Thursday, March 27, 2008

India Orders New Inquiry Into 2002 Clashes - The New York Times, March 27, 2008

The New York Times, March 27, 2008
Published: March 27, 2008

NEW DELHI — The Indian Supreme Court has ordered fresh investigations into several high-profile cases of Hindu-Muslim violence in 2002 in Gujarat State, effectively concluding that justice cannot be done in the Hindu-dominated state.
The order was made in response to a petition filed five years ago by the National Human Rights Commission and Citizens for Justice and Peace, a nonprofit group. The court said it would issue a written order appointing a new team made up of retired police officers from outside Gujarat and three senior active officers from the state. The team is to submit its report within three months, said Sanjay Parikh, a lawyer representing the National Human Rights Commission.
The violence began in February 2002 in Godhra, when fire engulfed a passenger train carrying members of a Hindu nationalist group, killing 59 people. Muslims were accused of setting the fire, and sectarian clashes erupted, with Hindu mobs attacking Muslim shops and residential blocks, killing at least 1,000 people, most of them Muslims.
Gujarat's chief minister, Narendra Modi, of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, was accused of not acting to curb the violence. Mr. Modi has been re-elected twice since.
The 11 cases to be investigated anew include the train fire in Godhra; an attack in Ahmedabad, Gujarat's largest city, on a walled housing compound, in which 39 people were killed and 31 reported missing; and attacks in an Ahmedabad neighborhood, Naroda Patia, in which 100 people were killed.
Advocates for the victims said it was impossible to get fair trials in Gujarat while Mr. Modi was in power. They cited a case in Vadodara, in which a bakery was burned to the ground, killing 11 Muslims and 3 Hindu workers. Twenty-one defendants were initially acquitted in a Gujarat court. Once the case was moved to Mumbai, nine defendants were convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
On Wednesday, Teesta Setalvad, of Citizens for Justice and Peace, said, "At least the process of justice has begun."
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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Asia - Pacific Mob of Hindu radicals attacks nuns, teenage girls

Mumbai, Mar 18, 2008 / 05:14 am (CNA).
 A Hindu radical group on Saturday attacked two Catholic nuns and three teenage girls in a western Indian village as they prepared to hold a women's educational program, UCA News reports.
Sister Merciana Tuscano, one of the Carmelite nuns attacked, told UCA News that radical Hindu men and women attacked the nuns and girls in the village of Sanghoti in the state of Maharashtra.  The mob shouted at the nuns, accusing them of "converting tribal people to Christianity."  According to Sister Tuscano, the mob "told us to leave the village at once and never to come back or else they would break our legs."
The Catholic group was in Sanghoti, a village about 75 miles south of Mumbai, to conduct programs for tribal women.  The group's activities include running adult literacy classes, encouraging self-help groups, and popularizing the government's AIDS program.
The Saturday program was to begin at noon, but at about 10:30 a group of about twenty men and twenty women arrived and began to throw away chairs and tables.  Sister Tuscano said that when she confronted the group, "the women caught hold of me, pulled my hair and punched me hard all over my body."
She said that though she cried for help, the group dragged her out of the venue.  The three teenage girls tried to rescue her, but Sister Tuscano said they were "hammered" by the mob.
The second nun, Sister Philomena D'Mello, then arrived with other women for the program.  Sister Tuscano told UCA News that Sister D'Mello was also attacked.  "The mob rushed at her, caught hold of her, punched her all over. When she fell down in pain, a man stamped (on) her stomach twice," she said.
The mob also attacked the nun's driver, a Catholic, who tried to intervene.
The injured group was rushed to a government hospital in Albag, but were discharged on Sunday.
Sister Floripe D'Silva, vice-provincial of the nuns' Carmelite congregation, said she would take the sisters to a private hospital for further evaluation.  She said all six victims were traumatized by the incident.

Sister D'Silva said the mob also destroyed a grinding machine donated by a non-governmental organization to help tribal women generate income.  She said a Hindu social worker who had come on behalf of the government to talk about AIDS was shocked by the attack.
According to a local police official, 13 Hindu men and women had been arrested for the attack, but were granted bail.  The official said the attackers, who were followers of a local guru, accused the nuns of "converting the local tribal people to Christianity."
Sister D'Silva denied the accusation.  "It is a humbug charge. We have not converted a single tribal," she said.  She said that the tribal people themselves have told police that the nuns do not preach religion but only train them to lead a decent life.


