On April 11th 2013, we observed the GOLDEN JUBILEE of 'PACEM IN TERRIS' the path-breaking and visionary Encyclical written by Pope John XX111. In 2005 ,I was invited by the GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY,USA to deliver its Annual "Pacem in Terris" lecture...here it is
HUMAN RIGHTS: THE BASIS FOR PEACE ON EARTH
- Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
Dr. John J. DeGioia, The President of
, Georgetown University
Fr. Phil Burroughs,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am extremely honoured and privileged to be invited by the
to deliver a lecture in the Pacem in Terris series. This premier institution
has produced some of the finest people in the world; besides, those who have been
invited to lecture in this series before me, are people of great eminence and
standing. It is therefore with a sense of honour and humility, that I share
with you this afternoon, my thoughts on "Human Rights : The Basis for
Peace on Earth.” Georgetown University
At the outset, I would like to visit the situation and the times of Pacem in Terris in order to understand its relevance for us today more than forty years later.
Pacem in Terris draws attention to three distinctive characteristics of the world of the early sixties. First, the working classes were slowly emerging in the social, economic, political and cultural spheres as they insisted “that they be regarded as men with a share in every sector of human society" (# 40). Secondly, women were "becoming ever more conscious of their human dignity" and claimed “both in domestic and in public life the rights and duties that befit the human person" (# 42) and thirdly, men and women all over the world desired “the rank of citizens in independent nations". The modern world, thus took "an entirely new appearance in the field of social and political life" (# 42).
It is indeed amazing that the very conditions, to which Pacem in Terris drew attention to forty-two years ago, are the very conditions which are prevalent in our world today which has become so fragmented due to consumerism and the ills of globalization, due to religious and ethnic violence, and due to war and terrorism. The end of the cold war broke down several barriers and this in turn saw the emergence of new nation States. This period has also been pock-marked with civil, religious and ethnic strife in several parts of the world. Like the times of Blessed Pope John XXIII, which was the beginning of nuclear proliferation, Peace today, for us remains as distant and elusive.
Pope John XXIII makes human rights the bulwark of his encyclical saying that peace is possible only if and when the rights of every human being are addressed. Pacem in Terris goes on to list eight broad dimensions of human rights (most of them had earlier found expression in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) like the rights to proper development of life, to basic security and to religion and conscience. And emphatically stating that these rights are “universal, inviolable and inalienable”.
Pacem in Terris therefore has its basis in Human Rights. It observes that peace needs to be based on an order "founded on truth, built according to justice, vivified and integrated by charity, and put into practice in freedom".
I need to situate and provide a focus for this lecture – and for me personally, there is no other reality that I know better, than my own home state of Gujarat in north-west
It is not that the rest of the world does not need peace….. or that there are
no human rights violations in other parts of the world…..But the fact remains
that Gujarat today is a microcosm of what is India . Whatever happens in Gujarat
is bound to have an impact on the rest of India . And if this impact happens
to be negative then there will definitely be repercussions on the South Asian
sub-continent. No, I am not politically naïve… The slogan on the walls of
Ahmedabad was written in big and bold letters: “Gujarat today, India
So I invite you in the course of this lecture to have a glimpse of
to see how people yearn for peace and yet how this peace will never be attained
until the rights of the poor, the weak, the marginalised, the minorities are
addressed and respected in every possible way.
Truth, justice, love and freedom are human rights as we have said earlier. They also happen to be conditions for human rights. Join me then in journeying to see how each one of these dimensions is played out in
Pacem in Terris is very categorical in stating that peace needs to be based on an order founded on truth.
that gave to the world, the apostle of truth and non-violence: Mahatma Gandhi.
It was in Ahmedabad that he founded his Ashram on the banks of the river
Sabarmati and for over a period of 14 years, he launched a movement which gave India her
in 1947 after years of colonial rule. “Gandhiji”
as he was fondly called, adopted his twin doctrine of ahimsa (non-violence) and satyagraha
(force of truth) from the Jain religion (which was founded by Lord Mahavir). The
doctrine is simple: that if a human being or a society needs to triumph, it
needs to base its efforts on means which are totally non-violent and in which
truth will never be sacrificed at any cost. The combination proved lethal.
