By Team FI
A group of progressive Christian activists including noted lawyer Flavia Agnes-Majlis Legal Centre, Virginia Saldanha-Indian Christian Women’s Movement, and John Dayal-All India Christian Council, have issued a press statement condemning the Catholic Bishops Conference of India’s and the Catholic Secular Forum’s demand for a ban of the play, Agnes of God. The Indian production is an adaptation of a play by John Pielmeier performed in the US in 1979
Here is the full text of the statement:
We, the following signatories, object to Mr. Joseph Dias, Secretary, Catholic Secular Forum, issuing press statements, representing himself as the spokesperson of the entire community while he seeks bans on films and plays on the ground that they hurt the sentiments of the Catholic religious community in India. Since such demands tarnish the image of the entire community, we appeal to the press that they should not be projected as the views of the entire Christian community.
We wish to state that the views expressed by him are his own, or at best, that of his organization and this by no stretch of imagination, can be portrayed as the views of the entire Catholic community, as is being done in recent times. His demands are sensational in nature and are self serving to attract media attention unto himself and we are opposed to the same.
His recent target is the play directed by Kaizaad Kotwaal which is based on the original play by John Pielmeier performed in the US in 1979. He claimed that it was based on a true story. For nearly forty years no one had ever demanded a ban on it on the ground that it hurts religious sentiments of the Catholic community despite the fact that it was staged in many countries. It was adapted into a film by the same name in 1985, starring Jane Fonda, which won several Academy Award nominations.
It is styled as a murder mystery around the death of a new born infant, strangled to death at birth using its own umbilical cord. The young nun cannot explain the person responsible for the pregnancy, the other nuns in the convent, including the mother superior, feign innocence. The nun herself claims that it was an “immaculate conception”, and efforts are made to project her as insane, to save her from the murder charges.
It is rather disturbing that the Catholic religious leadership, particularly the apex body (CBCI –Catholic Bishops Conference of India) has responded to the issue and has endorsed the demand for a ban on the ground that the play hurts the religious sentiments of Christians because it “misinterprets the religious belief of the Christian Community and wrongly portrays character of thousands of the clergy who are committed to a life of celibacy”.
Ban of books, films, plays and artistic works on the pretext of “hurting religious sentiments” of the followers of a particular community have become a fad and we appeal to the Church hierarchy to restrain from subscribing to this trend
Such demands violate the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech and expression and is an affront on the democratic traditions of our country.
We endorse the views expressed by Fr. Jacob Peenikaparambil, CMI (Carmelites of Mary Immaculate), who, in an open letter to Cardinal Cleemis (President of the apex body, CBCI), has questioned why the Church is spending its energy on a non-issue while several crucial issues facing minority communities have remained unaddressed. According to him, it is preposterous to believe that staging of a play at a few places will tarnish the image of the Christian clergy. “Is our faith so weak that a book or play can destroy it?” he questions.
In an insightful comment, he states that “a film or a play could be a criticism of an existing evil and the intent of the author or producer could be to dissuade people from committing the evil”. This is a moot point which many women leaders within the community wish to bring to the fore and are working towards bringing remedial measures to curb such evil.
Instead of focusing on a non issue, Fr. Peenikaparambil, while commenting on the recent beef murder case, has expressed concern that the Church should take initiative to bring together all secular forces committed to the protection of human rights and approach the National Human Rights Commission against increasing attacks on minorities in the country.
We endorse his views and hope that the Church gets more involved in defense of democratic values, right of freedom of speech and expression and rights of minorities and concerns of gender justice in the country.
Ms. Flavia Agnes, Director, Majlis Legal Centre
Ms. Virginia Saldanha, Secretary, Indian Christian Women’s Movement
Dr. John Dayal, Member of the National Integration Council (NIC) of India and Secretary General,All India Christian Council
Sr. Noella D’Souza, member of the Mumbai based organization, Styashodhak, which was formed in 1985 to bring to the fore the concerns of Roman Catholic women
Sr. Julie George, a lawyer and Director of a Pune based organization, Streevani, which works for the empowerment of women, and helps marginalized women to access their rights in court
Dr. Astrid Lobo Gajiwala, an expert in Christian theology and a member of the Mumbai Women’s Desk Core Team
Ms. Brinelle Ds’ouza, Faculty, Centre for Health and Mental Health, Tata Institute of Social Sciences
Fr. Cedric Prakash, Prashant Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace
Suren Abreu, Satyashodhak
Mario da Penha, PhD Candidate in History, Rutgers University
Larrisa Pitter, Freelance Consultant
Conrad Pereira, Mumbai
Nadia D’souza, Student, School of Fashion Technology, Pune
Asha Banu Soletti, Professor, Centre for Health and Mental Health, TISS
Dr. Jennifer Kipgen, Assistant Professor, Centre for Health and Mental Health, TISS
Prof. Anjali Monteiro, TISS
Anzu Augustine, Kerala
Fr Allwyn D’Silva, Parish Priest
Rohan D’souza, Student
Eldred Tellis, Consultant, Drug Abuse and AIDS Interventions, Mumbai email@example.com
Pooja Paul , Delhi