20 March 2008

Asma Jahangir, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief of the United Nations Human Rights Council, made the following statement on 20 March 2008 in Delhi at the end of her visit to India:
"I wish to thank the Government of India for inviting me here and for giving me this unique opportunity to study the situation with regard to freedom of religion or belief. India is a diverse country, where religions and beliefs are abundant and find respect in a secular framework. My mission started on 3 March 2008 in Amritsar and subsequently I visited Delhi, Jammu, Srinagar, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Thiruvananthapuram, Bhubaneswar and Lucknow. Now I am again in Delhi and with this press conference I am concluding my mission to India.
During my country visit, I had the opportunity to meet with several Government officials, including the Ministers of External Affairs, Minority Affairs and Culture as well as with the Chief Ministers of Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir, Gujarat, Kerala and Orissa. In addition, I met with the Solicitor General, several Supreme Court Justices and High Court Judges as well as with members of various Human Rights and Minority Commissions. Further meetings with the civil society included leaders and members of the religious communities in India, academics, journalists, human rights activists, lawyers and professionals of the visual arts industry. I would like to acknowledge the high level of cooperation I received both from the Government and from the citizens of India.
Indeed, due to the religious diversity of India, this country visit has been an enriching experience for the mandate I hold since 2004. I will be submitting a detailed report with conclusions and recommendations to the United Nations Human Rights Council, therefore this press statement will only cover some preliminary impressions that I have formed during the past 2½ weeks. In this press statement it would be impossible to make a general assessment of the current state of freedom of religion or belief in the whole of India. In fact, this was not the first visit of the mandate, as my predecessor undertook a mission to India in 1996 (see UN Doc. E/CN.4/1997/91/Add.1). Consequently, my forthcoming report will also be a follow-up on developments during the past twelve years, in order to analyze what has changed and why.
Concerning the legal framework, I am well aware of the fact that the political system of India is of a federal nature and that the States have wide powers, including in the field of law and order. Thus the level of action of the Government to protect its citizens in terms of freedom of religion or belief varies according to the States concerned. I also acknowledge that there are democratic safeguards within the system and that the institutions have accumulated a vast experience in protecting human rights.
Many of my interlocutors have pointed to the positive impact of Indian secularism as embodied in the Constitution. By and large, Indians do value secular principles and I was told time and again that the term "secularism" does not necessarily mean the same as in other countries. Historically, there have been believers of a whole range of religions and beliefs living in India. The central Government has developed a comprehensive policy pertaining to minorities, including religious ones. In this context, I would like to compliment various recent reports on religious minorities, for example drafted by the Committees headed by Justice Rajender Sachar in 2006 and by Justice Renganath Misra in 2007. Such Committees mandated by the Government are a good example of mechanisms put in place to analyse the situation and put forward recommendations for the Government to take action upon.
The National Commission for Minorities, too, has taken up several challenges. Their members took prompt action and issued independent reports on incidents of communal violence with concrete recommendations. However, the performance of various Human Rights Commissions depends very much on the selection of its members and the importance various Governments attach to their mandates. It is vital that members of such commissions have acute sensitivity to human rights issues and must reflect the diversity – particularly in terms of gender – as women are one of the worst sufferers of religious intolerance. At the same time, I noticed that women's groups across religious lines were the most active and effective human rights advocates in situations of communal tensions.
All individuals I met recognised that a comprehensive legal framework to protect their rights exists, yet many of them – especially from religious minorities – remained dissatisfied with its implementation. By and large, the Indians respect the diversity of religions and beliefs. At the same time, organised groups based on religious ideologies have unleashed the fear of mob violence in many parts of the country. Law enforcement is often reluctant to take any action against individuals or groups that perpetuate violence in the name of religion or belief. This institutionalised impunity for those who exploit religion and impose their religious intolerance on others has made peaceful citizens, particularly the minorities, vulnerable and fearful.
I have received numerous reports of attacks on religious minorities and their places of worship as well as discrimination of disempowered sections of the Hindu community. The following are only a few examples that are well publicised.
In Uttar Pradesh, I received concrete reports of violence and rapes as a reaction to cases of intermarriage between believers of different religions or castes. Acts of violence continue to occur while perpetrators are dealt with some sympathy by the law enforcement agents. This bias is deep-rooted in society which makes the protection of the victims even more difficult. Some of the cases I was informed about are still under investigation and I hope that justice will prevail.
Less than three months ago, there was widespread violence in the Kandhamal district of Orissa, targeting primarily Christians in Dalit and tribal communities. I received credible reports that members of the Christian community alerted the authorities in advance of the planned attacks of 24-27 December 2007. The police, too, had warned Christian leaders about anticipated violence. The National Commission for Minorities stated in a recent report: "Destruction on such a large scale in places which are difficult to access could not have taken place without advance preparation and planning." Even today, the tensions are prevalent and the anti-conversion legislation is being used to vilify Christians in general.