Gandhiji triumphed, Independence
won her freedom. However, the reality of India Gujarat
today is a far cry from the vision of Gandhi. Truth has been sacrificed at the
altar of falsehood, deception and hate.
went through months of communal violence (In India we prefer to regard
religious violence as communal violence because it is in fact a small group of
fundamentalists who take law and order into their own hands. So it is not one
religion fighting with the other as such but one small group claiming to
represent that religion who adopt a very fundamentalist ideology) in what is
regarded today as the Gujarat carnage. In the aftermath of the burning of the
carriage of a train on Feb 27, 2002, in which about 60 people (mainly Hindus)
were burnt to death, more than 2000 Muslims were mercilessly slaughtered in the
city of Ahmedabad and in other parts of Gujarat State. Till today, it has not
been established as to who was responsible for the burning of the train or if
it was a mere accident. The fact that people had to die such a terrible death
did receive all round condemnation.
At this juncture I would like to make a small digression. For the last several years, we have the emergence of a small Hindu right wing group in
that follows an ideology that is known as Hindutva; this in a way is not
representative of the wider dimensions of the Hindu religion. Yet because of
their ideology which is essentially one nation, religion, one culture and their
desire to make India
a Hindu nation state they have assumed the role of speaking on behalf of all
Hindus. From the very fact that the vast majority of the Hindus do not
subscribe to their ideology and their way of functioning is a clear indicator
that this group is not representative but they have been responsible for a
great deal of hate and violence mainly against the Muslims, Christians, Tribals
and Dalits over the years. The same group is held responsible for the
assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948. Their posturing and publications
constantly spew venom and they make no bones of the fact that they count Hitler
as one of their ideologues. India
But what was even more shameful and horrific was the manner in which Muslims were singled out, made responsible for the burning of the train and were brutalised in every possible manner, the details of which are too horrendous to enumerate at this point. Human rights and other groups from
and the world over were forthright in their demand for wanting the truth of
these massacres to be made public. More than three years down the road, the
truth on this violence has not yet emerged. The people responsible, we know
still roam the streets and some of them even hold high public office (Many of
them motivated by the ideology of Hindutva).
The only consolation that one can have at this moment is that oft-said dictum “truth shall prevail.” This dictum is emblazoned on our national emblem: three standing lions which was a symbol of one of the most loved kings of
– the Emperor Ashoka. Below the symbol, Ashoka had the words Satyameva Jayathe
meaning Truth shall triumph. For us Indians this is our most powerful and loved
Truth is also a culture and an attitude; something which has to be cultivated, a lesson which has to be taught and learnt. We have classic examples even in this country of how a honest Abe rose to become the President of the
in United States Gujarat we educate our children (at a very
impressionable age) with half truths, lies and prejudices which is a clear
violation of a child’s right to be educated objectively and truthfully. I would
like to highlight just a couple of examples from our Std. IX text book in Social
Sciences (which was published by the Gujarat Government in June 2005). In the
chapter on India’s freedom
struggle, the role of Mahatma Gandhi (to whom I have just referred) is
minimalised and inspite of being widely regarded
as the “Father of the Nation”, his picture does not figure among those who were
supposed to have given freedom to . Another noteworthy example,
which might be of interest to this audience, is the section on Nazism and
Hitler. Apart from the fact that both Hitler and his ideology are depicted in a
rather positive manner, there is not a word mentioned about the concentration
camps or the holocaust. India
Truth is the first step in the acknowledgement of a wrong….towards reconciliation, harmony and peace.
Yes, human rights can flourish only in truth. But our reality is definitely a far cry from the beautiful prayer we say from one our sacred texts, the Upanishads:
“ From the untruth lead me to the truth
From darkness lead me to light
From death lead me to immortality”
Pacem in Terris highlights the imperative for peace built according to justice.
It cannot be otherwise. Justice we are convinced is foundational to Peace. Only when there is justice we are able to ensure the protection of human rights.
A Citizens Tribunal headed by a former Justice of the Supreme Court of India, Justice Krishna Iyer, has brought out a report entitled ‘Crime against Humanity’, in which several people from every strata of society have been indicted for the Gujarat Carnage. The report emphatically states that justice was a major casualty in
and unless justice was restored there would be no real peace in the state.
