Saturday, January 29, 2011

"TO WHOM SHALL WE GO?" 30 Jan 11



-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*


January 30th - comes as a grim reminder that Mahatma Gandhi had to sacrifice his life for the sake of truth and non-violence.  This reality, becomes a greater challenge to each one of us in India today, as scam after scam and violence of every nature, tumble out from the nation's cupboard of skeletons. 


The list is endless indeed: from Bofors to the CVC; from CWG to 2G; from Adarsh to illegal mining; from the powerful oil mafia (who are ready to burn alive the likes of Sonawane) to the hoarders of onions and other necessary commodities, who profit from black-marketeering….. Above all, no one wants to deal with the mind-boggling volumes of black money stashed away in secret coffers abroad. 


Gujarat never lags behind: the killings of Amit Jethwa, Sohrabuddin and Ishrat Jahan, are but the tip of an iceberg of rot, which has grown deep and wide.  The powerful industrial lobby and other vested interests get what they want literally "overnight"!  Nexuses are blatantly obvious.  Queries on the Right to Information show how the State is being sold for a song.


There is also the other side: the average citizen has no qualms of conscience to grease the palms of another in order 'to get things done', for themselves.  "That is the only way to do it"! they say; – to take out a hundred rupee note to give the traffic cop who has hauled you up for an offence; to give the festival "baksheesh" to the postman or to the municipal sweepers on demand or for that matter the undisclosed amount which one necessarily has to pay up in order to get one's promotion or a lucrative transfer.  All this is common knowledge as we seem to have fine-tuned and mainstreamed the art of corruption.


Many ordinary citizens do not know whom to turn to, as even some of the Judges of the Highest Court of the land are accused of being corrupt.  Those who stand up against the establishment and vested interests are hounded, intimidated, accused of sedition and even killed.  A palpable fear is evident as many would opt 'to live and let live'.  Few dare to question.


A sense of national outrage and shame permeates the air. Attempts are being made to galvanise and mobilize citizens from across the board to take on corruption head long.  A new 'Lok Pal' bill is envisaged. Some things are happening. 


"Hey Ram!" The Mahatma, is perhaps crying out in anguish, as he wonders what is happening in the land of his birth!  But there is hope: all is not lost.  Our country still boasts of millions of women and men, who try to emulate the sterling example given to us by 'Bapu'.  The road ahead will be difficult, but one has faith in the motto of our country 'Satyameva Jayate' – Truth alone Triumphs!




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

29th January, 2011

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

Phone: 79 27455913, 66522333
Fax:  79 27489018






Monday, January 24, 2011

Pope Benedict's Message for 45th World Communications Day



Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age

June 5, 2011


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On the occasion of the 45th World Day of Social Communications, I would like to share some reflections that are motivated by a phenomenon characteristic of our age: the emergence of the internet as a network for communication. It is an ever more commonly held opinion that, just as the Industrial Revolution in its day brought about a profound transformation in society by the modifications it introduced into the cycles of production and the lives of workers, so today the radical changes taking place in communications are guiding significant cultural and social developments. The new technologies are not only changing the way we communicate, but communication itself, so much so that it could be said that we are living through a period of vast cultural transformation. This means of spreading information and knowledge is giving birth to a new way of learning and thinking, with unprecedented opportunities for establishing relationships and building fellowship.

New horizons are now open that were until recently unimaginable; they stir our wonder at the possibilities offered by these new media and, at the same time, urgently demand a serious reflection on the significance of communication in the digital age. This is particularly evident when we are confronted with the extraordinary potential of the internet and the complexity of its uses. As with every other fruit of human ingenuity, the new communications technologies must be placed at the service of the integral good of the individual and of the whole of humanity. If used wisely, they can contribute to the satisfaction of the desire for meaning, truth and unity which remain the most profound aspirations of each human being.

In the digital world, transmitting information increasingly means making it known within a social network where knowledge is shared in the context of personal exchanges. The clear distinction between the producer and consumer of information is relativized and communication appears not only as an exchange of data, but also as a form of sharing. This dynamic has contributed to a new appreciation of communication itself, which is seen first of all as dialogue, exchange, solidarity and the creation of positive relations. On the other hand, this is contrasted with the limits typical of digital communication: the one-sidedness of the interaction, the tendency to communicate only some parts of one's interior world, the risk of constructing a false image of oneself, which can become a form of self-indulgence.

Young people in particular are experiencing this change in communication, with all the anxieties, challenges and creativity typical of those open with enthusiasm and curiosity to new experiences in life. Their ever greater involvement in the public digital forum, created by the so-called social networks, helps to establish new forms of interpersonal relations, influences self-awareness and therefore inevitably poses questions not only of how to act properly, but also about the authenticity of one's own being. Entering cyberspace can be a sign of an authentic search for personal encounters with others, provided that attention is paid to avoiding dangers such as enclosing oneself in a sort of parallel existence, or excessive exposure to the virtual world. In the search for sharing, for "friends", there is the challenge to be authentic and faithful, and not give in to the illusion of constructing an artificial public profile for oneself.

The new technologies allow people to meet each other beyond the confines of space and of their own culture, creating in this way an entirely new world of potential friendships. This is a great opportunity, but it also requires greater attention to and awareness of possible risks. Who is my "neighbour" in this new world? Does the danger exist that we may be less present to those whom we encounter in our everyday life? Is there is a risk of being more distracted because our attention is fragmented and absorbed in a world "other" than the one in which we live? Do we have time to reflect critically on our choices and to foster human relationships which are truly deep and lasting? It is important always to remember that virtual contact cannot and must not take the place of direct human contact with people at every level of our lives.

