Fr. Cedric Prakash: Yes, it is time to face our demons!

Fr. Cedrick Prakash’s response to an article by Chetan Bhagat, in Times of India Blog.

Fr. Cedric Prakash is Human Rights Activist from Ahmadabad, Gujarat; who has been in the forefront of criticism of Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat, vis a vis Gujarat riots of 2002.


Yes, it is time to face our demons!

 Fr. Cedric Prakash                                                              

Fr. Cedric Prakash

By Cedric Prakash*
(In response to article Time to Face our Demons by well-known litterateur Chetan Bhagat)

Dear Chetan,
Your article ‘Time To Face Our Demons’ in a National English Daily (February 25, 2013) was indeed very interesting. As always, you need to be congratulated for your brilliant simplicity in communicating a message.
There are several good points in your article which the average reader will surely welcome; however, I cannot help but express my discomfort, in at least three areas, at the way you have skillfully nuanced your piece.
The selective use of words:
In the opening para itself, you write about ‘the Godhra train carnage’ and ‘the subsequent riots’ ……there is something extremely misleading in this statement. Let’s accept that the burning of the train was a carnage, then to put things in perspective what followed were NOT riots but also a carnage, if not a genocide.
Later on you write ‘if Hindu groups target a few innocent Muslims in a few stray attacks…..’ I honestly fail to understand if Malegaon, the Samjautha Express, Ajmeri Sharief among others, were just ‘stray’ attacks?
One certainly does not have to quibble about words, but when an author of your eminence writes a piece, the choice of words is important, as they are undoubtedly very carefully selected.
The theory, ‘not to point fingers at some’:
It is a good theory to hold “all of us” responsible. But one has “to attach villains to the incident”, as this is an incontrovertible fact, even if you don’t agree with it.
Someone is responsible for the killing, the loot, the rapes; someone who presides over it or gives the order that it should happen or perhaps someone who can stop it, but does nothing.
We know that all over and particularly in India, mobs are manipulated. Someone calls the shots, be it in the carnage of the Sikhs in 1984 or in the Gujarat carnage of 2002. In the latter we know, nothing happened in Gujarat or anywhere else in the country for full twenty four hours after the burning of the train; besides, when the violence took place, it happened only in Gujarat. We certainly need to ask why and who was responsible?
The fact that ‘wounds need to be healed’:
I certainly agree with you when you categorically write that “wounds need to be healed”. But wounds can be healed when the person who is hurt forgives the one who caused the hurt. I am a Catholic priest and one of the important Sacraments we have in the Church is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We believe that our God is a forgiving one, whose love transcends every narrow confine; but we also believe that forgiveness is always a consequence of realisation of the sin and of deep remorse. We have the famous parable by Jesus called the ‘Prodigal Son’, wherein the wayward son realises that what he has done was totally wrong and unacceptable and in true contrition, he says to himself, ‘I will arise and go to my father and tell him that I have sinned against Heaven and against thee’.
Forgiveness results in healing, but then one does not forgive in a vacuum. Only when those responsible for a wrong have realised the enormity of their acts and are willing to show remorse, can one actually forgive them!
Some years ago, Australia set the world a classic example when it instituted a ‘National Sorry Day’ (May 26th) to remember and commemorate the crimes that the white Australians had committed on the aborigine population over several years. In 2008, the then Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd moved a motion of apology to Australia’s indigenous peoples in Parliament and apologized for the past laws, policies and practices that literally devastated the aboriginal people.
Having said this, you rightly acknowledge that for you “this has to be the most difficult piece to write.” There is no doubt about that. It is always difficult to write about another’s pain and trauma. Yes, wounds need to be healed but wounds are only healed when those who are wounded can truly experience caring, acceptance, a sense of justice and are able to live without fear.
Until this takes place, we will continue to allow the demons to haunt us!
Terror knows no religion. We all agree on that but there are certainly some who take their diktats in the name of their religion. And civil society needs to act on this and put a stop to it. Every act of terror (including the recent Hyderabad blasts), is totally unacceptable. None of us should hold a brief for anyone (however powerful the person may seemingly be) who commits or encourages such acts.
We surely need to transcend the narrow confines of the religious, ethnic and caste divide. As a people, we do have a long way to go. To ‘put the nation first’, would mean guaranteeing to every single citizen the non-negotiables of Truth, Justice and Inclusiveness. Only if we put our hearts and minds to ensure this for all, will we have arrived at the time to squarely face our demons.
Satyameva Jayate!

*Human rights activist


Time to face our demons


Chetan Bhagat
24 February 2013, 09:36 PM IST

This week marks the 11th anniversary of the Godhra train carnage and the subsequent riots, a dark chapter in India’s history.

The event has been covered, discussed and unceasingly analysed in the media and public forums. It has shaped the politics of our country. And yet, i feel we have not done something essential that is required to come to terms with such a tragedy. We haven’t faced our demons.

In fact, in my past four years of writing columns, this has to be the most difficult piece to write. Why dig up old wounds that will only cause more pain? Why not just bury the past?

Well, you can bury the past, but you cannot bury wounds. Wounds need to be healed. Unfortunately, we have not done so.

