setstats The Herald of India
Home | About us | Contact us | Educational | Counseling | Letters | Archive | In memoriam | Obituary | Jobs & Careers | Classified
  Greetings to all our readers and patrons
Stewardship and Trusteesh
  By A.J. Philip  
  I ACCOMPANIED Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his visit to South Africa on the occasi  
  Read more ...  
Letter to Metropolitan
  By Rev A.P. Jacob and five other priests  
  Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar  
  Read more ...  
Back to infancy -- they n
  By Shaheen Chander  
  ENJOYING a relaxed weekend, I was checking updates on the Facebook page. I came across a b  
  Read more ...  
Hero of the faith
  By John Dayal  
  In a year which marks the centenary of Saint Alphonsa and Blessed Mother Teresa, most would find it difficult to find another authentic Christian hero for the faithful in India.

Raphael Cheenath, Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, who is now better known across the globe as 'Archbishop Cheenath of Kandhamal', is indeed one of a kind, a hero of the faith for Christians. This for having provided leadership to a battered and fragile community consisting of indigenous Tribal Kondh people and Dalit Panos groups, the poorest and the most marginalised segments of the population, to stand up to the worst form of persecution Christians have faced in over three hundred years.

The last such large-scale violence against the faithful was at the hands of Tipu Sultan, King of Mysore, who ravished the West Coast of the Konkan and drove the Catholics on a long march to captivity.

What Cheenath and his people faced was the full hatred of religious bigots, described by political scientists as the Sangh Parivar. The Sangh violence of the 1990s against Christians saw the emergence of Archbishop Alan De Lastic of Delhi as the undisputed leader and spokesman of the Christian community in the country.

Alan took to advocacy at the highest level, representing the community's cause with the highest political leadership in the land, and when that failed to rouse the national conscience, led the community into radical action, including all India agitation such as the strike of December 4, 1998 which saw every educational and medical institution run by the community close down for a day in protest.

The government's response, then, and of the Bharatiya Janata Party now, was to call for a national debate on conversions, a ruse repeatedly used by the Sangh Parivar to coerce the community and subvert Constitutional guarantee of freedom of faith.

The Sangh violence in Kandhamal was at a much higher pitch, lasted much longer and affected more people than the mayhem had in 1998 or even earlier. When the fires died down in the plateau of Kandhamal right in the middle of Orissa, more than 54,000 people had become refugees in their own homeland, over 400 villages had been purged of Christian presence, a hundred people had been killed and over 5,600 houses burnt. Children lost their childhood, those going to school lost years of academic progress.

A Nun was gang raped, and there were reports of many other rapes and molestation. Girls were molested, and into the third year, some had been victims of human trafficking.

For many, the trauma was worse -- they had been told they could not return to their villages till they became Hindus, a process accomplished by forcibly shearing off their hair and making them drink a mixture of the dung and urine of a cow. Most refused and were severely beaten up and brutalised. They remain the real heroes.

In a way, Cheenath had a lifetime of experience in the tribal regions of central India to know how to respond even to the unexpected. Raphael Cheenath, born in Manalur, Kerala on December 29, 1934 joined the Society of the Divine Word, worked in Madhya Pradesh and Orissa as a missionary priest, and was eventually appointed Bishop of Sambalpur. He was named the second Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar Archdiocese on July 1, 1985. As missionary priest, Bishop and Archbishop, he had worked closely with the Dalit and Tribal communities. It is an interesting fact that his Bishop's house is almost entirely staffed by people from Kandhamal.

When violence broke out, first in December 2007 during Christmas and then in August 2008, it was natural for a duty-bound Cheenath to convey the cries and the anguish of the victims to the national political leadership. With other colleagues of the Episcopacy in the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, he met the President of India and the Prime minister, the Governor and the Chief Minister of Orissa. When the Chief Minister refused to meet the Christian delegation which had called on him, Cheenath led the clergy group to stage a Gandhian "dharna" or sit-in at the residence of the Chief Minister till the man, Mr Naveen Pattnaik, agreed to meet them.

The fires however continued to rage in the forests. It was the forest, like a mother, which sheltered the refugees, preventing a much higher death toll. But they were without relief. The district officers refused permission for Church agencies to bring in relief.

The Sangh had feared that church relief agencies would further convert people or spread Christianity! The media was not helpful.

