The Catolic Secular Forum

Cardinal Toppo: The faith of India’s Christians a model for the world

In his message for the 64th Republic Day (26 January), the Archbishop of Ranchi reflects on the role of the Church for the future of India. The country can defeat violence, corruption, poverty, hunger and discrimination if it accepts the peace of God as the universal experience of love and justice. The Indian people must live “consistent lives ” in the faith.

India can become a model for the world only if its people and Christians live a life consistent with the faith. This is the reflection of Card. Telesphore Toppo, Archbishop of Ranchi (Jharkand) and former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), on the occasion of the 64th Republic Day (on 26 January). The cardinal – the first cardinal of tribal origin – notes that these celebrations fall in the context of the Year of Faith, the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, when the pope emphasized the importance of the new evangelization. To respond to India’s problems – violence, corruption, hunger and malnutrition – Card. Toppo invites Christians to conversion and Indians to follow the teachings of Gandhi.

The Church in India has to play an important role in shaping the future of our beloved country. This is our responsibility.  We have to rediscover the Beauty of the Truth, and in this context, our national emblem has the words, ‘Satyameva Jayate Truth Alone Triumphs.

It is significant that our celebrations of  our 64th Republic Day is in the  context  of this Year of Faith, New Evangelisation, 50th Anniversary of Second Vatican Council -and also the Holy Father’s World Day of Peace Message, Blessed are the Peace Makes – as instruments gifted to the Church to fulfil our obligation to the Church in the world.

The Church is a sign of sacrament of salvation..India can become a model for the world, when we live coherent lives of faith, which  means a deep coherence between knowing our Catholic teaching with our minds, truly believing it in our hearts, practicing it with our lives and passing it along to our family and friends. This is our faith, and each of us have a responsibility to fulfil.It is through coherent lives of faith in which we share the responsibility in our efforts to transform the world in and around us.

Corruption and violence may take the form of a crime against humanity itself and they are corroding our nation’s character – the New Delhi rape case is a challenge to our conscience. . It is vital and urgent, for a transformation from a culture of Corruption and violence to a culture of justice and peace.

The Pope Benedict XVI Message for World Day of Peace, – “Blessed are the Peacemakers,” reminds  us that God’s peace is the universal experience of justice and love.

Pope Benedict’s message addresses the personal and structural evils of greed, inequality and violence. The Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi understood that violence was linked to poverty and injustice.

The Church has to be the light of the world, and as Christians, even as a minority of (2.3%) as per census 2011, we have to live our vocation through witness of our lives.  Regrettably too often, we live our faith with spiritual inertnia, tepidness, routine.  This Year of Faith is a time of Grace to rediscover the original purity of faith which we received in Baptism.

The beauty of Christ, has to be visible in the lives of Christians, the testimony of life will attract people to Christ, the way of beauty is about the culture in the broadest sense of the word. It is therefore, about how we live our lives in every aspect.  Each of us are called to bear witness to the world of the beauty of Christ

There can be no peace without justice and development; Pope Paul VI had already stated that development is another name for peace. Peace is the prerequisite for development, human rights, and Justice especially in the face of growing marginalisation of weaker sections like tribals, women and dalits.   It is only in peace and through peace can respect for human dignity and its inalienable rights be guaranteed.

Hunger and malnourishment are serious problem, a result of poverty in general. Our country has seen over a quarter of a million farmers’ suicides between 1995 and 2010.  Over a third of India’s population lives below the poverty line and about half the country’s 350 million children are chronically malnourished.  Gandhi concept of development is Sarvodaya through Antyodaya, implying the welfare of all through the weakest of the society

The Holy Father writes, “Peace is an order enlivened and integrated by love- in such a way that we feel the needs of others as our own, share our goods with others  Love for God and Love for Neighbour are inextricably intertwined.  Only love is capable of radically transforming the relationships, urging us to have sensibility, or sensitivity for other.

As we Indians celebrate our 64th Republic Day, may we citizens of this great Republic India, take to heart Pope Benedict  message, “Blessed are the Peace makers, be committed to the truth that “Evil is in fact overcome by good.”

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”

God Bless India !

