Wednesday, January 24, 2007


By Fr Cedric Prakash sj

Parzania is an ordinary story told in an extraordinary way.....

It is the story of Parzan, a ten year old who constantly escapes into his dream world filled with mountains of ice-cream and plenty of cricket; a world in which every one is happy and smiling and loving each other....Where all are at peace....Where hate and pain do not exist. To this dream world, he constantly transports himself and his eight year old sister Dilshad. It is in Parzania that the joy, beauty and innocence of childhood blossoms into feelings that touch ones heart. It is in Parzania that Parzan and Dilshad would always want to live and remain......until one day that world comes crashing down.

Parzania is a story about the Gujarat Carnage of 2002. Literally nothing unreal, utopian or make-belief. As one sees fanatical Hindutvadis roaming the streets and baying for blood. No-one is spared. Not even the women and children. The merciless butchering of innocent people very systematically orchestrated by the very powers (the Government and the Police) that are meant to protect lives and safeguard property.

Parzania is no fairytale but the sad story of a tragedy that destroyed not just one family but in fact the lives of thousands of people.

The essence of this story centers around a Parsi family living in Ahmedabad. Cyrus

(Naseeruddin Shah) is a film projectionist in a local theatre. He is married to Shernaz (Sarika). With their two little children Parzan (Parzan Dastur) and Dilshad (Pearl Barsiwala), they constitute a typical happy middle-class family: warm, sheltering, religious minded yet able to transcend the narrow confines of religion and bigotedness. Their friends are both Muslims and Hindus. Their problems are not about religion but about the simple, ordinary things of daily life. Friendship and bonding take place in the most natural way; in the gossipy confines of one’s kitchen or over a bottle of liquor clandestinely bought !

Allan Webbings (Corin Nemec) is a young American Scholar busy trying to research on Gandhi and on Indian Philosophy. Disillusionment seems to take its toll on the young scholar as he fritters away his time aimlessly; but his world is rudely shaken as he witnesses a women being burnt alive on the hood of his car by a fanatical mob. For him, the only escape is his typewriter as he hammers out page after page, telling the world of what is taking place in Gujarat. His role is of the typical commentator, a Social Activist, who just knows that what is happening is wrong and has to take a stand about it.

Parzania weaves into the lives of people, some building bridges, others destroying them. Some trying to build fortifications, others trying to surmount them.

When I saw Parzania at a special screening in Delhi on December 18th 2006, I was literally transported to the days of the violence that ruled Gujarat for so many weeks and months. It was no longer a film but a reliving of events that literally destroyed the foundation of all our beliefs and of our faith in humanity. The cries of help were not the cries of five years ago but the cries of hundreds and thousands of people who still live a marginalized life on the fringes of society without access to what they rightly deserve, as citizens of a secular and democratic country. It is the cry of thousands of people who still long for justice from a society which arrogates on itself the adjective “Vibrant”.

After seeing the film, I spent a long evening with Rahul Dholakia, the brilliant Film-maker who has directed Parzania. My first question to him was “What prompted you to make such a film?”. His answer was clear. The family concerned (the Modys – Dara, Rupa, Azhar and Binaifer), were his personal friends. When Azhar disappeared in the wake of the Gujarat Carnage from the Gulbarg Society, and when he had realized the tremendous hate and violence that was rampant all over, his conscience did not permit him to keep silent. He wanted to do something; to find where Azhar was and to tell the story of the Gujarat Carnage so that the terrible tragedy which has visited the Mody family and several others, would not visit anyone, anytime, anywhere. To make the film, Rahul Dholakia needed plenty of courage, very specially in facing the hostility of several, even from within his own family and circle of friends. However, after careful research and roping in some of the best in the field, Dholakia has been able to give the world a masterpiece which will surely be acclaimed by many while raising the hackles of some.

But those who object to the film MUST first listen to Rupa Mody.....the cries of a mother who lost her only son, in the Gujarat Carnage. She still does not know whether he is dead or alive. All that she can do, in pain, to wait in hope, really hoping that one day her Azhar will come back to her, to that very world which the lost boy Parzan creates in Parzania. Having known Rupa Mody in a personal way, one cannot but take a stand on the side of a mother who is still knocking at every possible door for her son’s return.

Parzania may never make it to the “Oscars”...that is not is a story of our reality: you and me. There are the fantasies, the world we would like to live in. There are the pains where are hopes are belied and our dreams are shattered. There is the brute reminder that like Parzan, hundreds and thousands are literally shut off into oblivion, thanks to the hate, callousness and violence that exist in our society.

