarian New York University in Abu Dhabi and the author of “The Lost Age of Reason: Philosophy in Early Modern India 1450–1700.”

• The interviewer for this article is Prof Gary Gutting, a professor of philosophy at the sectarian University of Notre Dame near South Bend, Indiana, and an editor of Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. He is the author of, most recently, “Thinking the Impossible: French Philosophy Since 1960″ and writes regularly for The New York Times. This interview was conducted by email and edited. 

Gary Gutting: How might looking at Hinduism alter philosophical approaches to religion that take Christianity as their primary example?

Jonardon Ganeri: Taking Christianity as the exemplar of religion skews philosophical discussion towards attempts to solve, resolve or dissolve difficult philosophical puzzles inherent in monotheism: problems about God’s powers, goodness and knowledge; attempts to provide rational arguments for God’s existence; the problem of evil; and so on. Hindu philosophers have traditionally been far more interested in a quite different array of problems, especially questions about the nature of religious knowledge and religious language, initially arising from their concerns with the Veda as a sacred eternal text and as a source of ritual and moral law.

GG: Does this mean that Hinduism is a religion without God?

JG: Many Hindus believe in God, but not all in the same God: For some it is Vishnu, for others Shiva, for others again it is rather the Goddess. Some of the more important Hindu philosophers are atheists, arguing that no sacred religious text such as the Veda could be the word of God, since authorship, even divine authorship, implies the logical possibility of error. Whether believed in or not, a personal God does not figure prominently as the source of the idea of the divine, and instead non-theistic concepts of the divine prevail.

GG: What do you mean by “non-theistic” concepts of the divine?

JG: One such concept sees the text of the Veda as itself divine. Its language, on this view, has a structure that is prior to and isomorphic with the structure of the world and its grammar is complete (although parts may have been lost over the centuries). The divinity of the text inverts the order of priority between text and author: Now, at best, assignment of authorship is a cataloging device not the identification of origin. Recitation of the text is itself a religious act.

Another Hindu conception of the divine is that it is the essential reality in comparison to which all else is only concealing appearance. This is the concept one finds in the Upanishads. Philosophically the most important claim the Upanishads make is that the essence of each person is also the essence of all things; the human Self and Brahman—the essential reality—are the same.

This identity claim leads to a third conception of the divine: that inwardness or interiority or subjectivity is itself a kind of divinity. On this view, religious practice is contemplative, taking time to turn one’s gaze inwards to find one’s real self; but—and this point is often missed—there is something strongly anti-individualistic in this practice of inwardness, since the deep Self one discovers is the same Self for all.

GG: Could you say something about the Hindu view of life after death? In particular, are Hindu philosophers able to make sense of the notion of reincarnation?

JG: Every religion has something to say about death and the afterlife, and hence engages with philosophical questions about the metaphysics of the Self. While Christian philosophy of Self tends to be limited to a single conception of Self as immortal soul, Hindu philosophers have experimented with an astonishing range of accounts of Self, some of which are at the cutting edge in contemporary philosophy of mind.

GG: Could you give an example?

JG: The Self as an immaterial, immortal soul is consistent with the Hindu idea of survival through reincarnation. But some Hindu philosophers have concluded that mind and the mental must be embodied. If so, reincarnation requires that mental states must be able to be “multiply realized” in different physical states. This led to the idea, much later popular among analytic philosophers of mind, that the mental is a set of functions that operate through the body. Such an approach supports the idea that there is a place for the Self within nature, that a Self—even one that exists over time in different bodies—need be not a supernatural phenomenon.

GG: What sort of ethical guidance does Hinduism provide?

JG: One of the most important texts in the religious life of many Hindus is the Bhagavad Gita, the Song of the Lord. The Gita is deeply philosophical, addressing in poetic, inspirational language a fundamental conundrum of human existence: What to do when one is pulled in different directions by different sorts of obligation, how to make hard choices. The hard choice faced by the protagonist Arjuna is whether to go to war against members of his own family, in violation of a universal duty not to kill; or to abstain, letting a wrong go unrighted and breaking a duty that is uniquely his. Lord Krishna counsels Arjuna with the philosophical advice that the moral motivation for action should never consist in expected outcomes, that one should act but not base one’s path of action on one’s wants or needs.

GG: This sounds rather like the Kantian view that morality means doing what’s right regardless of the consequences.

JG: There are ongoing debates about what sort of moral philosophy Krishna is proposing—Amartya Sen has claimed that he’s a quasi-Kantian but others disagree. More important than this scholarly debate, though, is what the text tells us about how to live: that living is hard, and doing the right thing is difficult; that leading a moral life is at best an enigmatic and ambiguous project. No escape route from moral conflict by imitating the actions of a morally perfect individual is on offer here. Krishna, unlike Christ, the Buddha or Mohammed is not portrayed as morally perfect, and indeed the philosopher Bimal Matilal very aptly describes him as the “devious divinity.” We can but try our best in treacherous circumstances.

GG: How does the notion of “karma” fit into the picture?

JG: Let me be clear. The idea of karma is that every human action has consequences, but it is not at all the claim that every human action is itself a consequence. So the idea of karma does not imply a fatalistic outlook on life, according to which one’s past deeds predetermine all one’s actions. The essence of the theory is simply that one’s life will be better if one acts in ways that are ethical, and it will be worse if one acts in ways that are unethical.

A claim like that can be justified in many different ways. Buddhism, for example, tends to give it a strictly causal interpretation—bad actions make bad things happen. But I think that within Hinduism, karma is more like what Kant called a postulate of practical reason, something one does well to believe in and act according to—for Kant, belief in God was a practical postulate of this sort.

GG: How does Hinduism regard other religions—for example, as teaching falsehoods, as worthy alternative ways, as partial insights into its fuller truth?

JG: The essence of Hinduism is that it has no essence. What defines Hinduism and sets it apart from other major religions is its polycentricity, its admission of multiple centers of belief and practice, with a consequent absence of any single structure of theological or liturgical power. Unlike Christianity, Buddhism or Islam, there is no one single canonical text—the Bible, the Dialogues of the Buddha, the Quran—that serves as a fundamental axis of hermeneutical or doctrinal endeavor, recording the words of a foundational religious teacher. (The Veda is only the earliest in a diverse corpus of Hindu texts.) Hinduism is a banyan tree, in the shade of whose canopy, supported by not one but many trunks, a great diversity of thought and action is sustained.

GG: Would Hinduism require rejecting the existence of the God worshiped by Christians, Jews or Muslims?

JG: No, it wouldn’t. To the extent that Hindus worship one God, they tend to be henotheists, that is, worshiping their God but not denying the existence of others—“every individual worships some God,” not “some God is worshipped by every individual.” The henotheistic attitude can accept the worship of the Abrahamic God as another practice of the same kind as the worship of Vishnu or Shiva—and Vaishnavism and Shaivism are practically different religions under the catchall rubric “Hinduism.”

