[Editor’s note: India celebrated January 26 as Republic Day. It is the date on which the Constitution of India came into force on January 26, 1950. This year marked the 68th Republic Day of India. Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil, formerly of the Archdiocese of Guwahati in northeastern India and currently retired from his role as apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Jowai, offered this reflection on the occasion.]
Republic Day is an occasion for us to ask ourselves whether the values taught by our Founding Fathers are still alive among us. When values weaken in society, use of force takes over…from the side of the government, and/or between citizens themselves.
Unfairness increases in every form, and minorities and the weaker sections of society suffer the most.
Violence is another name for force used in an unfair manner. Once violence breaks out, there is no limit to the extent it can go. In situations of inter-community or international tensions, one needs to take steps forward most carefully.
Aggressive language invites aggressive language, provocative vocabulary invites provocative vocabulary. Provocative language today in the mouth of persons in responsible positions is shocking. If things take a bad direction, everyone stands aside in helplessness. And yet, this is precisely what seems to be happening.
It is in this context that the message for the World Day of Peace of Pope Francis on the first day of the year seems most relevant. There is nothing truer today than his frank admission that we already find ourselves “engaged in a world war.” He makes a passionate appeal for ‘nonviolence.’
His deep emotions are evident when he pleads that nonviolence be brought to all today’s problem-ridden political situations until it becomes the normal style of conducting politics. He places before the political leaders the images of persons such as Mahatma Gandhi, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, and Martin Luther King.
The mentioning of the first two figures may be a reminder to India and Pakistan to learn the path of peace from their own heroes.
Such a message of nonviolence may sound unrealistic to those who have to make hard decisions before expanding violence and a threat to themselves and their interests. And yet it was before a threatening aggressor that Jesus asked Peter to put back his sword where it belonged. He advanced the interests of his Kingdom by witnessing to the truth in all sincerity, rather than by responding to violence with counter-violence.
Such idealism is fast fading in civil society today, and the very values on which democracy and a universal outlook were based are weakening. Irresponsible populism seeks to win support based on aggressive self-promotion, opportunism and exclusivism.
Julius Caesar quotes invading Celts as saying, “We carry justice at the point of our swords.” It is to such leaders that Pope Francis earnestly appeals to attempt a political culture of nonviolence.
He does not limit himself to political leaders, but appeals also to those who make major decisions in the field of economy. There may be business magnates who are totally insensitive to the concerns of helpless employees who are kept at a distance by the impersonality of the New Economy. There are hundreds of subtle and hidden ways these suffer violence at the hands of those who make decisions from a distance that affect the fates of millions.
Collective anger is like weaponry in store, ready for use at any time. Today there is so much anger between class and class, caste and caste, ethnic group and ethnic group, religious community and religious community, people of various persuasions, interests and visions, that we need persons of high spiritual caliber and deep human concern to bring individuals and groups together, lighten their anger, bring sobriety to thinking and point them a path to the future.
Memory of historic injuries too may need to be healed. All such things would be a great contribution towards nonviolence.
The pope speaks about Mother Teresa, whose whisper touched the heart of humanity. Today, on the contrary, we seem to be moving into an era when a harsh, cynical and provocative language dominates the political stage. When this combines with an irresponsible manner of reporting to please the powers that be, violence is merely waiting in ambush.
The pope invites all those playing a responsible role in the field of politics, economy, media and public institutions to collaborate together to keep violence at a distance.
Religious motivation provides the sturdiest energies for world peace. If these energies turn in the opposite direction through the misreading or misinterpretation of religious teachings, for self-interest or for any other reason, consequences can be disastrous. The pope appeals to religious leaders of all religions therefore to play a dynamic role in guiding their followers on the way of nonviolence and peace.
There is no doubt that the path of nonviolence is a ‘road less traveled.’ It still remains greatly unexplored, though there is growing interest in the hope it seems to offer. We do hope that the appeal of Pope Francis may arouse new interest in the venture to explore its winding ways and reach out to the very end.