Cheenath had the courage to go to court. He has consistently shown this commitment to justice, to the need to challenge the legal system of the country to deliver justice to religious minorities. This is not as easy as it sounds. Justice still eludes most in Kandhamal, and it is the legal review system that has been put in place by the church that is ensuring that the Fast Track courts trying several of the criminal cases are closely monitored and preparations made for remedial action.

Cheenath's writ petition in the Supreme Court was the first of the many steps that would have to be taken in courts, and it produced results. If over 2,000 of the houses have now been completed and relief agencies are working, it is because of that court action.

Cheenath would sound out the justice system more than once. He became the first Archbishop, or Christian leader, in living memory to appear before a Judicial Commission, the Justice Panigrahi Commission, to put on record the plight of the common and the poor of his community. He refused to be cowed down by the cross examination of hostile lawyers, most of whom were politically aligned with the Sangh Parivar.

It is not that the Archbishop has not faced charges from the lesser informed among clergy and lay persons, mostly for not being physically present in Kandhamal in the initial weeks, and coming first to Delhi and then staying back in the Bishop's House in Bhubaneswar. But to say this is to not fully understand the geography of the area and the political and violence situation.

There was hardly a Catholic institutional building intact in the entire region. It may be recalled that a bomb was thrown at Bishop's house during Christmas 2007; the complaint of this was made to the police by no less than Father Bernard Digal, then Treasurer of the Archdiocese.

One of the great tragedies of Kandhamal was the martyrdom of Fr Bernard, who left the comparative security of Bishop's house to travel close to 300 kilometres to see the ground situation in the district, which also happened to be his homeland. His own village had been devastated. His brother and family had seen their hut being burnt to the ground, and were now staying with thousands of others in a refugee camp.

Bernard was waylaid, and beaten savagely, and then left for dead. He was rescued by others a day after, brought to hospital. He almost recovered after intensive treatment in Mumbai, but eventually succumbed to his internal injuries and complications in a hospital in Chennai just when everyone was expecting him to be declared cured.

That showed the threat to all clergy and religious, especially women who were absolutely not safe. The Archbishop had been identified by the Sangh Parivar and named as their main enemy. The Sangh staged dharna and agitations in Bhubaneswar asking for his immediate arrest. The threat to the Archbishop's life and liberty was very real. The Sangh was trying hard to implicate him and some other Catholic leaders in the murder of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad vice president Lakshmanananda Saraswati whose murder, acknowledged to be their handiwork by left-wing militant Maoist groups of the region, that had triggered off the violence. The body of this man had been taken in a procession of over 200 kilometres through the hills and valleys of Kandhamal, accompanied not just by Sangh leaders, but even by the highest district civil and police authorities.

The district authorities were just not ready to take the risk for a survey of the violence by the Archbishop, afraid both for his security and possibly that his presence could make the Christian community rise in revolt in the refugee camps where living conditions were barely fit for animals. And when finally Cheenath did come to the district, it had to be while being escorted by an armed convoy.

There had also been charges, muttered silently and gossiped through SMS messages and emails that while Pentecost pastors stayed with the community even in refugee camps, the Catholic priests had gone to the forests. Cheenath had even in the Christmas 2007 violence given clear instructions to the men and women under his charge that human lives were precious and sacred, but buildings could be rebuilt. Cheenath has toured Europe and other countries, but more important, it has been his witness in many states in the country that has encouraged and strengthened the community and given it hope.

Through his evidence before visiting human rights groups, and as important, before emissaries of various countries and the international human rights movement, including the Untied Nations Human Rights Council through its Special Rapporteur, Cheenath has been successful in explaining to the world the danger that neo Nazi and fascist groups, riding a narrow religious nationalism, pose not just to India, but to international peace. We cannot say this of many other religious leaders in the country today. As someone who has seen him at close quarters over the last three years, I have come to respect and admire Archbishop Raphael Cheenath. His life remains under threat. But Cheenath has been a veritable Admiral, leading his men and steering the community to security, and peace while maintaining pressure on the State to give Justice to the victims. (Courtesy: Indian Currents)
The writer is a human rights activist, member of the National Integration Council and former president of the All India Catholic Union
Sonnet who breathes sonnets
  By A.J. Philip  
  Dr Sonnet Mondal is young, both as a person and a poet. In fact, he started his poetic career as recently as in 2005. Yet, he has accomplished a lot during this short period, authoring four books of poetry and winning several prestigious awards. His poems have appeared in journals like the Poetic Diversity, Houston Literary Review, Sound of Poetry Review, Istanbul Review, Kritya, Kohinoor, Muse India and Stremez.