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Catholic groups succeed in getting Shiv Sena banner off

That unity is strength was demonstrated yet again, when community groups took umbrage to reportedly a hoarding that was put up outside Holy Cross Church in Lower Parel, Mumbai warning of “Shiv Sena Style” tactics, if the pre-primary school admission policy was not changed. The hoarding condemned  the school for admitting students in accordance with the Right to Education (RTE) Act and the Shiv Sena urged preference to locals, in disregard to reservations, which the school was following. The hoarding continued to remain outside the church compound despite much media attention.

However, the concerted insistence by community groups, which represented the case with the Additional and Deputy Commissioners of Police ensured the hoarding was taken off. This according to The CSF general secretary, Joseph Dias was necessary because the local police inspector took no action, despite repeated complaints. ‘ The hoarding was objectionable because it demanded that the school violate the provisions of the RTE Act and incited the public if it did not do so. It also threatened the school of an agitation (andolan), if it failed to fall in line ‘, he said.

Judith Monteiro, an activist of the nearby parish, who assisted the school in the admission process said that since many complaints were given to the police, they ought to have acted promptly, but did not do so. Agnelo Fernandes of the Maharashtra Christian Youth Forum (MCYF) hit out against the Shiv Sena and said it was trying to target the school which was protected as minority institution and only doing its duty. Adv. Joe Sodderof the Catholics for the Preservation of the Faith (CPF) said that such threats and attacks on the community would not be taken lying down and the community needs to rise against it. Archie Sodder of the Association of Concerned Catholics (AOCC) urged the Shiv Sena to reserve a quota for the East Indian Christians and Kolis, who were sons of the soil in Mumbai and demonstrate the party’s concern.

The CSF aims to bring all Christian denominations together and deal with such emergencies, as more such provocations can be expected. Fr Constancio Noronha, manager of the school and Parish Priest of the Church which runs it thanked the community groups for their support. We will keep you informed of developments on this front and will seek your assistance, as the admission process continues. The groups have also urged the Archdiocesan Board of Education to consider collective action as a protest against such threats.


Members of the Shiv Sena have put up a banner outside the Holy Cross School, Lower Parel, threatening to launch a ‘Sena-style’ protest.

Mumbai, February 14, 2013: The school, run by the local  has been following the Right to Education (RTE) rules that mandate a 25% quota for children from economically  weak families. Since the institution is run by a religious minority, the school is also entitled to reserve 50% of its seats for Catholics. However, the local Shiv Sena have objected to this, saying that first preference should be given to those students living in the neighbourhood, who have been unable to apply because of these quotas. The school, currently in the process of deciding admissions to its kindergarten section, has lodged a complaint with the NM Joshi police station.

Father Constancio Noronha, school manager, in a letter to the police, said, “This is to bring to your immediate and urgent notice that a banner with orange flags has been put up outside our church and school gate threatening us regarding our junior KG admission process. …The banner has caused fear among our children and people. There is also fear of damage to our school property. Could you kindly take necessary action and grant us the necessary protection so as to prevent loss to lives and property?”

The school has distributed 500 forms for 60 seats in the open category and 1,000 forms for 60 seats in the RTE category. It also has 120 seats reserved for minority students.

The Sena wants applications to be accepted uniformly. “Locals within a one-kilometer radius of the school should get first preference,” said Nana Ambole, a local Sena leader whose name appears on the banner.

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‘Rights in the Constitution is not the yardstick to asses democracy’

“In a secular democracy it is important to see that how far the majority community takes care of the rights given to the minority communities. The rights available in the constitution of India for Minorities are not the yardstick to assess the functioning of democracy. The functioning of a sound democracy could be judged by the attitude of the majority community towards minorities that how far it volunteer in the implementation of the rights given to the minorities in the constitution.” These were the thoughts of Dr. Faizan Mustafa vice chancellor of National Academy of Legal Studies and Research (NALSAR).

Dr. Mustafa was speaking on the occasion of Justice Mohammed Rafiuddin Ahmed Ansari fifth annual Memorial Lecture organized by the Justice Mohammed Rafiuddin Ahmed Ansari Memorial Trust in the Administrative Staff College of India Hyderabad.