Parzania is about taking a stand. Taking a stand for truth and justice. It is about exposing those who were responsible for killing innocent people. It is above all, taking a stand so that the Gujarat Carnage is never ever repeated.

Parzania is a MUST SEE for all who intend doing something about what is happening to the secular and democratic fabric of our country. It is a MUST SEE so that we can change, so that Parzania is no longer the fantasy of a little boy, but a reality which is built on justice, compassion and peace....!

This film will be released in several theatres across the country on January 26th 2007. Don’t miss Parzania !


Raja Sen | December 16, 2005 18:06 IST (Rediff)

Filmmaking is about telling a story, but every now and then, the story is so strong that the telling isn't as important anymore.

Rahul Dholakia's Parzania is a wake-up call, a powerful eye-opener to the world so close to us, a pointer to the bloodlust lurking beneath the semblance of calm.

It is, quite simply, a film that should be seen.

Don't miss: Rediff pick: Parzania

Based on a true story, Parzania revolves around a Parsi family in Ahmedabad. Cyrus (Naseeruddin Shah) is the local film projectionist married to Shernaz (Sarika). Their kids, Parzan, 10, (Parzan Dastur) and Dilshad, 8, (Pearl Barsiwala) are an imaginative pair, and, as they cavort around the breakfast table, they are a credibly happy household.

Allan Webbings (Corin Nemec) is a disillusioned American, comfortably late with his dissertation and not giving a damn about most things. His tragic back-story is skillfully told, as he casually narrates it over glasses of cheap alcohol to Cyrus while he hangs his hand-washed laundry out to dry. Fascinated by an neighbour's Gandhian preachings (an old bald man with glasses, mind you), Allan is more than content drinking hooch and reading philosophy without necessarily having to believe in it.

And then there is an explosion. Heard only on the radio, it sounds very far away, but the repercussions are felt. Hard.

Godhra leads to bloodthirsty mobs rampaging indiscriminately for unreasonable revenge, the fanatical fire fuelled by a selfish government.

The tale is a painfully simple one. The Parsi family is caught in the midst of the religious madness, and suffers. Shernaz manages to heroically flee with Dilshad, but Parzan is nowhere to be found. Cyrus and the family are relatively unharmed, and Allan offers them room in his own ransacked house.

The American has witnessed a woman being burnt alive on the hood of his car even as he is trying frantically to back away from the scene, and the events in Gujarat open his eyes wider than he had ever expected.

The family waits for Parzan. For any news, because the uncertainty is heartbreaking. But there is no respite. Every lead is a false alarm, every day is an unending trial of their patience, of their resilience. The film is titled Parzania because that's what the jaunty Parzan had christened his world, his imaginary utopia with mountains of ice creams and nothing but cricket -- a world where everyone is happy.

But that is not the real world. The real world is what Allan is hammering out on his typewriter, through a diatribe fuelled by alcohol and loathing, disgust and defiance. The American, more profane than profound, describes the Gujarat riots with angry text, going far enough to make censor-pushing statements like: 'The Parishad is this country's equivalent of the KKK [Ku Klux Klan]'.

Which is why it is hard to believe Parzania will get a wide theatrical release, and which is what justifies the film being in English. While it is obviously unreal to see pillaging hordes saying 'Get off!' instead of something in the vernacular, this is a film that never expected to make it to Indian theatres, and the English is well suited to the narrative.

The fact that Allan is making the politically charged statements that Parzania believes in is a directorial masterstroke, because any Indian character in his place would face inevitable allegations of bias. Also, his expletive-laced speech helps in getting the point across.

The performances in the film are superlative. Sarika is amazing in the role of a lifetime, playing a mother pushed to the extreme. She is believable even when leaping balconies in self-preservation, and her soliloquy at the end is the clincher for the entire film.

Her warm chemistry with Naseer (who too, predictably, turns in a class performance) at the start of the film is great, as is her support to him when he is breaking down at the end.

The children (we've seen Parzan in commercials a million times, but Pearl is a fresh face) are real finds, as is Sheeba Chaddha, who plays Nikhat, a neighbour, with restrained magnificence. Corin Nemec, with a face like Heath Ledger, does quite well.

What Parzania has to be really applauded for is the fact that it strongly believes in itself, and is extremely direct in condemning the State-sponsored violence in Gujarat. The message is simple, angry, and sincere – and deserves to be heard.

As a film, there might be moments you don't agree with the way the film is made, or technically locate flaws in the director's approach, but Parzania wisely holds on tight to the reins of the story, and that automatically makes it a noble effort.