His books are "A Poetic Peep Into The Post Modern World" (Underground Lit. Pub. 2007), "The Curse of Atlantis and Other Poems" (Underground Lit. Pub. 2009), "Songs from Ashes" (Translation work-Bharavi Publications) and "21 Lines Fusion Sonnets of 21st Century" (Sparrow Publication, 2010). His future projects include a novel in verse and another poetry book due for release in 2011.

One of his poems was read out on World Poetry Café, Canada, on January 5 as a message of peace to the world. In March 2009, he was awarded with the Secretary General's certificate and appointment as sub-secretary general of Asia unit of Poetas Del Mundo (Headquarter-Chile). On October 1, 2009, he was bestowed the title Poet Laureate by Bombadil, Sweden, for his contributions to the world of poetry at a young age and also to encourage the lost essence of poetry among youths.

In his latest book "21 Lines Fusion Sonnets of 21st Century" (Sparrow Publications), he has introduced a new brand of fresh and original 21- line Fusion Sonnets. These Sonnets have appeared in Other Voices International Project endorsed by UNESCO and has been translated into Macedonian and Italian by eminent writers in their respective languages.

Apart from his literary works, he edits his journal 'The Enchanting Verses International' and 'United Minds for Peace Society'. He also takes an active role in promoting Indian classical music among youths through his organization Musical Oasis for Resurrection (MORE). In an interview with The Herald of India, Dr Mondal speaks about his poetry, life and future projects:

Question: We have heard about fusion music. It is the first time we are hearing about Fusion Sonnets. Please tell us about the whole concept.

Answer: In literary sense Fusion means Mixing or blending of things. The 21-line Fusion Sonnets blend traditional and contemporary styles. The 21 lines come out from a fusion between a 14-line sonnet with new specialties and a 7-line half sonnet. Hence it has been assigned the name Fusion Sonnets.

Q: Do you consider Sonnets as the best form of poetry?

A: Yes, I consider so. First, I have an inclination for the traditional forms of Poetry. Secondly, I like interplay of rhyming, unlike most modern poets in which sonnets have a varied history. Thirdly and most importantly, sonnets point towards maintaining a balance between Negative and Positive thoughts, social and aesthetic dimensions and, of course, structure and feelings. In a bit vivid manner I must say sonnets are famous due to their structural specialties like rhyming. A poet will always feel a backward pull while pegging his feelings against the board of these specialties. Now, how he pens it makes the form more interesting.

Q: Why did you find the 14-line format unsatisfactory?

A: I didn't find the fourteneer form of sonnet unsatisfactory but sonnet doesn't essentially mean a fourteen-line poem. Gerard Manley Hopkins in the 17th Century introduced the 24-line Caduate Sonnet and the 10 and a half-line Curtal Sonnets. I wanted to invent my own form of poetry and I felt my name as the most suitable and interesting one for this. The 21-Line Fusion Sonnets do not break any basic rule of Sonnets .They just introduce new and interesting variations in which I find myself to be more comfortable and find Sonnets to be more complete.

Q: What are the specialties of a 21-line format?

A: The specialty of the 21-Line Fusion Sonnet lies in its unique rhyming scheme, mixed rhythm and double dimension understanding of a particular thing -- one in the fourteen lines and the other in the next seven lines.

In brief the specialties are as below:-

First Fourteen Lines:-
Same Rhyme in 1st, 5th, 9th and 10th lines.
Same Rhyme in 2nd, 3rd and 4th Lines.
Same Rhyme in 6th, 7th and 8th lines.
Rhetorical questions in 9th and 10th lines.
Negative and pessimistic note in the first 10 lines.
Free verse carrying Optimistic Tone in 11th, 12th, 13 and 14th Lines.
Volta gradually through 9th, 10th and 11th lines.
Next Seven Lines:-The Half Sonnet acting as a coda.
The 14 lines in each case is followed by a half sonnet of 7 lines acting as a coda to add a two-dimensional note in the poem, beginning with the same 1st line and ending with the 5th line of the poem.
Same Rhyme in 16th and 17th lines.
Same Rhyme in 18th and 19th lines.
Volta in the 20th line.
Liberties -- In the length of lines and Rhyme based upon the closeness of pronunciations.
Theme -- 21 Lines Fusion Sonnets deal with heavy and deep themes.