In his brief speech Dr. Faizan Mustafa said, “The guarantee of rights to the minorities has been ensured in the constitution of India. Article 29 and 30 provides protection of the certain rights of the minorities in India, however in the script of the constitution there is no separate article guaranteeing protection of the Rights of minorities. But in a general context it is given in the constitution of India that if there is any discrimination meted out to a citizen on the basis of language, religion, culture, caste, or race guarantee is given to protect his rights. So in this way, citizens including citizens from minority community cannot be deprived of their rights in any field on the basis of race, caste or language.”

“Implementation of individual rights is not enough because many individuals get their rights independently but as a member of their community they often do not get their rights. There is a need to give equal rights to a group which have been guaranteed in the constitution.” Dr. Mustafa observed.

The topic of the memorial lecture was ‘Minorities and National integration’. The lecture was presided over by Justice V. Eshwarayya, Judge of A.P. High Court; the key speech in the memorial lecture was given by Justice M.N. Rao, Chairman of National Commission of Backward classes and former Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh High Court.

Ms. Fareeda Hussain secretary of the Justice M. R. A. Ansari Memorial Trust welcomed the speakers, guest speaker and the audience. Speaking on the communal riots and particularly on Gujarat pogrom of Muslims Dr. Faizan Mustafa said, “Political motives are the major factors behind all the communal riots which occur in this country,”

He termed Gujarat riots as unique compare to the other communal riots in India, “Gujarat riot is unique because introspection is being done and intention to provide justice can be seen as the culprits are being punished. A former minister has been put behind the bars, and all those who are fighting this legal battle to get justice for the Muslims are the people mainly from majority community. This communal riot, the subsequent events and providing due justice to the victims highlights the secular character of this country.”

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Lawyers for change

To recognize the importance of safeguarding and extending the rights of the vulnerable.

A three-day meet brought together 80 young lawyers from across the country to recognize the importance of safeguarding and extending the rights of the vulnerable.

The Centre for Social Justice & National Dalit Movement for Justice, a socio-legal NGO, organized a National Meet of Social Justice Lawyers as part of its “Lawyers for Change” Fellowships programme at New Delhi from the 28-30 April, 2012 at Navinta, Okhla-New Delhi.

It comprised of sessions where eminent personalities shared experiences on use of law as a tool of social change, human rights interventions, court room practice and public interest litigations.

The opening speech was made by Mr. Gagan Sethi, Vice Chairperson of Centre for Social Justice, who spoke about the Centre’s journey of engaging with lawyers. The Lawyers for Change Program had been a dream of Gagan and is the first systematic effort of bringing young lawyers from across the country for social justice lawyering.

Ms. Farah Naqvi from the National Advisory Council, in her inaugural speech spoke powerfully about the need for an army of social justice lawyers both inside and outside the courtroom. She articulated the worry she faces in doing her work on changing public policy, because of the stream of new laws being passed by Parliament, but the abysmal lack of implementation its existing laws. She urged the young lawyers to challenge the system through their lawyering, and appealed to them to humanize the legal system, and dignify every victim who approaches them.

Professor Babu Matthew in his keynote address congratulated Mr. Gagan Sethi for creating a space for young law graduates to involve in social sector. Using the labour law sector as an example, Prof Matthew directed attention to the unique, old model of development existing in India, which was rights-based, and which was destroyed with the advent of neo-libralism. According to him, to advance in the field of social justice lawyering, is to return to the old model of development. He ended by emphasizing the importance of a community of Lawyers for Change in this journey.

Mr. Tridip Pais, advocate from New Delhi, speaking on the topic of “Sensitive Lawyering – Integrating response to human rights within mainstream practice” began by sharing how he devoted 75% of his time to mainstream cases and 25% to what he broadly categorized as “free cases” – social action litigation. In his opinion, a lawyer has a responsibility, in his free cases, to represent clients who don’t have the option of another lawyer.