Without a center, there can be no periphery either, and so Hinduism’s approach to other religions tends to be incorporationist. In practice this can imply a disrespect for the otherness of non-Hindu religious traditions, and in particular of their ability to challenge or call into question Hindu beliefs and practices. The positive side is that there is in Hinduism a long heritage of tolerance of dissent and difference.

One explanation of this tolerance of difference is that religious texts are often not viewed as making truth claims, which might then easily contradict one another. Instead, they are seen as devices through which one achieves self transformation. Reading a religious text, taking it to heart, appreciating it, is a transformative experience, and in the transformed state one might well become aware that the claims of the text would, were they taken literally, be false. So religious texts are seen in Hinduism as “Trojan texts”—like the Trojan horse, but breaking through mental walls in disguise. Such texts enter the mind of the reader and help constitute the self.

The Hindu attitude to the Bible or the Quran is the same, meaning that the sorts of disagreements that arise from literalist readings of the texts tend not to arise.

GG: What ultimate good does Hinduism promise those who follow it, and what is the path to attaining this good?

JG: The claim is that there are three pathways, of equal merit, leading in their own way to liberation. Hindu philosophers have employed a good deal of logical skill in their definitions of liberation. To cut a long story short, for some it is a state defined as the endless but not beginingless absence of pain; others characterize it as a state of bliss. The three pathways are the path of knowledge, the path of religious performance and the path of devotion. The path of knowledge requires philosophical reflection, that of religious performances various rituals and good deeds, and that of devotion worship and service, often of a particular deity such as Krishna.

GG: Could you say a bit more about the path of knowledge and its relation to philosophy?

JG: Knowledge can liberate because epistemic error is the primary source of anguish, and knowledge is an antidote to error. I might err, for example, if I believe that I only need to satisfy my current desires in order to be happy. The antidote is the knowledge that the satisfaction of one desire serves only to generate another.

According to the Nyaya philosopher Vatsyayana, this is why philosophy is important. Doing philosophy is the way we cultivate our epistemic skills, learning to tell sound doxastic practices from bogus ones, and the cultivation of epistemic skills is what stops the merry-go-round between cognitive error and mental distress. So it isn’t that philosophy and religion are not distinct, but that there is a meta-theory about their relationship.

GG: The liberation you’ve described seems to be a matter of escaping from the cares of this world. Doesn’t this lead to a lack of interest in social and political action to make this world better?

JG: The great narrative texts of Hinduism are the two epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. These epics are drawn on as resources in thinking about ethical conduct; forms of just society; and the possibility of various kinds of political and social agency. They are vast polycentric texts, and are read as such by Hindus. One of the important virtues of these epics is that they give voice to a range of participants within Hinduism that tend to go unheard: women, the disenfranchised, the outsider, the migrant. They provide these groups with important models for social and political intervention. That’s one reason they have always been very popular works within the Hindu diaspora.

The mirror image of the idea that liberation consists in the absence of distress is that a free society consists in the absence of injustice; thus the removal of injustice, rather than the creation of a perfect or ideal society, is the target of political action. Just as the absence of distress is a minimal condition compatible with many different kinds of human well-being—we are back to the theme of polycentricism—so the absence of injustice is compatible with many different types of well-ordered community or society.

GG: How do you respond to the charge that Hinduism has supported the injustices of the caste system in India?

JG: I think it is important to see that Hinduism contains within itself the philosophical resources to sustain an internal critique of reprehensible and unjust social practices that have sometimes emerged in Hindu societies. The Upanishadic idea that all selves are equal, and one with Brahman, for example, can be drawn on to challenge the system of caste. There are thus forms of rational self-criticism that the diverse riches of Hindu philosophy enable, and an individual’s social identity as a Hindu is something to be actively fashioned rather than merely inherited. – The New York Times, 3 August 2014

Catholic Church in India should end ‘silence’ over kidnapped Dalit bishop, say critics – Ruth Gledhill

Fr Prasad Gallela is the Bishop of Cuddapah

Ruth GledhillDiscrimination based on caste system is illegal in India but it has proved almost impossible to eradicate [within the Church].  A Capuchin Franciscan priest, Father Nithiya Sagayam, told Crux that the Church should speak out more on the caste system: “The silence of the official Church is criminal.” – Ruth Gledhill

The Catholic Church hierarchy in India has been accused of ignoring an attack on a Dalit bishop after three of its own priests were arrested in connection with the attack.

Bishop of Cuddapah Prasad Gallela, of the so-called “untouchable” Dalit caste, and his driver Vijay Kumar were kidnapped in April this year, blindfolded and beaten and taken to an undisclosed place where £50,000 was demanded in ransom.

Three high-caste [Reddy] priests were among those arrested for the crime.

The South India Dalit Catholic Association has now condemned the Catholic hierarchy’s “silence”, UCA reported. In a statement, the association condemns the “silence of the official church on the kidnapping and assault of Bishop Prasad Gallela by three priests of the Cuddappah Diocese on 25 April.”

A. J. X. BoscoJesuit Priest Father A. X. J. Bosco, a Dalit activist in the area, sent an open letter to the president of the national Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Baselios Cleemis of Trivandrum, criticising the silence.

“The sad and criminal event has been published in the media,” he wrote, asking why there had been “no significant response condemning the culprit priests or supporting Gallela” in the national media.

He said: “Are all the prayers, statements, promises and assurances of the hierarchy and Church leaders only in words? Is the Church leadership afraid of their caste communities; or do they not care about the Dalits even if they happen to be bishops?

“You can very well imagine what the people, especially the Dalit Catholics, would think and feel about the significant silence on the part of the official Church.

“We know that there is caste discrimination in the Church, and it is a great challenge to the Christian Community in India.

“The question to ask is—If Jesus were here, what he would have done?”

Bosco called for a “concrete” plan of action, including transfer of bishops to other dioceses when they refuse to treat Dalits as equals.

In May this year, Gallela was supported by a rally in Cuddappah city in south-east India, Crux reported.

Nithya SagayamDiscrimination based on caste system is illegal in India but it has proved almost impossible to eradicate.

A Capuchin Franciscan priest, Father Nithiya Sagayam, told Crux that the Church should speak out more on the caste system: “The silence of the official Church is criminal.”

He added: “Our socially discriminatory society is vigorously condemned by secular leaders who work for social justice. It is shocking that the Catholic Church and its official organisations have not responded effectively to end this evil, in spite of clear indications of caste discrimination within the Church leadership.”

Gallela’s attackers took three ATM cards, a silver chain with the bishop’s holy cross and his iPhone.

From 2000 to 2004, Gallela served as a priest in the diocese of San Angelo, Texas, before returning to India to teach in a local seminary. – Christian Today, 21 July 2016

Gandhi Quote

12 – Tamil Nadu in the grip of Jihad – Thamizhchelvan

Hindu Munnani

JournalistSimilar to the documentation of 12 murders carried out by Islamic terrorists in Tamil Nadu, Hindu Munnani has also documented a few major assaults committed by jihadists. All these assaults are brutal in nature and intended to liquidate the victims. The documentary titled Jihadi Assaults In Tamil Nadu runs for about 40 minutes detailing a few incidents of brutal assaults (see video below). It also carries explanations given by the victims. – Thamizhchelvan

Anand (Mettupalayam)Mettupalayam

Mettuapalayam is a taluk of Coimbatore district situated on the way to Ooty.

