Forgotten Hero’s- Jerome D’souza SJ
A while ago, I was reading about the history of the Jesuits in India and I came across a name that rang a very familiar tone, a few Google searches later, I discovered the life of Father Jerome D’souza SJ, the more I read about him, the more I was astonished at the amount of work he had done. But what really was a Jesuit Priest doing in the Constituent Assembly of India, shaking hands with the stalwarts of the Independence movement?
Jermone D’souza was from Mangalore on the Eastern coast of India, he studied in Madras and worked as a teacher for a brief period before joining the Society of Jesus.
C. Rajagopalachari fondly called as Rajaji, a freedom fighter, soon took notice of this man and he recommended his name to the Legislative Council of Madras in 1942 while he was a teacher at Loyola College in Madras. He was then elected to the Constituent assembly of India in 1946 and represented Madras in the Assembly. He was known for his powerful oratory skills, his vast knowledge on a wide range of subjects, his ability to speak a number of languages, his gentle and kind aura and above all, his ability to understand the fabric of India.
In Delhi, he soon became close to Nehru and other stalwarts of the freedom movement and was involved in many diplomatic endeavours. He was able to use his language skills to further his diplomatic abilities. In the Constituent Assembly, he made major suggestions and interventions regarding the Rights and protections that minority communities in India would get like the Right to practice and propagate one’s religion- such measures being featured in the Constitution has ensured that even today, India has remained a country where people from all religions have found home. He was also consulted on a number of issues especially about education and his powerful oratory skills gained him a lot of admirers.
He was then asked by Nehru to take part in the negotiations with the French for the peaceful transfer of French territories in the Indian sub-continent to India, this was a huge success and soon territories like Pondicherry were transferred to India, this peaceful transition ensured that both countries remained friendly to each other and no major incidents violence occurred.
He led the Indian Delegation to the UN General assembly four times and gave several talks and lectures about India’s culture, heritage and diversity, all of this boosted India’s positioning in the world arena and gave the newly born country a solid global recognition. He was also involved in mediations between Nehru and the Vatican over the selection of Priests in Indian churches. He along with other members of the Society of Jesus founded the Indian Social Institute in 1951 which aimed at providing solutions to problems that the newly Independent country was facing, this was also an avenue through which other members of the Society of Jesus could involve themselves in the Nation Building process. He was the only Catholic Priest in the Constituent Assembly but made sure that his voice was loudly heard, he was a strong advocate for inter-religious harmony and inclusiveness.
The Indian constitution spells out the rights and protections of minorities and guarantees Freedom of Religion, Articles 25-30 of the Indian Constitution are exclusively dedicated to this, such measures were possible because of the presence of members like Fr. Jerome.
Fr. Jerome was the embodiment of what India stood for and stands for today, the very fact that a Jesuit priest who had no background in politics could go on to have such a large impact on the Constituent Assembly is proof enough that India is a country like no other. Today I write this with immense gratitude to people like him, upon whose shoulders we all stand on today, people who saw beyond religion and ideology, people who saw beyond hatred and communal differences, people who made empathy and inclusiveness the cornerstone of their work. May we always remember the work and sacrifices made by people like Fr. Jerome so that we could live in a peaceful and democratic India.