Concerning the 2002 Gujarat massacre, I have read numerous reports, both of official bodies and civil society organisations and I met a large number of eyewitnesses and people who visited Gujarat during the trouble. The State Government reported that, prior to the Godhra incident, Gujarat had witnessed 443 major communal incidents between 1970 and 2002. As such, the warning was there. However, the massacre that took place after the tragic deaths at Godhra in 2002 is all the more horrifying since by all accounts at least a thousand people were systematically killed. Even worse, there are credible reports that inaction by the authorities was evident and most interlocutors alleged complicity by the State Government. In my discussions with victims I could see their continuing fear which is exacerbated by the distress that justice continues to evade most victims and survivors. Even today there is increasing ghettoization and isolation of Muslims in certain areas. The assertion of the State Government that development by itself will heal the wounds does not seem to be realistic. It is crucial to recognise that development without a policy of inclusiveness of all communities will only add to aggravate resentments.
Furthermore, I am disturbed that at various meetings with members of the civil society during my visit in Gujarat, plain-clothed Government agents took names of all my NGO interlocutors and also made their presence felt afterwards. On several occasions, I had to insist that police officers leave the room during my NGO meetings. The terms of reference of fact-finding missions by Special Rapporteurs (see UN Doc. E/CN.4/1998/45, Appendix V) are very clear in this regard. These terms of reference guarantee confidential and unsupervised contact with witnesses and other private persons as well as assurance by the Government that no persons, official or private individuals who have been in contact with the Special Rapporteur in relation to the mandate will for this reason suffer threats, harassment or punishment or be subjected to judicial proceedings.
I am also concerned at the extended timeframe of investigations in cases involving communal riots, violence and massacres such as those which occurred in 1984, 1992 and 2002. All of these incidents continue to haunt the people affected by them and impunity emboldens forces of intolerance. It is important to draw lessons learnt from these events in order to prevent communal violence in the future. While an inquiry into large-scale communal violence should not be done in indecent haste, it should be accorded the highest priority both by the investigation, the judiciary and any Commission appointed to study the situation. Unreasonable protraction of the inquiry only keeps tensions simmering and devalues justice. I was astonished to learn that just before I arrived in India, the Liberhan Commission – probing the circumstances leading to the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya – got the 44th extension to conclude its inquiry.
My predecessor, Mr. Abdelfattah Amor, unfortunately was prophetic when he expressed his fears that something in the nature of the 1992 Ayodhya incident will recur in the event of political exploitation of a situation. In my opinion, there is today a real risk that similar communal violence might happen again unless incitement to religious hatred and political exploitation of communal tensions are effectively prevented.
It is a challenge both for the Government and for non-State actors to diffuse tensions and address the root causes ahead of time. The sincerity of the Central Government to implement the Sachar Committee report will be very much seen on the ground because State Governments have been given direction to follow-up on the recommendations of the report. During my visit I have noticed that – while the State of Kerala has already undertaken the assignment seriously – many States have not even set up the relevant Committees.
I was deeply touched to hear of the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits in 1990s following a campaign of threats and violence. They remain dislocated to this day despite the fact the de-escalation of violence in Jammu and Kashmir has had a positive impact on religious tolerance. There have been public statements inviting the Hindu Pandits to return to Kashmir. Places of worship are now more accessible and the tensions are reducing. At the same time, many interlocutors have confirmed a continuing bias amongst security forces against Muslims who also face problems with regard to issuing of passports and security clearances for employment purposes. There are also reports of discrimination against them outside of Jammu and Kashmir, such as the refusal of hotel bookings.
At all places where I met with members of the Muslim community in India, I was informed that a number of them have been arrested on ill-founded suspicions of terrorism. They are disturbed that terrorism is associated with their religion despite various public statements from Muslim leadership denouncing terrorism. There was though recognition of the Government's efforts in ensuring that Indian Muslims' rights are protected when arrested abroad.
The visual arts industry in India has played an important role in public education regarding religious tolerance. For this reason it remains a target of mob pressure. Films are effectively banned by non-State actors through intimidation. Regrettably, professionals seem to routinely seek the approval of self-appointed custodians of religious sentiments before going ahead with a film which touches upon communal issues. While any advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to violence needs to be prosecuted, this subtle form of self-censorship begs the question how the State could prevent the build-up of an atmosphere of fear of repercussions and mob pressure.
There are other issues of concern with regard to my mandate. These include the legal link between Scheduled Caste status and religious affiliation, the impact of "anti-conversion laws" in several States as well as the concerns voiced by Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and atheists. I intend to discuss these issues in my report to the Human Rights Council.
The vast majority of Indians respects secular traditions and keenly follows the teachings of the nation's founding fathers. I have noticed encouraging signs in the fight against religious intolerance and I am impressed by the outstanding degree of human rights activism in India. There are innumerable examples where individuals have come to each other's rescue, crossing all religious boundaries. Indeed, in Gujarat, a large number of victims recognised the positive role played by some national media and other courageous individuals who effectively saved lives. It is a crucial – albeit difficult – task for the State and civil society to challenge the forces of intolerance."


