Monday, July 31, 2006


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Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Acceptance SPEECH OF FR. CEDRIC PRAKASH sj on being conferred the CHEVALIER DE LA LEGION DE HONNEUR Award by Monsieur Dominique Girard, Ambassador of France to India.

Embassy of France, New Delhi, July 14th 2006

Your Excellency Monsieur Dominique Girard, Ambassador of France to India, Madame Girard, Dignitaries, Co-Activists, Jesuit Companions and Friends,

I am simply overwhelmed……!

When I was first given the news that the “ Chevalier de la Legion d’ Honneur ” was being conferred on me by the President and Government of France, I was dumbfounded and even today, as I receive it, I feel very humbled. I certainly know, that I am not deserving of it; at the same time, I do accept this honour with great joy, because for me, it is a recognition not merely of my tiny efforts but of the fact that several others are involved in the cause of human rights in a very collaborative way; it is a recognition of the reality that human rights violations do abound in India and other parts of the world; it is above all, a recognition of the hundreds and thousands of people who silently suffer from all kinds of injustices and human rights violations, of every possible kind.

In accepting this award, I sincerely believe that it will be another ray of hope for those who yearn to have their place in a more humane, just and peaceful society.

My heart is full today and there is so much I would like to express…..

At the outset, I would like to thank Monsieur Jacques Chirac, the President of the French Republic for conferring this prestigious honour on me. I am deeply grateful to him, to his Government and to the people of France for appreciating our efforts in India. In particular, “ MERCI BEAUCOUP ”to you, Your Excellency, for recognizing what we stand for. This ceremony would not have been possible were it not for the fact that as Ambassador of France your singular goal has been to promote those cherished ideals which France gave the world, namely, “ liberte, egalite et fraternite ”. These very ideals are enshrined in our Indian Constitutions. Thank you for reminding us, that as people of a great democracy, we all need to do our very best to promote and safeguard these sacred values.

I am proud to be a Jesuit. Today, several of my Jesuit Companions are present here. These include the President of the Jesuit Conference of South Asia - Fr. Hector D’Souza, my own Jesuit Provincial Superior - Fr Keith Abranches and two of my ex-Provincials, Archbishop Stanny Fernandes (now also the Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India) and Bishop Godfrey de Rozario. Together with them, I want to celebrate the memory of our three Founding Fathers : Ignatius of Loyola, Francis Xavier and Pierre Favre, who in fact, began their journey together from a college room (referred to as “the Paradise”) in Sainte-Barbe College in Paris. This year, is a Triple-Jubilee Year for us Jesuits, as we observe the Fifth Centenary of the birth of Francis Xavier and Pierre Favre, and the 450th death anniversary of Ignatius Loyola.

I am happy that the birth of the Society actually took place in France and that on the 15th August 1534 (the feast of The Assumption), seven men with seven different names but with identical ideals, gathered together in the remote Chapel Crypt of St. Denis at Montmartre and pronounced their First Vows in the Society. I need to be saying all this because that commitment that was made years ago in France, has been part of the faith-justice mandate of the Society of Jesus the world over, today. Yes, there is the “French Connection” with the Jesuits. I am delighted about that !

There are several other co-activist friends who are present today. Many of you have shaped my vision and commitment. Today is a day which calls for a renewal and deepening of this commitment. We have just witnessed horrible incidents of terror in Mumbai / Srinagar. We cannot remain mute spectators; our response has to be one of deeper commitment.

I am glad that so many of you are here today. I wish there were many more. I wish this ceremony could have been in Ahmedabad. I want to remember in a particular way those groups who mean a lot to me but who are not represented here this evening. I remember in particular, the victims of the Gujarat Carnage of 2002….there are so many of them who still wait (perhaps hopelessly) for justice and a new dawn; I remember each of my colleagues who work with me in PRASHANT, not a single one of them is here today, but without them, I know I would not have been standing here. I also remember my immediate family, specially my aged mother, who would have loved to be here this evening but for obvious reasons, cannot make it….to all of them : my sincere gratitude.