Q: When did you start writing poetry?

A: I started writing poetry back in 2005 without a mind to publish them. From the year 2007, after my book came out one after the other I started taking poetry a bit seriously and as a passion and side profession by the year 2009.

Q: Tell us about the journal that you edit? When was it started? What is the target audience?

A: The Enchanting Verses International journal (ISSN:-0974-3057) edited by me with the cooperation of the co-editors focuses and publishes all form of poetry, both traditional and contemporary, articles upon poetry, poetry translations into English, new inventions in poetry and book reviews from eminent as well as upcoming names in poetry irrespective of any age criteria. The journal also bestows the Enchanting Poet honour upon a poet or poetess for his/her contribution in the arena of world poetry. The journal started in March 2008 has successfully published 10 issues. It aims at both renowned and young names in the world of poetry as its contributors and readers. Of late the journal has decided to start a poetry festival and seminar in Kolkata every year to encourage poetry among youths and common masses.

Q: In India journals are not giving enough space for poems. Is this a world phenomenon? What is your experience?

A: Yes, it is a matter of concern that Indian journals are not giving enough space for poems. I must say they have commercial aims of modern mass readership rather than literature. To name a few exceptions are journals like 'Muse India' and 'Kritya' which have been consistently popularizing poetry.
The world is too big a place and I must say yes again considering the fact that International magazines and journals too reserve much more pages for prose than poetry or poetry-related things not due to the bigger size of stories in comparison to poetry but keeping in mind the popularity factor. Still, in the last decade numerous e-magazines and print journals have come up which have been honest enough in their trials to present good poetry works.

Q: What steps have you taken to popularize your Sonnets and Sonnet poetry in general? What has been the response to your efforts?

A: To popularize the 21-Line Fusion Sonnets all I have done is submit my manuscript to the publishers and send some selections to different journals for their comments and criticism. By God's grace a complete 160-paged book named "21 Lines Fusion Sonnets of 21st Century" is now out in the market. Along with this the Fusion Sonnet form has appeared in nine famous journals and has been translated into Macedonian, Italian and Telugu.
About promoting Sonnets in general, I believe the Fusion Sonnets form will interest writers and readers in the days to come. Apart from these I have included a long article about Sonnets over the centuries in my latest book for a better understanding of them. The emails and letters of appreciation and participation encourage me to go on popularising Sonnets in this new Century. So I can say the response is affirmative.

Q: Do you think there is a future for poetry in this age of mobile phones, SMS, MMS etc?

A: Why not? In fact, I will prefer to say that poetry does have a positive future. Poetry is most terse, pithy and figurative of all literary forms which have the power to capture the innermost feelings of a life-long period in just a few lines and this is enough quality for it to be more popular as people become more and more busy. If I am asked to give evidence I would just like to point at the number of new poetry added daily on the internet poetry sites, exchange of short poetry through SMSs etc.

Q: Please tell us about your family?

A: Well, I have a big family with two of my grandfathers and grandmothers from my mother's and father's side still alive to bless me, though I live with my parents at Durgapur passing some good time with them in the weekends returning from Kolkata where most of my activity is centered.
Check patriarchy
  By Ritu Sharma  
  The exploitation of women and patriarchy are realities in the Indian Church as much as they are part of Indian society, says Nazareth Sister Shalini D'Souza.

The 71-year-old Indian nun, who formerly headed her Kentucky-based congregation of Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, says the Church needs "strong and courageous women who can speak for themselves."

Sister D'Souza, now based in Bihar, speaks about issues such as male domination in the Church, the Church's exploitation of women and ways to liberate women. She spoke to while on a visit to Delhi.

Q: Is the Indian Church patriarchal?

A: Yes, it is. But patriarchy doesn't apply only to the Church. It is part of Indian society. It exists in the Church as much as it does in society. I think what the Church and what we all need is to develop a feminist and a mutually-respectful cross-cultural consciousness.

Q: But how can patriarchy affect convent life where nuns live alone?