The film ends with a photograph of Azhar, a real boy still missing since the Gujarat riots, in the hope that the film may help his parents, the director's friends, get some news of him.

Parzania is a commendable film, one that needs to be talked about, discussed, recommended and watched.

It is also a film very hard to leave behind.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


1 JANUARY 2007


1. At the beginning of the new year, I wish to extend prayerful good wishes for peace to Governments, leaders of nations and all men and women of good will. In a special way, I invoke peace upon all those experiencing pain and suffering, those living under the threat of violence and armed aggression, and those who await their human and social emancipation, having had their dignity trampled upon. I invoke peace upon children, who by their innocence enrich humanity with goodness and hope, and by their sufferings compel us all to work for justice and peace. Out of concern for children, especially those whose future is compromised by exploitation and the malice of unscrupulous adults, I wish on this World Day of Peace to encourage everyone to reflect on the theme: The Human Person, the Heart of Peace. I am convinced that respect for the person promotes peace and that, in building peace, the foundations are laid for an authentic integral humanism. In this way a serene future is prepared for coming generations.

The human person and peace: gift and task

2. Sacred Scripture affirms that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). As one created in the image of God, each individual human being has the dignity of a person; he or she is not just something, but someone, capable of self-knowledge, self-possession, free self-giving and entering into communion with others. At the same time, each person is called, by grace, to a covenant with the Creator, called to offer him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in his place(1). From this supernatural perspective, one can understand the task entrusted to human beings to mature in the ability to love and to contribute to the progress of the world, renewing it in justice and in peace. In a striking synthesis, Saint Augustine teaches that “God created us without our aid; but he did not choose to save us without our aid(2).” Consequently all human beings have the duty to cultivate an awareness of this twofold aspect of gift and task.

3. Likewise, peace is both gift and task. If it is true that peace between individuals and peoples—the ability to live together and to build relationships of justice and solidarity—calls for unfailing commitment on our part, it is also true, and indeed more so, that peace is a gift from God. Peace is an aspect of God's activity, made manifest both in the creation of an orderly and harmonious universe and also in the redemption of humanity that needs to be rescued from the disorder of sin. Creation and Redemption thus provide a key that helps us begin to understand the meaning of our life on earth. My venerable predecessor Pope John Paul II, addressing the General Assembly of the United Nations on 5 October 1995, stated that “we do not live in an irrational or meaningless world... there is a moral logic which is built into human life and which makes possible dialogue between individuals and peoples(3) .” The transcendent “grammar”, that is to say the body of rules for individual action and the reciprocal relationships of persons in accordance with justice and solidarity, is inscribed on human consciences, in which the wise plan of God is reflected. As I recently had occasion to reaffirm: “we believe that at the beginning of everything is the Eternal Word, Reason and not Unreason(4).” Peace is thus also a task demanding of everyone a personal response consistent with God's plan. The criterion inspiring this response can only be respect for the “grammar” written on human hearts by the divine Creator.

From this standpoint, the norms of the natural law should not be viewed as externally imposed decrees, as restraints upon human freedom. Rather, they should be welcomed as a call to carry out faithfully the universal divine plan inscribed in the nature of human beings. Guided by these norms, all peoples —within their respective cultures—can draw near to the greatest mystery, which is the mystery of God. Today too, recognition and respect for natural law represents the foundation for a dialogue between the followers of the different religions and between believers and non-believers. As a great point of convergence, this is also a fundamental presupposition for authentic peace.

The right to life and to religious freedom

4. The duty to respect the dignity of each human being, in whose nature the image of the Creator is reflected, means in consequence that the person can not be disposed of at will. Those with greater political, technical, or economic power may not use that power to violate the rights of others who are less fortunate. Peace is based on respect for the rights of all. Conscious of this, the Church champions the fundamental rights of each person. In particular she promotes and defends respect for the life and the religious freedom of everyone. Respect for the right to life at every stage firmly establishes a principle of decisive importance: life is a gift which is not completely at the disposal of the subject. Similarly, the affirmation of the right to religious freedom places the human being in a relationship with a transcendent principle which withdraws him from human caprice. The right to life and to the free expression of personal faith in God is not subject to the power of man. Peace requires the establishment of a clear boundary between what is at man's disposal and what is not: in this way unacceptable intrusions into the patrimony of specifically human values will be avoided.