In the digital age too, everyone is confronted by the need for authenticity and reflection. Besides, the dynamic inherent in the social networks demonstrates that a person is always involved in what he or she communicates. When people exchange information, they are already sharing themselves, their view of the world, their hopes, their ideals. It follows that there exists a Christian way of being present in the digital world: this takes the form of a communication which is honest and open, responsible and respectful of others. To proclaim the Gospel through the new media means not only to insert expressly religious content into different media platforms, but also to witness consistently, in one's own digital profile and in the way one communicates choices, preferences and judgements that are fully consistent with the Gospel, even when it is not spoken of specifically. Furthermore, it is also true in the digital world that a message cannot be proclaimed without a consistent witness on the part of the one who proclaims it. In these new circumstances and with these new forms of expression, Christian are once again called to offer a response to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is within them (cf. 1 Pet 3:15).

The task of witnessing to the Gospel in the digital era calls for everyone to be particularly attentive to the aspects of that message which can challenge some of the ways of thinking typical of the web. First of all, we must be aware that the truth which we long to share does not derive its worth from its "popularity" or from the amount of attention it receives. We must make it known in its integrity, instead of seeking to make it acceptable or diluting it. It must become daily nourishment and not a fleeting attraction. The truth of the Gospel is not something to be consumed or used superficially; rather it is a gift that calls for a free response. Even when it is proclaimed in the virtual space of the web, the Gospel demands to be incarnated in the real world and linked to the real faces of our brothers and sisters, those with whom we share our daily lives. Direct human relations always remain fundamental for the transmission of the faith!

I would like then to invite Christians, confidently and with an informed and responsible creativity, to join the network of relationships which the digital era has made possible. This is not simply to satisfy the desire to be present, but because this network is an integral part of human life. The web is contributing to the development of new and more complex intellectual and spiritual horizons, new forms of shared awareness. In this field too we are called to proclaim our faith that Christ is God, the Saviour of humanity and of history, the one in whom all things find their fulfilment (cf. Eph 1:10). The proclamation of the Gospel requires a communication which is at once respectful and sensitive, which stimulates the heart and moves the conscience; one which reflects the example of the risen Jesus when he joined the disciples on the way to Emmaus (cf. Lk 24:13-35). By his approach to them, his dialogue with them, his way of gently drawing forth what was in their heart, they were led gradually to an understanding of the mystery.

In the final analysis, the truth of Christ is the full and authentic response to that human desire for relationship, communion and meaning which is reflected in the immense popularity of social networks. Believers who bear witness to their most profound convictions greatly help prevent the web from becoming an instrument which depersonalizes people, attempts to manipulate them emotionally or allows those who are powerful to monopolize the opinions of others. On the contrary, believers encourage everyone to keep alive the eternal human questions which testify to our desire for transcendence and our longing for authentic forms of life, truly worthy of being lived. It is precisely this uniquely human spiritual yearning which inspires our quest for truth and for communion and which impels us to communicate with integrity and honesty.

I invite young people above all to make good use of their presence in the digital world. I repeat my invitation to them for the next World Youth Day in Madrid, where the new technologies are contributing greatly to the preparations. Through the intercession of their patron Saint Francis de Sales, I pray that God may grant communications workers the capacity always to carry out their work conscientiously and professionally. To all, I willingly impart my Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 24 January 2011, Feast of Saint Francis de Sales 


© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Statement to Media of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, as she concludes her visit to India(Jan 21st 2011).



Press Release




Statement of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, as she concludes her visit to India



NEW DELHI, 21 January 2011 – From 10 to 21 January 2011, I carried out a fact-finding mission to assess the situation of human rights defenders in India, and traveled to New Delhi, Bhubaneshwar (Orissa), Kolkata (West Bengal), Guwahati (Assam), Ahmedabad (Gujarat), Jammu and Srinagar (Jammu and Kashmir).


I met with the Foreign Secretary; the Union Home Secretary; the Additional Secretary (International Organisations and Environment Diplomacy); the Joint Secretary (Human Rights), Ministry for Home Affairs; the State Chief Secretary, State Home Secretary and Director-General of Police in states visited; the Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission; Members of the Statutory Full Commission; Chairpersons and Members of State Human Rights Commissions; and Judges from the High Court in Delhi. However, I regret I was unable to meet the Prime Minister, nor with members of the Parliament.


I met as well with members of the diplomatic community and United Nations agencies in the capital. Finally, throughout my mission, I met a very wide and diverse segment of the civil society through national and regional consultations.


I thank very much the Government of India for extending an invitation to me and for its exemplary cooperation throughout the mission. I further want to thank all human rights defenders with whom I had meetings, some of whom had to travel long distances to meet me. Finally, I want to express my appreciation to the Office of the United Nations Resident Coordinator in India for its invaluable support in preparation of and during the mission.


While I must now take some time to review and analyse the considerable amount of information I have received, and to follow up on further exchanges of information with the Government, human rights defenders and other stakeholders, I would like to provide a few preliminary observations and recommendations.


I first want to commend the Government for opening its doors to my mandate. Previous requests to visit India were made by my predecessor in 2002, 2003 and 2004. This is an important development, and I hope that the invitations of other Special Procedures mandate-holders will be similarly honoured in the near future.


I further commend the Government for enabling me to visit five States, which assisted me in gaining a clear understanding of the local specificities in which human rights defenders work. Given the duration of the mission and the size of the country, I regret I could not access all parts of the country, but I invite those who wish to do so to provide me with information now or in the near future.

I note with satisfaction that India has a comprehensive and progressive legal framework which guarantees human rights and fundamental freedoms, as enshrined, inter alia, in the Constitution, the Protection of Human Rights Act, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, and the Right to Information Act. I welcome the commitment expressed by Indian authorities to uphold human rights.