Monday, March 10, 2008


In typical fashion, the Government of Gujarat has indulged in another smoke screen act by proclaiming that it has withdrawn the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Amendment Bill,  2006. 
The fact that such a Bill could have been considered is indicative of the Government's unconstitutional behaviour  and its insensitivity to the religions of India.  It is thanks to the fact that the Governor of Gujarat refused to give his assent to this Amendment that, the Government had no choice but to announce its withdrawal. 
The original Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act 2003, however, still remains !  Almost five years after its  promulgation, the  Government has not been able to cite a single instance of "forced conversion"  in the State.  Moreover,  it has not yet framed the bye-laws / rules which are necessary for the implementation of this Act.
This draconian law characterizes the Government's total disregard for Article 25 of the Constitution and Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.   
If this Government is serious about protecting and respecting the rights of its citizens, it should withdraw the Act of 2003 in its entirety immediately.

Fr. Cedric Prakash sj
(A Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace)
10th March 2008



9th March 2008

Ms. Asma Jahangir
United Nations Special Rapporteur
     on Freedom of Religion or Belief
Camp :  Ahmedabd

Dear Ms. Jahangir,
Greetings  and welcome to Gujarat !
At the outset, we wish to place on record our esteem and  a word of appreciation of the  important post you hold on behalf of the United Nations.  We sincerely hope that  you will be able to exert the utmost influence among various sections of society (specially those in authority) in order to ensure that the rights of every single citizen (specially the minorities) are protected and respected.
"PRASHANT" is a Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace and ever since our inception in October 2001, we have been actively involved in defending the rights of vulnerable sections of society and in particular, the minorities of Gujarat (cfr. Appendix I).
Having said this, we would like to bring to your kind attention the following :
 The Gujarat Carnage of 2002, is one of the most painful periods of our history.  Even today, six years later, the condition of the victim-survivors is still very pathetic.  The  wheels of justice have moved ever so slowly whilst those responsible for these heinous crimes seem to have total immunity.    You are aware of all this.
 In Ahmedabad and in several parts of Gujarat, the Muslims are confined to ghettos.  Several of the housing societies very openly deny Muslims the possibility of buying houses / apartments in total contravention of  their own byelaws and rules
 In many public places of Ahmedabad and other parts of Gujarat, several hoardings have mushroomed calling the area a "Hindu Rashtra".  This is against the secular fabric of the country and it also hurts the sentiments of minorities and adds to their GROWING insecurity (cfr. Appendix II).
 In an examination conducted by the Gujarat Public Service Commission (on 6th August 2006),  some of the questions asked  were a direct attack on minorities (cfr. Appendix III - copy of original question paper enclosed together with translation of some of the key questions).   In the GPSC examination on February 24th 2008, there were very offensive terms used for the Dalit community (cfr. Appendix III-A)