5. As far as the right to life is concerned, we must denounce its widespread violation in our society: alongside the victims of armed conflicts, terrorism and the different forms of violence, there are the silent deaths caused by hunger, abortion, experimentation on human embryos and euthanasia. How can we fail to see in all this an attack on peace? Abortion and embryonic experimentation constitute a direct denial of that attitude of acceptance of others which is indispensable for establishing lasting relationships of peace. As far as the free expression of personal faith is concerned, another disturbing symptom of lack of peace in the world is represented by the difficulties that both Christians and the followers of other religions frequently encounter in publicly and freely professing their religious convictions. Speaking of Christians in particular, I must point out with pain that not only are they at times prevented from doing so; in some States they are actually persecuted, and even recently tragic cases of ferocious violence have been recorded. There are regimes that impose a single religion upon everyone, while secular regimes often lead not so much to violent persecution as to systematic cultural denigration of religious beliefs. In both instances, a fundamental human right is not being respected, with serious repercussions for peaceful coexistence. This can only promote a mentality and culture that is not conducive to peace.

The natural equality of all persons

6. At the origin of many tensions that threaten peace are surely the many unjust inequalities still tragically present in our world. Particularly insidious among these are, on the one hand, inequality in access to essential goods like food, water, shelter, health; on the other hand, there are persistent inequalities between men and women in the exercise of basic human rights.

A fundamental element of building peace is the recognition of the essential equality of human persons springing from their common transcendental dignity. Equality on this level is a good belonging to all, inscribed in that natural “grammar” which is deducible from the divine plan of creation; it is a good that cannot be ignored or scorned without causing serious repercussions which put peace at risk. The extremely grave deprivation afflicting many peoples, especially in Africa, lies at the root of violent reactions and thus inflicts a terrible wound on peace.

7. Similarly, inadequate consideration for the condition of women helps to create instability in the fabric of society. I think of the exploitation of women who are treated as objects, and of the many ways that a lack of respect is shown for their dignity; I also think —in a different context—of the mindset persisting in some cultures, where women are still firmly subordinated to the arbitrary decisions of men, with grave consequences for their personal dignity and for the exercise of their fundamental freedoms. There can be no illusion of a secure peace until these forms of discrimination are also overcome, since they injure the personal dignity impressed by the Creator upon every human being(5).

The “ecology of peace”

8. In his Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II wrote: “Not only has God given the earth to man, who must use it with respect for the original good purpose for which it was given to him, but man too is God's gift to man. He must therefore respect the natural and moral structure with which he has been endowed(6).” By responding to this charge, entrusted to them by the Creator, men and women can join in bringing about a world of peace. Alongside the ecology of nature, there exists what can be called a “human” ecology, which in turn demands a “social” ecology. All this means that humanity, if it truly desires peace, must be increasingly conscious of the links between natural ecology, or respect for nature, and human ecology. Experience shows that disregard for the environment always harms human coexistence, and vice versa. It becomes more and more evident that there is an inseparable link between peace with creation and peace among men. Both of these presuppose peace with God. The poem-prayer of Saint Francis, known as “the Canticle of Brother Sun”, is a wonderful and ever timely example of this multifaceted ecology of peace.

9. The close connection between these two ecologies can be understood from the increasingly serious problem of energy supplies. In recent years, new nations have entered enthusiastically into industrial production, thereby increasing their energy needs. This has led to an unprecedented race for available resources. Meanwhile, some parts of the planet remain backward and development is effectively blocked, partly because of the rise in energy prices. What will happen to those peoples? What kind of development or non-development will be imposed on them by the scarcity of energy supplies? What injustices and conflicts will be provoked by the race for energy sources? And what will be the reaction of those who are excluded from this race? These are questions that show how respect for nature is closely linked to the need to establish, between individuals and between nations, relationships that are attentive to the dignity of the person and capable of satisfying his or her authentic needs. The destruction of the environment, its improper or selfish use, and the violent hoarding of the earth's resources cause grievances, conflicts and wars, precisely because they are the consequences of an inhumane concept of development. Indeed, if development were limited to the technical-economic aspect, obscuring the moral-religious dimension, it would not be an integral human development, but a one-sided distortion which would end up by unleashing man's destructive capacities.

Reductive visions of man

10. Thus there is an urgent need, even within the framework of current international difficulties and tensions, for a commitment to a human ecology that can favour the growth of the “tree of peace”. For this to happen, we must be guided by a vision of the person untainted by ideological and cultural prejudices or by political and economic interests which can instil hatred and violence. It is understandable that visions of man will vary from culture to culture. Yet what cannot be admitted is the cultivation of anthropological conceptions that contain the seeds of hostility and violence. Equally unacceptable are conceptions of God that would encourage intolerance and recourse to violence against others. This is a point which must be clearly reaffirmed: war in God's name is never acceptable! When a certain notion of God is at the origin of criminal acts, it is a sign that that notion has already become an ideology.

