Monday, July 24, 2006


Speech given by His Excellency, Mr. Dominique Girard, the Ambassador of France,on the occasion of the “Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur” Award conferred on Father Cedric Prakash at the French Embassy in New Delhi on 14th July 2006

It is my great pleasure to confer upon Father Cedric Prakash the award of the “Knight of the Legion of Honour”/“Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur” in order to acknowledge his courageous work for the defence of Human Rights for over 30 years now.
Father, several times in your younger days, in India as well as in Northern Ireland, you have been witnessing different communities confronting each other and these scenes of violence have left a deep mark on you. But instead of complaining about it passively, you chose to fight against this phenomenon with all the energy of a man of goodwill and all the conviction of a man of faith.
In 1987, you took over the reins of St. Xavier’s Social Service Society and steered it for more than fourteen years. During this time, you made it one of the most highly-rated NGOs in Gujarat by its constant involvement in the slums of Ahmedabad and the rural areas of this State through the four inter-related approaches of education, health, organization and environment. As early as this time, you revealed your deep concern for communal harmony by creating “Shanti”, (or “Peace” in Hindi), an initiative to promote peace and justice among different communities.
You left the St. Xavier’ Social Service Society in 2001, but only because you had by then founded “Prashant” (which means “peaceful” in Sanskrit), a well-named Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace which, in only 5 years, has become a Centre of international standing.
The remarkable and courageous work done by “Prashant” after the tragic communal riots of 2002 in Gujarat must be stressed here. You and your Centre really did much to contain the communal conflagration which threatened to spread even further. To those who have been hurt, you open your heart full of compassion, leading them to turn anger into patience, desires of revenge into quest for justice, violence into peaceful feelings. And after 4 years your Centre is still animated by the same spirit of truth.
But talking about “Prashant”, mentioning only its work in the aftermaths of the 2002 massacres, would be unfair and incomplete. Most of “Prashant’s” actions are a daily endeavour in the midst of people of different religious communities to dissolve the boundaries raised by sectarianisms of all kind. At a time when some voices loudly proclaim as “inescapable” the so called “clash of civilisations”, you prove in concrete terms that “dialogue” and “tolerance” are not empty words, but real values which, more than ever, are worth fighting for.
You, a Jesuit Priest of the Roman Catholic Church, are working with Muslims and Hindus as well as with Christians because human beings and not religions are your first and only concern. Against resignation you bring hope, against hate you raise tolerance, and through your Centre you help to bring awareness among people of different faiths, because you know that the strongest ally of sectarianism is ignorance.
Your social commitment is of course rooted in your own faith. But the vision of “Prashant” is also enshrined in the preamble of the Universal Declaration of the Human Rights which has its origin in the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen”/“Declaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen” that France adopted in 1789 as the foundation of its emerging Republican Constitution. The dignity of human beings and the defence of their inalienable rights are the values that my country proudly shares with yourself.
Father, you have been generous with your time, with your courage and with your faith, and on behalf of the President of the French Republic, I’m very honoured to decorate you today with the most prestigious French award of “Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur”.

Note on the award of the Legion of Honour and Agricultural Merit

The highest French distinction
Created to reward eminent military and civil merits in the service of France, the "Légion d'Honneur" (Legion of Honour) is the highest distinction that can be conferred in France on a French citizen as well as on a foreigner.
Founded in 1802 by Napoléon Bonaparte, First Consul (a position he occupied from 1799 to 1804), the Legion of Honour is one of his most important creations with the Napoleonic Code.
Grades and Ranks
This distinction is divided into four grades (Knight - Officer – Commander-Grand Officer)
Description of the insignia
Since its inception, the medal consists of a five double-cornered star enamelled in white, joined with branches of laurel and oak.
At the centre of the star, there is a medallion representing
- in the front side, the symbol of the Republic with the inscription "République Française"
- on the other side, a flag and a banner intertwining one another with the circular inscription "Honneur et Patrie - 29 Floréal an X"
The ribbon has always been in red moire silk.
Some Famous historical personnalities awarded
In India, the renowned film director SATYAJIT RAY, singer LATA MANGESHKAR , industrialist DEEPAK BANKER, musician RAVI SHANKAR, columnist DILIP PADGAONKAR and scientist CNR RAO are some of the famous Indian personalities who have been bestowed this honour.
The Mérite Agricole (Agricultural Merit) was created in 1883 to reward " persons who have rendered outstanding service in the field of 'agriculture". It comprises of three grades: knight, officer (since 1887) and commander (since 1900).

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