Saturday, November 29, 2008

Every section of society needs to act fast to heal wounds - By Fr Cedric Prakash, Sj

Every section of society needs to act fast to heal wounds

Nov 27 2008

By Fr Cedric Prakash, Sj

The terror attacks on Bombay have created panic and fear in every section of society. They have left us grappling for responses and solutions.
Terrorist attacks are not new to India. They happen with frightening regularity. But the reality is that they always happen to "somebody else" far away.... So, in many ways, civil society seems unaffected — as long as their interests are not touched, they are not disturbed.
A classic case is the Gujarat carnage of 2002, when thousands of Muslims in Gujarat were hounded out of their homes, brutalised, raped and murdered.

Some did speak out at great risk, but there was no moral outrage on what was taking place. The connivance of the government, the role of the police, was beyond doubt and that is why, perhaps, terror continues to rule the roost. Today, most of Gujarat is a highly polarised society, with divisions running right down the middle.

When terror attacks continue, as in Bombay, the obvious question is, "Who could be responsible?" As a result, there is a tendency "to find someone" as soon as possible, and very often, there are scapegoats, leading to a whole religion/community being demonised. This definitely does not lend to healing scars or to building bridges.
What is imperative for every section of society today is to act fast to heal the wounds. Governments, both at the Centre and states, must be seen as fair and impartial while deal with the issue.

Terrorism has no religion, so it is ridiculous that politicians defend alleged terrorists from "their own" religion, and strongly condemn those who belong to "another" religion. Governments and political leaders must, therefore, must not draw political mileage or indulge in
vote bank politics when terror strikes.

People from all walks of life need to come out to condemn the terror acts and try to usher in an environment of normalcy as soon as possible.

This can be achieved if we have visionary and charismatic leaders, who transcend the narrow confines of language, culture, race and religion. Victims have to be reached out to immediately, and those traumatised, need to be cared for.

At every step, we need to defend the secular character and the diversity guaranteed to us by our Constitution. We have to create ownership of the rights and freedom guaranteed by it, and ensure that these are protected and enjoyed by every single citizen.

Yes, we need to heal the scars of terror right now. We cannot wait for tomorrow. A sagacious political will and a deep commitment from every single citizen will go a long way in doing so.

The writer is director of PRASHANT, the Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace, based in Ahmedabad

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

THE FASCIST STATE: Setting the agenda to counter


THE FASCIST STATE: Setting the agenda to counter

We, the participants of the Seminar on 'The Fascist State: Setting the agenda to counter' held at the Gujarat Vidyapith, Ahmedabad, on Sunday, 23rd November 2008, are extremely concerned at the increasingly fascist nature of the Indian State, as illustrated by several instances in the recent past.
Gujarat 2002 certainly heralded the fascist era in Indian politics; but it is getting deeply entrenched in Indian politics as a whole, without exception of the party in power. The genocide of Muslims in Gujarat, the subversion of the criminal justice system in order to achieve this, the application of POTA on Muslims in Godhra and other cases, the refusal to acknowledge the large numbers of Internally Displaced Muslims, the persecution of Christian and Muslim Adivasis and the holding of the Shabri Kumbh in the Dangs – all these did expose the fascist characteristics of the State in Gujarat. Encounter killings of Muslims under the pretext of a conspiracy to kill the CM, the appointment of Sanghis in the universities and the saffronization of the campuses, the recent massive drive against Muslim youth following the Ahmedabad blasts also reiterate this.
The brutal and blatant attacks on Christians and their institutions in Orissa and Karnataka, with total connivance of the State Governments has exposed the massive fascist project that is underway. The misrepresentation of the constitutionally granted right to practice and propagate one's religion as "forced conversions", in order to threaten the marginalized communities into submission and acceptance of the dominant Hindutva discourse which finally culminates in draconian anti-conversion laws, seems to be passively accepted by the political parties and civil society across the board.
We express deep anguish at the increasing fascist mobilization in society, rising State terror and a circumvention of the rule of law by the law enforcing agencies, and the large scale violation of civil and political liberties.
We condemn these acts of repression in no uncertain terms. We call upon the Central and State Governments to act immediately : uphold and protect the sanctity of the Constitution, to guarantee the rights and freedom of all citizens and to contain the fascist forces which are inimical to the pluralism and diversity of the country.
We invite civil society and all citizens of India, to raise their voice against these fascist forces and make our country in the real sense of the word, one which is 'by the people, for the people and of the people'.
Action Aid * Aman Biradari * Aman Samuday * Antarik Visthapit Haq Rakshak Samiti * Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan * Centre for Development * Documentation and Study Centre for Action * Himmat * INSAF * JanVikas * Lok Kala Manch * Mahila Swaraj Abhiyan * Movement for Secular Democracy * National Alliance for Women * Niswa * PRASHANT * PUCL * Safar * SAHR WARU * Women's Action and Resource Unit * Samarpan * Samerth * Samvedan Cultural Program * Sanchetna * Saurashtra Dalit Sangathan * St. Xavier's Social Service Society * Swabhimaan Andolan * URJAGHAR
23rd November 2008
'DARSHAN' – An Organization Committed to Cultural Transformation
B-2/1, Sahajanand Towers, Jivraj park, Ahmedabad – 380 051, Gujarat, India.
PHONE: +91-79-26815484, 65413032.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The President-Elect and India

by: Martha Nussbaum

President-elect Barack Obama will face many challenges in foreign policy, but forging a productive relationship with India will be high on that list. President Clinton took a keen interest in India, and, especially, in issues of rural development. He visited rural development projects with his usual zest and curiosity, taking a particularly keen interest in the situation of women. After his Presidency, Clinton has continued his work on issues of poverty and development. He was also virtually the only major international leader to stand up right after the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 and publicly condemn the perpetrators.