11. Today, however, peace is not only threatened by the conflict between reductive visions of man, in other words, between ideologies. It is also threatened by indifference as to what constitutes man's true nature. Many of our contemporaries actually deny the existence of a specific human nature and thus open the door to the most extravagant interpretations of what essentially constitutes a human being. Here too clarity is necessary: a “weak” vision of the person, which would leave room for every conception, even the most bizarre, only apparently favours peace. In reality, it hinders authentic dialogue and opens the way to authoritarian impositions, ultimately leaving the person defenceless and, as a result, easy prey to oppression and violence.

Human rights and international organizations

12. A true and stable peace presupposes respect for human rights. Yet if these rights are grounded on a weak conception of the person, how can they fail to be themselves weakened? Here we can see how profoundly insufficient is a relativistic conception of the person when it comes to justifying and defending his rights. The difficulty in this case is clear: rights are proposed as absolute, yet the foundation on which they are supposed to rest is merely relative. Can we wonder that, faced with the “inconvenient” demands posed by one right or another, someone will come along to question it or determine that it should be set aside? Only if they are grounded in the objective requirements of the nature bestowed on man by the Creator, can the rights attributed to him be affirmed without fear of contradiction. It goes without saying, moreover, that human rights imply corresponding duties. In this regard, Mahatma Gandhi said wisely: “The Ganges of rights flows from the Himalaya of duties.” Clarity over these basic presuppositions is needed if human rights, nowadays constantly under attack, are to be adequately defended. Without such clarity, the expression “human rights” will end up being predicated of quite different subjects: in some cases, the human person marked by permanent dignity and rights that are valid always, everywhere and for everyone, in other cases a person with changing dignity and constantly negotiable rights, with regard to content, time and place.

13. The protection of human rights is constantly referred to by international bodies and, in particular, the United Nations Organization, which set itself the fundamental task of promoting the human rights indicated in the 1948 Universal Declaration. That Declaration is regarded as a sort of moral commitment assumed by all mankind. There is a profound truth to this, especially if the rights described in the Declaration are held to be based not simply on the decisions of the assembly that approved them, but on man's very nature and his inalienable dignity as a person created by God. Consequently it is important for international agencies not to lose sight of the natural foundation of human rights. This would enable them to avoid the risk, unfortunately ever-present, of sliding towards a merely positivistic interpretation of those rights. Were that to happen, the international bodies would end up lacking the necessary authority to carry out their role as defenders of the fundamental rights of the person and of peoples, the chief justification for their very existence and activity.

International humanitarian law and the internal law of States

14. The recognition that there exist inalienable human rights connected to our common human nature has led to the establishment of a body of international humanitarian law which States are committed to respect, even in the case of war. Unfortunately, to say nothing of past cases, this has not been consistently implemented in certain recent situations of war. Such, for example, was the case in the conflict that occurred a few months ago in southern Lebanon, where the duty “to protect and help innocent victims” and to avoid involving the civilian population was largely ignored. The heart-rending situation in Lebanon and the new shape of conflicts, especially since the terrorist threat unleashed completely new forms of violence, demand that the international community reaffirm international humanitarian law, and apply it to all present-day situations of armed conflict, including those not currently provided for by international law. Moreover, the scourge of terrorism demands a profound reflection on the ethical limits restricting the use of modern methods of guaranteeing internal security. Increasingly, wars are not declared, especially when they are initiated by terrorist groups determined to attain their ends by any means available. In the face of the disturbing events of recent years, States cannot fail to recognize the need to establish clearer rules to counter effectively the dramatic decline that we are witnessing. War always represents a failure for the international community and a grave loss for humanity. When, despite every effort, war does break out, at least the essential principles of humanity and the basic values of all civil coexistence must be safeguarded; norms of conduct must be established that limit the damage as far as possible and help to alleviate the suffering of civilians and of all the victims of conflicts(7).

15. Another disturbing issue is the desire recently shown by some States to acquire nuclear weapons. This has heightened even more the widespread climate of uncertainty and fear of a possible atomic catastrophe. We are brought back in time to the profound anxieties of the “cold war” period. When it came to an end, there was hope that the atomic peril had been definitively overcome and that mankind could finally breathe a lasting sigh of relief. How timely, in this regard, is the warning of the Second Vatican Council that “every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and humanity, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation(8).” Unfortunately, threatening clouds continue to gather on humanity's horizon. The way to ensure a future of peace for everyone is found not only in international accords for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, but also in the determined commitment to seek their reduction and definitive dismantling. May every attempt be made to arrive through negotiation at the attainment of these objectives! The fate of the whole human family is at stake!