Today, the victims of the
carnage are still denied justice and more than 2000 cases have to come up for
hearing in our courts. Everybody knows that the key persons responsible for the
violence continue living their lives as though nothing had happened with total
immunity and with impunity too.
How does one interpret a reality that if one is a Muslim in Ahmedabad today, one cannot buy a house or have a business establishment in the western upmarket part of the city; one necessarily has to be confined to a ghetto and in some of these ghettos, for example in Juhapura, which borders one part of the city of Ahmedabad, thousands of Muslims live without access to a public transport system, a public banking service or even a public water and drainage system.
The very same group (who obviously follow the Hindutva ideology and have constantly demonised Muslims and Christians) have also systematically marginalised the Dalits (low-caste) and the Adivasis (tribals) of our State. The rights guaranteed to them in our Constitution are constantly denied to them. It’s unbelievable but true that in many of our villages, a low-caste (Dalit) does not have the right to drink water from the well of a higher caste community. There is a concerted move to re-name Adivasis (orginal inhabitants of the land) as Vanvasis (dwellers of the forests). Its common knowledge that they resent the latter nomenclature for the simple reason is that once the forests disappear they will lose their identity. Their identity is with the land and there have been moves by the powers that control their destinies to take away the land in which they have lived for hundreds of years.
One can go on highlighting the injustices that are rampant in our society. Injustices which prevent a person from his or her holistic development; which keep people at the level of subjugation, which are an affront to human dignity.
Love is the next dimension highlighted in Pacem in Terris. Pope John XXIII strongly asserts that peace has to vivified and integrated by charity. Love is foundational in Christianity and all the worlds’ religion emphasise this one single aspect of the human spirit. It is love that helps us establish relationships. It is love that breaks down barriers.
The sad part of it is that all this is easier said than done. In
Gujarat, concerted efforts
are made to instil hate, prejudice, and discrimination; the targets more often
than not are those belonging to minority communities. An ideology which flaunts
the one nation, one culture, one religion theory has no room for anyone else who
thinks differently, worships differently or even dresses differently! The
defining statement is that “since they are not ‘like’ us, therefore they are
not ‘us’… they do not belong here.”
An effort was made to bring together several Hindus to help put a stop to the violence that had engulfed
in 2002; the stock responses of many educated well-to-do friends were often
ridiculous and dangerous. “Look what they have done to the WTC in the ”.
“Why do they have to have four wives and so many children?” “They deserve this
because they support United States
in cricket.” When middle of the road folk have such strong biases one cannot
help but wonder whether there can be any concrete expression of love? And where
there is no attitudinal change can we dare hope for Peace? Pakistan
We experience hate and prejudice even among little children as the games they enjoy most are violent ones in which the person belonging to the “other” community becomes the victim, the hunted, the evil one. Similar games are played in Hindu areas and in Muslim areas. In the Hindu side it is the “Muslim” who always has to be killed and in the Muslim side the “Hindu” always has to be killed. Expletives and abuses are always with reference to the other side.
Discrimination and prejudice are manifested in a variety of ways: when children have to be admitted to a school, when the youth apply for a job and if for example, as I mentioned earlier, a Muslim intends to buy an apartment in the upmarket part of the city.
It is obvious then, that unless these barriers are broken, unless we are able to transcend the narrow confines of bigotry and hatred and move towards the expression and action of sincere acceptance and love, we will never have true peace.
Peace has to be put into practice in Freedom. The words of John XXIII ring loud and clear even today.
On March 26th, 2003, the Government of Gujarat unanimously passed the Freedom of Religion Act. This act is absolutely draconian in nature and goes against the constitutional freedoms guaranteed by the Indian Constitution and very specifically Article 25 which guarantees to every single citizen the right to preach, practice and/ or propagate his/ her religion. A significant point of this law is that if a person wants to change to another religion, then one necessarily has to take the permission of the civil authority; if this permission is not granted, and if one still changes then one is liable to a period of imprisonment and also to pay a heavy fine. An added clause to this that if the violator happens to be a minor, a woman, a tribal or a Dalit then the imprisonment and fine is just doubled. The irony is that even till today more than two years after the passing of this legislation, the rules necessary for governing the implementation of this law has not been framed, hence petty officials use this as the Damocles’ sword as was done to a groups of Dalits who wanted to convert to Buddhism recently.
