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A lay perspective from the Indian context

A group of laity, drawn from different churches and from different parts of India, participated in a consultation held in Chennai on the 8 and 9 December 2012, organized by the Board of Theological Education of the Senate of Serampore College to reflect on the Theme of the forthcoming 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches, "God of life, lead us to justice and peace".

09 December 2012

WCC 10th Assembly theme: “God of life, lead us to justice and peace”

We, a group of laity, drawn from different churches and from different parts of India, participated in a consultation held in Chennai on the 8 and 9 December 2012, organized by the Board of Theological Education of the Senate of Serampore College to reflect on the Theme of the forthcoming 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches, "God of life, lead us to justice and peace". We, the participants of the consultation, present our reflections on the theme from the Indian context.

Foundations of our faith

We believe in the God who asks us to make life more abundant for all through our commitment to work for justice and peace. The Biblical notion of life and peace are anchored in justice, which is crucial for peace and for the sanctity of life. Life and peace are goals, and justice is the means to achieve them. We believe that we are called to work for Justice and Peace in partnership with God and to struggle against all forms of injustice around us.

Thematic understanding

The theme of the WCC 10th Assembly is a prayer to the God of Life. The God of Life lives among our people, journeys with them, hears their groaning, shares their joys and pains, and struggles, and is against all life denying forces. The Bible demonstrates that the interventions and actions of God have always been firmly based on the principles of Justice and Peace in each context where the God of Life intervenes. The God of Life leads us to the fulfillment of hope in the most difficult moments in the struggles of victimized communities.

Justice is at the core of the whole of creation. Justice requires equitable sharing of resources, harmony with nature and respecting the right of others to life in all its fullness. Justice would reject any kind of exploitation, oppression or aggression. Justice ensures full and free participation of the people at the lowest rungs of society in decision making processes. We strongly believe that peace can be achieved only when justice is achieved.

The "us" in the theme of the World Council of Churches’ Assembly is inclusive of all the marginalized. There is need for a shift in our understanding of mission as being "to the margins" into being "from the margins". The people on the margins in our context are the Dalits, Adivasis/Tribals, women, children, coastal communities, fisher folk and all those victimized by socio economic, political and cultural exclusion, injustices and discriminatory systems.

Contextual issues in India

Although we are called to celebrate Life, Justice and Peace, the demons of death and injustice are reigning over creation. In India, the demons of death have been very powerful - in the form of an unjust development paradigm, the caste-system, gender-injustice, poverty, homelessness, unemployment, and discrimination against sexual minorities. Neo-liberalism has only aggravated caste and gender discrimination in the society. Religious fundamentalism and attacks against minority religious groups rear their heads as major threats to life. The new economic policy in India, since 1991, has raised other forms of threats to the life of different sections of the people, resulting in new forms of structural injustices and violence depriving millions of people of their right to life and livelihood. The grabbing of the land of small farmers like in Nandigram and Singur villages in West Bengal and other parts of the country; driving Tribal and Adivasi people away from their land, forest and water resources, like in Narmada Valley, Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and in many other places; displacing the traditional marine fisher-folk from their livelihoods by allowing big fishing companies to catch fish from coastal waters - are some of the new demons that deny life and justice to millions of people in India.

Deprivation of farming communities by introducing capital intensive industrial farming has been so intense that 2,90,740 farmers have committed suicide between 1995 and 2011. Large scale migration of people across the country, growing casualization and feminization of work, child labour and sex-trafficking are other consequences of the new policy that denies the right to justice and life for our people. The increase in the number of nuclear power production units in different parts of the country is another threat to life.

We too often ignore the fact that along with these forces, the State, which is expected to protect life and provide welfare to the people, has become very oppressive. The State is unleashing terrorism against the people favoring the interests of a capitalistic model of growth and of those who benefit from it. The State deploys police and armed forces against those people who are committed to accompanying the people in their struggles, and those who work for human rights. The fact that 66% of the prisoners numbering 250204 are political prisoners, kept in prisons for long periods of time without allowing them a fair trial shows the reality of structured terrorism on the part of the State. Only a few persons like Binayak Sen, Ansari, Abhay Sahu have been released after being put behind bars. They and many others are political prisoners who raise their voices against structural injustices in the society – this is a form of terrorism by the State. The State, because of its loyalty to capitalistic growth, works against the weaker sections of the people like unorganized workers, the unemployed, small peasants, fisher folk, Tribals/Adivasis, Dalits, migrants, and especially women among them.

The struggles of Indigenous Peoples in Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Assam, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh for rights, identity and dignity is portrayed as anti-national and unpatriotic and is ruthlessly put down by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act which provides unbridled power and impunity to the defense forces.

Whenever Dalits, women, the transgendered, devadasis and others, who have been oppressed by social systems, attempt to assert themselves, they have been ruthlessly suppressed by those who victimize them, with the tacit support of the State.

It is unfortunate that the elite and religious organizations, especially the Churches, which are expected to speak out and act against structural violence and injustice, are insensitive and indifferent towards this situation that denies life, dignity and justice. They, who are expected to be prophetic, have also unfortunately sold themselves to market forces.

Today the "experts" and the media, mesmerize the people making them believe that the production and consumption of more and more material wealth enhances the "quality of life". Since 1991, there has been a tremendous increase in the production and consumption of goods by the wealthy in India - contributing to a so called improvement in the "quality of life" of a microscopic minority. Materialism, individualism and private property are projected as means to enhance the "quality of life". But in fact, these are the values that work in opposition to fuller life and justice, because on the other end of the spectrum, it has led to growing poverty, unemployment, deprivation and homelessness. It is unfortunate that religious communities, especially Christians, are also upholding these values which are against the values of the reign of God.

The growing popularity of a "prosperity gospel", orchestrated by the advocates of the market economy, so as to expand the market for goods, is a vivid testimony to how the values of materialism and individualism are elevated. The teachings that lead to the multiplication of desires and wants, in fact, threaten the very foundation of the gospel of liberation – the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Despite this disappointing situation, there are signs of hope in the struggles of victims and in the assertion by marginalized communities such as in the movements against the Nuclear Power Plant in Koodankulam in Tamil Nadu, against POSCO in Odisha, the Narmada Bachao Movement in Gujarat, Irom Sharmila’s Hunger Strike for more than 12 years to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in Manipur and the resistance movements in North East India and Dalit solidarity movements in different parts of the world. These all stand as evidence to the fact that the God of Life will give sustenance and hope to the people.

Call for action

Our faith in God, our Creator, calls us to identify the demonic forces that destroy Life, Justice and Peace in India. Our first task is to educate and sensitize the people about these demonic forces and to respond on the basis of our faith in the God of Life. We are called to be a prophetic voice and to function as an alternative community refuting and refusing to conform to the existing values and power structures that negate Life and Justice to all. We believe that it is our task is to organize struggles against the life-negating situations, structures and forces with resilience and perseverance, standing in solidarity with the struggles of the victimized.

We, who believe in the liberating acts of the God of Life, affirm that we will act in support of the efforts and struggles of the victimized in India to promote Justice and Peace. Our discipleship compels us to forsake our benefits and privileges to journey with the marginalized and the oppressed. We commit ourselves to ensure that their voices find a place in our churches, institutions and in the ecumenical movement in India and globally – most importantly at the Assembly of the WCC in Busan, Korea in 2013 so that the prayer, “God of life, lead us to justice and peace” will find fruition.