The Church as safeguard of the transcendence of the human person

16. Finally, I wish to make an urgent appeal to the People of God: let every Christian be committed to tireless peace-making and strenuous defence of the dignity of the human person and his inalienable rights.

With gratitude to the Lord for having called him to belong to his Church, which is “the sign and safeguard of the transcendental dimension of the human person”(9) in the world, the Christian will tirelessly implore from God the fundamental good of peace, which is of such primary importance in the life of each person. Moreover, he will be proud to serve the cause of peace with generous devotion, offering help to his brothers and sisters, especially those who, in addition to suffering poverty and need, are also deprived of this precious good. Jesus has revealed to us that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8) and that the highest vocation of every person is love. In Christ we can find the ultimate reason for becoming staunch champions of human dignity and courageous builders of peace.

17. Let every believer, then, unfailingly contribute to the advancement of a true integral humanism in accordance with the teachings of the Encyclical Letters Populorum Progressio and Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, whose respective fortieth and twentieth anniversaries we prepare to celebrate this year. To the Queen of Peace, the Mother of Jesus Christ “our peace” (Eph 2:14), I entrust my urgent prayer for all humanity at the beginning of the year 2007, to which we look with hearts full of hope, notwithstanding the dangers and difficulties that surround us. May Mary show us, in her Son, the Way of peace, and enlighten our vision, so that we can recognize Christ's face in the face of every human person, the heart of peace!

From the Vatican, 8 December 2006.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Nani A Palkhivala Award 2006

Nani A Palkhivala Award 2006
Acceptance Speech by TEESTA SETALVAD


As I stand here to accept this award given in memory of a man who has been described alternately as a passionate democrat, a patriot and above a good human being I cannot but recall how this one man institution associated with us, Communalism Combat, in its nascent years. In response to one of the darkest moment this great metropolis, Mumbai (then Bombay) has lived through, December 1992 and January 1993, he sat alongside the inimitable and unique, the late Mr HM Seervai to speak to the then President of India to ‘call in the army’. When a subsequent government in the state reaped the benefits of hate politics and in a stroke of executive arrogance scrapped the Justice Srikrishna commission of inquiry investigating the mass murder and police complicity behind the violence, Mr Palkhivala stepped down from Bombay House and along with another captain of industry Mr SP Godrej joined us in the nationwide protest that was one of the citizens’ actions that eventually led to the reinstatement of the commission. That was January 30, 1996. A year earlier, two judicial decisions –one of the Bombay High Court and the other by the Supreme Court had shaken the common man’s faith in the judiciary. Citizens had challenged the hate writing in the Saamna, and through a writ petition urged for a judicial directive to compel the state government to prosecute the author of these speeches a man who went unchallenged by the law and order machinery in this great city, Mr Bal Thackeray. Mr Palkhiwala said the future of India was at stake if the court did not compel the state to intervene and take action against this kind of journalism.

Today, in 2007 we see a glittering and glamorous India everyday, through the media and parts of our large cities –an India that suggests growth and wealth and prosperity yes, but only for a section of our population. A third of Indians reel under rural hunger where the lack of access to nutrients in their diet should be a matter of national shame. Narrow and aggressive definitions of patriotism coupled with rank unprofessional, if not biased conduct in the intelligence services and the law and order machinery, have ‘othered’ many sections of Indians, reducing them to irritants, trouble makers or rank anti-nationals.

It is a moment of profound test for all our institutions. The paradigms of fair play, equal rights to life and ownership of private property, make both the shock of farmers being shot dead in communist West Bengal and the shame of the mass victim survivors of the Gujarat carnage of 2002 a living reality. Closer home, in Maharashtra, protests following the brutalization and murder of a Dalit family in Khairlanji allowed the Nagpur police to pull out 55 year old women and other protestors from their homes and thrash them into silence. In Amravati a rickshaw driver protesting was shot point blank in the head by the police.

Does the Indian state need to answer, any more, to the largest number?

Does the executive initiate and take decisions of economic and social policy after due consultation, through the vote, in a democratic manner?

Have our Courts shown due and democratic concern to issues of economic and social access, equity and non-discrimination?

Does our media, television and print reflect news at all, leave aside news and views of the majority of Indians?

Do institutions of Indian democracy adhere to the word and spirit of the Indian Constitution?

Is India a living and breathing democracy?