I further welcome the draft Bill on the Prevention of Torture with a view to ratifying the Convention Against Torture in the near future.


Besides the National Human Rights Commission and existing State-level Human Rights Commissions, I note the existence of a wide range of Statutory Commissions mandated to promote and protect the rights of, inter alia, women, children, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.


However, despite the aforementioned laws aimed at promoting and protecting human rights, I note widespread deficiencies in their full implementation at both central and state levels, adversely affecting the work and safety of human rights defenders. Similarly, I have observed the need for the National and existing State Human Rights Commissions to do much more to ensure a safe and conducive environment for human rights defenders throughout the country.


Throughout my mission, I heard numerous testimonies about male and female human rights defenders, and their families, who have been killed, tortured, ill-treated, disappeared, threatened, arbitrarily arrested and detained, falsely charged, under surveillance, forcibly displaced, or their offices raided and files stolen, because of their legitimate work in upholding human rights and fundamental freedoms.


These violations are commonly attributed to law enforcement authorities; however, they have reportedly also shown collusion and/or complaisance with abuses committed by private actors against defenders. Armed groups have also harassed human rights defenders in some instances.

In the context of India's economic policies, defenders engaged in denouncing development projects that threaten or destroy the land, natural resources and livelihood of their community or of other communities, have been targeted by State agents and private actors, and are particularly vulnerable.


I am particularly concerned at the plight of human rights defenders working for the rights of marginalized people, i.e. Dalits, Adavasis (tribals) religious minorities and sexual minorities, who face particular risks and ostracism because of their activities. Collectivities striving for their rights have in fact been victimized.


Women human rights defenders, who are often at the forefront of the promotion and protection of human rights, are also at particular risk of persecution.

Right To Information (RTI) activists, who may be ordinary citizens, have increasingly been targeted for, among others, exposing human rights violations and poor governance, including corruption of officials.


Other defenders targeted include those defending women's and child rights, fighting impunity for past human rights violations, seeking accountability for communal pogroms, upholding the rights of political prisoners, journalists, lawyers, labour activists, humanitarian workers, and church workers. Defenders operating in rural areas are often more vulnerable.


While I acknowledge the security challenges faced by the country, I am deeply concerned about the arbitrary application of security laws at the national and state levels (in Jammu and Kashmir and in the North-East of India), most notably the Public Security Act and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, which direly affects the work of human rights defenders.


I am troubled by the branding and stigmatization of human rights defenders, who are labeled as "naxalites (Maoists)", "terrorists", "militants", "insurgents", "anti-nationalists", "members of underground". Defenders on the ground, including journalists, who report on violations by State and non-State actors in areas affected by insurgency are targeted by both sides.


Freedom of movement of defenders has also been restricted under these security laws; for instance, applications of passport or renewal have been denied, as well as access for defenders to victims in some areas.

Illegitimate restrictions to freedom of peaceful assembly were also brought to my attention: for example, I was informed of instances of protests in support of a human rights defender in detention which were not allowed to take place.


Finally, I am concerned about the amendment to the Foreign Contribution Regulations Act which provides that non-governmental organisations must reapply every five years for the review of their status by the Ministry of Home Affairs in order to receive foreign funding. Such a provision may be used to censor non-governmental organisations which are critical of Government's policies.


In view of the above, the space for civil society is contracted.

Although the judiciary is the primary avenue for legal redress, I have observed that its functioning is hampered by backlog and significant delays in administrating cases of human rights violations.


The National Human Rights Commission and the existing State Human Rights Commissions is an important additional avenue where human rights defenders can seek redress. However, all the defenders I met during the mission voiced their disappointment and mistrust in the current functioning of these institutions.


They have submitted complaints related to human rights violations to the Commissions, but reportedly their cases were either hardly taken up, or the investigation, often after a significant period of delay, concluded that no violations occurred. Their main concern lies in the fact that the investigations into their cases are conducted by the police, which in many cases are the perpetrators of the alleged violations. While I welcome the establishment of a human rights defenders focal point within the National Human Rights Commission, I regret that it was not given sufficient prominence within the Commission.


Based on the above, I wish to make the following preliminary recommendations:

To the Central and State Governments:


-          The Prime Minister and the Chief Secretaries should publicly acknowledge the importance and legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders, i.e. anyone who "individually and in association with others, […] promote[s] and […] strive[s] for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels " (article 1 of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, A/RES/53/144). Specific attention must be given to human rights defenders who face particular risks (as identified above).


-          Security forces should be clearly instructed to respect the work  and the rights and fundamental freedoms of human rights defenders, especially human rights defenders who face particular risks (as identified above).


-          Sensitization training to Security forces on the role and activities of human rights defenders should be delivered, with technical advice and assistance from relevant UN entities, non-governmental organizations and other partners.


-          Prompt and impartial investigations on violations committed against human rights defenders should be conducted, and perpetrators should be prosecuted.


-          The Supreme Court judgment on police reform should be fully implemented in line with international standards, in particular at the State level.


-          Full implementation of laws and policies which guarantee human rights and fundamental freedoms of human rights defenders should be ensured.


-          A law on the protection of human rights defenders developed in full and meaningful consultation with civil society and on the basis of technical advice from relevant UN entities should be enacted.


-          The Foreign Contribution Regulation Act should be critically reviewed.


-          The Draft Bill on Prevention Against Torture should be adopted without further delay.


-          The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women should be ratified. The ratification of the complaints procedure will provide women human rights defenders an opportunity to access another procedure to address any violations of rights under the Convention.


