Earlier this year, Dr Frazer Mascarenhas S.J., principal of St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, sent an e-mail to his students. It was no ordinary mail. The general elections were just round the corner and there was a looming Modi wave. The contents of the letter struck a note of caution. It had the tone of a father speaking to his children asking them not to be swept away. Mascarenhas cautioned his wards to think and choose well before casting their votes. “So what lessons does a reflection on the approaching elections teach us? The prospect of an alliance of corporate capital and communal forces coming to power constitutes a real threat to the future of our secular democracy,” Fr Mascarenhas wrote. The mail, uploaded on the college website, raised eyebrows not only in the academic community but also outside it. Many thought Mascarenhas was interfering in what was a democratic/political exercise. As Christians, missionaries, conversions, church-run institutions and Christmas itself face the pressure under the Modi sarkar, Fr Mascarenhas spoke to Anuradha Raman. Excerpts:
The Centre’s decided to observe December 25 as Good Governance Day. What are your concerns?
I am concerned about several recent moves of the government of India, which seem to show a deliberate insensitivity to particular sections of Indian society, causing damage to the pluralistic heritage India has built up. December 25 is celebrated internationally as a special day for Christians, and in India, where Christian educational institutions are acknowledged as centres of excellence, to schedule other academic programmes on this day is to cause distress. However, these moves also seem to serve to distract the nation’s attention from other more serious decisions which follow a specific strategy of development. These revolve around relaxing environment protection laws, diluting the already meagre rights of labour, making land acquisition easier from tribals and other disadvantaged rural people and facilitating the accumulation of immoral quantities of wealth in the hands of a few. Taken together with the damage to India’s pluralistic social fabric, the country may be rushing headlong towards a development that is blatantly unsustainable and will cause much suffering to millions.
Are these the manifestations of a majoritarian state in power now?
This is a very theoretical a question as India’s diversity, even within the Hindu community, is very well established. Conversions? Indian laws are very clear and conversion by fraud, force or inducement is an offence. All conversions and reconversions can be investigated by authorised officials, but the law should be applied equally.
Isn’t the move going against the grain of the Constitution?
Not only does the Indian Constitution give one the freedom to change one’s religion and beliefs as a fundamental right, but the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) also makes this clear as part of international law. Minority status is also guaranteed by the Constitution. The fundamental character of the Constitution cannot be changed according to the SC’s ruling.
Do you think the demand for a Uniform Civil Code by sections of the BJP and the government are attempts to undermine minority-run institutions?
I do not think the present government is interested in trying to do this, as it will immediately have international repercussions, including economic. Therefore, this brings me back to my earlier stated view that the main intention of the government is to pursue a particular type of development model.