Narrow, divisive cultural nationalism no patriotism: Catholic bishops
India’s Catholic bishops on February 19 concluded their 34 biennial plenary, asserting that none has the right to question patriotism of any citizen on subjective grounds.
“We believe that patriotism is different from narrow and divisive cultural nationalism, which is radically different from Constitutional nationalism,” stated 192 members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) after their February 13-19 assembly at St. John’s National Academy of Health Sciences, Bengaluru, capital of Karnataka state.
The bishops’ assertion came in the backdrop of a raging controversy over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) enacted on December 15, 2019. The amendment aims to provide citizenship to migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, barring Muslims.
However, many groups, including non-Muslims such as the Maharashtra unit of the Justice Coalition of Religious, comprising Catholic priests and nuns, find the CAA as the first instance of religion being overtly used as criterion for citizenship under Indian nationality laws and therefore fundamentally discriminatory and divisive in nature.
They also say the CAA is “at odds with secular principles enshrined in the Constitution and contradicts Articles 13, 14, 15, 16 and 21, which guarantee to every citizen the right to equality, equality before the law, and non-discriminatory treatment by the State.”
The bishops, who deliberated on “Dialogue: The Path to Truth and Charity,” say they join the “framers of the Constitution” to affirm that religion should not become the criterion to determine one’s citizenship.
They want the authorities to come forward “with sincere and effective means to erase the sense of fear, anxiety and uncertainty spreading in the nation, especially among the religious minorities.”
The Catholic prelates hail pluralism as Indian society’s hallmark. “From ancient times, India has been a mosaic of many religions, cultures and languages with a strong Indian identity,” explains their four-page final statement.
The prelates, prompted by their “fidelity to Jesus Christ and unflinching loyalty to our beloved motherland,” assert that what unites India is stronger and deeper that what divides them.
“We are proud of our Constitution that envisions a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic which resolved to secure for all its citizens Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity as enshrined in the Preamble,” they say.
The bishop say justice is social, economic and political, while liberty upholds freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship. Equality assures equal status and opportunity.
“These Constitutional values form the ethos of Indian identity that promotes fraternity, dignity of the individual and unity and integrity of the nation. Every citizen must be ever vigilant against all attempts to undermine the ennobling human vision of the Constitution so that our beloved country ever remains united,” the Catholic prelate cautions.
The bishops voice concern over “false nationalistic ideologies that instigate contempt for cultures other than the majoritarian dominant culture.” Such ideologies perpetrate atrocities, they warn and stress the need to clarify “the essential difference between patriotism and pseudo nationalism.”
Patriotism, they say, builds up the nation while pseudo nationalism destroys the integrity, unity and harmony of the nation. Nationalism, particularly in its most radical and extreme forms, is thus the antithesis of true patriotism.
The bishops’ statement appeals to state authorities to take steps to contain pseudo nationalism lest it breeds new forms of totalitarianism.
In an indirect reference to the nationwide protests over CAA as well as the National Population Register (NPR), National Register of Citizens (NRC), bishop urge the authorities not to misconstrue dissent as un-patriotism.
Asserting that democracy cannot be built on monologue, the bishops call on state authorities to dialogue with those protesting against CAA-NPR-NCR.
“Against the attempts at creating cultural isolation in our beloved country, dialogue will make the elements that are seemingly a barrier or a wall, a bridge of relationship,” the bishops say.
They quote Pope Francis to assert that identity and dialogue are not enemies. “Our own cultural identity is strengthened and enriched as a result of dialogue with those unlike ourselves. Nor is our authentic identity preserved by an impoverished isolation,” the Pope had said in his exhortation after the Amazon Synod.
The bishops point out that every community in India possesses separate and rich cultural identity that should be respected at any cost. “Attempts to homogenize and impose a mono-cultural pattern pose serious threats to the cultural patrimony of our country,” the prelates warn.
The bishops also assert that no culture or religion should dominate over other cultures and religions in India. “Subduing certain cultures by the dominant culture will destroy the brotherhood and harmony existing in the country,” they warn