Anandan was secretary of the Mettupalayam unit of the RSS when, on November 6, 2012, he was waylaid while returning home from work along with a friend on a two wheeler. He was attacked brutally at about 6.30 in the evening.

After admitting him to hospital, the police dished out the usual story that the assault was a fallout of a financial deal with one Syed Abu Tahir, who belongs to a fundamentalist organisation and had sent SMS messages saying that those belonging to Hindu Munnani and the BJP would be liquidated during Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations.

However, Anandan testifies in the documentary that he had not known or seen any one by the name of Syed Abu Tahir and that he was attacked by two heavily built assailants. When the public protest against the police gained strength, they shifted their stand and said that the attack was a retaliatory one and not due to the fallout of a financial deal. Subsequently, during the identification parade, as the actual assailants were not present, the police let Syed Abu Tahir free, though there was a pending complaint against him by Hindus for sending threatening messages through SMS.

Three years have passed and the police are yet to find the assailants! Alleging that the attack on Anandan had turned out to be a dress rehearsal for future attacks and murders of many Hindu leaders, the documentary asks, “How shall one have confidence in a police force which does not have the will or intent to arrest an extremist? Will Anandan’s wife and children have to live in perpetual fear?”

Manjunath (Ooty)Ooty

On 14 April 2013, Manjunath, district secretary of Hindu Munnani, was removing the banners from the venue (near Raghavendra Temple) of the Tamil New Year celebrations organised by Hindu Munnani. As he was loading the banners and other materials on his auto, he was surrounded and brutally attacked by a group of fundamentalists. He was rushed to the Government Hospital in Ooty, from where he was sent to Coimbatore Medical College Hospital for specialised treatment. The police had later filed a case against him saying that he had spoken in a manner instigating communal hatred.

Manjunath says that he had not spoken so, and that the case had been foisted on him. He adds that he was arrested after recuperating from the hospital and that the Deputy Superintendent of Police promptly paraded him in front of Abdul Samad, the district president of Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam, to show that he had indeed been arrested. Subsequently, acting on Manjunath’s complaint, the police arrested five jihadists, while the attackers were more in number. Manjunath laments that the case foisted on him by the police had spoiled his livelihood.

Venkatraj (Conoor)Coonoor

The Ooty incident had a fallout in Coonoor. On 16 April 2013, when Hindu Munnani functionaries were pasting posters condemning the attack on Manjunath, persons from a nearby mosque objected. As talks were progressing, fundamentalists attacked Hariharan of Hindu Munnani. However, the police rushed to the spot and took the Hindu Munnani cadres away, divided them into small groups and dispersed them.

Later, when Hariharan and some Hindu Munnani cadres were proceeding to witness the chariot festival connected to the local Mariamman Temple, the sub-inspector of Coonoor police station directed them to take a particular route, where a large group of fundamentalists surrounded and attacked them. In the melee, Hariharan, Venkatraj and Jayakumar were severely beaten with bottles, surgical knives and knives. Venkatraj says a fatwa was already issued against Hariharan and Jayakumar and that the police were informed about it.

The significant aspect of the attack was the use of ‘surgical knives’ which is not a practice in Tamil Nadu. It is said that jihadists in neighbouring Kerala are deft in handling surgical knives. Hariharan says that a  Jayakumar (Conoor)couple of dozen jihadists from Kerala were roaming about in Ooty and Coonoor; Venkatraj adds that they have been brought by one Tasleem of Asian Hotel, to train local jihadists. Hariharan refers to a police official who was aware of the impending attack during the temple festival. Terming this planned jihadi attack a “retaliatory attack”, the police dutifully filed cases against Hariharan, Venkatraj and Jayakumar.

The documentary laments that the businesses of Hariharan and Jayakumar have suffered because of the police cases while Venkatraj is suffering without a job, the film asks, “What justice can be expected from this government which kills its conscience and declares a planned attack upon Hindus as a reactionary attack and diverts the case from the real motive?”

Ramanathapuram

On 7 June 2013, two school teachers, Vasanthakumar and Malairaj, belonging to the scheduled caste, were apprehended by fundamentalists for the “fault” of entering the Muslims’ street in R. S. Mangalam area of Ramanathapuram.  Both were taken to a mosque, tied up and beaten black and blue. After learning about this attack on the hapless school teachers, a group of local Hindus reached the mosque to catch hold of the culprits. As the culprits attempted to escape by an ‘ambulance’ belonging to the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam, the Hindu group surrounded it. However, the Deputy Superintendent of Police, who came that way, made the Hindus disperse and let the fundamentalists escape.

Suba Nagarajan, a local person, alleges that the police are not seriously pursuing this case of assault on school teachers. Underlining the tacit understanding between fundamentalists and Scheduled Caste leaders, the documentary asks, “Why do the SC organisations, which raise voice over SC rights and SC freedom, not raise even a whimper of protest in support of these hapless teachers?”

M. R. Gandhi (Nagarkoil)Nagercoil

On 19 May 2013, senior BJP leader M. R. Gandhi was brutally attacked by jihadists while on his morning walk. As he got down from the road in the nick of time, the blow which was to have landed on his neck, missed by a whisker. However, the jihadists rained a few blows on him and ran away.

M. R. Gandhi says that those who assaulted him were well-trained and were from outside places like Thiruvithamcode, Idalakudi, Melapalayam and Tirunelveli. He says that terror training camps are active in places like Thittuvalai, Idalakudi, Thiruvithamcode and Madhavalayam of Kanyakumari district.

Finally, jihadists belonging to Tirunelveli district were arrested for attacking M. R. Gandhi in Nagercoil. We have already seen that men from Kerala joined the locals when they attacked Hariharan, Venkatraj and Jayakumar in Coonoor. Mentioning this, the documentary makes an important point that, “In every area, fundamentalists are given training and sent to carry out attacks in outside areas, while the local Moslems would act innocent and escape. This strategy is being adopted by the Muslim fundamentalists”.

Rajkumar (Chennai)Chennai

On 26 November 2014, RSS worker Rajkumar was waylaid and attacked by jihadists when going on his bike along Bangaru Naicken Street of Triplicane area in Chennai city. Thanks to his helmet, he escaped, but was hospitalised with grievous injuries.

“Rajkumar was attacked for questioning the molestation of a Hindu woman by a Muslim youth”, says a local person named Narahari. He adds, “A large number of Muslims from the local jamath have gathered in support of the youth and threatened the Hindus”. Another person, Manikandan, says that a local Muslim police official is not taking any action against the jihadists and is supportive of them.

