Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Acceptance SPEECH OF FR. CEDRIC PRAKASH sj on being conferred the CHEVALIER DE LA LEGION DE HONNEUR Award by Monsieur Dominique Girard, Ambassador of France to India.

Embassy of France, New Delhi, July 14th 2006

Your Excellency Monsieur Dominique Girard, Ambassador of France to India, Madame Girard, Dignitaries, Co-Activists, Jesuit Companions and Friends,

I am simply overwhelmed……!

When I was first given the news that the “ Chevalier de la Legion d’ Honneur ” was being conferred on me by the President and Government of France, I was dumbfounded and even today, as I receive it, I feel very humbled. I certainly know, that I am not deserving of it; at the same time, I do accept this honour with great joy, because for me, it is a recognition not merely of my tiny efforts but of the fact that several others are involved in the cause of human rights in a very collaborative way; it is a recognition of the reality that human rights violations do abound in India and other parts of the world; it is above all, a recognition of the hundreds and thousands of people who silently suffer from all kinds of injustices and human rights violations, of every possible kind.

In accepting this award, I sincerely believe that it will be another ray of hope for those who yearn to have their place in a more humane, just and peaceful society.

My heart is full today and there is so much I would like to express…..

At the outset, I would like to thank Monsieur Jacques Chirac, the President of the French Republic for conferring this prestigious honour on me. I am deeply grateful to him, to his Government and to the people of France for appreciating our efforts in India. In particular, “ MERCI BEAUCOUP ”to you, Your Excellency, for recognizing what we stand for. This ceremony would not have been possible were it not for the fact that as Ambassador of France your singular goal has been to promote those cherished ideals which France gave the world, namely, “ liberte, egalite et fraternite ”. These very ideals are enshrined in our Indian Constitutions. Thank you for reminding us, that as people of a great democracy, we all need to do our very best to promote and safeguard these sacred values.

I am proud to be a Jesuit. Today, several of my Jesuit Companions are present here. These include the President of the Jesuit Conference of South Asia - Fr. Hector D’Souza, my own Jesuit Provincial Superior - Fr Keith Abranches and two of my ex-Provincials, Archbishop Stanny Fernandes (now also the Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India) and Bishop Godfrey de Rozario. Together with them, I want to celebrate the memory of our three Founding Fathers : Ignatius of Loyola, Francis Xavier and Pierre Favre, who in fact, began their journey together from a college room (referred to as “the Paradise”) in Sainte-Barbe College in Paris. This year, is a Triple-Jubilee Year for us Jesuits, as we observe the Fifth Centenary of the birth of Francis Xavier and Pierre Favre, and the 450th death anniversary of Ignatius Loyola.

I am happy that the birth of the Society actually took place in France and that on the 15th August 1534 (the feast of The Assumption), seven men with seven different names but with identical ideals, gathered together in the remote Chapel Crypt of St. Denis at Montmartre and pronounced their First Vows in the Society. I need to be saying all this because that commitment that was made years ago in France, has been part of the faith-justice mandate of the Society of Jesus the world over, today. Yes, there is the “French Connection” with the Jesuits. I am delighted about that !

There are several other co-activist friends who are present today. Many of you have shaped my vision and commitment. Today is a day which calls for a renewal and deepening of this commitment. We have just witnessed horrible incidents of terror in Mumbai / Srinagar. We cannot remain mute spectators; our response has to be one of deeper commitment.

I am glad that so many of you are here today. I wish there were many more. I wish this ceremony could have been in Ahmedabad. I want to remember in a particular way those groups who mean a lot to me but who are not represented here this evening. I remember in particular, the victims of the Gujarat Carnage of 2002….there are so many of them who still wait (perhaps hopelessly) for justice and a new dawn; I remember each of my colleagues who work with me in PRASHANT, not a single one of them is here today, but without them, I know I would not have been standing here. I also remember my immediate family, specially my aged mother, who would have loved to be here this evening but for obvious reasons, cannot make it….to all of them : my sincere gratitude.

Last Sunday evening, in Pakistan, with a group of football enthusiasts, I sat down to watch the World Cup Football Finals. I didn’t have to tell anyone which team I was rooting for. Well, it had nothing to do with the fact of this award, but since 1998, Zinedine Zidane has always been my favourite football player and before the start of the match, I highlighted to my co-viewers, what a great example the French Team is, in terms of being multi-racial and multi-religious. Watching the team go out to play, was for me, a very emotional moment. A clear indicator of what our world has to be. Only if and when we defend the rights of every section of society – very specially the weak, the marginalized, the minorities - only then, we can truly move towards a world social order which is more just and more humane.

I dedicate this honour

· to the memory of my dear friend Eshan Jafri who was so brutally murdered on March 1st, 2002, inspite of having all the right possible connections, inspite of being a very well known secular face, inspite of being a

former Member of Parliament !

· to his wife Zakhiaben and to his children Nishrin, Zuber and Tanvir who struggle for justice for the victims

of Gulbarg Society and others in Gujarat so that the death of Eshan Sahib will not go in vain

· to the several other victims : faceless, nameless….of the Gujarat Carnage, who as I said earlier, are desperately looking for a new dawn and finally,

· to several of my co-activists , who inspite of having to face all obstacles, continue to fight for human rights, justice and peace.

It was Mahatma Gandhi, who from the banks of the river Sabarmati, launched his twin doctrine of “Ahimsa” (non-violence) and “Satyagraha” (the force of truth). We have indeed paid too little attention to these fundamentals of life. Yes, this honour reminds me that there is still so much to be done …… that we all have to be doing. Let our poet laureate, Rabindranath Tagore remind us of our responsibility as we pray with those immortal words from his Gitanjali:

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 haven of freedom, my Father, led my country awake !

Yes, let us all awake !

Merci Beaucoup ! Thank you very much ! Vive la France ! Jai Hind !

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