Acceptance SPEECH OF FR. CEDRIC PRAKASH sj on being conferred the MINORITIES RIGHTS AWARD 2006 by Justice A. S. Anand, Former Chairman, National Human Rights Commission and Chief Justice of India, New Delhi, December 18th 2006
Honorable Justice Anand,
Shri Ansari, Honourable Chairman of the National Commission for Minorities,
Shri Pinto, Honourable Vice Chairman of the National Commission for Minorities,
Other Members of the Commission,
Archbishop Stanislaus Fernandes, Secretary General of the C.B.C.I.
Archbishop Vincent Concessao of Delhi,
Bishop Thomas Macwan of Ahmedabad,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is with a feeling of deep gratitude and joy that I stand before you today, to accept the Minorities Rights Award 2006, which has just been conferred on me.
I honestly feel that I am not deserving enough, to receive such an honour. I am aware, there are several others do much more for the rights of minorities in the country. But I humbly accept it, knowing fully well, that this honour is not only mine, but also a recognition of several others who have been championing the cause of the rights of minorities in the country. It is also an important reminder, that a large percentage of minorities still live on the fringes of Indian society and are denied their rights as citizens of this country.
Today is special for all of us because, on this day, fourteen years ago, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Persons belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, and the fact that our country observes this anniversary, as Minorities Rights Day. Its a day when each one of us is called to renew our commitment to protect the rights of every single citizen, very specially the Minorities.
On a day like this, I cannot but help think of my Muslim sisters and brothers in Gujarat many of them still live marginalized and alienated lives and are treated as outsiders in places which they once called their home. In the city of Ahmedabad, if one is a Muslim, one is confined to ghettos and one cannot easily buy an apartment in the western upmarket part of the city. The victim-survivors of the Gujarat Carnage are still looking for a just compensation and for rehabilitation. They still yearn for justice.
Just about a year ago on December 27th, 2005, a mass grave was discovered just outside Lunawada in Gujarat. From all counts, these are the skeletal remains of the Pandharwada massacre of 2002. A recent CBI Report has been able to identify at least some of the bodies. One of those still searching for the remains of her twenty-four year old son, (who was slaughtered in front of her eyes), is Ameenaben Habib Rasool....She is still searching, to give her son the dignified last rites, which every human deserves. She is still searching for his mortal remains.....She is still searching for justice, inspite of the fact that the High Court of Gujarat, threw out her petition recently. Yes, she is still searching for Hope.....Can civil society in Gujarat and the rest of the country provide her with that Hope, with that Justice, which she desperately seeks ? Can we, as a people, awake to the pain and trauma of the victim-survivors of the Gujarat Carnage and ensure that the Gujarat carnage is never repeated and that our collective conscience will provide the needed remorse and reconciliation and the courage to give the victim-survivors - Justice, Harmony, Security and Peace - which is rightfully theirs ?
To Ameenaben and to those families who still have not found the mortal remains of their loved ones (who have been massacred in the Gujarat carnage) - to them, I dedicate this award, with the hope that some day, their anguish, their pain will give way to peace, founded on a restored faith in wider society.
In Gujarat, Christians continue to be hounded and harassed, even if the means used today are subtle, sophisticated and seemingly innocuous. My heart also goes out to the pandits of Kashmir who have been dispossessed of their homes and lands. One can easily go on relating several incidents, but the point I would like to make here is that Christians, Muslims and other minorities, are as much a part of Indian society as anybody else.
In a year which is currently observing the centenary of Mahatma Gandhi launching Satyagraha in South Africa, it is imperative for each one of us to take ownership of his brave act and launch in todays India, a new Peoples Movement which focuses on Truth, Justice and Peace....and in the protection of the rights of all.
To those of you, very specially my collaborators, friends and companions, who have taken the trouble to be here with me today thanks so much for your presence....I am particularly touched that the Bishops from Gujarat are here today.....However, I do miss certain people very specially my colleagues from PRASHANT (who are my strength and support) and my dear Mother who was not strong enough to make this trip to Delhi....
Five years since the Gujarat Carnage is a painful reminder of the tragedy that stalks so many of the minorities but on a day like this, our hope is not lost. Those of us who have gathered here can truly pray in the words of the Upanishads :
from darkness to light,
Lead me O Lord
from untruth to truth,
Lead me O Lord
from death to immortality.