Sameera Bano with husband Rajaraman and daughters (Nagercoil)Nagercoil

It is more than a decade since Sameera Bano, a Muslim girl, fell in love with Rajaraman, an auto driver, and married him. Despite the pressure exerted by Muslims to convert, Rajaraman refused and remained a committed Hindu. As a way of threatening him, the fundamentalists burnt down his auto near his house in the year 2010.

Unable to digest the fact that Sameera Bano was leading the life of a peaceful Hindu, the jihadists attempted to kill her. On 11 April 2014, when she was drawing rangoli in front of her house, they tried to attack her. She had a providential escape. As usual, the police are yet to arrest the jihadists!

Hindus (Thiruvithancode)Thiruvithamcode

The fundamentalists planned to ignite a communal problem by beating up a seventh standard student named Siva. When the issue was taken up by the elders, the fundamentalists broke the teeth of a youth named Subash. He was hospitalised.

The incident happened on 25 October 2013. When the small group of Hindus was returning from the hospital very early in the morning, they were suddenly surrounded and attacked by a group of fundamentalists near the Keralapuram Arch. Seven Hindus were hurt in the attack.

Veludoss, an advocate says, “knives were used and cuts were administered on the limbs.  Attacks like these are alien to Kanyakumari district”. Bhavani, a local woman says, “Some mysterious persons staying at Paaravalai were arrested and subsequently released. For the sake of money offered by the Moslems, police are indulging in such an atrocity with the complicity of politicians”.

The police pacified the Hindus after the attack on Subash and made them return home from the hospital. When a lady, Saroja, confronted the police saying, “We believed in your words and returned home. But, this has happened. We have been betrayed”, the police justified the attack stating, “You should have avoided taking them on”. Bemoaning this attitude, the lady says, “Police force has been muffled.”

A big question mark hangs over the heads of Hindus of Thiruvithamcode.

The documentary ends with the following questions:

Would many of those who have faced such attacks be able to return to work as before? These Hindus of humble means, who were earlier employed with Muslims, are now going for work as road workers, construction labourers and other menial jobs. Even to go for these menial jobs, how would the women be able to commute fearlessly?

Today, many parts of Tamil Nadu are turning into Taliban country like Thiruvithamcode. Whose responsibility is it to save Tamil Nadu from this perilous situation?

The documentary can be seen below.

(To be continued…)

» Thamizhchelvan is an independent senior journalist in Chennai.

Jihadi Assaults in Tamil Nadu

The ‘miracle’ that makes a saint out of Mother Teresa – Jaideep Mazumdar

Pope John Paul II & Mother Teresa

Jaideep MazumdarThis woman drives to the hospital and places the Mother Teresa medallion under her husband’s pillow. And then, even as her husband is being readied for surgery, she drives back to her church to pray! … Did she drive back an hour to be able to pray with the Missionaries of Charity nuns so that the outlandish miracle could be attributed to Mother Teresa? – Jaideep Mazumdar

In early December 2008, 34-year-old Marcilio Haddad Andrino, a PhD in mechanical engineering from one of Brazil’s best institutes (University of Campinas) went on his honeymoon to Gramado, his wife’s hometown. There, he fell seriously ill and was driven 1111 kilometres, a journey that would have taken 14 hours at least, to a little-known hospital (St. Lucas Hospital) in Santos on 8 December.

According to a news report that appeared in Avvenire (an Italian newspaper that is affiliated to the Vatican) Andrino, of Lebanese origin, was diagnosed with hydrocephalus (abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain) and eight abscesses (tumours) in the brain, and had gone into a coma. But his wife left the hospital and drove for over an hour to São Vicente (where the couple used to reside) to pray at her church—Our Lady of Aparecida Church.

The priest at the church, Father Elmiran Ferreira, who very conveniently had a medallion bearing a portrait of Mother Teresa in his pocket, gave it to Andrino’s wife and asked her to take it back and keep it Mother Teresa Medalunder her husband’s pillow at the hospital before returning to the church to pray for her husband. The woman dutifully returned to Santos and did the priest’s bidding.

The next day, even as Andrino was being readied for surgery, his wife drove back to São Vicente to pray at her church along with Father Elmiran. A group of Missionaries of Charity nuns living at São Vicente also joined the lady and the priest to pray for Andrino’s recovery and ask for Mother Teresa’s intercession.

Meanwhile, Andrino, who was comatose, was wheeled into the operation theatre at 6.10 pm on 9 December. But doctors could not perform the tracheal intubation for anaesthesia. They, quite inexplicably, left Andrino in the operation theatre (OT) and, presumably, went to drink coffee! Half an hour later, they returned to the OT to retry the procedure and nearly jumped out of their skins when they saw the patient fully awake and without pain.

“What am I doing here?”, Andrino is said to have asked the doctors, who were possibly too dumbfounded to reply. The next (10 December) morning, when his wife went to the hospital, she was startled to see him sitting on his hospital bed sipping coffee.

A couple of days later, he was back home with all the excess cerebrospinal fluid and the eight tumours having mysteriously disappeared. Soon after, he landed a good job with the federal government and shifted to the country’s capital, Rio de Janeiro, with his wife, who has since borne him two children.

This fantastical story, with its plethora of loopholes, will form the basis of Mother Teresa’s canonisation a little over two weeks from now on 4 September. Thousands from India, including West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj—who will lead the Indian delegation, will journey to the Vatican to attend the ceremony, where this “miracle” will be celebrated.

The detailed account of this “miracle cure” of Andrino—which appeared in Avvenire, the first to announce the date of Mother Teresa’s canonisation (conferring sainthood)—stretches one’s credulity and throws up many questions. Why would a seriously ill patient be taken to a nondescript hospital more than a thousand kilometres away when Porto Alegre, the city nearest to Gramado (where Andrino was on a honeymoon; and what sort of person would go to his wife’s hometown on a honeymoon anyway?), a major city in Brazil, was just 125 kilometres (2.5-hour drive) away?

Porto Alegre has the Hospital de Clínicas, a renowned university hospital in Brazil that has 60 specialities, and gets patients from across Brazil. In a medical emergency, it would be natural for a patient to be taken to the nearest hospital, more so if that hospital is highly reputed, rather than being taken to a nondescript one more than a thousand kilometres away.

The whole account of a (presumably) newly-wed woman (since the two had gone on their honeymoon) rushing off to her local church leaving her critically ill and comatose husband in a hospital is quite implausible. That is not normal human behaviour.

But after having left her comatose husband in hospital and met her parish priest, this woman drives back to the hospital and places the medallion under her husband’s pillow. And then, even as her husband is being readied for surgery, she drives back to her church to pray! Which woman would ever do that? Did she drive back an hour to be able to pray with the Missionaries of Charity nuns so that the (outlandish) miracle could be attributed to Mother Teresa?

And even as her, and her priest’s and nuns’ prayers are answered almost instantly by the “Blessed Teresa of Kolkata” (as Mother Teresa came to be known after her beatification in October 2003), the Mother Teresa & Pope John Paul II(distraught?) lady remains unaware of her husband’s miraculous recovery. This at a time when, less than eight years ago, Brazil had (according to this Wikipedia entry) 150.6 million mobile phone users.