A: Patriarchy and male dominance do not affect convent life as such. But cultural hegemony continues. Women, including nuns, have internalized the system. Most women accept male dominance.

We exclude ourselves from positions of responsibility and power. I believe we need to address the issue with a broader vision. We cannot narrow it only to the Church.

We need to empower the powerless; connect with people at the grassroots the poor, tribal and dalit [oppressed] people. We need to introduce a paradigm of solidarity and work toward the "discipleship of equality."

Q: Where do we start?

A: We have to look at several levels. Firstly, we need to re-interpret Scriptures and reconstruct liturgies. We need women like Mary Magdalene, a courageous woman who came to Jesus. She came alone and entered the room where only men were present. She did things which no other woman would dare to do. We need to re-interpret the Bible with a perspective of women, projecting the strengths of women.

Q: What about talk of sexual exploitation of women in the Church?

There is sexual exploitation of women Religious in the Church. But because there are priests involved, there is silence. The fight against this issue has erupted in Europe and the US and it will come to India.

Q: Why don't nuns start speaking up?

Some women have, but only a few. For women to have their say there should be micro movements in the Church similar to what exist in society. Here you have movements against dowries, violence and trafficking. In the same way, we have to stand up against movements that exclude women from the liturgy and from teaching theology in seminaries.

Q: What do you mean by inclusion of women in liturgies?

Women's roles in the Church are limited. Ordination is only for men. Let women lead the liturgy and let the Church include women in more significant roles.

Q: How can you say this when a recent Vatican document puts ordination of women on a par with child sex abuse?

That was very derogatory. Many sections of women have responded to it very strongly. I would like women to be ordained.

Q: What kind of women Religious would you like to see by 2020?

A: I do not think the institution of women Religious would be the same in the next 10 years. I don't think we should be contained in institutions as we are now. There is a Church of the Diaspora, of people with little support. We should be out there living with them and come to the institution only for reflection.

The institution should be a base to rejuvenate but it should not be a place of residence. Women Religious need to look at their roles much beyond the convents.

Q: What do you expect from the Congress of Religious India?

A: It needs to become a forum where women Religious unite and discuss their issues, articulate them and strategize plans.

It has to be a vibrant organization. It has to be in touch with the signs of the times. Until we are involved in the micro movements, we will have no relevance. Until we understand what is affecting humanity and we stand up for it, we cannot be vibrant because we are isolating ourselves.

There are more than 100,000 women Religious. It's a huge force. We have not yet garnered it.

Q: As a leader what have you done?

I opened many doors and took many risks. I spent seven years helping prostitutes and today we have a ministry taking care of their children so as to break the prostitution cycle.

I lived outside my convent with a woman and we used to visit the red light areas every day. I worked for seven years on the domestic workers forum as well as in Delhi's slums. I have done my bit and I would have gone back if I wasn't obliged to do other things.
Chalo Afghanistan
  By Ritu Sharma  
  THREE young Indian Jesuit seminarians about to head off to war-ravaged Afghanistan, say mission work there will make their religious commitment more meaningful.

David Raj, 28, Lancy Dias, 27, and Alex Yagoo, 28, volunteered to work in Afghanistan to recapture their congregation's original spirit of going to new and dangerous places to spread Christ's message.

Dias will go to Herat, Raj will go either to Herat or Kabul, while Yagoo will go to Bamiyan, where Jesuits have been working for the past five years.

The three come from the Karnataka, Hazaribagh and Madurai Jesuit provinces.

The seminarians spoke about the challenges ahead, their expectations and work as they waited for their visas at the residence of the Jesuit Provincial of South Asia in New Delhi.

Q: How do you feel about going to Afghanistan?

David Raj: Excited, because first we are going to help a country which is facing lots of challenges and problems, and second, there is personal satisfaction that we are going to do something that gives meaning to our vocation.

I feel that Religious life is very secure in India and I want to face some challenges. I have led a very comfortable life during my 10 years as a Jesuit. I think there should be some challenges otherwise there is no point in choosing this life.

Q: Are you not scared of going there?

David Raj: The first Jesuits who went there five years ago felt so but now everything is almost set up. Anything can happen. Then, anything could happen in India also.

Q: What has motivated your decision?

Lancy Dias: From the beginning of my life in the Society [of Jesus], I was fascinated by its universal character. I had opted for the Afghanistan mission two years ago but due to some reasons could not go. This time, I got the chance. I don't have fear but curiosity to know the place, to contribute something from what I have gained over the years in my vocation.

