Prashant .A Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace Post Box No. 4050, Navrangpura, Ahmedabad 380 009, Gujarat, India
Tel. : +91 (079) 66522333, 2745 5913 . Fax : +91 (079) 2748 9018 e-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org . www.humanrightsindia.in
22nd October, 2012
Sir James Bevan,
UK High Commissioner to India
Welcome to Ahmedabad and to Gujarat!
At the outset, let me place on record my gratitude for inviting me to this dialogue. I sincerely hope, that what emerges from these conversations will be for the good of the poor, the marginalized and vulnerable communities of Gujarat.
Ahmedabad, you are certainly aware, was founded more than 600 years ago by a benevolent ruler named Ahmed Shah who was able to transcend the narrow confines of religion. Under his patronage, the Bhadra temple was built for his Hindu wife and the world famous Sidi Syed Mosque which boasts of ‘the tree of life’, was also established. Centuries later, from the sacred precincts of the Sabarmati Ashram, Mahatma Gandhi gave to the world his twin doctrine of ‘Satyagraha’(the force of truth) and ‘Ahimsa’ (non-violence).
Having said this, I would like to convey to you and through you to the British Government, that the recent decision of the UK Government “with regard to Gujarat” has hurt the sentiments of many across the board; besides being morally flawed, one also has to question the timing of this decision.
Let me put things in perspective:
- The Gujarat Carnage 2002
Facts of this carnage speak for themselves, even though a section of the population would like “to forget” this dark and bloody chapter in the history of our country. There is no doubt about who presided over the horrendous killings (including that of three British nationals) that took place post February 27th2002. The wheels of justice are moving, slowly and surely! In fact, you are aware that a BJP MLA Dr. Maya Kodnani has been given a severe punishment. This MLA was promoted to be a minister by none other than the Chief Minister himself, perhaps as a reward for her acts in the height of the Gujarat violence.
That the British Government took a stand on the Gujarat Carnage is lost on no one. Saying at this juncture that, ‘one needs to move forward’ is indeed a travesty of justice! We do not speak about revenge or retribution. In the aftermath of World War II, the world leaders including that of Britain came together to say “Never Again”! Inspite of a whole generation of people being born since, no one wants that chapter to be repeated and even today those remotely responsible are being brought to trial and justice.
An overdrive by ‘publicity agents’ have made the report of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) as a “final judgement”. Even if the SIT report has exonerated some of the big players, all this has still to go through the due process of the law and as such, none of those who still stand accused in several pending cases, have actually escaped the hand of justice.
- The Gujarat Freedom of Religion Law 2003
In 2003, the Gujarat Government unanimously passed one of the most draconian laws in post-independent India beautifully couched with the title ‘Freedom of Religion Law 2003’.
It took full five years for the Government to frame the rules needed to govern the implementation of the law. The law is blatantly unconstitutional and it also violates Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It has been challenged in the Gujarat High Court and the Gujarat Government has still to respond to a notice sent by Honorable High Court.
- Social Indicators
In the past ten years, there has been a deterioration on perhaps, every social indicator where Gujarat is concerned. In a telling article recently published (http://www.thehindu.com/
opinion/op-ed/not- vegetarianism-or-dieting-mr- di/article3939379.ece? homepage=true#.UIZmA6ZoUxQ. email) noted social scientist Dr. Indira Hirway asserts that “low wage rates, poorly functioning public schemes and patchy access to water and sanitation are the real explanations for Gujarat’s persistent malnutrition.”
As part of a network initiated by JESA (Jesuits engaged in Social Action) spread across nine hundred villages and fifty slum settlements in the State, our immediate findings reveal that a large section of the poor do not have a purchasing power besides not having access to what is rightly theirs. Corruption, to say the least, is rampant in the State.
Displacement of the poor and marginalized seem to be the order of the day as mega-projects take centre stage without taking to consideration the genuine needs of those who matter most: the local people. Land acquisition policies are very faulty, loaded very much in favour of the powerful vested interests. Education is in the doldrums.
All the above can easily be substantiated with facts and figures particularly from the Government’s own records.
Your Excellency, I and several of my colleagues, do understand the way business works and how business literally pressurizes the political establishments in various ways, in order to serve their own interests.
However, morality can never be compromised by any other consideration. This was something which Mahatma Gandhi resolutely fought for and ultimately sacrificed his life for. One of his favourite songs was the prayer of the great Englishman John Henry Cardinal Newman “Lead kindly light…” which he had translated into Gujarati.
In our world today, in which all of us demand greater transparency and accountability, none of us can be mute spectators to what has taken place in 2002 and what still continues to take place in very subtle and perhaps, in insidious ways.
We have no doubt that there will be some petty business gains for Britain; but if Britain is serious as Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire has categorically stated that “we want to secure justice for the families of the British nationals who were killed in 2002. We want to support human rights and good governance in the State”, then Your Excellency, there is no doubt, that Britain must think differently and act differently.
Anything that compromises on the basic tenets of the Constitution of India and of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, will in the long run have serious consequences for all.
Thank you for your patient listening.
We wish you well,
Fr. Cedric Prakash sj