Last Sunday evening, in Pakistan, with a group of football enthusiasts, I sat down to watch the World Cup Football Finals. I didn’t have to tell anyone which team I was rooting for. Well, it had nothing to do with the fact of this award, but since 1998, Zinedine Zidane has always been my favourite football player and before the start of the match, I highlighted to my co-viewers, what a great example the French Team is, in terms of being multi-racial and multi-religious. Watching the team go out to play, was for me, a very emotional moment. A clear indicator of what our world has to be. Only if and when we defend the rights of every section of society – very specially the weak, the marginalized, the minorities - only then, we can truly move towards a world social order which is more just and more humane.

I dedicate this honour

· to the memory of my dear friend Eshan Jafri who was so brutally murdered on March 1st, 2002, inspite of having all the right possible connections, inspite of being a very well known secular face, inspite of being a

former Member of Parliament !

· to his wife Zakhiaben and to his children Nishrin, Zuber and Tanvir who struggle for justice for the victims

of Gulbarg Society and others in Gujarat so that the death of Eshan Sahib will not go in vain

· to the several other victims : faceless, nameless….of the Gujarat Carnage, who as I said earlier, are desperately looking for a new dawn and finally,

· to several of my co-activists , who inspite of having to face all obstacles, continue to fight for human rights, justice and peace.

It was Mahatma Gandhi, who from the banks of the river Sabarmati, launched his twin doctrine of “Ahimsa” (non-violence) and “Satyagraha” (the force of truth). We have indeed paid too little attention to these fundamentals of life. Yes, this honour reminds me that there is still so much to be done …… that we all have to be doing. Let our poet laureate, Rabindranath Tagore remind us of our responsibility as we pray with those immortal words from his Gitanjali:

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 haven of freedom, my Father, led my country awake !

Yes, let us all awake !

Merci Beaucoup ! Thank you very much ! Vive la France ! Jai Hind !

Monday, July 24, 2006


Speech given by His Excellency, Mr. Dominique Girard, the Ambassador of France,on the occasion of the “Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur” Award conferred on Father Cedric Prakash at the French Embassy in New Delhi on 14th July 2006

It is my great pleasure to confer upon Father Cedric Prakash the award of the “Knight of the Legion of Honour”/“Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur” in order to acknowledge his courageous work for the defence of Human Rights for over 30 years now.
Father, several times in your younger days, in India as well as in Northern Ireland, you have been witnessing different communities confronting each other and these scenes of violence have left a deep mark on you. But instead of complaining about it passively, you chose to fight against this phenomenon with all the energy of a man of goodwill and all the conviction of a man of faith.
In 1987, you took over the reins of St. Xavier’s Social Service Society and steered it for more than fourteen years. During this time, you made it one of the most highly-rated NGOs in Gujarat by its constant involvement in the slums of Ahmedabad and the rural areas of this State through the four inter-related approaches of education, health, organization and environment. As early as this time, you revealed your deep concern for communal harmony by creating “Shanti”, (or “Peace” in Hindi), an initiative to promote peace and justice among different communities.
You left the St. Xavier’ Social Service Society in 2001, but only because you had by then founded “Prashant” (which means “peaceful” in Sanskrit), a well-named Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace which, in only 5 years, has become a Centre of international standing.
The remarkable and courageous work done by “Prashant” after the tragic communal riots of 2002 in Gujarat must be stressed here. You and your Centre really did much to contain the communal conflagration which threatened to spread even further. To those who have been hurt, you open your heart full of compassion, leading them to turn anger into patience, desires of revenge into quest for justice, violence into peaceful feelings. And after 4 years your Centre is still animated by the same spirit of truth.
But talking about “Prashant”, mentioning only its work in the aftermaths of the 2002 massacres, would be unfair and incomplete. Most of “Prashant’s” actions are a daily endeavour in the midst of people of different religious communities to dissolve the boundaries raised by sectarianisms of all kind. At a time when some voices loudly proclaim as “inescapable” the so called “clash of civilisations”, you prove in concrete terms that “dialogue” and “tolerance” are not empty words, but real values which, more than ever, are worth fighting for.
You, a Jesuit Priest of the Roman Catholic Church, are working with Muslims and Hindus as well as with Christians because human beings and not religions are your first and only concern. Against resignation you bring hope, against hate you raise tolerance, and through your Centre you help to bring awareness among people of different faiths, because you know that the strongest ally of sectarianism is ignorance.
Your social commitment is of course rooted in your own faith. But the vision of “Prashant” is also enshrined in the preamble of the Universal Declaration of the Human Rights which has its origin in the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen”/“Declaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen” that France adopted in 1789 as the foundation of its emerging Republican Constitution. The dignity of human beings and the defence of their inalienable rights are the values that my country proudly shares with yourself.
Father, you have been generous with your time, with your courage and with your faith, and on behalf of the President of the French Republic, I’m very honoured to decorate you today with the most prestigious French award of “Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur”.