Alex Yagoo: I am also excited about Afghanistan. Initially I wanted to work in Nepal but the offer came from Afghanistan.

Q: Are you aware that Indians are targeted in Afghanistan?

David Raj: Attacks and deaths can happen anywhere. We are used to such situations and we are prepared. During my early years in the Society, I worked in a mission where a Jesuit priest was beheaded by people who opposed his work among poor people.

Q: What are the challenges you foresee in Afghanistan?

David Raj: The language and culture of that country will be a major challenge. Indians are brought up in a very conservative way. In our society, Hindus and Christians do not have many Muslim friends or vice versa. Now we are going to an Islamic country. We are going to a place where we are not even allowed to carry a Bible. But the values of Jesus can be taught at any place.

Q: How long will you be there?

Lancy Dias: I will be there for one year and the other two or three years. I will be in Herat where I will be teaching English to students in a high school and I will be training teachers also.

Alex Yagoo: I will be in a university in Bamiyan teaching students and training teachers.

David Raj: I will be either in Herat or Kabul. We are to undergo a teachers' training program. If we do so then I will be in Kabul. Two more Ursuline sisters from Pune will join us later.

Q: What preparations have you done for this mission?

David Raj: I graduated from Loyola College in Chennai and attended a program on training of trainers. I am concentrating on teaching English.

Lancy Dias: Last year while doing my regency, I had a chance to teach in St. Aloysius College, Mangalore, and take regular classes in English. I have done industrial training.

Alex Yagoo: I am going to teach in the human science department of Bamiyan University. I have to teach four papers so I have prepared for that but I cannot put all that material together because I have to study the situation and the students' standards.

Q: Would you be able to teach girls in such a conservative country?

David Raj: I think the Indian media is giving a wrong impression about Afghanistan. In the DVDs shown to us, we found both boys and girls receiving education.

Q: But girls are not allowed to venture out in Taliban-controlled areas?

David Raj: Even we are not allowed to go to places where the Taliban are. We have prescribed areas.

Q: Then who will help those people there?

David Raj: We are on the way. We have to explore the possibilities and hope for the better. We are planning to open up new places.

Q: Have you spoken to those returning from Afghanistan?

Alex Yagoo: They are happy about their stay in that country. We want to go with a fresh and open mind. We donít want to take along any prejudices.

Lancy Dias: Indians are very prejudiced. When we hear about Islam, we think of terrorism but what I have heard from returning Jesuits is that common people there are very good to Indians. If we go with prejudices, it will be difficult for us to remain there. All through our formation, we are fed with ideas about taking challenges, risky missions.

Q: Why didn't you choose a comfortable life as a Religious?

Lancy Dias: I joined the Society after graduation. I have seen the outside world also but find more meaning in what I am doing now. I still find meaning in Religious life.

Q: How are your families reacting?

Lancy Dias: My mother was initially very hesitant. I told her that anything can happen to me wherever I am. We are not safe even in our country. I felt peace within after my decision to go to Afghanistan.

Alex Yagoo: My parents normally don't call me but after a bomb blast in Pune where I was studying, I received a call from them. Now, getting a call in Afghanistan could become a daily affair. I had a tough time convincing my parents.

David Raj: I didn't have a very difficult time making my parents understand. My parish priest was with me and my uncle, who is a bishop, convinced my mother. (Courtesy:

Photo caption: From left Jesuit scholastics Lancy Dias, David Raj and Alex Yagoo
Recognise women's role
  By Ritu Sharma  
  A LEADING nun has called for women Religious to play a greater role in Church and society.

Holy Spirit Sister Helen Saldanha, the leader of Streevani, or the voice of women, has organized lawyer nuns as a forum, and encouraged them to work for the victims of the 2008 anti-Christian violence in the Kandhamal district of Orissa.

Her organization, formed in 1982, runs several other programs for women. It also researches issues concerning women to help them in their multiple roles in the family, workplace, community and the Church.

Here, Sister Saldhana speaks on wide-ranging issues including gender justice and ways to seek more participation in the Church:

UCA NEWS: What's your work in Kandhamal?

