Statement of the Indian Women Theologians’ Forum (IWTF) Annual Meeting, 21st – 24th April, 2017
We, the members of Indian Women Theologians Forum met for our annual meeting from 21st to 24th April 2017 at De Nobili College, Pune, to deliberate on the theme: The Politics of the Reign/”Kin-dom” of God in the Indian Context: A Feminist Theological Search. We based our reflections on the notion of ”Kin-dom” popularised by mujerista theologian Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, as it reminds us that we are all kin to each other in the family of God. Understanding the ‘Reign of God’ as Kin-dom has special significance in the Indian context as it serves to challenge the hierarchical implications of domination and power associated with the term ‘Kingdom’, which is an expression with patriarchal overtones.
Enacting the foot washing ritual Jesus instituted as the exemplar of service and subversion of existing hierarchies, was a spiritual experience of bonding, reconciliation and an invitation to constant transformation. Conducted at the start of our meeting, this ritual offered us an occasion also to connect to the community of some of the tribes in North East India for whom foot-washing is a gesture of purification and connectedness. It was an exercise that motivated us to assert that we are Church and to commit ourselves to the Kin-dom of God that welcomes with humility and loving care, the least and the last.
Our sharing on the lived experiences of the ‘Kin-dom’ of God in our personal lives brought out the different facets of the Reign of God in the context of India. It was an invitation to engage consciously in the politics of inclusion against the backdrop of the practices of exclusion, as exercised by the mainstream systems of power including that of religions.
Our reflections were based on a series of papers presented on the changing Indian scenario where economic and social inequalities are growing, and hyper-nationalism and communalism are surreptitiously being mainstreamed through the shrinking of democratic spaces and the tacit complicity of those in power.
We observe the deliberate attempt in the global political economy to institutionalize exclusion by focusing on growth and the supremacy of the market, and using religion to polarize people. The irreparable damage inflicted on the environment, led by the greed for profit, forces displacement of masses of people. It destroys particularly the livelihood and the cultural practices of the Adivasis/tribal communities who live in harmony with nature. This has increasingly led to the feminization of migration, exploitation of labour and increased vulnerability of the poor.
We problematized the concept of ‘kin’ in the Indian context as the caste system in our society is a hierarchy that is defined by one’s family identity. Ethnicity and religion also create barriers to kinship. Within the family itself, traditional kinship relations are marked by discrimination on the basis of gender. While we reaffirm the need for kin-ship, and interdependence even with nature as a responsibility beyond self interest, we also affirm that Jesus’ call to “Kingdom” is universal and inclusive. Being subversive of hierarchy it challenges exclusive sectarian practices and oppressive traditions. In using loving, humble service as the key to the Kingdom, Jesus binds humans to each other and the cosmos in interdependence and responsibility to the well being of all. In this context, we feel called to push with prophetic courage the existing boundaries of divisions and discriminations that mark our society and Church, in the name of blind adherence to tradition.
We see the Kin-dom as a gift and a task; a home coming of Sophia, a new wisdom that awakens us to be and become a transforming presence. The Kin-dom is at work in all social movements and various individual and collective initiatives that counter marginalization, discrimination, exploitation and exclusion – of people of minority faiths and genders, ethnicities, and caste hierarchies. We also acknowledge the liberative politics of the Kin-dom being enabled in the several initiatives that demonstrate alternate ways of enhancing sustainable development while preserving God’s creation.
We are challenged by:
the nexus between patriarchy, religious hegemony, market fundamentalism and the exploitation of the poor;
the various exclusions defined by caste, class, gender, religion, language and culture;
the need of groups to assert their own identities at the risk of excluding the other;
the market that draws us into a cycle of consumption and waste, destroying nature from both ends by depleting its resources and using it as our dump yard.
We commit ourselves to:
Building communities of inclusion, reconciliation and service, modeling the liberative symbol of washing of the feet , as illustrated by Jesus;
Adopting lifestyles that are marked by simplicity and harmony with nature, while making efforts to rejuvenate and conserve our natural resources;
Entering into partnerships/alliances with individuals, groups and movements who bravely challenge the existing patriarchal development paradigm.
We draw our energies from the Spirit – Wisdom Sophia who is at work in realizing the Kin-dom of God, where all in our shared ecosystem are at peace and in harmony, and experience life in abundance (Jn10:10).
Kochurani Abraham washing the feet of women (file photo)