 The Shabri Kumbh Mela (February 2006) in the Dangs, spewed vitriol and venom on the Christians (cfr. Appendix IV).  The whole Mela was apparently sponsored by the Government in a serious ploy to divide and rule among the tribals and to defocus from the real problems of the tribals namely identity, right to live in their forests,  quality education, primary health-care, access to clean drinking water, etc.
 On  September   19th 2006,    the Gujarat  State  Assembly  passed  the  amendments of the Freedom of  Religion Act  (which  was earlier passed on  March 26th, 2003).  This law is a  direct violation  of  the  fundamental  rights  guaranteed  in  the  Constitutions,  to  the  citizens  of   India (cfr. Appendix V - original Act, Amendments and a write-up on this particular Act which appeared in the "Indian Currents" of 1st October 2006).  Fortunately, this current Governor of Gujarat  refused to sign the Amendments; the Act in its original form was easily accepted by the previous Governor.
 On December 19th 2007, a group of right-wing Hindu elements brutally attacked a group of Christians (Priests, Nuns and students) in Kawant, Baroda District (cfr. Appendix VI).   Besides this, there are  several  instances of  the Christians  being harassed and intimidated in Gujarat (apparently with Government  sanction).  In quite a few places, officials  do everything they can to try and prove a "forced conversion" in order to justify their draconian law.  In all these years, there is not a single case of the so called "forced conversion" that has come to light, leave alone proved.
 From the posturings of the current Chief Minister of Gujarat (cfr. Appendix VII -  article dated March 7th 2008),  it is obvious  that the minorities are at the receiving end of a campaign  filled with prejudice and hate.
 Apart from some blatant acts, what is even more frightening is the subtle ostracization and alienation of the minorities of Gujarat, specially the Muslims and Christians.  The experience is that of a second class citizen, whether one has to apply for a telephone connection or when one seeks employment.   This ostracization seems to be becoming more and more institutionalized  and this  forebodes  ill  for  the days ahead.
 The Social Science Textbooks under the patronage of this current Government of Gujarat contain strong biases against the minorities.
What has been indicated above are just some dimensions of the way the minorities of this State are being treated.

Should you need any clarifications or any substantiation on any of the above, we will be happy to furnish you with the same.

Thank you once again for your presence here today. 

With warm wishes,

Yours sincerely,

Fr. Cedric Prakash sj
(A Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace)
Hillnagar, Nr. Kamdhenu Hall
Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad380 052, Gujarat, India
Tel: +91 79 27455913 / 66522333
Fax: +91 79 27489018



Saturday, March 08, 2008


Dear Friends,
I have just read and signed the online petition:
"Patan Student Rape"
hosted on the web by, the free online petition
service, at:
I request you to also sign this petition.  Thanks ! 
Best wishes,
Fr. Cedric Prakash
( A Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace)
Street Address : Hill Nagar, Near Kamdhenu Hall, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad - 380052, Gujarat, India
Postal Address : P B 4050, Navrangpura PO, Ahmedabad - 380 009, Gujarat, India
Phone : 91  79   27455913,  66522333
Fax : 91  79  27489018