-          The Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Public Security Act should be repealed and application of other security laws which adversely affect the work and safety of human rights defenders should be reviewed.


-          The functioning of the National Human Rights Commission should be reviewed with a view to strengthening the Commission by, inter alia: broadening the selection criteria for the appointment of the Chairperson; diversifying the composition of the Commission; extending the one-year limitation clause; establishing an independent committee in charge of investigating complaints filed; elevating the status of the human rights defenders focal point by appointing a Commissioner. The Protection of Human Rights Act should be amended as necessary in full and meaningful consultation with civil society.


-          State Human Rights Commissions should be established in States where such commissions are not yet in existence without further delay.


-          Central and State Governments should continue collaborating with Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, including by extending invitations for country visits.


To National and existing State Human Rights Commission:


-          The supportive role of the commissions for human rights defenders should be strengthened by inter alia, conducting regular regional visits; meeting human rights defenders in difficulty or at risk; and undertaking trial observations of cases of human rights defenders wherever appropriate.


-          The visibility of the commissions should be ensured through regular and proactive engagement with civil society and the media.


-          A toll-free 24-hour emergency hotline for human rights defenders should be established.


-          The commissions should monitor the full implementation of recommendations made by UN human rights mechanisms, including Special Procedures mandate-holders, Treaty Bodies, and the Universal Periodic Review.


To the judiciary:


-          In the absence of a witnesses and victims protection Act, the judiciary should take measures to ensure the protection of human rights defenders at risk, witnesses and victims.


-          The judiciary should ensure better utilization of suo motu whenever cases of violation against human rights defenders arise.


-          The importance of the role of human rights defenders in the vibrant and active functioning of the judiciary should be recognised.


To human rights defenders


-          Platforms or networks aimed at protecting defenders and facilitating dialogue should be devised or strengthened.


-          Defenders should better acquaint themselves with the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.


-          Efforts should be made to continue making full use of United Nations Special Procedures and other international human rights mechanisms when reporting on human rights violations.


To the international community and donors


-          The European Union Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders and local strategies on India should be implemented on a systematic basis.


-          The situation of human rights defenders, in particular the most targeted and vulnerable ones, should be continually monitored, and support for their work should be expressed through, inter alia, interventions before central and state institutions.


-          Efforts should be intensified in empowering civil society.


To all stakeholders:


-          The Declaration on Human Rights Defenders should be translated in main local languages, and disseminated widely.


-          Efforts should be continued to raise civic awareness among the general public, and the spirit of dialogue and cooperation in society fostered.


I will present my full report with final conclusions and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2012.




Friday, January 21, 2011

MacroScan - The Criminalization of Dissent


"The Prime Minister, let us not forget, was talking not to a group of his party functionaries but to budding police officers whose job consists precisely in identifying what constitutes criminal activity. He was in short articulating an official position."
"The renowned economist Paul Samuelson, a political liberal, had reportedly rem...arked that economic liberalism can be practiced only under political authoritarianism"

The Criminalization of Dissent

Jan 13th 2011, Prabhat Patnaik
While there will be general agreement that the judgement in Binayak Sen's case represents a gross miscarriage of justice, most people will attribute it to the overzealousness of a lower judicial functionary, or, at the most, to the prevailing atmosphere in the state of Chhattisgarh. If the trial had been held elsewhere, they would argue, Binayak would not have got the verdict he did. They are probably right, just as those who attribute the bringing of sedition charges against Arundhati Roy and Syed Ali Shah Geelani to the overzealousness of certain functionaries of the Delhi police, and against Sudhir Dhawle to the overzealousness of the Maharashtra police, may well be right. But such overzealousness, whose instances are multiplying alarmingly, thrives within, and derives sustenance from, a certain ambience; and this consists in the tendency under the current neo-liberal dispensation increasingly to see any basic ideological opposition to the parameters of official policy as anti-national. The tendency in short is to criminalize ideological dissent. Of course, one must not cry wolf, but one must not ignore this tendency either; to do so will be fatal.

No less a person than the Prime Minister, while speaking to IPS probationers in the capital the other day, invoked a curious argument against the Maoists. He did not just make the usual criticism that they were attempting to overthrow the Constitutional order by violent means. He went on to add: ''If we don't control Naxalism we have to say good-bye to our country's ambition to sustain a growth rate of 10-11 percent per annum'' (Deccan Chronicle, Dec.25). And this, he clarified, is because central India is where the bulk of the country's mineral wealth lies. Ten or eleven percent growth rate in short is elevated to the status of a national goal. Any one who opposes policies that seek to achieve this goal is therefore acting against the national interest, and is ipso facto anti-national.

The reification involved in this piece of reasoning, as Karl Marx would have noted, is astounding. A nation can have objectives like the eradication of poverty, or the elimination of hunger, or the removal of illiteracy, or the maintenance of full employment, or the achievement of an egalitarian order; but the mere rate of augmentation of the mass of goods and services produced can not possibly be a national objective. True, some, including the Prime Minister, would argue that this rate of augmentation holds the key to the achievement of the national goals just listed, but this is a particular ideological position; others may have a different position on the relationship between growth and poverty. To posit the growth rate as a national objective is to sanctify one particular ideological position above all others as a nationally accepted one, and hence to decry any one who opposes it as anti-national. Decrying those who oppose a particular ideological position as being anti-national is implicitly to criminalize dissent.

The Prime Minister, let us not forget, was talking not to a group of his party functionaries but to budding police officers whose job consists precisely in identifying what constitutes criminal activity. He was in short articulating an official position. Besides, given his intellectual eminence, what he says both expresses and sets the trend for the thinking of the entire establishment. His remarks therefore have to be taken very seriously.