Would not a woman whose husband was dying call up the hospital using a mobile phone (borrowing one if she doesn’t possess one) to know about her husband after his scheduled surgery? Would she wait till the next morning to physically visit the hospital to find out about her husband’s condition?

This story is also full of coincidences. Many outside the Santos diocese came to know of this miracle, but it was not reported to the Vatican. It was only eight years later, in 2013, that Pope Francis got to know about it during a visit to Rio. A neurosurgeon in Rio, Jose Augusto Nasser, was assigned as the Pope’s personal physician during the visit and told him at the time.

Nasser also happened to be the personal physician of Father Caetano Rizzi, who was the judicial vicar of Santos when this miracle occurred. Incidentally, there are no accounts of Father Caetano suffering from any neurological disorders that required surgical intervention. And a surgeon is not usually a personal physician of any person. But we are talking about fantastical stories here.

Father Caetano, like Andrino’s wife, also hails from Gramado and knew the lady’s family. Father Caetano had told Dr Nasser, a devout Catholic, about the miracle cure of Andrino. Nasser then narrated the account of this miracle to the Pope and sent a report on it to the Vatican as well.

Last year, Father Caetano was told by the Vatican that it was examining the miracle. In the next week, three representatives from Rome reached Brazil, heard testimonies of Father Elmiran and 14 others and returned to Rome. They prepared a 400-page report on the miracle.

Fr Brian KolodiejchukA team of three senior priests and two doctors carried out more investigations to conclude that the miracle was “instant, perfect and complete, lasting and scientifically inexplicable”. One of these priests was Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, a member of the Missionaries of Charity Fathers, a religious community of priests founded by Mother Teresa. It would be in Father Brian’s interest to have Mother Teresa declared a saint.

Of the two doctors, one was Marcus Vinicius Serra, a neurosurgeon who had treated Andrino and had “witnessed the miracle”. The other was Monica Mazzurana Benetti, a surgeon, who is Father Caetano’s niece and close to him. Benetti also hails from Gramado, a town with a strong Catholic influence.

Father Caetano also oversaw the case for another miracle that happened in Santos and that led to Josephine Margaret Bakhita, a Sudanese-born former slave who worked in Italy as a nun, being declared a saint in 2000 by the Vatican. The miracle attributed to Josephine occurred in Santos in 1992 when a local woman miraculously recovered from ulcers caused by diabetes and hypertension in her legs. Father Caetano played a pivotal role in having the cure of the woman being declared a miracle that propelled Josephine to sainthood.

Mother Teresa visited São Paulo soon after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. Soon, her nuns arrived in São Paulo and Santos, where they have a good presence. They regularly visit the Our Lady of Aparecida Church in São Vicente that Andrino’s wife used to frequent. This church is a simple building painted in white with thin blue lines stencilling its doors and windows. The similarity with the blue-bordered white saris worn by the Missionaries of Charity nuns is uncanny. – Swarajya, 19 August 2016

» Jaideep Mazumdar is a journalist with many years of experience in The Times Of India, Open, The Outlook, The Hindustan Times, The Pioneer and some other news organizations. He lives in Kolkata has reported on politics, society and many other subjects from North, East and North East India as well as Nepal and Bangladesh.

Sushma Swaraj

Mother Teresa did not care for the poor. She cared for poverty and made it into a very lucrative business. Her religious order is now the richest in the world. It is therefore entirely inappropriate for a high-ranking minister of the secular Indian Republic to attend the sectarian religious programme for this sadistic woman at the Vatican on Sept. 4th. Those who agree may sign the petition requesting Sushma Swaraj not to go HERE.

Supreme Court’s ill-timed, ill-considered outburst against “ill-trained” J&K police – Radha Rajan

Pramod Kumar

Radha Rajan is the editor of Vigil OnlineIf it please Your Lordships—and even if it doesn’t—I am exercising my fundamental right to freedom of expression and right to dissent.

I am expressing my dissent against the opinions expressed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court on August 12, 2016, against the country’s police force and by implication our army, in J&K and I am exercising my right to freedom of expression by expressing my dissent in writing.

This I am compelled to do because within three days of the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s disparaging remarks about the state’s police force, yet another selfless and brave uniformed man died in the Kashmir Valley hunting Islamic terrorists who were determined to make a jihadi point on our Independence Day. And five days after the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s lecture on human rights to the “ill-trained” police, on the 17th, two army officers and another policeman have been killed by jihadis in the Baramullah district of the jihadi parasite Kashmir Valley.

Milords, can our Hon’ble courts protect the human rights of our police and army and how can our courts render justice to the widows and orphaned children of our men in uniform who die so that some of us who live because they have died, may thump the pulpit about human rights?

Just three days prior to our Independence Day, on the 12th, Your Lordships could not resist pontificating to the police and army about police brutality, human rights, restraint and all that ballyhoo. The CRPF Commandant, aged just 49 years, who was shot and killed by jihadis on the country’s 69th Independence Day, has left behind a seven-year old daughter who will now grow up without a father. I wonder what this little girl, when she grows up and has questions about why and how her father died, will think of Your Lordships’ lecture to the army about the human rights of stone-pelting, police-killing blood-sucking parasites now living in the Kashmir Valley after they had terrorised and genocided Kashmiri Hindus, forcing them to abandon their homeland. But that little matter of Hindu genocide Your Lordships has not exercised the Hon’ble Supreme Court as much as the alleged violation of the human rights of Kashmiri stone-pelting, police-killing Sunni Muslims.

The jihadi, parasite Valley Your Lordships, is living off the blood, sweat, hard work, tax-payer money of the rest of India, living off the selfless lives—and untimely deaths—of our men in uniform who are on duty in this thankless state, and living off the invisible, voiceless sacrifices which their families make for our country.

It is my considered view Milords, the Hon’ble Supreme Court while pronouncing orders in court should refrain from such observations which seriously violate the dignity and authority of other pillars of our democracy—Office of the President, elected governments, bureaucracy, police, paramilitary and army. I wish to bring to the notice of Your Lordships the observations allegedly made by the Hon’ble Supreme Court about the “ill-trained” police—in the words of the Hon’ble Supreme Court—in the Kashmir valley.

Your Lordships are alleged to have waxed eloquent about the “land of salt satyagraha, fast-unto-death and do or die”. Your Lordships surely chose the safest fig-leaf when you harangued our men in uniform in open court on that day. While I have my own views on Gandhi and his salt satyagraha and fast-unto-death—he never died when he fasted—I wish to submit to Your Lordships that when our police and army die in Kashmir, it is not “do or die”, it is “do and die”.

Excerpts from what the Hon’ble Supreme Court said:

  1. Kashmir has been the victim of separatists’-driven protests, but abuse by an ill-trained police force exacerbates violence and triggers public anger.

  2. The court turned to the police and cautioned the force against “indulging in excesses which become barbaric, not halting even after controlling the situation”.

