India: Jesuits against fundamentalism

Violence in the name of religion is not new in India. During the last ten years, religious fundamentalism has received open political support. More than 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, died in the unprecedented violence that shook the State of Gujarat and the whole of India during January-February 2002 (HL20303). The elections that took place on 12 December to fill 182 seats for the State?s Assembly were perceived by all as a landmark in the history of independent India. Two radically different political options were at a stake. While the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) openly fought the election on a communal platform, the opposition, mainly the Congress upheld a more secular and open vision of society. The results of this election stare us in the face: the BJP has been returned to power with a two-thirds majority. ?No one had predicted such resounding victory for BJP,? writes Jerry Sequeira SJ, Provincial of Gujarat. ?Some of the Jesuits are shell-shocked, but we have to accept the verdict of the people of Gujarat and work within this structure.? During the electoral campaign, the Jesuits renewed their pledge to fight communalism and uphold the Indian tradition of religious tolerance. This stand follows closely the guidelines approved by the South Asian Assistancy Assembly held in October 2001 which emphasised the need of entering ?into critical dialogue and be agents of reconciliation.? Jesuits have worked to spread a message of peace, especially among the youth. ?Using religion for electoral politics is against the fundamental principles of any religion,? writes Ambrose Pinto SJ, former Director of the Indian Social Institute. ?The politics of Hindutva (Hindu religious fundamentalism) are the chief enemy of Hinduism. The polarisation of society that is attempted, and the accompanying militarisation and state repression need to be defeated.? [HL21203]