Be it West Bengal, Gujarat, Maharashtra or Orissa lands belonging to voiceless Indians are being seized, without adequate debate, transparency or Constitutional accountability. (Quote) “Globalisation” (unquote) has come here in partnership with vengeful and vindictive state terror and repression. State force at its most brutal is being used to stifle democratic protest and dissent. As I look forward to the memorial lecture by an icon of modern India, a captain of industry, I urge this prestigious audience here to ask some of these difficult questions. Of themselves.

Friends, next month is the fifth anniversary of the Godhra mass arson and the post Godhra genocidal killing. Justices VR Krishna Iyer and PB Sawant—both retired judges of the Supreme Court-- who headed a citizens tribunal into the Gujarat carnage, have observed that (quote) “the post Godhra carnage was an organized crime perpetuated by the state’s chief minister and his government” (unquote) and held Gujarat’s CM Modi to be (quote) “the chief Author and Architect of all that happened in Gujarat after the arson of February 27, 2002.” (unquote). The National Human Rights Commission and the Supreme Court of India have drawn similar conclusions about the head of the state of Gujarat.

Today for the same captains of industry who see the vision of a glittering India exemplified in the “strong political leadership of Mr Narendra Modi” –I refer to the recent investments promises to the state— I would like to place this reminder on record. All and each of us, especially those who hail from Gujarat would like to see Gujarat vibrant, and prosper. The community that Mr Palkhivala hailed from was first given refuge within what is today known as Gujarat when the Parsis migrated to India, from Persia. Strength, cohesion and prosperity can be built through an enlightened administration and polity that respects the rights of all, harbours dissent and respects the struggle for rights and justice, a state of affairs that supports the natural order of things.

However, when (quote) “normalization” and strength” (unquote) are equated with a vindictive administration and political repression, when brute compromise is thrust, when acknowledgement of the horrors of mass crime are denied hundreds of thousands of victims, when villages, cities and mohallas are divided by borders, when the victim survivors and human rights defenders who stand up for justice are threatened arrest and torture, it is repressive strength and state power that we are talking about. Civil liberties, the struggle for the defence of which I am being honoured here today, are severely trampled upon.

Friends, even what actually happened at Godhra railway station on February 27, 2002 is hotly contested today. There is absolutely no proof of the theory perpetuated shrilly by Mr Modi to justify state sponsored mass rape, killings and murder. As we approach the fifth anniversary of a truly bleak period in Indian post-Independence history, I request each one of you present here, to remember. The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.

As I acknowledge the huge contribution of my family to my work, I would like to laud the joint vision of my comrade in arms, Javed Anand that launched us into this collective battle since 1993. Colleagues at Sabrang and the board of trustees of Citizens for Justice and Peace and its myriad supporters (even from captains of industry) who have the vision to support the dissenting voice, Raisbhai and Suhel, my tribute. Top lawyers of the Supreme Court and the High Courts, masters in their field, continue to offer pro bono services for the causes that we plead.

Our work of a decade and a half has made us experience the relentless attempts of the system to tire out the protestor, the dissenter, the victim. Therefore today’s award, I dedicate to one man within the Indian system, who stood (and still stands) mighty in the face of a murderous and vindictive Gujarat administration. Mass murder, mass rape and mass arson were allowed in Gujarat by a complicit and participatory administration and police force. Many police officers stood out. But only one man has remained a stoic and principled dissenter until today, refusing to cave in even as weeks lapsed into months and months into years. This man that I dedicate today’s honour to is not a victim, he did not loose a dear family member. He does not hail from the victim community. His only quality-- that many but his co-travellers have seen as a fault-- is that he refused to sit by and let the mass crimes planned at the highest level go unchallenged. He documented the illegal and unconstitutional orders spat out by Mr Modi in a meticulously maintained personal diary. He filed well-documented affidavits before the ongoing Nanavaty-Shah Commission. He suffered for these acts by being denied due promotion to the post of Director General of Police, Gujarat, the highest post in his field that as a policeman and thrice Presidential Award winner for bravery, he would and should aspire to. He faced attempts to browbeat him in and out of the courts. He and his wife live socially and politically ostracized in a state that captains of industry tell us is vibrant and shining due to (quote) “a strong and , political leadership favouring rapid growth” (unquote)…..Mr RB Sreekumar, Additional Director General of Police, the state of Gujarat, I salute you.



Acceptance SPEECH OF FR. CEDRIC PRAKASH sj on being conferred the MINORITIES RIGHTS AWARD 2006 by Justice A. S. Anand, Former Chairman, National Human Rights Commission and Chief Justice of India, New Delhi, December 18th 2006

Honorable Justice Anand,
Shri Ansari, Honourable Chairman of the National Commission for Minorities,
Shri Pinto, Honourable Vice Chairman of the National Commission for Minorities,
Other Members of the Commission,
Archbishop Stanislaus Fernandes, Secretary General of the C.B.C.I.
Archbishop Vincent Concessao of Delhi,
Bishop Thomas Macwan of Ahmedabad,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with a feeling of deep gratitude and joy that I stand before you today, to accept the Minorities Rights Award 2006, which has just been conferred on me.