Another dreaded law is the Prevention of Terrorism Activity (POTA) Over the past three years, this law in
Gujarat has been selectively used only against the Muslims;
they have been put in jail without giving them the possibility to apply for
bail or to seek legal redress with the possibility of hearing their side of the
story. One can go on illustrating example after example of how individual
freedoms are trampled upon today. The fact remains that unless we create that
environment in which every single citizen feels free and secure we will not be
able to establish that freedom which our poet laureate Rabindranath Tagore
prayed for in his celebrated epic Gitanjali (the song of God) which I use at
the conclusion of this talk.
The challenges before us are many. As I said earlier,
Gujarat is a great place and the idea
why some of its negatives have been highlighted today is purely with a view
that these need to be addressed in order to preserve the rich cultural
heritage, the religious plurality and the tremendous diversity that exists in
We need peace. But in order to have that peace, the rights of every single person have to be respected. Those rights which emerge from truth, justice, love and freedom.
In Sabarkantha District in the north of
Gujarat, live a group of tribals called the Garasia
Adivasis. Some of them still follow a tradition during the festival of Spring. On
a certain day at the break of dawn, the whole village comes out to the beating
of drums and loud shouts. They are in search of tiny black bird called “Devli”.
It normally nests in little thorny
bushes. They easily find one and begin chasing it with their shouts and with
the drumming. Since the Devli cannot fly high it ultimately falls panting with
exhaustion and it is easily caught by a villager. Very ceremoniously the
headman of the village to whom this bird is brought, feeds it with molasses and
some butter. The bird is released and allowed to fly. The whole village waits
with abated breathe to see where the bird will sit after the flight. If it sits
on a dry branch, then that means the rain will not come and it will be a year
of drought. If it sits on a green one it means good rains and a year of plenty.
The story has a wonderful parallel in the ark of Noah which finds mention in
the sacred texts of three of the world religions but of course there the bird
is the dove with the olive branch.
In a way we are in a similar position today. We are not sure what the future holds for each one of us. But one thing is certain is that we who have gathered here do not have to rely on a little bird to tell us whether we can have peace on earth or not. We have the answer. It is an answer for which we need to take a stand and which has to be based on truth, justice, love and freedom. We need to create an ownership for them and make sure that these rights belong to all men and women of our times… only then we will have Peace on Earth.
As a conclusion, I invite you to pray with me the words of Rabindranath Tagore:
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, let my country awake!
Thank you very much!
This lecture was delivered as part of the “Pacem in Terris” series at the
on Monday, September 19, 2005. Washington D.C., USA
*Fr. Cedric Prakash sj is the Director of PRASHANT, the Jesuit Centre of Human Rights, Justice and Peace based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, North-west
He is a member of the Citizens for Justice and Peace that set up the Concerned
Citizens Tribunal to look into the Gujarat Carnage which took place in 2002; he
has also testified before the US Commission on International Religious Freedom
on the carnage. He is actively involved in the issues related to communal
harmony, justice and peace. Among the various awards he has received are the
Kabir Puraskar from the President of India India
for the promotion of communal peace and harmony in 1995 and the Rafi Ahmed
Kidwai award for Humanitarian Service by the Indian Muslim
in 2003. Council, USA
PRASHANT – A Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace
Street Address: Hill Nagar, Near Kamdhenu Hall, Drive-in-Road, Ahmedabad-380 052,
Postal Address: P. Bo. 4050, Navrangpura PO, Ahmedabad – 380 009,
Phone: 91 79 27455913, 55522333
Fax: 91 79 27489018
Pacem in Terris makes an exhaustive list of human rights which include the following:
- rights to life and worthy standard of living, including rights to proper development of life and to basic security (#11).
- rights of cultural and moral values, including freedom to search for and express opinions, freedom of information, and right to education (#'s 12-13).
- rights to religion and conscience (# 14).
- rights to choose one's state in life, including rights to establish a family and pursue a religious vocation (#'s 15 – 16).
- economic rights, including right to work, to a just and sufficient wage, and to hold private property (@'s 18 – 22).
- rights of meeting and association (# 23).
- right to emigrate and immigrate (# 25).
- political rights, including right to participate in public affairs and juridical protection of rights (#'s 26 – 27)