Friday, February 7, 2014

Thrikkunnathu seminary: Why the government can and should change its approach

Public anger spilling on to the streets is usual when the situation is heated and two groups are involved. Quelling this with police force using batons, water canons, rubber bullets and real bullets will only lead to a temporary calm which will be broken at any time. The churches involved in the Thrikkunnathu seminary conflict are definitely expected to be striving for peace and are also responsible for keeping church members and supporters at bay. This responsibility is one that belongs to all leaders of both churches and there is no doubt about that.

Church feuds spill over into the public domain and this is when political parties and the government especially have an important role to play. This is not something which can be wished away or will be fixed by itself. The government of the day has the responsibility of taking care of the needs of every citizen of the region or country. Questions posed in the form of letters, speeches, marches and entries cannot be quelled by police brutality. Waving of batons and sticks and using authority is the sign of government sponsored anarchy having set in instead of making use of democracy. Anarchy is what the people are usually accused of when they stand for their rights. But using the protective police force as a destructive and obstructive force is also anarchy as it leads to the denial of rights of people which is not based on a public debate or a democratic process. Such brutal force only shows the helplessness of a government in dealing with the situation.

Anarchy is usually played out by ordinary people. It is a reaction to forceful tactics employed by the government against its own people. Giving this a political twist with hired goons and plain clothes policemen waiting to pounce on a sensitive situation is government sponsored anarchy. This is against the true spirit of democracy and this should be contested.

Moxie Marlinspike and Windy Hart in their “An anarchist critique of democracy” talk of how false democracy can bring about alienation, decontextualization, opinions, majorities and imminent critques. According to them alienation happens when “Society thus ends up divided into the alienated, whose capacity to create their lives as they see fit has been taken from them, and those in control of these processes, who benefit from this separation by accumulating and controlling alienated energy in order to reproduce the current society, and their own role as its rulers. Most of us fall into the former category, while people like landlords, bosses, and politicians compose the latter.” The Jacobite church being alienated by the government brings about a foul democracy in this sense. Decontextualization leads to rules and laws being framed and used without taking into consideration the context. Opinions of the people rather than agendas of political rulers are better any day and this is forgotten conveniently. Marlinspike and Hart further explain majorities by saying that “The concept of the “majority” is particularly troubling. By always accepting the will of the majority, democracy allows for majorities to have an absolute tyranny over everyone else. This means that in the winner-take-all context of democracy, minorities have no influence over decisions that are made.” A minority church then has no say in its own matters and justice becomes a difficult proposition. Finally demagoguery, lobbying, and corruption are also fall outs of a misplaced democracy. “Demagoguery refers to a political strategy of obtaining a desired outcome or power by using rhetoric and propaganda to appeal to the prejudiced and reactionary impulses of the population.” This happens a lot with misplaced news and analysis against the church. Lobbying means that “Special interest groups send extremely well-paid people after elected representatives to persuade, threaten, barter or bribe them into delivering legislation, government funding, or other favours for their group.” The church has always found several hidden factors influencing the government for certain decisions. All of this is associated to corruption as well.

The church feuds in Kerala are not new. Both the Jacobite church and the Indian Orthodox Church have to realise that whenever the police use force against prelates, the clergy and the people, they are crushing the democratic spirit which this country and the church believes in. We have to condemn violence and aggression against any church or community as the biblical notion is that “Today it’s me and tomorrow it could be you!” The government by not taking an initiative to bring about justice and peace has turned into a mob, which it accuses the church groups of being, whenever it is pleasing and comfortable to them. The ruling dispensation in the form of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in Kerala has its grounding and foundation in ahimsa (non-violence) and the non-violent struggle of Mahatma Gandhi. Yet the same dispensation tries to quell non-violent protest and thereby quells and destroys the very democratic foundation of not just the church and society but also of the very own political parties that are a part of the alliance.

How many times have political leaders been lathi (baton) charged, hit with water canons and forcefully evicted from contested places and spaces? How many times have politicians been evicted from the revered assembly, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha when they shouted in the house and threw chairs? How many police men waved batons at members of the assembly and parliament when they made different kinds of noises in the place meant for meaningful and civilized debate? The security and justice expected by the people from a democratic dispensation is then only made available to a select political and business class. This is complete breakdown of democracy, challenging the very notion of freedom that this country has been built on and encouraging anarchists to take control of the situation.

All churches try to stay away from politics because they trust politicians to do their job. But what happens when this is not done? What is the alternative for churches and all religious groups when the government supports its version of anarchy in favour of democratic consultation and decision making? What if the people were to say that the security of the politicians is not the concern of the public and therefore the millions of rupees being spent on VVIP security should be stopped? What if the public were to duplicate the anarchy let lose by the government and the police?

The churches and its leaders are definitely called to serve and not to be served. But the same stands for the political class. This is something that has to be done together and not in isolation. The language, humiliation and force unleashed by the police is not a good sign for democracy in the state and country. So there is definitely no need for special treatment for leaders. But a head of a church and its bishops are not criminals in the same manner in which our representatives in the assembly and parliament are not looked at as criminals. If you can ask for, demand and forcefully take respect and use government machinery meant for the people, can’t religious leaders expect a bit of decency from you as well? This is not misplaced. It can be seen as the yearning of an ordinary citizen and should not be misconstrued as the demand of a powerful church and its leaders.

(Picture at the top is of priests in Ukraine standing between police and protestors during the huge protests there last month.)

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