More than a century and half ago, John Stuart Mill, while theoretically anticipating a ''stationary state'' (i.e. zero growth economy), had nonetheless remained unfazed by the prospect: he had declared that he would not mind a stationary state as long as the working people were better off in it. Mill had thus implicitly advanced two propositions: first, the condition of the working people did not depend upon the rate of growth of the economy, that it could be better even in a stationary economy than in a growing one; and, second, what mattered to him, and hence by inference what should matter to society according to him, was not the rate of growth per se but the condition of the working people. Both these propositions of John Stuart Mill, a liberal, are diametrically opposed to what the official neo-liberal argument advances today and wants to elevate to a national consensus.

The fact that Mill was right, that high growth may be accompanied by increasing poverty, is amply demonstrated by the recent Indian experience itself. Indeed, the empirical evidence for absolute impoverishment in the recent period of high growth is overwhelming. Let us briefly look at this evidence. The official criterion for the identification of poverty (until it was changed recently after the Tendulkar Committee Report) has been the intake of 2400 calories or less per person per day in rural India and 2100 calories or less in urban India. By this criterion, poverty has certainly increased: direct measurement of calorie intake suggests that 74.5 percent of the rural population was ''poor'' in 1993-4, and 87 percent in 2004-5; the corresponding figures were 57 percent and 64 percent respectively for the urban population. (These figures, based on NSS data, are from Utsa Patnaik, Economic and Political Weekly, Jan 23-29, 2010, and their veracity can not be questioned).

Foodgrain absorption figures confirm this conclusion. Per capita foodgrain absorption (defined as net output minus net exports minus net increase in stocks) which, in round figures, was 200 kg. per annum in ''British India'' at the beginning of the twentieth century declined drastically to less than 150 kg. by the time of independence. Strenuous efforts by successive governments in independent India raised it to 180 kg. by the end of the eighties; but there has been a decline thereafter, marginal at first but precipitous after the late nineties, so much so that per capita foodgrain absorption in 2008, at 156 kg. by FAO estimates, was lower than in any year after 1953. The period of high growth is precisely the one associated with reduction in foodgrain absorption, and hence with significant absolute impoverishment.

But the official position apotheosizing growth as a national goal and vilifying any opposition to it as anti-national, is not only a reification, and a vacuity; it is also dangerous, both because it criminalizes ideological dissent, and because it implicitly justifies corporate control over the State. If ten or eleven percent growth is elevated to a national goal, then obviously the agents through whom this goal is to be achieved, especially in the neo-liberal era when the public sector and public investment are frowned upon, namely, the domestic and foreign private corporations and financial interests, must be kept happy. The State must cater to their caprices, so that their ''state of confidence'' is kept high, and they undertake the investments necessary for high growth.

Since the alternative approach, of taxing the corporate and financial interests and using public investment as the means of raising growth, has been eschewed, even as growth itself has been apotheosized as a national goal, the achievement of this goal necessarily requires appeasing these interests by putting the entire State machinery at their disposal. It necessarily means corporate control over the State machinery. And when the Prime Minister talks of the need to get unhindered access to the mineral wealth of central India as the means to achieve the ''national goal'' of 10-11 percent growth rate, he obviously means ensuring unhindered access to this wealth to corporate interests.

This is precisely what has been happening; and the series of scams that the nation has watched with stupefaction over the last few weeks are only one manifestation of the extent of this corporate control.

Such corporate control inevitably brings forth resistance. All such resistance necessarily threatens the ''national goal'' of growth, and hence is labelled anti-national, i.e. criminal. The criminalization of dissent is immanent therefore in the corporate control over the State machinery, and the reified view of ''national goals'' is a justification for such control. Many have rightly attacked the draconian laws which have been introduced into the statute books in many states and under which protesters are punished. These laws, which are often attributed to the authoritarianism of this or that political formation, really spring from the authoritarianism inherent in the corporate control over the State. The renowned economist Paul Samuelson, a political liberal, had reportedly remarked that economic liberalism can be practiced only under political authoritarianism. Contemporary India testifies to the truth of this remark.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Doot Centenary Commemorative Postage Stamp to be released in Ahmedabad on January 15th 2011

                                                            GOVERNMENT OF INDIA TO HONOUR 'DOOT' CENTENARY WITH POSTAGE STAMP


The Government of India, through its Department of Posts, will issue a commemorative postage stamp on Saturday, 15th January to mark the completion of one hundred years of the Gujarati Catholic Periodical 'DOOT'. 


'DOOT' was first launched in January 1911, through very humble beginnings, from Mumbai.  It originally catered to the miniscule Catholic community of Gujarat.  But over the years, it has grown by leaps and bounds and caters to a cross section of society, belonging to all religious and cultural backgrounds in Gujarat, in other parts of India and abroad.  For the last several years, it is being published and printed from Anand.


It has the distinction of being the second oldest Gujarati periodical in the country.  Another distinguishing feature of this monthly magazine is the fact that it has been published uninterruptedly for one hundred years! 


Its contents include constitutional, moral and social values.  It has a readership of over fifty thousand. Themes in the magazine in the past have included issues on "Gandhian thoughts", "Sixty years of India's Independence", "Indian diversity", "Corporal punishment for children" and "the Role of women in today's India".


