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Pacem in Terris Lecture Series

Remarks by Reverend Cedric Prakash, S.J.

Human Rights: The Basis of Peace on Earth
September 19, 2005

Introduction

Dr. John J. DeGioia, The President of Georgetown University, Fr. Phil Boroughs, S.J., Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am extremely honoured and privileged to be invited by the Georgetown University to deliver a lecture in the Pacem in Terris series.  This premier institution has produced some of the finest people in the world; besides, those who have been invited to lecture in this series before me, are people of great eminence and standing. It is therefore with a sense of honour and humility, that I share with you this afternoon, my thoughts on "Human Rights : The Basis for Peace on Earth.?

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 India. It is not that the rest of the world does not need peace?.. or that there are no human rights violations in other parts of the world?..But the fact remains that Gujarat today is a microcosm of what is India. Whatever happens in Gujarat is bound to have an impact on the rest of India. And if this impact happens to be negative then there will definitely be repercussions on the South Asian sub-continent. No, I am not politically naïve? The slogan on the walls of Ahmedabad was written in big and bold letters: ?Gujarat today, India tomorrow!?

So I invite you in the course of this lecture to have a glimpse of Gujarat? to see how people yearn for peace and yet how this peace will never be attained until the rights of the poor, the weak, the marginalised, the minorities are addressed and respected in every possible way.

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 Gujarat today.             

Truth

Pacem in Terris is very categorical in stating that peace needs to be based on an order founded on truth. 

It was Gujarat that gave to the world, the apostle of truth and non-violence: Mahatma Gandhi. It was in Ahmedabad that he founded his Ashram on the banks of the river Sabarmati and for over a period of 14 years, he launched a movement which gave India her Independence in 1947 after years of colonial rule.  ?Gandhiji? as he was fondly called, adopted his twin doctrine of ahimsa (non-violence) and satyagraha (force of truth) from the Jain religion (which was founded by Lord Mahavir). The doctrine is simple: that if a human being or a society needs to triumph, it needs to base its efforts on means which are totally non-violent and in which truth will never be sacrificed at any cost. The combination proved lethal. Gandhiji triumphed, India won her freedom. However, the reality of Gujarat today is a far cry from the vision of Gandhi. Truth has been sacrificed at the altar of falsehood, deception and hate.

In 2002, Gujarat went through months of communal violence (In India we prefer to regard religious violence as communal violence because it is in fact a small group of fundamentalists who take law and order into their own hands. So it is not one religion fighting with the other as such but one small group claiming to represent that religion who adopt a very fundamentalist ideology) in what is regarded today as the Gujarat carnage. In the aftermath of the burning of the carriage of a train on Feb 27, 2002, in which about 60 people (mainly Hindus) were burnt to death, more than 2000 Muslims were mercilessly slaughtered in the city of Ahmedabad and in other parts of Gujarat State. Till today, it has not been established as to who was responsible for the burning of the train or if it was a mere accident. The fact that people had to die such a terrible death did receive all round condemnation. 

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 India that follows an ideology that is known as Hindutva; this in a way is not representative of the wider dimensions of the Hindu religion. Yet because of their ideology which is essentially one nation, religion, one culture and their desire to make India a Hindu nation state they have assumed the role of speaking on behalf of all Hindus. From the very fact that the vast majority of the Hindus do not subscribe to their ideology and their way of functioning is a clear indicator that this group is not representative but they have been responsible for a great deal of hate and violence mainly against the Muslims, Christians, Tribals and Dalits over the years. The same group is held responsible for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948. Their posturing and publications constantly spew venom and they make no bones of the fact that they count Hitler as one of their ideologues.

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 Gujarat and the world over were forthright in their demand for wanting the truth of these massacres to be made public. More than three years down the road, the truth on this violence has not yet emerged. The people responsible, we know still roam the streets and some of them even hold high public office (Many of them motivated by the ideology of Hindutva). 

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 India ? the Emperor Ashoka. Below the symbol, Ashoka had the words Satyameva Jayathe meaning Truth shall triumph. For us Indians this is our most powerful and loved symbol.

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 United States. Today in Gujarat we educate our children (at a very impressionable age) with half truths, lies and prejudices which is a clear violation of a child?s right to be educated objectively and truthfully. I would like to highlight just a couple of examples from our Std. IX text book in Social Sciences (which was published by the Gujarat Government in June 2005). In the chapter on India?s freedom struggle, the role of Mahatma Gandhi (to whom I have just referred) is minimalised  and inspite of being widely regarded as the ?Father of the Nation?, his picture does not figure among those who were supposed to have given freedom to India. Another noteworthy example, which might be of interest to this audience, is the section on Nazism and Hitler. Apart from the fact that both Hitler and his ideology are depicted in a rather positive manner, there is not a word mentioned about the concentration camps or the holocaust.

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

Justice

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 Gujarat and unless justice was restored there would be no real peace in the state.

Today, the victims of the Gujarat carnage are still denied justice and more than 2000 cases have to come up for hearing in our courts. Everybody knows that the key persons responsible for the violence continue living their lives as though nothing had happened with total immunity and with impunity too.

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

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 Gujarat, concerted efforts are made to instil hate, prejudice, and discrimination; the targets more often than not are those belonging to minority communities. An ideology which flaunts the one nation, one culture, one religion theory has no room for anyone else who thinks differently, worships differently or even dresses differently! The defining statement is that ?since they are not ?like? us, therefore they are not ?us?? they do not belong here.?

An effort was made to bring together several Hindus to help put a stop to the violence that had engulfed Gujarat in 2002; the stock responses of many educated well-to-do friends were often ridiculous and dangerous. ?Look what they have done to the WTC in the United States?. ?Why do they have to have four wives and so many children?? ?They deserve this because they support Pakistan in cricket.? When middle of the road folk have such strong biases one cannot help but wonder whether there can be any concrete expression of love? And where there is no attitudinal change can we dare hope for Peace?

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. 

Freedom


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 Gujarat has been selectively used only against the Muslims; they have been put in jail without giving them the possibility to apply for bail or to seek legal redress with the possibility of hearing their side of the story. One can go on illustrating example after example of how individual freedoms are trampled upon today. The fact remains that unless we create that environment in which every single citizen feels free and secure we will not be able to establish that freedom which our poet laureate Rabindranath Tagore prayed for in his celebrated epic Gitanjali (the song of God) which I use at the conclusion of this talk. 

The challenges before us are many. As I said earlier, Gujarat is a great place and the idea why some of its negatives have been highlighted today is purely with a view that these need to be addressed in order to preserve the rich cultural heritage, the religious plurality and the tremendous diversity that exists in our society. 

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 Gujarat, live a group of tribals called the Garasia Adivasis. Some of them still follow a tradition during the festival of Spring. On a certain day at the break of dawn, the whole village comes out to the beating of drums and loud shouts. They are in search of tiny black bird called ?Devli?.  It normally nests in little thorny bushes. They easily find one and begin chasing it with their shouts and with the drumming. Since the Devli cannot fly high it ultimately falls panting with exhaustion and it is easily caught by a villager. Very ceremoniously the headman of the village to whom this bird is brought, feeds it with molasses and some butter. The bird is released and allowed to fly. The whole village waits with abated breathe to see where the bird will sit after the flight. If it sits on a dry branch, then that means the rain will not come and it will be a year of drought. If it sits on a green one it means good rains and a year of plenty. The story has a wonderful parallel in the ark of Noah which finds mention in the sacred texts of three of the world religions but of course there the bird is the dove with the olive branch.

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!

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