Maneka Guruswamy, who practices in the Supreme Court echoed the importance to have access to a decent standard of living as well as do interesting work and simultaneously making a difference and bring craft and quality lawyering to the courtroom, as well as maintaining a level of professional detachment. She also voiced her concern about the extraordinary gap between the world of legal scholarship – reading, writing and critical thinking – and actual legal practice, and the need to bridge the same.

In the Post-lunch session Ms. Geeta Ramaseshan, Senior Lawyer, Madras High Court speaking on “Experiences from the Civil Liberty Movement.” shared her experiences from the 1980s. She spoke about the different kinds of strategies used on behalf of victims of oppression to get them justice. And stated how she found Public Interest Litigations to be very risky. This is because with the dismissal of the case, the court washes its hands off it, making the political process around it much more challenging. So use PILs cautiously and as a last resort. She also shared her misgivings about the use of media for litigation. And ended by asking the young lawyers present to rise to the occasion and practice social justice and build a constant repository of knowledge in the process.

Ms. Vrinda Grover, a Human Rights Advocate from New Delhi talked about the inextricable linkage of law with politics and her experiences regarding communal violence and Kashmir. She stressed on the need for every lawyer to work bottom-up, from the lower-most courts as those were the actual arenas of human rights work. However, lawyering in her opinion needs to be done both within the courtroom and outside it, and research and writing are as important an aspect of human rights lawyering as practice. Moving on to ethics, Ms. Grover expressed her problem with the second-rate lawyering done in free cases of public interest, and the express accountability of lawyers to each and every client they represent.

Mr. Prasad Sirivella and Mr. Paul Divakar from NCDHR took the last session on Dalit Rights. Mr. Sirivella presented a statistical analysis of atrocities taking place on Dalits across the country, and how they are affected not only by non-implementation of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act but also by other social welfare legislations. Mr. Divakar, apart from caste-based violence, spoke about gender-based violence and drew parallels between the two. He concluded by speaking about the transformation taking place within the legal system, and the hope for better legislations and implementation in the future.

The second day started with the Joint Registrar (Law) of the National Human Rights Commission Mr. A. K. Parashar. He spoke about role of lawyers in ensuring Human rights. He talked about NHRC, its role, powers and functions and its association with 40 young lawyers. He emphasized that all human rights are connected with dignity and as lawyers we have the responsibility to preserve them. He also shared some gross violations of Human Rights in different states and the interventions done by the NHRC. The NHRC provides platform to young lawyers in the form of internships, funding individual proposals for awareness programmes, sensitization programs etc. He also talked about having started the “Open hearing” concept which is going to take place at different states including Gujarat, Ahmedabad on the 14th May, 2012.

Ms. Sudha Bhardwaj from Raipur/Chhattisgarh talked about “The legal face of corporate land grab”. She shared her experiences of working with the trade Unions and fighting cases for them. She talked about the Janhit’s model which was providing legal aid to “Sangathan’s” and not individuals as we can reach out to a mass of people, which creates a snowball effect. She emphasized the importance of ground work and getting it linked with the court room lawyering. Ground and court work together as two legs. She said that as young lawyers it’s our responsibility to help people to go to the right forums with right legal sharpness to decide where and where to intervene for justice.

Ms. Shruti Pandey, Programme Officer, Ford Foundation, talked about Policy Formulation – Challenges and Learning. He spoke about using law as a tool for social justice and not the end in itself. Some major challenges in implementation are related to financial resources, human resources, knowledge, grip and lack of mechanisms of accountability. She advised that if we are Social Justice Lawyers, we have to understand policy from start to the end process with a political understanding.

Ms. Kajalbhardwaj, spoke on “Intellectual Property Regime and its impact on the vulnerable”. She suggested that as lawyers and advocates we can bring up HIV patients etc. into patents office, give legal training and empower them, approach courts on right to health, intervene in cases where companies sue government to remove health safeguards etc. and discussed some landmark cases.