SISTER HELEN SALDANHA: Kandhamal is a very big issue. Several Religious sisters have been working there, following the violence. We conducted our second workshop on ways to help riot victims in 2009. The idea of a forum of Religious lawyers was formed there.

Our lawyers are helping riot victims file cases. We went through the cases, and found victims were failing to get justice because they do not have proper legal guidance. We are helping to remedy the situation by providing them all with legal help.

What problems do you face in Kandhamal?

In most legal cases, the witnesses and evidence are not strong and therefore the accused are often acquitted. Some people are punished but the real culprits who engineered the riot are not booked or punished. We need to have a strong voice.

We initiated the work with a particular group of lawyers. Many religious groups including men are part of it. The process is on to bring it to a higher level, so that the victims of riots get justice.

Other than this, what does this forum do?

The forum is a body of religious lawyers from different parts of India. At an individual level, they take up women's issues in local civil courts. At the national level, we can take up certain issues of our identity. Our role in society is the focus of the forum. This collective identity is to strengthen us as lawyers.

India has some 100,000 women Religious but their voice is not heard. Why?

This is true. Generally, in the patriarchal structure of the Church, we don't have space to make decisions. We are hopeful that we will be able to bring change at some level in our own way. We ourselves have to be involved in more areas of work to be more recognized.

Do you think there would have been fewer sex abuse cases if women had more participation in the Church?

Women's participation is a must. They should think critically and assert themselves.

Sex abuse cases are an issue of power. Both in the Church and society, power is concentrated in the hands of men. Unless we bring the other half to negotiate, to discuss, this will continue as 50 per cent making decisions for the other 50 per cent.

Power has to be shared even while talking about sex abuse and other issues.

So you think gender injustice exists in the Church?

Gender injustice has developed over the years. At the same time, it is our task to look at it systemically instead of being quiet about it. We have to bring it to the notice of others, bring it to certain forums, we have to discuss it. We have to realize how we ourselves become victims, and seek ways to fight that.

Gender injustice is there in the Church just as it is in society. It is not only men, even women sometimes become agents of gender injustice. As a structure, the Church has to go a long way and this can happen only with the participation of women.

What is Streevani doing to spread awareness about gender equality?

Our forum is in the initial stages. We have to strengthen ourselves by reflecting more and more about issues. Streevani is a small body and we need a larger representation of women who are awakened.

What are the problems women face because of gender injustice?

Within our own structures, we tend to do what we are told rather than make our own decisions. Women tend to be subservient rather than voice their opinions. It is not that our opinions will not be respected but we fear to take the risk of voicing our opinion. Patriarchy benefits men, so it is up to the women to fight patriarchy.

What is the role of women Religious in building peace?

We can come together in groups for those who are disturbed and tell that we women are the worst victims of any violence. Our role in building peace is to become a catalyst, to speak about and be non-violent in our approach. We can also build solidarity groups to help peace in society. (
People before Church
  By UCAN  
  THE Church should re-examine the way it works from a human rights perspective, says Montfort Brother Varghese Theckenath, who works among victims of sectarian violence in India.

The director of the Montfort Social Institute in Hyderabad, south India, says the Church failed in its mission in Orissa, eastern India, in light of the anti-Christian violence that erupted in 2008.

The riots killed some 90 people and displaced more than 50,000 others, mostly Christians.

Brother Theckenath says the Church must dare to speak up for human rights, be politically involved, and put people ahead of its own institutions.

In an interview with UCA News, he analyzes the causes of the Church's failure to respond adequately to the Orissa tragedy and says the Church in general needs to learn to look at issues, such as its own sex abuse scandals, from a human rights perspective.

UCA NEWS: What made you to go Orissa?

BROTHER VARGHESE THECKENATH: When people have problems, we cannot sit quiet. When riots and disasters happen, I have always initiated and coordinated activities for the victims.

But your Orissa response came almost two years late. Why?

When the riots began in August 2008, I was in Costa Rica doing an academic course. The first opportunity I had to meet some Kandhamal victims was when I came back two months after the violence broke. I thought I must do something.

In December that year, some of us traveled to Kandhamal to celebrate Christmas in Naugaon, one of the worst affected places. Since then I have been going to Orissa periodically. An area we thought we should intervene in was human rights violations.

But more than one-and-a-half years after the riots, thousands still live in slums away from their villages. What can you do now?

