REFLECTIONS ON THE MORNING AFTER HUMAN RIGHTS DAY 2013
-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
It was Human Rights Day once again yesterday, December 10th 2013. About 300 of us, men and women from all walks of life (representing a cross-section of society) gathered once again for our annual ritual: a ‘dharna’ (a sit-in) to highlight the growing human rights violations in our society; in order to make the general public aware that for a sizeable section of Gujarat, human rights is still a distant dream!
We focused on the growing atrocities on women; of how this has become perhaps a way of proceeding in many sections of society; of how women who are poor, vulnerable and marginalized, are the most affected; of how there is hardly a whimper of protest, no candle light vigils, no 24x7 coverage when an adivasi or a dalit woman is exploited; of how these realities are just not a concern of the urban middle class; of how female foeticide is still rampant in the State.
We focused on the latest ‘snoop-gate’ of how the Gujarat Government machinery was used for surveillance of a young lady; of how she was followed by important police agencies without authorization; the fact that many citizens of the State are monitored apparently on a regular basis - which is a gross violation of the freedoms and rights guaranteed to every citizen by the Constitution of India.
We focused on the role powerful vested interests and large corporations play in Gujarat; how large chunks of land are taken away from the poor, marginalized and small farmers in the name of ‘development’ and are conveniently given away to powerful corporate houses; of how thousands of fisher-folk have been denied their livelihood because of the establishment of ports and due to other anti-people projects; of how certain vested interests and big business houses have a monopoly on much of the State resources.
We focused on how the so-called ‘development model’ of the State is essentially about the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer; of how in the name of “beautification”, poor people were driven away from their homes on the banks of the River Sabarmati to the outskirts of the city; of how thousands of small entrepreneurs who sell their wares and earn their daily wages from small handcarts, will now be driven out from the ‘Teen Darwaza’ area; of how manual scavenging still blatantly exists all over the State.
We focused on the adivasis and the dalits; of how they have been systematically deprived of what is rightfully theirs; of how the adivasis are co-opted and made to think that they are ‘vanvasis’; of how the ‘jal-jungle-jameen’ is no longer regarded as part of their environment and cultural upbringing; of how the dalits have not been given access to schools and even possibilities of having decent employment.
We focused on the plight of the minorities in Gujarat; of how the situation of many of the victim-survivors of the Gujarat Carnage 2002, is still abominable; of how the SIT report very carefully overlooked many aspects of this carnage which needed to be investigated; of how the SIT consisted persons handpicked by the Gujarat Government and as such the victim-survivors really have precious little hope that some of the main culprits being brought to book; of how the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Law 2003 is one of the most draconian laws of the country - which prevents a citizen from accepting another faith unless there is permission from the civil authority; of how Christians and their institutions throughout the State are constantly under investigation and intimidation.
We focused on the Lokayukta of Gujarat and the way the powers of the Lokayukta have been diluted and made to serve the whims and fancies of the political masters; of how the whole process of appointing the Lokayukta was delayed for over ten years; of how corruption is institutionalized in the State making Anna Hazare to call it “the most corrupt State” in the country; of how very precious natural resources including land and water are conveniently given away to foreign investors and others at the cost of the poor of the State; of the wasteful expenditures from the State exchequer on propaganda, other gimmicks and extravaganzas.
We focused on the extra-judicial killings; of how the State and its officials spare no one that challenge them; of how several minority youth were killed in “encounters”; of how Haren Pandya was killed because he was inconvenient to the powers that are; of how Amit Jethawa, an RTI activist was done away with by the powerful mining lobby because he took them on; of how human rights defenders are framed with false charges.
We focused on the pollution all over the State; the fact that there are no checks and balances to control polluting industries; of how they eject their effluence into the rivers and pollute the air; of how dangerous and hazardous industries do not minimum safeguards for their workers.
We focused on how millions of the people of the State do not have access to basic amenities of life like clean drinking water, primary healthcare, and quality education; of how in our mega cities – the dying and destitute on our streets are growing in numbers; of how millions really do not have the possibility to eat a full square meal a day; the fact that bonded labour and even child labour flourish in the State.
Yes, we focused on this and on much more; but the fact remains that on Human Rights Day, we had to bring to the attention of everyone, everywhere that human rights are being violated an unbelievable levels in the State of Gujarat.
So, on the morning after Human Rights Day 2013, we once again pledge to continue our struggle to help realise the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its vision of “human rights for all!”
(* 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