  3. The judgment, authored by Justice Sikri eloquently recalled the history of legitimate dissent in the “land of Salt Satyagraha, fast-unto-death and do or die”.

  4. The apex court then points to how demonstrations have been twisted out of shape by religion, ethnicity, caste and class divisions—all of which have been “frequently exploited to foment violence whenever mass demonstrations or dharnas, etc, take place”.

  5. “Unruly groups and violent demonstrations are so common that people have come to see them as an appendage of Indian democracy,” the judgment said.

  6. The court points to how violence triggers more violence from the police, who use excessive force to control the mob. But this brutality of the police drives citizens away from the State.

  7. “This in turn exacerbates public anger against the police. In Kashmir itself there have been numerous instances where separatist groups have provoked violence,” the Supreme Court observed.

  8. The apex court urged police personnel to restore calm with “utmost care, deftness and precision” so that no harm is caused to human life and dignity. It has to be seen that “on the one hand, law and order needs to be restored and at the same time, it is also to be ensured that unnecessary force or the force beyond what is absolutely essential is not used”.

  9. The court said the State cannot hide behind the defence of sovereign immunity when there is a “patent and incontrovertible” violation of fundamental rights through brutality, torture and custodial violence.

Your Lordships must know that the Hon’ble Supreme Court was speaking in the exact same language as Amnesty International on the exact same topic on the exact same day in Bengaluru! I respectfully submit to Your Lordships that the Office of the President, elected governments, and our men and women in uniform, the police, para-military and army do not have the comfort and security of anything similar to the “contempt of court” absolutism in jurisprudence which insulates Your Lordships from the kind of unrestrained and harsh criticism, loose comments and gratuitous insults which Your Lordships sometimes hurl at other pillars of government and administration including law enforcing agencies.

President Pranab Mukherjee greets the Chief Justice of India T. S. ThakurJudiciary on collision course with Office of the President of India

Let me begin with the intentionally worded language of Your Lordships when the Hon’ble High Court of Uttarakhand faced off with the Office of the President of India and the careful language used by Your Lordships in the same breath in your self-description.

Legitimacy of the President’s decision to suspend the Uttarakhand assembly is subject to judicial review as even he can go wrong, the Uttarakhand high court observed on Wednesday. The court was responding to an argument by additional solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing on behalf of the Centre, who contended that the President relies on his political wisdom in many matters. “You cannot have absolutism. President can go wrong,” the division bench of chief justice K. M. Joseph and Justice V. K. Bisht commented. The judges went on to remark that the court’s order, too, is “always open to judicial review.”

Correct me if I am wrong Your Lordships, but I was raised to believe that the actions of the highest constitutional authority of India, the President of India, are not justiciable and cannot be subjected to judicial review. I am sure every right thinking citizen of this Republic would agree that something is seriously amiss if judges of our High Courts and Supreme Court, who cannot be dragged before any court of law for any crime but can only be impeached by Parliament with the additional cushion for soft landing that erring judges have the option to resign before being impeached, can position themselves above the President of India and can state in open court that the “President can go wrong”.

By asserting that the First Citizen of India can go wrong and therefore even a high court judge can sit in judgement of the Office of the President, I respectfully submit to Your Lordships that by maintaining silence on this startling claim by two judges of the Uttarakhand High Court, Your Lordships have set a dangerous precedent . Your Lordships, if judges can state without being challenged or reprimanded that the President can go wrong and therefore the President’s actions are subject to judicial review, I foresee a frightening scenario when in the future Your Lordships may be emboldened to order our soldiers to return to the barracks in the midst of a war because Your Lordships think the President, as Commander-in-Chief of our army, did not have all facts on the table before him, or that he was misguided or misinformed and was therefore wrong in his decision to deploy our military in response to a perceived threat to the country’s security, sovereignty and integrity! This is not a stretch Your Lordships, because if we open the door of judicial review of the President’s actions, the door will forever remain open. I respectfully submit, Your Lordships should bang this door shut. Failure to do so will inevitably lead to chaos, sooner than later; considering Your Lordships concern for the human rights of stone-pelting, police-killing jihadis and other terrorists.

While asserting that there can be no absolutism and the President can go wrong and his actions are therefore subject to judicial review, Your Lordships also admit that your judgements and orders too are subject to judicial review, but here is the thing Your Lordships. You carefully, intentionally, with great foresight do not say, “Judges can go wrong”. Dear me, no. Your Lordships concede that judicial review of orders is possible but do not say Your Lordships can also go wrong because Your Lordships know that any admission that judges can go wrong will seriously dent the armour of judicial infallibility.

I will conclude my right to freedom of expression and right to dissent with a few poignant words about a table for one by Aditi Hingu. Your Lordships it is poetic justice that the author wept tears of blood for the soldier who will never return on the same day that Your Lordships castigated our men in uniform, and on the exact same day Amnesty International insulted our police and army on our soil. Your Lordships chose a safe and privileged career and a life of pomp and plenty for your families. Our police and army voluntarily and selflessly chose a life with the real possibility of untimely, premature death. Your Lordships must keep this in mind every time a similar case comes up before you. Your Lordships owe this much to them and their families.

Radha Rajan
17th August 2016

Supreme Court of India

Your Lordships are invited to also read:

Table for One

The Table for One – Aditi Hingu

On the eve of the 70th Independence Day of our country, I would like to share a story with the readers. This story is not about a person or an event. The story is about a solitary dining place at the Cadets Mess at the National Defence Academy (NDA) at Khadakwasla. Set up in December 1954, NDA is the first tri-services academy in the world. It trains cadets for permanent commission in the three services (Army, Navy and Air Force) and its alumni have fought valiantly in every major conflict.

Cadets live on the campus and develop strong bonds with their course mates. However, NDA is singularly different from other campus in one way—not only do the cadets forge bonds with each other, an equally strong bond is formed with all those who would have graduated from NDA , even if many years ago. A kinship is developed and the ethos of never letting down a fellow comrade-in-arms is strongly ingrained. Nowhere is this symbolized as poignantly as in the Cadets Mess at NDA.

Apart from the regular dining tables, the dining hall has an empty table near the entrance with a forlorn chair.

It is laid out for a solitary diner with complete crockery and cutlery. However, it is never ever occupied: the chair is tilted forward and the crockery is upturned. The table has a vase with a red rose and a red ribbon, an empty glass, an unlit candle, a slice of lemon and salt on the bread plate. A casual visitor may be pardoned for wondering—whom is this place for?

Why the upturned chair, the empty glass, a rose and ribbon?

This table for one is in remembrance of all those soldiers who fought in various wars but never returned—neither alive nor dead. They were either taken as Prisoners of War (PoW) or declared as Missing in Action.

In the wake of the Shimla Agreement after the Indo-Pak War of 1971, India repatriated over 90,000 Pakistani PoWs but shamefully failed to secure the release of 54 Indian PoWs.

As per the Third Geneva Convention (both India and Pakistan are signatories to the same), every PoW must be treated humanely, be allowed to inform his next of kin and International Committee of the Red Cross of his capture, given adequate food, clothing, housing and medical aid, and released quickly after cessation of conflict.

