Wednesday, November 18, 2009

To speak for the poor and the oppressed, one need not be a Marx (who derives inspiration from within to do so). History is rife with many religious icons who have used the symbolism of god to bring peace. Martin Luther King Jr is a standing example. The Baptist priest thundered from Washington, with Abe Lincoln sitting behind as a historical witness, that judge your fellas by the content of their character. His use of stunning metaphors, to put across his message, points to what religion or religious icons truly are: pointers to perfection. Take this Kingly metaphor: do not “satisfy thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” No ordinary individual can put it so succinctly.

Just a few minutes back, I discovered another magnanimous icon who risked his life for his country’s suffering campesinos (Spanish for farm-workers). He was Oscar Romero, the archbishop of El Salvador, a Central American republic. Assassinated in 1980 for giving the voice to the voiceless and preaching righteousness to the powerless, Romero was a pious priest. Starting in the 1960s, El Salvador (paradoxically The Savior, in Spanish) was torn by a civil war – stoked by the plight of the poor campesinos whose miserable life was in no way comparable with the opulence of an oligarchy. Turning every disillusioned campesino into a guerilla, the military-led government tolerated the extreme-right-wing’s brutal death squads.

These squads massacred anyone they wished and Romero would have always been on their radar. In March 1977, when his Jesuit priest friend was brutally killed, Romero came out to call for justice. “In the growing climate of fear and war, his word of truth in a culture of violence and lies was nothing less than a subversive act of nonviolent civil disobedience.” On March 24, 1980, Romero organized a mass and read out from Gospel of John: “Unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains only a grain. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.” This does not mean real death, but dying every day/moment to be reborn with renewed strength in what one’s calling is. Selfless service, in short. Few moments down, Romero was shot and was dead in few minutes.

The cue to Romero came from Noam Chomsky, the towering intellectual light of the 20th century human excesses (into this century as well). Chomsky describes gory scenes that remind me of the Gujarat carnage of 2002. Aided and abetted by the US administration, right from Jimmy Carter through Ronald Reagan, the junta government had no tolerance for any opposition and decimated dissent barbarically. “People are not just killed by death squads in El Salvador-they are decapitated and then their heads are placed on pikes and used to dot the landscape. Men are not just disemboweled by the Salvadoran Treasury Police; their severed genitalia are stuffed into their mouths. Salvadoran women are not just raped by the National Guard; their wombs are cut from their bodies and used to cover their faces. It is not enough to kill children; they are dragged over barbed wire until the flesh falls from their bones, while parents are forced to watch.”

Ghastly scenes that cannot be justified in any way. How could humans be so horrible insensitive? What could have drove them to commit such macabre acts? Enough fuel for another post.

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