James Martin, Salvation Army Community Welfare Association (SACWA)
Protest Dharna by Salvation Army Community Welfare Association (SACWA), Kowdiar, Trivandrum (Kerala)
The Salvation Army is an evangelical church which is both a religious and a charitable organization. The church members are mostly Dalits and other economically backward people. But the recent activities of this church-cum-charity organisation have raised many questions over its accountability and the administrative paralysis that seems to threaten even the livelihood of many of its employees. To bring to the notice of the public this protest was held at Kowdiyar, Thiruvananthapuram, where the headquarters of the Salvation Army in Kerala (India South Western Territory) is based.
On 12th November 2014 morning, it seemed that the horizon above India South Western Territory had gained unusual redness as it was going to witness the birth of a historic event – ‘A terrible beauty is born’. At 10 a.m., the gates of the Salvation Army head office were closed, but over it there stretched a banner, ‘Protest Dharna by Salvation Army Community Welfare Association (SACWA)’. Earlier the Territorial Commander (the leader of the Salvation Army Halls/Churches in respective regions) and other Salvation Army officials had tried to gain a ‘stay’ against this protest dharna and the Honourable Court had mercilessly denied and dismissed their plea stating that in a democratic country people have the right to protest and at present there is no law to prevent such protests.
The organizers said, “We had submitted many memorandums to the TC and if he had invited us for a cordial discussion, this could have been avoided. The City Police Commissioner had already given permission to SACWA to stage a Protest Dharna and we have agreed to abide by the law and directions of the police and promised that there won’t be any encroachment, any violence or undemocratic actions from our side. On our request, they engaged five policemen to guard the Protest Dharna also”.
Meanwhile, like defeated refugees, the Colonels and Commanders of the Salvation Army were sitting inside the office and watching. What a contradiction- the ‘shepherds’ who are supposed to lead and protect the ‘flock’ now sitting behind the half opened windows and ‘peeping’ out to their ‘flock’ celebrating at Army’s merciless gate. It was the peak hour of the day and thousands were flowing into the city through the Royal Street. The banner caught attention of the public and they raised their brows and asked “why?” As an answer to this query more than hundred Regional and Sectoral leaders belonging to Salvation Army corps gathered and sat under the banner singing songs and sounding ‘Hallelujah’. Suddenly slogans thronged the air and their undaunted, charismatic leader – National President of the SACWA – Mr. John Murray appeared and inaugurated the Dharna. The inspiring words of the President were received with thundering applause. Then it was the turn of the Regional Secretary. He explained in detail the reasons for this kind of Protest Dharna for the first time in the History of Salvation Army in India.
With apt examples and supporting evidences he accused that the present Territorial Commanders in India are keeping aloof from the problems of the common congregation and they prefer to live in ivory towers and luxury. The recent meeting of the International Leaders held at Singapore, the Conference of Indian National Leaders (COIL) held at Kovalam, Kerala, the meeting convened under the leadership of Commissioner Silvia Cox, the wife of the Salvation Army’s global head at Trivandrum could not create any impact but proved a waste of time and money. On the other hand, it was enjoyment and pleasure trip for the leaders.
“What are the resolutions of these meetings and how those findings could help the growth of the Army in the world is totally unknown to the common soldiers whom these leaders supposedly represent and ‘serve’. Thousands are leaving Salvation Army churches ‘of reasons of their own’ and the leaders remain dispassionate and pretend not to notice this dropping down. Some leaders are after selling land, and this leads to litigation and results in tremendous erosion of the Salvation Army funds. Some others are accused of corruption and nepotism and this leads to anarchy. Some prefer to keep themselves always behind the iron curtains. (We fear, if this goes on, some of them will be behind the bars soon)”.
This attitude is totally undemocratic and provocative! SACWA needs a change – a wholesome change. Without people’s participation how can we march onward to success? What a strange Army if it is without soldiers? SACWA stands for a noble and common cause. We are for strengthening the spiritual and material growth of the Army. SACWA believes in this- “If God is with us, who stands against us?”