I honestly feel that I am not deserving enough, to receive such an honour. I am aware, there are several others do much more for the rights of minorities in the country. But I humbly accept it, knowing fully well, that this honour is not only mine, but also a recognition of several others who have been championing the cause of the rights of minorities in the country. It is also an important reminder, that a large percentage of minorities still live on the fringes of Indian society and are denied their rights as citizens of this country.

Today is special for all of us because, on this day, fourteen years ago, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the “Declaration on the Rights of Persons belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities”, and the fact that our country observes this anniversary, as “Minorities Rights Day”. It’s a day when each one of us is called to renew our commitment to protect the rights of every single citizen, very specially the Minorities.

On a day like this, I cannot but help think of my Muslim sisters and brothers in Gujarat – many of them still live marginalized and alienated lives and are treated as outsiders in places which they once called their home. In the city of Ahmedabad, if one is a Muslim, one is confined to ghettos and one cannot easily buy an apartment in the western upmarket part of the city. The victim-survivors of the Gujarat Carnage are still looking for a just compensation and for rehabilitation. They still yearn for justice.

Just about a year ago on December 27th, 2005, a mass grave was discovered just outside Lunawada in Gujarat. From all counts, these are the skeletal remains of the Pandharwada massacre of 2002. A recent CBI Report has been able to identify at least some of the bodies. One of those still searching for the remains of her twenty-four year old son, (who was slaughtered in front of her eyes), is Ameenaben Habib Rasool....She is still searching, to give her son the dignified last rites, which every human deserves. She is still searching for his mortal remains.....She is still searching for justice, inspite of the fact that the High Court of Gujarat, threw out her petition recently. Yes, she is still searching for Hope.....Can civil society in Gujarat and the rest of the country provide her with that Hope, with that Justice, which she desperately seeks ? Can we, as a people, awake to the pain and trauma of the victim-survivors of the Gujarat Carnage and ensure that the Gujarat carnage is never repeated and that our collective conscience will provide the needed remorse and reconciliation and the courage to give the victim-survivors - Justice, Harmony, Security and Peace - which is rightfully theirs ?

To Ameenaben and to those families who still have not found the mortal remains of their loved ones (who have been massacred in the Gujarat carnage) - to them, I dedicate this award, with the hope that some day, their anguish, their pain will give way to peace, founded on a restored faith in wider society.

In Gujarat, Christians continue to be hounded and harassed, even if the means used today are subtle, sophisticated and seemingly innocuous. My heart also goes out to the pandits of Kashmir who have been dispossessed of their homes and lands. One can easily go on relating several incidents, but the point I would like to make here is that Christians, Muslims and other minorities, are as much a part of Indian society as anybody else.

In a year which is currently observing the centenary of Mahatma Gandhi launching “Satyagraha” in South Africa, it is imperative for each one of us to take ownership of his brave act and launch in today’s India, a new People’s Movement which focuses on Truth, Justice and Peace....and in the protection of the rights of all.

This newly constituted National Commission for Minorities has definitely meant a lot to the Minorities of Gujarat. Your impartial and objective assessment of the situation, the ground realities which you yourselves have encountered, and the fact that you have not been afraid to take a stand, has definitely rekindled the spark of Hope in many. We are grateful to you for this and I am sure that an important commission like yours can definitely ensure that the secular and democratic traditions of our country are always preserved. I salute you, Mr. Ansari, Mr. Pinto, and other Honourable Members of the Commission on behalf of the Minorities of Gujarat....

To those of you, very specially my collaborators, friends and companions, who have taken the trouble to be here with me today – thanks so much for your presence....I am particularly touched that the Bishops from Gujarat are here today.....However, I do miss certain people very specially my colleagues from PRASHANT (who are my strength and support) and my dear Mother who was not strong enough to make this trip to Delhi....

Five years since the Gujarat Carnage is a painful reminder of the tragedy that stalks so many of the minorities but on a day like this, our hope is not lost. Those of us who have gathered here can truly pray in the words of the Upanishads :

Lead me O Lord
from darkness to light,
Lead me O Lord
from untruth to truth,
Lead me O Lord
from death to immortality.

Let today symbolize a new beginning !

Thank you very much !