Pacem in Terris Lecture Series
Remarks by Reverend Cedric Prakash, S.J.
Human Rights: The Basis of Peace on Earth
September 19, 2005
Dr. John J. DeGioia, The President of
I am extremely honoured and privileged to be invited by the
At the outset, I would like to visit the situation and the times of Pacem in Terris in order to understand its relevance for us today more than forty years later.
Pacem in Terris draws attention to three distinctive characteristics of the world of the early sixties. First, the working classes were slowly emerging in the social, economic, political and cultural spheres as they insisted ?that they be regarded as men with a share in every sector of human society" (# 40). Secondly, women were "becoming ever more conscious of their human dignity" and claimed ?both in domestic and in public life the rights and duties that befit the human person" (# 42) and thirdly, men and women all over the world desired ?the rank of citizens in independent nations". The modern world, thus took "an entirely new appearance in the field of social and political life" (# 42).
It is indeed amazing that the very conditions, to which Pacem in Terris drew attention to forty-two years ago, are the very conditions which are prevalent in our world today which has become so fragmented due to consumerism and the ills of globalization, due to religious and ethnic violence, and due to war and terrorism. The end of the cold war broke down several barriers and this in turn saw the emergence of new nation States. This period has also been pock-marked with civil, religious and ethnic strife in several parts of the world. Like the times of Blessed Pope John XXIII, which was the beginning of nuclear proliferation, Peace today, for us remains as distant and elusive.
Pope John XXIII makes human rights the bulwark of his encyclical saying that peace is possible only if and when the rights of every human being are addressed. Pacem in Terris goes on to list eight broad dimensions of human rights (most of them had earlier found expression in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) like the rights to proper development of life, to basic security and to religion and conscience. And emphatically stating that these rights are ?universal, inviolable and inalienable?
Pacem in Terris therefore has its basis in Human Rights. It observes that peace needs to be based on an order "founded on truth, built according to justice, vivified and integrated by charity, and put into practice in freedom".
I need to situate and provide a focus for this lecture ? and for me personally, there is no other reality that I know better, than my own home state of Gujarat in north-west
So I invite you in the course of this lecture to have a glimpse of
Truth, justice, love and freedom are human rights as we have said earlier. They also happen to be conditions for human rights. Join me then in journeying to see how each one of these dimensions is played out in
Pacem in Terris is very categorical in stating that peace needs to be based on an order founded on truth.
At this juncture I would like to make a small digression. For the last several years, we have the emergence of a small Hindu right wing group in
But what was even more shameful and horrific was the manner in which Muslims were singled out, made responsible for the burning of the train and were brutalised in every possible manner, the details of which are too horrendous to enumerate at this point. Human rights and other groups from
The only consolation that one can have at this moment is that oft-said dictum ?truth shall prevail.? This dictum is emblazoned on our national emblem: three standing lions which was a symbol of one of the most loved kings of
Truth is also a culture and an attitude; something which has to be cultivated, a lesson which has to be taught and learnt. We have classic examples even in this country of how a honest Abe rose to become the President of the
Truth is the first step in the acknowledgement of a wrong?.towards reconciliation, harmony and peace.
Yes, human rights can flourish only in truth. But our reality is definitely a far cry from the beautiful prayer we say from one our sacred texts, the Upanishads:
From the untruth lead me to the truth
From darkness lead me to light
From death lead me to immortality
Pacem in Terris highlights the imperative for peace built according to justice.
It cannot be otherwise. Justice we are convinced is foundational to Peace. Only when there is justice we are able to ensure the protection of human rights.
A Citizens Tribunal headed by a former Justice of the Supreme Court of India, Justice Krishna Iyer, has brought out a report entitled ?Crime against Humanity?, in which several people from every strata of society have been indicted for the Gujarat Carnage. The report emphatically states that justice was a major casualty in
Today, the victims of the
How does one interpret a reality that if one is a Muslim in Ahmedabad today, one cannot buy a house or have a business establishment in the western upmarket part of the city; one necessarily has to be confined to a ghetto and in some of these ghettos, for example in Juhapura, which borders one part of the city of Ahmedabad, thousands of Muslims live without access to a public transport system, a public banking service or even a public water and drainage system.