The 'DOOT' Centenary commemorative stamp will be released by the Smt. Humera Ahmed, the Chief Post Master General of Gujarat at a public function


On       :           Saturday, January 15th, 2011


At        :           4.00 pm


At        :           Loyola Golden Jubilee Auditorium

                                    St. Xavier's School, Memnagar Road, Ahmedabad


- - - - - - -     - - - - - - - -    - - - - - - -   - - - - -
PRASHANT   (A Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace)
Street Address : Hill Nagar, Near Kamdhenu Hall, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad - 380052, Gujarat, India
Postal Address : P B 4050, Navrangpura PO, Ahmedabad - 380 009, Gujarat, India
Phone : 91  79   27455913,  66522333
Fax : 91  79  27489018


Karen Armstrong: 'The divisions in our world are not the result of religion or of culture, but are politically based'


Divisions in Our World are Not the Result of Religion

Karen Armstrong was a Catholic nun for seven years before leaving her order and going to Oxford. Today, she is amongst the most renowned theologians and has written numerous bestsellers on the great religions and their founders. She is one of the 18 leading group members of the Alliance of Civilizations, an initiative of the former UN General Secretary, Kofi Anan, whose purpose is to fight extremism and further dialogue between the western and Islamic worlds. She talks here to the German journalist, Andrea Bistrich, about politics, religion, extremism and commonalities.

ANDREA BISTRICH: 9/11 has become the symbol of major, insurmountable hostilities between Islam and the West. After the attacks many Americans asked: "Why do they hate us?" And experts in numerous round-table talks debated if Islam is an inherently violent religion. Is this so?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Certainly not. There is far more violence in the Bible than in the Qur'an; the idea that Islam imposed itself by the sword is a Western fiction, fabricated during the time of the Crusades when, in fact, it was Western Christians who were fighting brutal holy wars against Islam. The Qur'an forbids aggressive warfare and permits war only in self-defence; the moment the enemy sues for peace, the Qur'an insists that Muslims must lay down their arms and accept whatever terms are offered, even if they are disadvantageous. Later, Muslim law forbade Muslims to attack a country where Muslims were permitted to practice their faith freely; the killing of civilians was prohibited, as were the destruction of property and the use of fire in warfare.
The sense of polarization has been sharpened by recent controversies — the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, over the Pope's remarks about Islam, over whether face-veils hinder integration. All these things have set relations between Islam and the West on edge. Harvard-Professor Samuel Huntington introduced the theory of a "clash of civilizations" we are witnessing today. Does such a fundamental incompatibility between the "Christian West" and the "Muslim World" indeed exist?

The divisions in our world are not the result of religion or of culture, but are politically based. There is an imbalance of power in the world, and the powerless are beginning to challenge the hegemony of the Great Powers, declaring their independence of them-often using religious language to do so. A lot of what we call "fundamentalism" can often be seen as a religious form of nationalism, an assertion of identity. The old 19th-century European nationalist ideal has become tarnished and has always been foreign to the Middle East. In the Muslim world people are redefining themselves according to their religion in an attempt to return to their roots after the great colonialist disruption.

What has made Fundamentalism, seemingly, so predominant today?
The militant piety that we call "fundamentalism" erupted in every single major world faith in the course of the twentieth century. There is fundamentalist Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Sikhism, Hinduism and Confucianism, as well as fundamentalist Islam. Of the three monotheistic religions-Judaism, Christianity and Islam-Islam was the last to develop a fundamentalist strain during the 1960s.

. This is not paranoia: Jewish fundamentalism took two major strides forward, one after the Nazi Holocaust, the second after the Yom Kippur War of 1973. In some parts of the Middle East, secularism was established so rapidly and aggressively that it was experienced as a lethal assault.

The fact that fundamentalism is also a phenomenon in politics was stressed only recently by former US president Jimmy Carter when he voiced his concerns over the increasing merging of religion and state in the Bush administration, and the element of fundamentalism in the White House. Carter sees that traits of religious fundamentalists are also applicable to neo-conservatives. There seems to be a major controversy between, on the one hand, so called hard-liners or conservatives and, on the other, the progressives. Is this a typical phenomenon of today's world?
The United States is not alone in this. Yes, there is a new intolerance and aggression in Europe too as well as in Muslim countries and the Middle East. Culture is always-and has always been-contested. There are always people who have a different view of their country and are ready to fight for it. American Christian fundamentalists are not in favour of democracy; and it is true that many of the Neo-Cons, many of whom incline towards this fundamentalism, have very hard-line, limited views. These are dangerous and difficult times and when people are frightened they tend to retreat into ideological ghettos and build new barriers against the "other". Democracy is really what religious people call "a state of grace." It is an ideal that is rarely achieved, that has constantly to be reaffirmed, lest it be lost. And it is very difficult to fulfil. We are all-Americans and Europeans-falling short of the democratic ideal during the so called "war against terror."

Could you specify the political reasons that you identified as the chief causes of the growing divide between Muslim and Western societies?

In the Middle East, modernization has been impeded by the Arab/Israeli conflict, which has become symbolic to Christian, Jewish and Muslim fundamentalists and is the bleeding heart of the problem. Unless a just political solution can be found that is satisfactory to everybody¸ there is no hope of peace. There is also the problem of oil, which has made some of these countries the target of Western greed. In the West, in order to preserve our strategic position and cheap oil supply, we have often supported rulers-such as the shahs of Iran, the Saudis and, initially, Saddam Hussein-who have established dictatorial regimes which suppressed any normal opposition. The only place where people felt free to express their distress has been the mosque.

The modern world has been very violent. Between 1914 and 1945, seventy million people died in Europe as a result of war. We should not be surprised that modern religion has become violent too; it often mimics the violence preached by secular politicians. Most of the violence and terror that concerns us in the Muslim world has grown up in regions where warfare, displacement and conflict have been traumatic and have even become chronic: the Middle East, Palestine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir.

In regard to the Arab-Israeli-conflict you have said that for Muslims it has become, "a symbol of their impotence in the modern world." What does that really mean?

