Sunday, March 04, 2007

A true fighter in a Jesuit's robe

[This article was on p. 5 of today's Ahmedabad edition of the Times of India. I've spent thirty minutes trying to search for it online to no avail. I have no idea why Indian newspapers are so horribly laid out online, and why it's always difficult to find an article online that one reads in the print edition. Ok. /vent. I'm just going to type it in.]
Father Cedric Prakash Lobo, S.J. has been a thorn in chief minister Narendra Modi's side for many years now. Be it his fight against the glorification of Hitler in school textbooks or bringing human rights abuses during the Gujarat riots to the global stage in a relentless pursuit for justice.

Even when he is chatting with his guests and employees, in the middle of organising various programmes on the fifth anniversary of hte riots, Fr. Prakash doesn't lose focus of his mission. "Don't forget the peace dharna tomorrow," he reminds a staffer at Prashant, a nerve-center for activism in Gujarat these days. "And get your children to join too. After all, you have to sensitise them about rights from a very young age, my friend," he tells another. People comply, simply because he makes a lot of sense.

He may be a Jesuit, but has a distinct Leftist tilt. (I have to inser an editorial note here: Being a Jesuit of a certain generation in India is almost synonymous with being a Marxist! However, I'm not sure how what follows is considered "Leftist" in the Indian political usage of the word.) "Religion was never primary. Ieven performed namaaz when I lived in Mumbai. My Muslim neighbors joined in Diwali pujas and Hindus in Christmas celebrations. It was routine," says the Mumbai-born activist, who has the highest French civilian honor, in his large kitty of recognitions.

At the age of 23, he joined the Jesuits in Ahmedabad "inspired by their work in south Gujarat." In 1987, he became head of St. Xavier's Social Service Society, continuing to work in conflict management.

It was an incident in 1992 which changed the direction of his work. "It was two days after the Babri Masjid demoltion. To ward off further violence, we called for a dharna. Suddenly, there was a group of 10 Hindu fundamentalists who came out of nowhere, and, in front of silent policemen, attacked me till I started bleeding profusely. They knew me as a proponent of minority rights and told me to go to Pakistan. On that day, I took a pledge to devote myself to the cause of ridding this world of religious communalism." (I.e., sectarian violence) In 2001, Prakash set up Prashant, a center for religious rights and justice.

Even today, death threats, crank calls and unexpected police inquiries continue to hound the priest, but he bruches them off as "occupational hazards."

The gentle priest has no use for armed security either. "I will never keep a gun, nor seek police protection. I want to live the life of a free citizen," he says.

As he returns from the screening of Rakesh Sharma's "The Final Solution," you ask him: What is the final solution to establishing harmony in Gujarat? Pop comes the answer, "Changing the mindselt of a largely selfish society." As usual, Fr. Cedric doesn't mince words.
And an uphill task it is. (I've added relevant hyperlinks to the text.)

1 comment:

MMajor Fan said...

Thank you for typing this in! Very interesting reading and very considerate of you to do the keystroke by keystroke work!