However, in complete defiance of these terms, there has been no information about the 54 soldiers—even though it has been long wait of 45 years for their families and comrades since the war ended. Despite proof of Indian soldiers languishing in Pakistani jails and sustained efforts by their families to secure their release, nothing tangible has happened. Bureaucratic files moved, papers were pushed—but to no avail.

Fifty-four young men were condemned to rot in jails for having committed the sin of fighting bravely in a war that was not created by them.

The trauma and torture that would have been inflicted on them cannot even be imagined. Their families were doomed to spend the rest of their lives doing the rounds of different Government offices and persuading, requesting and begging an indifferent politico-bureaucracy to bring back their loved ones.

Aged parents went to their graves with broken hearts and children grew up without their fathers.

Many of these soldiers were as young as 25 years old, married for not more than a year or two.

Imagine the plight of a 23-year-old girl—who lived with her husband for 1 year and led the rest of her life fighting a callous government for securing her husband’s release.

Life passed both her and her soldier husband by – she was neither a wife, nor a widow; could not experience motherhood; doomed to decades of uncertainty, seeking only clarity or closure—but getting neither.

Subsequent petitions by children who grew up without fathers led to the ministers flippantly asking them, “Do you think they are still alive?”

I wonder if any minister would have thought the same if his father/brother/son were languishing in the Pakistan jails.

Even if one of the soldiers (who may have been alive) can be brought back, it would mean closure for at least one brave family.

Numbers are not important here, what is important is how a nation can willfully and shamelessly forget its own people.

But while the nation has forgotten these men, their fellow soldiers haven’t.

The table for one is a poignant reminder to the cadets that the missing men were carefree youngsters like them, who roamed the same halls and whose boisterous laughter would have resonated within the same walls.

Every item of the table for one symbolizes something poignant.

The forlorn single chair is symbolic of the overwhelming odds that the conquered prisoner must have faced.

The unlit candle speaks about the insurmountable spirit that would not have broken despite capture, and possible extreme torture.

The upturned plate and the empty glass acknowledge the fact that these PoW may never return.

The red rose is reminiscent of the patience of the families that are still waiting to embrace a loved son, a beloved husband, a younger brother and an indulgent father.

The lemon and salt symbolize the bitter fate, heartbreak and tears that are left for the families who deal with uncertainty.

The red ribbon is reminiscent of the red ribbon worn on the lapel of all their supporters who bear witness to their determination to get a proper accounting of these missing soldiers. It is in the honour of these men, that the armed forces have kept the tradition alive for the last 45 years. However these men did not belong only to an institution called the Indian Armed Forces.

They belonged to a nation called India.

As we celebrate the Independence Day wearing the obligatory tricolour clothes and listening to patriotic speeches and songs, perhaps it would be fitting to spend a minute or two in reflection.

Reflect on what is it that makes a young man risk all for his country—a fairly tenuous ideal in these days when everything is defined by material success or in the ability to create anarchy in the name of freedom of expression?

What is it that makes a 30-year-old man leave his beautiful wife and young kids behind and serve for 2 years at the inhospitable terrain of Siachen?

What is it that makes a 25-year-old jump into a raging river to rescue civilians during floods, knowing well that the same set of people may pelt him with stones a year later?

As we enjoy our country’s Independence Day along with our loved ones, spare a thought for a family where a son has been missing for decades, for children who don’t even know what their father would be looking like now and for men who are still waiting for their comrades to come back.

Let us at least remember their sacrifices and sympathise with those who are still clinging to the ever-fading hope of reuniting with their loved ones.

The table for one waits wistfully for them to return.

Incredible India! Jai Ho!Sify, 12 August 2016

Vir Singh

Kashmir: Nehru’s blunder can be rectified only by history – Amar Bhushan

Kashmir Political Leaders 2014

Amar BhushanIt is time J&K was treated like any other state in India without grandstanding on Article 370. It needs a clean and effective administration, a participatory governance, a police that firmly handles protesters, and security force that guards borders and takes on terrorists aggressively. – Amar Bhushan

Kashmir once again exposes our inability to come to terms with reality. Reactions to the current spate of violence following the gunning down of terrorist Burhan Wani are either opportunistic, pedantic, emotional or needlessly panicky. Since the early Fifties, it has been a familiar tale of violent protests, destruction of properties, curfews and killing of terrorists, civilians and personnel of security forces. Not surprisingly, ill-informed politicians and supercilious commentators have renewed calls for withdrawing security forces to the border and removing AFSPA at a quick pace, notwithstanding the fact that terrorists are operating all over the state. They also insist that police use “maximum restraint” and make distinction between “terrorist and people”, but would neither quantify what constitutes “the right amount of force and restrain” nor identify bullets that pick up terrorists in a mob without inflicting collateral damages. Their concern for the use of pellets is jarring, for pellets can neither be precisely guided nor firing units can comprise “only” sharp shooters. Some even believe that Kashmiris’ alienation is complete and it is time India packed up from the Valley. Others stress that Delhi is foolishly trying to hold the Valley by force rather than win its people and urge PM Modi to open his heart to separatists.

Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif must be grateful to such self-righteous outpourings. He has since extended full-throated support to Kashmiri terrorists/separatists and indulged in a bit of drama like observing black day and honouring Wani as a martyr. The Pakistan Army on the other hand has been quietly training and infiltrating terrorists like Bahadur Ali and Mohammad Naveed, and using Hafiz Saeed and his surrogates to keep the situation on boil. Where they err is that violence tailored in Pakistan can never be a perfect fit in J&K.

The Kashmir issue has festered because we keep experimenting with ideas. Intelligence agencies bribed Hurriyat leaders for years, hoping erroneously that money would bring Kashmiris in the mainstream. Numerous back-channel and diplomatic initiatives were launched, but Pakistan has neither refrained from interfering in Kashmir nor accepted Line of Control as international border and unrestricted visits, trade and commerce across the border. Its unfinished agenda remains annexation of Kashmir, which India simply can’t deliver.

Mehbooba MuftiEveryone loves talking of finding a “political solution”, which actually means that we allow J&K to secede, become independent or join with Pakistan. Some advocate giving Kashmiris the option of plebiscite, no matter whether it leads to second partition of India on the basis of religion. Others suggest that all powers that Kashmir enjoyed at the time of its accession to India in 1947 be restored. They try not to understand that no amount of devolution of powers will ever satisfy the separatist fringe who simply dream of living with Pakistan. Strangely, Kashmiris seem blind to the fact that in a unified J&K, they will be reduced to minority and their language will be consumed by Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashtun and Balochi.

70TH Independence Day PM Narendra Modi addressed the nation from the ramparts of Red FortThe other cliché is that we must involve “all stakeholders” to find a solution. The problem, however, is that while political parties may come around to accept a settlement, terrorists and separatists won’t, for their survival depends on how strongly they carry forward the Pakistan Army’s agenda. So long as Pak Army does not abandon its dream of annexing the Valley, there is no possibility of a permanent resolution. Hence, the only option that we have is to tire out Pak Army militarily and burn its mischief wherever it buds. Its proxies in the Valley will fall in line automatically.