The Arab-Israeli conflict began, on both sides, as a purely secular conflict about a land. Zionism began as a rebellion against religious Judaism and at the outset most Orthodox rabbis condemned Zionism as a blasphemous secularization of the Land of Israel, one of the most sacred symbols of Judaism. Similarly the ideology of the PLO was secular-many of the Palestinians, of course, are Christian. But unfortunately the conflict was allowed to fester; on both sides the conflict became sacralized and, therefore, far more difficult to sort out.

In most fundamentalist movements, certain issues acquire symbolic value and come to represent everything that is wrong with modernity. In Judaism, the secular state of Israel has inspired every single fundamentalist movement, because it represents so graphically the penetration of the secular ethos into Jewish religious life. Some Jewish fundamentalists are passionately for the state of Israel and see it as sacred and holy; involvement in Israeli politics is a sacred act of tikkun, restoration of the world; making a settlement in the occupied territories is also an act of tikkun and some believe that it will hasten the coming of the Messiah. But the ultra-Orthodox Jews are often against the state of Israel: some see it as an evil abomination (Jews are supposed to wait for the Messiah to restore a religious state in the Holy Land) and others regard it as purely neutral and hold aloof from it as far as they can. Many Jews too see Israel as a phoenix rising out of the ashes of Auschwitz-and have found it a way of coping with the Shoah.

But for many Muslims the plight of the Palestinians represents everything that is wrong with the modern world. The fact that in 1948, 750,000 Palestinians could lose their homes with the apparent approval of the world symbolizes the impotence of Islam in the modern world vis-à-vis the West. The Qur'an teaches that if Muslims live justly and decently, their societies will prosper because they will be in tune with the fundamental laws of the universe. Islam was always a religion of success, going from one triumph to another, but Muslims have been able to make no headway against the secular West and the plight of the Palestinians epitomizes this impotence. Jerusalem is also the third holiest place in the Islamic world, and when Muslims see their sacred shrines on the Haram al-Sharif [the Noble Sanctuary, also known as Temple Mount]-surrounded by the towering Israeli settlements and feel that their holy city is slipping daily from their grasp, this symbolizes their beleaguered identity. However it is important to note that the Palestinians only adopted a religiously articulated ideology relatively late-long after Islamic fundamentalism had become a force in countries such as Egypt or Pakistan. Their resistance movement remained secular in ethos until the first intifada in 1987. And it is also important to note that Hamas, for example, is very different from a movement like al-Qaeda, which has global ambitions. Hamas is a resistance movement; it does not attack Americans or British but concentrates on attacking the occupying power. It is yet another instance of "fundamentalism" as a religious form of nationalism.

The Arab Israeli conflict has also become pivotal to Christian fundamentalists in the United States. The Christian Right believes that unless the Jews are in their land, fulfilling the ancient prophecies, Christ cannot return in glory in the Second Coming. So they are passionate Zionists; but this ideology is also anti-Semitic, because in the Last Days they believe that the Antichrist will massacre the Jews in the Holy Land if they do not accept baptism.

Do you think the West has some responsibility for what is happening in Palestine?

Western people have a responsibility for everybody who is suffering in the world. We are among the richest and most powerful countries and cannot morally or religiously stand by and witness poverty, dispossession or injustice, whether that is happening in Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya or Africa. But Western people have a particular responsibility for the Arab-Israeli situation. In the Balfour Declaration (1917), Britain approved of a Jewish homeland in Palestine and ignored the aspirations and plight of the native Palestinians. And today the United States supports Israel economically and politically and also tends to ignore the plight of the Palestinians. This is dangerous, because the Palestinians are not going to go away, and unless a solution is found that promises security to the Israelis and gives political independence and security to the dispossessed Palestinians, there is no hope for world peace.

In addition, you have stressed the importance of a "triple vision"-the ability to view the conflict from the perspective of the Islamic, Jewish and Christian communities. Could you explain this view?

The three religions of Abraham -- Judaism, Christianity and Islam -- can and should be viewed as one religious tradition that went in three different directions. I have always tried to see them in this way; none is superior to any of the others. Each has its own particular genius; each its own particular flaws. Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God and share the same moral values. In the book A History of God, I tried to show that throughout their history, Jews, Christians and Muslims have asked the same kind of questions about God and have reached remarkably similar solutions-so that there are Jewish and Muslim versions of the incarnation, for example, and very similar notions of prophecy. In The Battle for God, I tried to show how similar the fundamentalist movements are in all three faiths.

Jews, however, have always found it difficult to accept the later faiths of Christianity and Islam; Christianity has always had an uneasy relationship with Judaism, the parent faith, and has seen Islam as a blasphemous imitation of revelation. The Qur'an, however, has a positive view of both Judaism and Christianity and constantly asserts that Muhammad did not come to cancel out the faiths of "the People of the Book": you cannot be a Muslim unless you also revere the prophets Abraham, David, Noah, Moses and Jesus-whom the Muslims regard as prophets-as in fact do many of the New Testament writers. Luke's gospel calls Jesus a prophet from start to finish; the idea that Jesus was divine was a later development, often misunderstood by Christians.

Unfortunately, however, religious people like to see themselves as having a monopoly on truth; they see that they alone are the one true faith. But this is egotism and has nothing to do with true religion, which is about the abandonment of the ego.

Too often it seems that religious people are not necessarily more compassionate, more tolerant, more peaceful or more spiritual than others. America, for example, is a very religious country, and at the same time it is the most unequal socially and economically. What does this say about the purpose of religion?