Justice S. Murlidhar talked about “Practical Legal Strategies for Ensuring Human Rights”. He started with his journey of being a student of law. He urged the young lawyers not to start a special practice but be a generalized lawyer initially and see how courts function. He said, people see law as negative and a tool for oppression. It is our responsibility to change this perception. He highlighted the art of listening, honesty to the clients and lawyers towards each other, the importance of written communications, the quality and the importance of a good drafting, and last but not the least the importance of reading and hard work for a lawyer. He raised his concern over slum dwellers and suggested interventions by doing survey’s about the people there, their problem relating to health, education, work etc. and then argue for their rights, seeing an issue holistically. He ended up saying our efforts and advocacy should be such as to make the bench listen to you.

The first person of the 3rd day was Abusaleh Shariff, Executive Director, US India Policy Institute. He said in the actual practice the citizenship rights have not reached to all people and therefore as Lawyers you have to reach out and change the system and utilize the Constitutional rights to ensure justice to all the citizens of the country.

Ms Veena Gawda a practicing Feminist Advocate in the Bombay High Court spoke on the challenges in her experience of lawyering as feminist. She wants to ensure any rights for women whatever they are by use of law all through. To be a lawyer is a very challenging choice of profession in a cosmopolitan city in our Indian society today and so she urges the young lawyers to take up as the challenge for the cause of justice for the people especially women.

Mr. Amitabh Behar Executive Director, National Foundation for India said, it is very important for the advocates to understand and take part in the grassroot level right from the village gram sabhas to the district level and then bring impact to the approach paper in front of the planning commission of India. As in the process of decentralize planning it could of immense help.

Mr. Arvind Narrain, Founder of Alternative Law Forum spoke on the Rights of Sexual minorities and to fight for injustice in the communities as group of social lawyers for change. The provision of law needs political intervention. The notion of morality is constitutional morality.

Wajahat Habibullah Chairperson, National Commission for Minorities India said, “When the justice is denied to the vulnerable there is where lawyers are to be there and fight in groups as lawyers for justice.” The question whether the muslims in Gujarat enjoy the right to life? Many lives were taken away in the name of the religion. He asked, Can a country like India have within the whole community internal disparities? Kashmiri Pandits internally displaced, the Christians of Kandhamal did not get back to their homes deprived from schools, hospitals, and jobs etc.

The 3 day meet closed with a fire in the hearts of young lawyers now ready to take up social justice lawyering.

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India: Day of thanks for Benedict XVI and his Pontificate

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Mumbai, has launched a special day on 22 February, Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, to honour of the pope. In these eight years, the Holy Father has repeatedly identified the challenges facing India and Asia: a dialogue between cultures and religions, secularization, globalization and implementation of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

Mumbai, February 14, 2013: February 22 next, Christians from all over India will spend the day with Benedict XVI and his pontificate. The initiative is being launched by Card. Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Mumbai and president of the Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), who chose the feast of the Chair of St. Peter to express the deep gratitude of the Church in India to the Holy Father. That day, at 18:30, every Christian institution, convent and monastery will dedicate an hour of adoration to the pope.

In these eight years of his pontificate, Benedict XVI addressed on several occassions and in different ways issues dear to India and Asia. For example in the encyclicals Deus Caritas Est, Spe Salvi and Caritas in Veritate, which identify some of the most significant challenges of the continent. “In addition to the dialogue between cultures, with the poor and with other religions – said the cardinal, who is secretary general of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) – Benedict XVI stressed the need to implement the Church’s social doctrine to the realities of today : the economy, globalization, the gap between rich and poor, ecology, fundamentalism. ” Thus, he stressed, “development is at the heart of human actions, and globalization and progress can serve humanity.”

The pope’s attention to the Asian world was manifested not only through his documents. “Asia – noted Card. Gracias – is home to the largest Muslim population in the world, and the repeated attempts of Benedict XVI to communicate with Muslims was a really important challenge. With intellectual clarity and academic brilliance he has created the basis to understand their differences and call for a united front against secularization. ”

The archbishop of Mumbai, says “the last two days of world peace” were fundamental.  In 2011, “Religious freedom, the path of peace,” the pope said that “religious freedom is an authentic weapon for peace that can change the world and make it better.” In his message for 2012, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Benedict XVI said that “peace is not merely the absence of war,” but more importantly, reiterates Indian cardinal, “it is the universal experience of justice and love, which contrasts with the personal and structural evils of greed, inequality and violence. ”

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