It is time J&K was treated like any other state in India without grandstanding on Article 370. It needs a clean and effective administration, a participatory governance, a police that firmly handles protesters, and security force that guards borders and takes on terrorists aggressively. The PDP-BJP government is ideal to accomplish this objective. CM Mehbooba Mufti has her hand on the pulse of most Kashmiris and BJP has the requisite political strength to give her leeway to announce amnesty, provide relief to reluctant terrorists and tolerate their antics like awarding bravery rewards posthumously, raising pro-Pak flags and slogans, writing anti-India graffiti etc.

Opposing political interest groups are in all states and Kashmir is no exception. India is accustomed to managing Naxalites, insurgents and violent crusaders for social causes. There is no reason why it cannot manage unrest in the Valley. It will help if we stop overemphasizing and glamorising the events. The  problem of Kashmir is a historical blunder, which Nehru committed by not integrating it outright with the Indian union. It can now be rectified only by history.  – The New Indian Express, 14 August 2016

» The writer is a former special secretary, Research and Analysis Wing. Contact him at amarbhushan@hotmail.com

Jammu & Kashmir Elections 2014

Nun threatened and harassed by Syro-Malabar Catholic Church – Megha Varier

Mary Sebastian

Megha VarierSr. Mary filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission and Women’s Commission alleging that she was facing physical and mental harassment at the hands of her superiors. But after she approached Women’s Commission, the Church, she alleges, has found new ways of taunting her. – Megha Varier

The Church preaches charity, kindness, and compassion towards everyone but Sr. Mary Sebastian, a 45-year-old nun, is afraid that the very institution that she has served for 25 years might harm her.

Sr. Mary wants to leave the Church and it is a well-known fact that the Church does not take too kindly to rebels.

In January this year, Sr. Mary took the decision to quit the Church because of the harassment that she allegedly faced in the hands of her superiors at the Syro-Malabar Church’s Cherthungal Nasrathubhavan Convent under Congregation of the Mother of Carmel (CMC) in Pala, Kottayam district of Kerala. She has been living there for the past three years.

Sr. Mary approached the Church to grant her 3 years of exclaustration that allows a nun to stay outside the convent as a common citizen and return to the convent after the designated period.

However, she was denied permission as the Church feared that granting her this would encourage other nuns to follow suit.

When the Church deliberately delayed the proceedings, Sr. Mary approached the Kerala Catholic Church Reformation Movement, an organization that works for rehabilitation of ex-priests and ex-nuns. Matters went haywire after the organization intervened.

In May, she was given dispensation and was asked to quit the Church. Having decided that it is best to do so, Sr. Mary demanded that she be paid her due in order for her to lead a life outside the church. The Cardinal George Alencherry wearing his Rajiv Gandhi badge.authorities objected.

Renji Njellani, organizing secretary of KCRM, points out that any priest or nun who wishes to quit the Church is entitled to be given money according to the canon law. The Church refused to pay the sum of Rs.30 lakh that Sr. Mary demanded and offered to pay Rs.1 lakh, after months of negotiation.

Two weeks ago, Sr. Mary filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission and Women’s Commission alleging that she was facing physical and mental harassment at the hands of her superiors. But after she approached Women’s Commission, the Church, she alleges, has found new ways of taunting her.

They even filed a police complaint recently, accusing her of theft. She says that police officials threatened her to quit the Church as per their order.

Last week, a complaint was filed with Child Welfare Committee accusing her of harassing the children at Balabhavan, a children’s home associated with the convent. Sr. Mary claims that the authorities of the committee forcefully made her sign a document pledging that she will stay away from the children.

Renji points out that the Church in fact uses the committee to its own advantage, with priests appointed in key positions.

“I am scared for my life…. They are so powerful that they may even harm me!” These were her first words as Sr. Mary spoke to The News Minute over phone.

Sr. Mary claims that false allegations have been levelled against her ever since she joined the Church.

In 1997 when she was a student of Master of Social Work, her superiors at the convent had accused her of being in a relationship with a priest.

“Nobody asked for any explanation from my side…. I wasn’t given a chance to prove the allegations wrong, or at the least defend myself. They accused me of wrongdoing and I was forcefully sent for retreat camps where I wasn’t allowed to speak to anybody. I used to spend the days cut off from the outside world,” she says.

But things became worse when in the early 2000s, Sr. Mary objected to a misappropriation at Shanthinilayam, a special school in Pala run by the Church.

“When I found that they were forging documents to include nuns in the teachers’ list to claim university grants, I objected. I discussed the issue with other nuns and the superiors came to know about it. Since then, they have constantly been trying to tag me as a mentally challenged person,” she says.

She also alleges that she was repeatedly transferred from one convent to the other, at the behest of the Church, often in the middle of an academic year.

Sr. Mary, who works as a teacher at a school run by the Church, says that she was brutally assaulted by her superiors at the various convents she has lived over the years.

“They would hit me, accusing me of various things, including robbery. They hid letters addressed to me. I forgave them and tolerated everything till now. I cannot take it any further,” she says.

Sister JesmeThe Church involved her family in all these matters too and would demand that they visit to sort things out.

Sr. Mary’s decision to leave the Church citing harassment is not a unique instance. Only a few years ago, Sister Jesme, who had been a nun for over 33 years, quit the Church alleging harassment by her superiors. Her leaving and the subsequent release of her autobiography Amen: The Autobiography of a Nun (Malayalam PDF) had created a huge controversy at that time. Sr. Abhaya’s murder, in which priests are the prime accused, is yet another example of how things are not exactly holy in the Church.

Once she leaves the convent, Sr. Mary cannot go back home.

“Do you know what it means to be a nun who quit the Order? Our society hasn’t grown enough to accept such things. People will see it as my betrayal towards Jesus. But only if they knew that my fight is against the Church and not Jesus….”

She says that her family does not want her to return home. “In fact they don’t want me to quit the Church. It is all because of the stigma that is associated with it. Society will only target my family for my actions.”

Dismissing the allegations of harassment at the hands of superiors, spokesman for Syro-Malabar denomination of the Catholic Church, Dr Paul Thelakkat states that the Church does not stop anybody from quitting.

Saying that he is unaware of the case in detail, Dr. Thelakkat claims that the canon law does not prescribe the Church to pay compensation to those who quit.

“As far as I understand, there is only one problem here. If the nun wants to quit, it is up to her to decide. But she cannot hold the Church responsible to provide rehabilitation. When a nun joins the Church, she voluntarily does so, agreeing that she will not hold any property under her name. Then how can she now stake claim in the Church’s joint property?” he asks.

Instances where the Church does provide monetary help to those who quit are purely out of ‘humanitarian concerns’, he maintains, adding that the nunnery is a service and not a means to earn money. – The News Minute, 8 August 2016

Syro-Malabar Church

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