For if you start any debate on the Godhra incident, within minutes it degenerates to these two arguments — a) the Hindus retaliated because the train with Hindus was burnt first or b) innocent Muslims were targeted by fundamentalist Hindus, who used the train incident to cause genocide. Both arguments look reasonable enough. However, they do not provide a solution. Inherently, these arguments are about blame. They can be reduced to a) ‘you did it’, or b) ‘no, you did it’. Little wonder no closure has been reached in 11 years.

We have also tried to attach villains to the incident. Blame that guy, he caused it. It is usually the slimy, wily, greedy politician — whom we love to assign as the root of all Indian problems.

It is amazing how every Indian feels there is a problem in our system, and someone else is to blame for it. We need someone we can point fingers to, for misleading us, looting us, dividing us and keeping us backward. It is a comforting narrative, “I am a good citizen who cares for India. The rest of them are keeping us behind”.

Really? If everyone feels the problem is with the rest, then who is really at fault? Perhaps the problem may actually be with us?

We don’t want to face the ugly truth. We don’t really want to understand what is about us that we can be so easily incited to burning trains or to do a riot. We don’t think we are in any way responsible for what happened.

Sure, the reader of this newspaper isn’t a criminal and didn’t kill anyone. However, ask yourself this. Are we, at some level, guilty of feeling things that are not in the best interest of India? Do a lot of us not, at some level, harbour mistrust for the other religion? In peaceful times, we can talk about unity and peace. However, God forbid, five terror attacks happen in the next few months, perpetrated by criminals who are Muslim. Will Hindus not start doubting Muslims again? Will we not start calling them names, or talk about sending them to Pakistan, or how they are the reason for almost every Indian problem? Will we not develop a public opinion that the Muslims need to be kept in check? And then, in that environment, if there are anti-Muslim riots after an attack, will we not give the perpetrators of those riots some sympathy or validation? If yes, then have we changed, at all?

Similarly, if Hindu groups target a few innocent Muslims in a few stray attacks, will the Muslim community not start to feel vulnerable? If you are a Muslim, will you not feel Hindus are out to get you? Won’t you feel you need a special protection, compared to the other Indian citizens? In this scenario, if a politician comes and offers support to your community, will you not back him unconditionally? Will you not pardon all their corruption, inefficiency and lack of accountability, just to feel a little safer?

We are still divided. We are still unable to respect India as much as we respect our religion. In peaceful times, this doesn’t surface much. However, in volatile times, this brings out the worst in us. The Godhra incident was an example of the worst in us. It was the cost of keeping country second and religion first. It was the price we paid for thinking religion is so important, giving us the right to break laws or abuse democracy. Unfortunately, the families who suffered in the incident paid the biggest price.

We find reasons to hate each other. We huddle in our groups, not marrying our children to theirs, a clear sign we are divided. We hurt, but we never try to heal. We point fingers, but we never self-reflect. We make little effort to find or communicate common ground, the biggest being all of us jointly have to take the nation forward.

It isn’t just this incident. We have lost a lot as a nation because of these divisions — whether in human life, or bad politics leading to poor development. It is time we stop. It is time we reflect, feel the shame and come to terms with it. There is no one person who needs to apologise for this. We all need to. It is time we face our demons, and tell them we will never allow ourselves to feel the wrong way again. That we will always put nation first, and not let that resolve be threatened, even in tough times.

If we do this, the healing will begin. We will move ahead as a society that has learnt from the past. We will no longer be swayed.

We cannot compensate for the pain of those who suffered and lost lives. But if we can move on from this as better people perhaps they will, from the heavens above, forgive us.

Map of Gujarat

Map of Gujarat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



  1. Silent Voice said,

    March 3, 2013 at 8:56 pm

    Via E Mail

    Dear Father Cedric Prakash,
    Greetings ! You may recall that we met at your Centre one afternoon in 2002 and I have wanted to keep in touch with you thereafter …it is only now when I read your response to Chetan Bhagat where I found an e-mail id that may get these greetings and my respectful regards to you .
    You stand as a beacon and may Jesus always be with you .

    Fond regards

    Vishnu Bhagwat
    I add my prayers

    John Dayal


  2. kssubramanian said,

    March 3, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    Chetan Bhagat started as a novelist. Now he has become a political thinker! How come? Political analysis is complicated business and one can easily go wrong as Bhagat has done here as ably pointed out by Father Cedric Prakash.I was a member of the Concerned Citizens Tribunal set up by Citizens for Peace and Justice and led by Justice VR Krishna Iyer in 2002. The Tribunal after several months of study and documentation, not known to Bhagat, produced a three volume report titled “Crime against Humanity” naming NM as a prime culprit for the Gujarat carnage. He was the chief minister of the state who ordered senior officials to respect ‘Hindu sentiments’ a day before the killings started. They had to follow the orders but some defied too! Peace and justice can be established not by smooth talk exhibited here by Bhagat but by the process suggested by Father Cedric Prakash. This has not happened. I fully support the magnificent article by Justice Katju the other day in the Hindu saying that not all the perfumes of Arabia can wash the guilt from the hands of Narendra Modi! Well said!
    Bhagat would be well advised to keep his activities cofined to fiction! Or if he wants to become a political analyist he must undertake serious studies in philosophy, politics and economics and interact with better minds!
    My congrats to Father Cedric Prakash( whom I met during our work on Gujarat) for patiently trying to educate the successful young novelist! But will he learn? A key question!
    KS Subramanian IPS (Retd)


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