Fr Jerome D'Souza - A Priest and Statesman

November 16, 2018

My bewitchment in the early politics and founding of constitution of India lead me to write this tribute to Fr Jerome D’Souza. There are multiple kinds of literature on this great personality, but I am embarking on this write up lest we forget the contribution made by Fr D’Souza during the birth of Independent and Republic India. I will not be able to discuss everything that Fr D’Souza did for the welfare of India, but I would like to draw your attention towards his contribution as a parliamentarian of the independent India that includes his main input into the Constitution of India.

Fr Jerome D'Souza

Member of the Constituent Assembly: pro-minority

Fr Jerome is well remembered as the member of Constituent Assembly apart from all other titles and positions that he held. It is with pride I can say he is the beloved son of an infant India for Fr Jerome’s contribution to the making of India’s Constitution and of the significant and vital role he played in the drafting of those sections of the Constitutions which affected the Minorities. While he was serving as the principal of Loyola College, Madras, he was elected as one of the 39 members from Madras by the Legislative Assembly without any canvassing for votes. The then Chief Minister of Madras State C Rajagopalachariar asked Fr Jerome to serve on the Constituent Assembly as one of the Christian representatives. He entered the Assembly on the 9th December 1946.

Fr Jerome worked at the Constitution from 1946 to 1949. He his main concern was with the safeguarding of fundamental rights and minority rights: the right to profess, practice and propagate religion, to all citizens freedom of education, freedom of association etc. Fr Jerome sums up his work as follows,

“When fundamental rights were made justiciable, that is when any violation of them by individuals or governments could be challenged in a court of Law, the Christians felt that the safeguard of preserving minority rights by reserving special seats for them in the Legislatures on the basis of their population, was no longer necessary and that in the interests of national integration it was best to merge with and become part of the general electorate.”

Fr Jerome, apart from these fundamental and minority rights, took part in almost all other discussions which led up to the drawing up of the Constitution of India. The above fundamental and minority rights have been discussed in the Constitution in detail. This sums up Fr Jerome’s key contribution to the drawing up of the Constitution.

Fr Jerome at the United Nations

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru nominated Fr Jerome as the member of the Indian Delegation to the UN for the first time in September 1949. His task to serve the country did not end after the drawing up of the Constitution but his expertise was needed by the country to represent at the UN. It was a joy for Fr Jerome to represent the country among other four members and they were from Madras and from South Kanara District which was part of Madras Presidency. He went to Rome to learn first-hand information from the Vatican on certain international problems and to brief Superior of the Jesuits. Hence, he flew to New York on September 19 on a UN Mission.

It was the fourth session of the General Assembly of the UN in 1949 that Fr Jerome attended as one of the Indian Delegation. One of the key aspects that stood out at the UN Assembly was that the presence of a Catholic Priest from India which evoked a good deal of surprise – a pleasant surprise. People in Europe and American were not aware of the numbers and position of the Christian Community in India. It was an opportunity for the whole world to hear about Christian Community in India and particularly happy to learn the attitude of the Christians in the national struggle, of the guarantee given to them and other minorities in the Constitution and o the number and importance of Christian educational and social works in India.

In conclusion, as we remember Fr Jerome’s contribution to India as a priest, religious, educationist and statesman in the context of social and political events, let us draw two important lessons from his life. Firstly, India will always remain a cradle of religions, whether majority religion such as Hinduism and minority religion such as Christianity. Fr Jerome’s contribution must help us to be tolerant towards other religions because it is in respect for other religions to make India a true secular yet unique country. India has had its share of division and violence but in our contemporary India, we have the responsibility to respect and uphold each other’s rights that Fr Jerome’s worked in the Constitution.

Secondly, India needs to promote academic excellence irrespective of religion or political affiliations. Fr Jerome was a Catholic priest, principal and religious yet he was a statesman who did not take political sides. His neutral yet people-oriented opinions elevated him to the person he was. India cannot ignore intelligent and genuine opinions because those opinions are not biased and will help to build India. India has a long way to go in this regard since India has been silencing genuine voices from the University benches. Long live Hindustan, Jai Hind.

By Jerri Melwin Dias
Jerri Melwin Dias is a blogger and freelance writer. He is a former student of St Aloysius college, Mangaluru and currently residing in the USA.
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Comment on this article

  • Joe Palathunkal, Ahmedabad

    Mon, Oct 25 2021

    Thanks a lot for your article on a giant like Fr. Jerome D'Souza SJ and your article will remain as a constant reminder to those who are interested in a scientific history of India, not the mythory type. This article will be a warning to those who try to delete and decimate this towering personality from India's public space and discourse. Well done Jerri Melwin Dias. Living in Faith( January 2022 issue that focuses on Christianity's contribution to nation building in India will have its front cover the image of Fr. Jerome D'Souza painted by a professional artist. Congratulations and thank you very much.

  • Florine, Mumbai

    Mon, Dec 03 2018

    Fr Jerome's contribution as a priest to the Indian constitution - interesting to read.
    We really need such brilliant persons to stand for minority needs today.

  • Gabriel Vaz, Kulshekar/Bengaluru

    Mon, Nov 19 2018

    Fr Jerome D'Souza knew not only Rajaji but was very close to Nehru and many other leaders of the then Indian National Congress. It was the Govt of India which brought out a postage stamp, first day cover in his honour. Those were different days when intellect, merit and talent as also scholarships were appreciated and respected unlike the present vitiated atmosphere when religion and so-called-nationalism (so called because one has to praise the present rulers!) were respected. His contribution in the Constituent Assembly can never be forgotten.

  • well wisher, Mangalore

    Sat, Nov 17 2018

    Fr. Jerome’s family lives in Mangalore. Fr. Wilson, parish priest of Bejai is his nephew.

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