There are different dynamics at work there. We have gathered the Religious who are lawyers to help the victims get legal remedies. We have realized it is the time to enter since several cases are being disposed off without the victims getting justice. Of the 11 murder cases disposed off, there was conviction only in one case. This is the right time to have a legal response.

What do you plan to do?

We have decided on three areas. First, to ask for the closure of two fast track courts set up to speed up the trial of riot cases. They no more dispense justice. Secondly, the trial should be done outside Kandhamal because legal process is hampered by threats and intimidation from radicals.

Thirdly, we want a special probe team to reopen and re-investigate cases that are already disposed off, particularly the murder cases. The investigation and trial process were faulty. So we are pleading the Supreme Court to re-open the murder cases.

Which of these three areas are you currently working on?

Now we are gathering the documents of the 11 murder cases for experts to analyze them. The Religious lawyers have taken turns to visit the field in batches to gather evidence to bring other cases to court. The government puts the death toll around 40, actually it should be around 95.

After collecting the materials, we will approach a lawyer to re-file the cases. The only thing that makes victims go on is the hope of getting justice. For them, it is extremely important. It is a question of self-respect.

Why doesn't anybody, even the Church, know the number of people killed in the Orissa riots?

It is because the system has failed. This is a tragedy that should have pricked the conscience of India as a nation. But somehow it has not happened. The Church is in the field by default. We are there because there is nobody else. Our first aim is to help the victims through the justice system.

The Church should also see how it can create a civil society group that says Kandhamal is a tragedy that concerns all the citizens of this country. Until the people of this country own up to it, things will keep repeating. This should not be an agenda of the Church, but the nation.

Why did the Church fail in Orissa as a community?

The Church has not taught our people how to be citizens and how to assert their civil rights. Across the spectrum, Indian Christians are not political enough.

The Church has never learned or talked about organizing democratic protests or taking to streets. It is not politically involved. It has not realized the need for the citizens of a free nation to assert their rights.

Secondly, the hierarchical Church considers the institution more important than people. Despite the violence and the suffering of the victims, the Church was trying to protect its institution.

One example: The administration wanted to close the camps [where the victims lived]. The Church people approved it although they knew the riot survivors were afraid to go back to their villages. The Church was afraid of losing the good will of the administration and the influential people around.

Third, we do not have the courage to speak up. A Muslim friend told me that when the Gujarat riots happened the Church was silent and he thought it was because the victims were Muslims. But in Orissa the victims were Christians and still the Church could not speak. "When will the Church speak out?" he asked.

The Kandhamal incident was the Indian Church's first close encounter with sectarian violence in a big way. We hadn't seen anything like that before. We always thought we had the answer to all challenges and problems. But in Orissa, we were a miserable failure.

It is time we learned that we need help from others. We have failed to make Kandhamal a national issue, an issue of rights violation.

What is the future?

The Church has to move ahead. It has to wrestle with these issues: give importance to people instead of institutions, become political and have the courage to speak out. The Church needs to have a paradigm shift in its approach to these issues.

In Orissa, besides the ongoing cases, there are other issues that the Church should be concerned about such as the displacement of families and trafficking of women from the violence-hit areas. How to do it and who will do? I do not know.

Does your institute plan some program to help the Church in Orissa-like situations?

We have to help people see such issues in the right perspective. The whole sex abuse scandal now shaking the world is a question of human rights. It is not a question of sin and forgiveness alone.

The Church's stand was that the abusive priests confessed, were forgiven and they moved on. The Church did not ask what happened to the abused children. The world is looking at the issue from the perspective of the rights of the abused children.

Human rights is a new perspective for the Church. When we look at the Church with a human rights perspective, convent life, celibacy, papacy and other fundamental institutions of the Church may require a serious review.

Is the Church ready for it?

When you speak of the Church, there are two kinds of Church at work. One is that of men of the cloth, of the hierarchy. The other is the ordinary people. The top level will not change on its own. Change will happen from the bottom. But it will happen.

Now some quarters are calling for a third Vatican Council. It may happen and these issues may be discussed. As a student of sociology, it is very difficult for me to say when the change will happen. But as a believer, I believe that if the Spirit is leading the Church, change will happen; and most probably it will happen sooner than we anticipate.
  Terms & Conditions | Disclaimer | Advertise With Us |   Copyrights: The Herald of India, 2009. All rights reserved.