The very same group (who obviously follow the Hindutva ideology and have constantly demonised Muslims and Christians) have also systematically marginalised the Dalits (low-caste) and the Adivasis (tribals) of our State. The rights guaranteed to them in our Constitution are constantly denied to them. It?s unbelievable but true that in many of our villages, a low-caste (Dalit) does not have the right to drink water from the well of a higher caste community. There is a concerted move to re-name Adivasis (orginal inhabitants of the land) as Vanvasis (dwellers of the forests). Its common knowledge that they resent the latter nomenclature for the simple reason is that once the forests disappear they will lose their identity. Their identity is with the land and there have been moves by the powers that control their destinies to take away the land in which they have lived for hundreds of years.
One can go on highlighting the injustices that are rampant in our society. Injustices which prevent a person from his or her holistic development; which keep people at the level of subjugation, which are an affront to human dignity.
Love is the next dimension highlighted in Pacem in Terris. Pope John XXIII strongly asserts that peace has to vivified and integrated by charity. Love is foundational in Christianity and all the worlds? religion emphasise this one single aspect of the human spirit. It is love that helps us establish relationships. It is love that breaks down barriers.
The sad part of it is that all this is easier said than done. In
An effort was made to bring together several Hindus to help put a stop to the violence that had engulfed
We experience hate and prejudice even among little children as the games they enjoy most are violent ones in which the person belonging to the ?other? community becomes the victim, the hunted, the evil one. Similar games are played in Hindu areas and in Muslim areas. In the Hindu side it is the ?Muslim? who always has to be killed and in the Muslim side the ?Hindu? always has to be killed. Expletives and abuses are always with reference to the other side.
Discrimination and prejudice are manifested in a variety of ways: when children have to be admitted to a school, when the youth apply for a job and if for example, as I mentioned earlier, a Muslim intends to buy an apartment in the upmarket part of the city.
It is obvious then, that unless these barriers are broken, unless we are able to transcend the narrow confines of bigotry and hatred and move towards the expression and action of sincere acceptance and love, we will never have true peace.
Peace has to be put into practice in Freedom. The words of John XXIII ring loud and clear even today.
On March 26th, 2003, the Government of Gujarat unanimously passed the Freedom of Religion Act. This act is absolutely draconian in nature and goes against the constitutional freedoms guaranteed by the Indian Constitution and very specifically Article 25 which guarantees to every single citizen the right to preach, practice and/ or propagate his/ her religion. A significant point of this law is that if a person wants to change to another religion, then one necessarily has to take the permission of the civil authority; if this permission is not granted, and if one still changes then one is liable to a period of imprisonment and also to pay a heavy fine. An added clause to this that if the violator happens to be a minor, a woman, a tribal or a Dalit then the imprisonment and fine is just doubled. The irony is that even till today more than two years after the passing of this legislation, the rules necessary for governing the implementation of this law has not been framed, hence petty officials use this as the Damocles? sword as was done to a groups of Dalits who wanted to convert to Buddhism recently.
Another dreaded law is the Prevention of Terrorism Activity (POTA) Over the past three years, this law in
The challenges before us are many. As I said earlier,
We need peace. But in order to have that peace, the rights of every single person have to be respected. Those rights which emerge from truth, justice, love and freedom.
In Sabarkantha District in the north of
In a way we are in a similar position today. We are not sure what the future holds for each one of us. But one thing is certain is that we who have gathered here do not have to rely on a little bird to tell us whether we can have peace on earth or not. We have the answer. It is an answer for which we need to take a stand and which has to be based on truth, justice, love and freedom. We need to create an ownership for them and make sure that these rights belong to all men and women of our times? only then we will have Peace on Earth.
As a conclusion, I invite you to pray with me the words of Rabindranath Tagore:
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high,
Where knowledge is free,
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls,
Where words come out from the depth of truth,
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection,
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sands of dead habit,
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever widening thought and action,
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake!
Thank you very much!