|Dr Jose Maliekal|
Dr Jose Maliekal is a Catholic priest who is the Principal of St John’s Regional Seminary, Kondadaba, Andhra Pradesh. He is a profound thinker who perceives the realities around us very keenly and discerningly. I am pleased to bring here this interview with him which was held via email. He speaks frankly about contemporarily relevant topics such as religious conversion, love jihad, fascism in India, and the farmers’ agitation.
The Dalits negotiate religion in the particular context of their political, social and economic marginality and appropriate the various elements of religion to respond to their own needs and to pursue their own dreams. This dynamics challenges the missionaries as well as those who accuse them of converting the poor. Both of them, ironically, have one thing in common, namely the objectification of people. For example, if the subalterns are assumed as mute sheep without mind and freedom of their own, their change of religion is interpreted as forced conversion, by the right-wing forces or they are labelled as “Rice Christians” even by Christians. My experience as a missionary and more particularly, my five-year long research, among the Dalit Madigas of Andhra Pradesh falsify such assumptions and interpretations. We must think of the phenomenon of conversion, in new terms, taking into account of the agency of the people who create their own history, with their own choices and decisions.
|At the release of his book|
In your book Standstill Utopias? you wrote that “The protectionism of the Catholic missionaries, coupled with their imposition of the dominant cultural and religious modes on Madiga life and religiosity have suppressed the potential for the enhancement of identity, leading to a state of truncated autonomy and contradictory consciousness.” It is a very profound observation coming from a Catholic missionary. Do you think the missionary activity among the Dalits in India should be less about religion and more about their personal, social, and cultural growth?
Love Jihad is a controversy that has gathered renewed momentum now. What is your view on love jihad and the surrounding controversy?
There is a burgeoning religious consciousness in India under the leadership of Mr Narendra Modi. On the other hand, the Prime Minister is very tech-savvy too. Do you think there is a contradiction in this: embracing religion fanatically while promoting technology aggressively?
A few years back, the gift shop of The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum used to sell a poster with 14 early signs of Fascism listed on it. Mahua Moitra, TMC M.P. from Bengal, in her maiden speech in the parliament, brought into relief, seven of them, to describe the murky political situation of the country, bordering on Fascism. The coalescing nexus of corporate sector and the entwined forces of government and religion are signs of Fascism. And India, with the rise of Right-wing Majoritarian religio-cultural nationalism is witnessing just that. The burgeoning religious consciousness finding expression in religious revivalism, unleashing the forces of communalism can perfectly co-exist with the technocratic paradigm of development, in favour of the corporate oligarchy, and the politicians, their stooges, perfecting the art of doublespeak, thriving on the culture of the post-truth. Modi is a perfect mascot and catalyst of this toxic alchemy of people-negating science and monolithic monster of religious fundamentalism.
What is your opinion about the farmers’ bills which have attracted unprecedented protests from a sizeable section of farmers?
The three farm bills, passed in unholy haste in the parliament and which have come under heavy and widespread criticism, in the perception of the large sections of the farmers, are draconian and throwing them into the jaws of corporate sharks. Their repeal is called for because they negatively affect not only the framers, but also the citizens of India, in general, as they would have to be standing with begging bowls, subject to corporate whims, for their daily food, if these laws were implemented. As P. Sainath, the renowned journalist remarked during a recent interview, they are undemocratic and anti-people in nature, foreclosing the possibility of judicial appeal by the farmers, subjecting them to the mercy of the executive, which would play the role of judiciary. While the issues highlighted by the farmers’ protests are not entirely new, the current convergence of authoritarianism and corporate capital brings this existential crisis for rural agricultural producers, even more sharply in focus. The problem of low incomes in India’s agriculture sector is a complex systems problem, needing multi-disciplinary approach, towards systemic solutions, which must take into confidence, also the intended beneficiaries of the new policies.
PS. All the coloured highlights have been added by the interviewer.