Friday, March 07, 2008

THE VALUE OF RANT AND Shiv Visvanathan

Posted online: Friday, March 07, 2008 at 2337 hrs
What does it take to dissent in times when every act of protest is questioned as to its authenticity, asks Shiv Visvanathan
The recent strictures passed by the Supreme Court on the lawyer Teesta Setalvad raise a whole gamut of questions. Setalvad had raised the issue that the delay in courts' handling of cases relating to the Gujarat riots mounted to an act of indifference and injustice. The Court in response noted a case of impropriety marked with impatience and condemned her for it.
There was a great sense of relief, even euphoria, at the Supreme Court's response. The right felt Setalvad had no right to speak for the victims as she was not representative of them. It saw Setalvad's protest as an act of arrogation. Better behaved activists also exuded an 'I told you feeling' about one of their more visible contemporaries.
Today activism is a career; a style that prefers negotiation to the scream. Many activists and journalists find Setalvad 'screechy, loud, hysterical,' the kind of symptoms which one associated with the ammonia-snuffing hysteric on whom the Charcots and Freuds built their discipline. When activism is a form of consultancy, one does not want to take it to the streets. Today you don't want to deal with the obsessive behaviour of someone in the perpetual act of washing. It is like a tic that is forever distracting.
Yes, Teesta Setalvad is a difficult person. I remember when professor J.S. Bandukwala talked of forgiveness, she let loose the Madam Defarge act. She plays the perpetual Gadfly. She screams, screams on behalf of the victims, because the scream is the only answer to the silence of Gujarat. The communication theorist Colin Cherry once described noise as unwelcome music. Setalvad's scream is doubly unwelcome. But it is an act of witness.
No one could contend that a Teesta Setalvad is easy in public. She often sounds like an official mourner, reminding one of the grief we should have felt. She does not sound like a finishing school product. She stuns, she appalls, she rants, she raves and she repeats it all over again. Listening to her, one should realise whistle-blowing is not a symphony.
But societies like ours that are routinely conformist or banally indifferent to the violence around us should thank these obsessives. When you want to discuss the latest film, they intrude to remind you about Human Rights. When you talk of Ekta Kapoor, she repeats the litany of Gujarat. It is a form of bad behaviour that society needs. Setalvad has to work overtime to remind us of the ideals we have forgotten.
Let us be clear that dissent is not easy. A letter to the editor hardly causes a ripple. A procession is seen by the middle class as a mere brake on traffic. Trade unions are passé. Civil rights reports don't have a page 3 rating.
When she or Cedric Prakash protest, people immediately attribute lesser ambitions to them. There is a malicious hint that such behaviour is a search for a Magsaysay or some European Human Rights award. More banally, it is seen as grant and attention seeking.
Protest about anything around you and sense the loneliness and ostracism you feel. People will drop in to enquire about your distress as if it is a personal ailment. Then they will imply that you are not mature enough, not strategic enough. If you persist, advice becomes threat, threat becomes ostracism and ostracism graduates into other forms of social deterrence. Idealism is seen as a disease you should have lost years ago like acne or measles. Only then does one realise how tiring it is. Dissent is not one scream. It demands an epic chain of protests. The stamina for it demands that you understand the loneliness of political long-distance runners.
The Teestas, the Medha Patkars keep our society alive, vibrant. They are tuning forks telling us we have not lost our sense of music. Of course, they are not all likeable creatures.
Protest has its quirkiness. You have the one-point person, who will talk about Bhopal in every seminar about disasters. They remind you of the radicals of the earlier decades who asked 'What about class?' in every seminar regardless of whether it was about Beethoven, Gandhi or Globalisation. I admit they do distract and irritate in demanding their redundant pound of flesh. But we need them, in fact we have to invent them.
There is also the jumper. For them, last week it was Narmada, this week it is farmer suicides. You realise there is a trail of fashion in disasters as in dress. Yet the jumper is a reminder that we fail to connect. Try talking about the disaster in Bhopal today. People feel you are recommending a quaint tourist destination or merely respond by asking you to read Dominic Lapierre on Bhopal.
Dissent is doubly difficult today. Every act of protest is questioned as to its authenticity. It is argued that each voice needs the right form of representation. No one asks why one citizen can't represent the other. As citizens, we share a common membership and humanity.
There is a political correctness here we must challenge. Protest too demands civility but it does not have to be the civility of the drawing room. A scream is not just a cry of pain but an act of witness. It does not have to follow the codes of the drawing room. Being correct and being true are two different registers. Setalvad's protest shows that correctness might hide an evasion of truth.
One must keep the dignity of the court but a society must allow the protests of Setalvad. More, it must respect and sustain people like her as precious forms of life.
The writer is a social scientist based in Ahmedabad