The world religions all insist that the one, single test of any type of religiosity is that it must issue in practical compassion. They have nearly all developed a version of the Golden Rule: "Do not do to others what you would not have done to you." This demands that we look into our own hearts, discover what it is that gives us pain and then refuse, under any circumstances, to inflict that pain on anybody else. Compassion demands that we "feel with" the other; that we dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there. This is the bedrock message of the Qur'an, of the New Testament ("I can have faith that moves mountains," says St. Paul, "but if I lack charity it profits me nothing."). Rabbi Hillel, the older contemporary of Jesus, defined the Golden Rule as the essence of Judaism: everything else, he said, was "commentary." We have exactly the same teaching in Confucianism, Daoism, Hinduism and Buddhism. I have tried to show this in one of my most recent books, The Great Transformation.

The traditions all insist that it is not enough simply to show compassion to your own group. You must have what the Chinese call jian ai, concern for everybody. Or as Jewish law puts it: "Honour the stranger." "Love your enemies," said Jesus: if you simply love your own kind, this is purely self-interest and a form of group egotism. The traditions also insist that it is the daily, hourly practice of compassion -not the adoption of the correct "beliefs" or the correct sexuality- that will bring us into the presence of what is called God, Nirvana, Brahman or the Dao. Religion is thus inseparable from altruism.

So why aren't religious people compassionate? What does that say about them? Compassion is not a popular virtue. Many religious people prefer to be right rather than compassionate. They don't want to give up their egos. They want religion to give them a little mild uplift once a week so that they can return to their ordinary selfish lives, unscathed by the demands of their tradition. Religion is hard work; not many people do it well. But are secularists any better? Many secularists would subscribe to the compassionate ideal but are just as selfish as religious people. The failure of religious people to be compassionate doesn't tell us something about religion, but about human nature. Religion is a method: you have to put it into practice to discover its truth. But, unfortunately, not many people do.

Islam and the West

Discussing Western ideas of justice and democracy in the Middle East, British foreign correspondent of The Independent, Robert Fisk, says: "We keep on saying that Arabs ... would like some of our shiny, brittle democracy, that they'd like freedom from the secret police and freedom from the dictators-who we largely put there. But they would also like freedom from us. And they want justice, which is sometimes more important than 'democracy'". Does the West need to realize that Muslims can run a modern state, but it is perhaps not the kind of democracy we want to see?

As Muslim intellectuals made clear, Islam is quite compatible with democracy, but unfortunately democracy has acquired a bad name in many Muslim countries. It seems that the West has said consistently: we believe in freedom and democracy, but you have to be ruled by dictators like the shahs or Saddam Hussein. There seems to have been a double standard. Robert Fisk is right: when I was in Pakistan recently and quoted Mr Bush-"They hate our freedom!"-the whole audience roared with laughter.

Democracy cannot be imposed by armies and tanks and coercion. The modern spirit has two essential ingredients; if these are not present, no matter how many fighter jets, computers or sky scrapers you have, your country is not really "modern".

The first of these is independence. The modernization of Europe from 16th to the 20th century was punctuated by declarations of independence on all fronts: religious, intellectual, political, economic. People demanded freedom to think, invent, and create as they chose.

The second quality is innovation as we modernized in the West: we were always creating something new; there was a dynamism and excitement to the process, even though it was often traumatic.

But in the Muslim world, modernity did not come with independence but with colonial subjugation; and still Muslims are not free, because the Western powers are often controlling their politics behind the scenes to secure the oil supply etc. Instead of independence there has been an unhealthy dependence and loss of freedom. Unless people feel free, any "democracy" is going to be superficial and flawed. And modernity did not come with innovation to the Muslims: because we were so far ahead, they could only copy us. So instead of innovation you have imitation.

We also know in our own lives that it is difficult-even impossible-to be creative when we feel under attack. Muslims often feel on the defensive and that makes it difficult to modernize and democratize creatively-especially when there are troops, tanks and occupying forces on the streets.

Do you see any common ground between Western world and Islam?

This will only be possible if the political issues are resolved. There is great common ground between the ideals of Islam and the modern Western ideal, and many Muslims have long realized this. At the beginning of the twentieth century, almost every single Muslim intellectual was in love with the West and wanted their countries to look just like Britain and France. Some even said that the West was more "Islamic" than the unmodernized Muslim countries, because in their modern economies they were able to come closer to the essential teaching of the Koran, which preaches the importance of social justice and equity. At this time, Muslims recognized the modern, democratic West as deeply congenial. In 1906, Muslim clerics campaigned alongside secularist intellectuals in Iran for representational government and constitutional rule. When they achieved their goal, the grand ayatollah said that the new constitution was the next best thing to the coming of the Shiite Messiah, because it would limit the tyranny of the shah and that was a project worthy of every Muslim. Unfortunately the British then discovered oil in Iran and never let the new parliament function freely. Muslims became disenchanted with the West as a result of Western foreign policy: Suez, Israel/Palestine, Western support of corrupt regimes, and so on.

What is needed from a very practical point of view to bridge the gap? What would you advise our leaders-our politicians and governments?

A revised foreign policy. A solution in Israel/Palestine that gives security to the Israelis and justice and autonomy to the Palestinians. No more support of corrupt, dictatorial regimes. A just solution to the unfolding horror in Iraq, which has been a "wonderful" help to groups like Al-Qaeda, playing right into their hands. No more situations like Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay. Money poured into Afghanistan and Palestine. A solution to Kashmir. No more short-term solutions for cheap oil. In Iraq and in Lebanon last summer we saw that our big armies are no longer viable against guerrilla and terror attacks. Diplomacy is essential. But suspicion of the West is now so entrenched that it may be too late.
ANDREA BISTRICH is a journalist based in Munich, Germany