Note on the award of the Legion of Honour and Agricultural Merit

The highest French distinction
Created to reward eminent military and civil merits in the service of France, the "Légion d'Honneur" (Legion of Honour) is the highest distinction that can be conferred in France on a French citizen as well as on a foreigner.
Founded in 1802 by Napoléon Bonaparte, First Consul (a position he occupied from 1799 to 1804), the Legion of Honour is one of his most important creations with the Napoleonic Code.
Grades and Ranks
This distinction is divided into four grades (Knight - Officer – Commander-Grand Officer)
Description of the insignia
Since its inception, the medal consists of a five double-cornered star enamelled in white, joined with branches of laurel and oak.
At the centre of the star, there is a medallion representing
- in the front side, the symbol of the Republic with the inscription "République Française"
- on the other side, a flag and a banner intertwining one another with the circular inscription "Honneur et Patrie - 29 Floréal an X"
The ribbon has always been in red moire silk.
Some Famous historical personnalities awarded
In India, the renowned film director SATYAJIT RAY, singer LATA MANGESHKAR , industrialist DEEPAK BANKER, musician RAVI SHANKAR, columnist DILIP PADGAONKAR and scientist CNR RAO are some of the famous Indian personalities who have been bestowed this honour.
The Mérite Agricole (Agricultural Merit) was created in 1883 to reward " persons who have rendered outstanding service in the field of 'agriculture". It comprises of three grades: knight, officer (since 1887) and commander (since 1900).

Saturday, July 08, 2006


For many years WACC has supported the communication rights movement and, in particular, the strengthening and implementation of rights for indigenous people. WACC's members worldwide will be greatly encouraged by this positive and constructive move by the UN Human Rights Council and fully endorses both the new Convention and Declaration.


International church and ecumenical organizations have welcomed the adoption of a new International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, both of which were agreed at the inaugural session of the UN Human Rights Council which concluded in Geneva on 30 June 2006. Five church-related organizations - the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), Franciscans International, Dominicans for Justice and Peace and Pax Christi International - had earlier submitted a joint statement to the UN Council urging the adoption of these
measures, and have been at the forefront of civil society advocacy on these issues in recent years.

"The adoption of this convention confirms a positive development in international law towards the rights of victims to truth, justice and reparation," stated Dr Guillermo Kerber, the WCC programme executive responsible for human rights and impunity issues. "It also signals that the newly-formed UN Human Rights Council is able to act decisively in support of the fundamental dignity and rights of people, and to confront impunity, and this is to be applauded."

The church-related organizations also noted that non-governmental organizations enjoyed a high degree of access to the discussions in the context of the Council's first session, and they welcomed this transparency. "We very much hope that this openness to civil society, and the interactive nature of this session, are signs of how the Human Rights Council will conduct itself in the future," said Mr Peter N. Prove assistant to the LWF general secretary for international affairs and human rights, who also paid tribute to the "skilful stewardship" of the
presidency of the first session.

"It is hoped that this Convention will go a long way in eliminating impunity and bringing peace to the families of the disappeared," said Etienne De Jonghe, secretary general of Pax Christi International. The convention recognizes the "extreme seriousness of enforced disappearance,which constitutes a crime and, in certain circumstances defined in international law, a crime against humanity" and holds states
accountable for taking effective measures to prevent such disappearances.

Likewise, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples affirms unequivocally that "indigenous peoples have the right to the full enjoyment, as a collective or as individuals, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms," and holds states responsible for realizing this. In their joint statement to the UN Council, the WCC, the LWF, Franciscans International, Dominicans for Justice and Peace, and Pax Christi International committed themselves to working with the new Human Rights Council "as a key international instrument for the promotion of justice and human dignity". The five organizations also underscored that the Council will be judged by whether it "actually increases the chances for life in dignity and in sustainable communities for people suffering discrimination, deprivation, oppression and violence."