Tuesday, November 02, 2010




-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*

Dear Friends!


It is a great privilege to make this presentation at this workshop on 'The Earth Charter and Religion, Spirituality and Ethics' at this Conference. I thank the organisers for inviting me to do so.


·         Introduction:

Gujarat State, here in North-West India, is best known for Mahatma Gandhi!  He was born here and lived for fourteen long years on the banks of the river Sabarmati where he founded his ashram. From the hallowed grounds of the ashram, he gave India and the world, his twin doctrine of 'Ahimsa' (non-violence) and 'Satyagraha' (the force of truth).  From this city of Ahmedabad, Gandhi began his Dandi March, vowing never to return until he had gained for India her freedom.  India became a free country on August 15th, 1947; however, a few months later, on January 30th, 1948, Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in Delhi.


We begin this sharing focused on Mahatma Gandhi for several reasons; but also because on October 2nd, 2001 (the birth anniversary of Gandhi which has now been designated as the International Day for Non-Violence), we inaugurated our centre PRASHANT in this city with a prime focus on human rights, justice and peace. Our initiative was (and continues to be) inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Earth Charter with an overriding desire to ensure that the four key principles (justice, liberty, equality and fraternity) of the Constitution of India, becomes a reality for every single citizen of the country.


·         The Gujarat Carnage:

"Human Rights for all" is indeed a well-intentioned slogan but which has not changed the lives of millions of people all over the world. This is our experience as we encounter the reality of the poor and the marginalized and victims of every possible injustice and exploitation. These include women and the children, the dalits and the tribals, the slum dwellers and landless labourers, the displaced and the voiceless. The list is endless indeed!


As a Centre inspired by the Earth Charter and wanting to do our bit "to promote a culture of tolerance, non violence and peace" we were, in February 2002, thrown into one of the darkest chapters of the history of our country, generally referred to as the 'Gujarat Carnage'.


There are several reports and even films made, of the unfortunate happenings of 2002.  My intention is not to get into the gory details which many of us regard as a crime against humanity, but to briefly underline some facts in order to position our response.


On February 27th, 2002 the car (S-6) of the Sabarmati Express train coming towards Ahmedabad from the temple town of Ayodhya (earlier on 6th December 1992, a mosque was demolished there, which caused plenty of conflict and bloodshed all over the country) caught fire.  Till today, no one has been able to pin-point the cause of the fire (though many believe that it was accidental) but the sad fact is that 59 persons were killed (many of them were Hindus who had gone to Ayodhya to help out in a project to build a temple on the place where the mosque was destroyed).  This tragedy was announced in Parliament and was also highlighted by all media throughout the country.  However, nothing untoward happened as an immediate consequence.  Sadly enough, more than twenty fours later, with the apparent connivance of the Gujarat Government, several mobs (armed with all kinds of weapons) began attacking Muslims in Ahmedabad and several parts of the State. Three months of violence and blood-shed, rape, arson and loot left about 2000 Muslims dead, and thousands of others homeless. What took place in Gujarat in those terrible months would make sensitive human beings bow their heads down in shame.  The facts of this tragedy have been carefully documented by several human rights and civil society groups in India and abroad, by the National Human Rights Commission and even by the Supreme Court of India. Several Governments across the world, particularly the United States and the European Union, have taken cognizance and have in some ways responded to this Carnage.  The annual Freedom of Religion Report of the United States, year after year, refers to the Gujarat reality and the fact that justice is still elusive for many of the victims. 


·         Our Response:

As a Centre, committed to peace through a frame-work of human rights and justice, we could obviously not remain silent in the face of such unprecedented violence and hate crimes.  We had to listen to the cries of our people. We had to translate in some small ways the lofty ideals of the Earth Charter into very tangible action; to ensure that the foundational relationship is the relationship between human beings where dignity, respect and acceptance of the other, is at the core.  As an organization inspired by the person and message of Jesus Christ, we are confronted over and over again by several Christian values and by questions like "who is my brother?" "How can you love God whom you cannot see when you are unable to love your brother whom you see?"  As we try to  promote inter-religious dialogue, we are aware that there is no religion worth its name that teaches prejudice, hate, divisiveness and violence.  In our search to respond to "why?" " why?" "why?", we have been endeavouring:


i)                    to stand up and speak up for human rights for all

in collaboration with several other women and men of goodwill, we have been trying our best "to awaken a new reverence for life…..to quicken the struggle for justice and peace and the joyful celebration of life". We are convinced that diversity is wealth which needs to be welcomed by all.  So what does one do if we know that Muslims cannot own a house or run a business in this western up-market part of the city?  Through a variety of ways (meetings, seminars, inter-faith prayer), we have been trying to welcome Muslims to our Centre and we have even been encouraging some of our Hindu friends to accept Muslims as their neighbour. All this though is easier said than done


ii)                  to help create an environment of truth and justice

true and sustainable peace, we believe, is a direct consequence of justice at every level.  Gandhi showed that truth is a non-negotiable and only when we speak truth to power, will we move towards creating an environment of justice. There are thousands of Muslims – victims of the Gujarat Carnage who still hope and pray for justice. We have been accompanying some of them in this journey in every possible way. The going indeed is hard and very often, because of our strong stands of issues, we ourselves become the target from those who control the reigns of power and those who live in a denial mode.


iii)                to help build bridges among people

we have been trying to build bridges between people of the different communities. We have made some efforts in healing and reconciliation; in some who show remorse and others who have the magnanimity to forgive. We bring people together to collaborate on other human right issues (the Rights of Women, the Right to Food, the Right to Education, a greater sensitivity to the environment); by praying together, celebrating festivals together, by looking at the commonalities that bind people across the religious divide.  Our Advocacy efforts have helped in some ways, to create a conducive atmosphere for sustainable justice and peace, where "we care for the community of life with understanding, compassion and love".



In essence, the Earth Charter encompasses the vision and ideals of Mahatma Gandhi and of all religions of the world.  Since 2001, in some small ways we have been trying to realise 'the way of proceeding' enshrined in the Earth Charter.  But, ours is just a drop in the ocean, a single step of a very long journey ahead.  We are confident. We are hopeful that with every small effort and with the intrinsic goodness in humankind, we will overcome some day.


This year, marks the 150th birth anniversary of another great Indian, our Noble Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. It is therefore, fitting to pray with him:


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, led my country awake!


And I say, let all human beings awake to the vision and the directives of the Earth Charter!


(This presentation was made at the workshop on 'The Earth Charter and Religion, Spirituality and Ethics' during the International Conference on 'Ethical Framework for a Sustainable World' at Ahmedabad on November 2nd, 2010)


(*Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace)

Address: PRASHANT, Hill Nagar, Near Kamdhenu Hall, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad – 380052, Gujarat, India

Phone: (+91) 79 27455913,  66522333 Cell: 9824034536
Fax:  (+91) 79 27489018
Email: sjprashant@gmail.com     www.humanrightsindia.in







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