President Bush, by contrast, focused his efforts on the nuclear deal, more or less neglecting issues of poverty and development. One bright spot in the generally dismal record of his dealings with India, however, was the decision to deny a visa to Narendra Modi, who had been invited to lecture here by a group of Non-Resident Indians (NRI's). The State Department cited his role in the Gujarat pogrom as its reason for denying him a diplomatic visa and revoking his tourist visa. This courageous stance in favor of human rights and against the perpetrators of a genocide was surprising but highly welome to the large number of U. S.-based scholars of India who had petitioned the State Department in this matter.

What course will President Obama choose? Will he, like Clinton, focus on poverty, quality of life, gender equality, and an end to the politics of hate? Or will he follow the lead of the NRI community, focusing on entrepreneurship and nuclear partnership? Much discussion, this week, has focused on Obama's appointment of Sonal Shah to his transition team. I shall not add to the growing volume of commentary on Shah's links to the VHP-A, since she has already issued one statement condeming the politics of hate, and will soon be invited to clarify her position further. Shah personally is involved with only the VHP-A's relief efforts. There is room for concern, however, that someone with such close ties to an organization that has been complicit in terrorist activities against Muslims and Christians should hold such a prominent place. The whole issue deserves the further clarification that it will receive.

Instead of pursuing that question further, however, I should like to focus on a letter written by then-candidate Obama to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, dated September 23, 2008, and published in India Abroad, the October 10 issue. I address these remarks to my former University of Chicago Law School colleague in the spirit of the type of respectful yet searching criticism that I know he will recognize as a hallmark of our faculty workshops and discussions.

The Obama letter has three slightly disturbing characteristics.

First, the letter gives lengthy praise to the nuclear deal, without acknowledging the widespread debate about the wisdom of that deal in both nations. Perhaps, however, this silence simply reflects politeness: Obama is surely aware that Singh has been an enthusiastic backer of the deal, risking much political capital in the process.

Second, the letter speaks of future cooperation that will "tap the creativity and dynamism of our entrepreneurs, engineers and scientists," particularly in the area of alternative energy sources, but never mentions a future partnership in the effort to eradicate poverty and illiteracy. This silence, unlike the first, cannot be explained by politeness, since Singh has devoted a great deal of attention to issues of rural poverty, and it is plausible to think that he could have gotten a lot further had he had more help from abroad.

Third, and most disturbing, the letter commiserates with Singh for the Delhi bomb blasts, but makes no mention of Gujarat or Orissa. Obama offers Singh:

"my condolences on the painful losses your citizens have suffered in the recent string of terrorist assaults. As I have said publicly, I deplore and condemn the vicious attacks perpetrated in New Delhi earlier this month, and on the Indian embassy in Kabul on July 7. The death and destruction is reprehensible, and you and your nation have my deepest sympathy. These cowardly acts of mass murder are a stark reminder that India suffers from the scourge of terrorism on a scale few other nations can imagine."

Obama's use of the word "terrorism" to describe acts thought to be perpetrated by Muslims, while not using that same word for acts perpetrated by Hindus, is ominous. Muslims suffer greatly in India, as elsewhere, from the stereotype of the violent Muslim, and both justice and truth demand that we all do what we can to undermine these stereotypes, bringing the guilty of all religions to justice, and protecting the innocent. (The recent refusals of local bar associations in India to defend Muslims accused of complicity in terrorism, under threat of violence, shows that the rule of law itself hangs in the balance.) Particularly odd is Obama's omission of events in Orissa, which were and are ongoing. His phrase "the scourge of terrorism" is virtually Bushian in its suggestion that terrorism is a single thing (presumably Muslim) and that many nations suffer from that single thing. (Note that it is not even true that most world terrorism is caused by Muslims. Our University of Chicago colleague Robert Pape's careful quantitative study of terrorism worldwide concludes that the Tamil Tigers, a secular political organization, are the bloodiest in the world. Moreover, Pape argues convincingly that even when religion is used as a screen for terror, the real motives are most often political, having to do with local conflicts.)

Obama's letter was written during a campaign. Perhaps it reflects awareness of the priorities of NRI's who were working hard in that campaign. At this point, however, he can start with a clean slate and decide how to order his priorities regarding India. Let us hope that, like Bill Clinton, he will give the center of his attention to issues of human development (poverty, gender equality, education, health), and that, when discussing the issue of religious violence, he will study carefully the violence in Gujarat and Orissa, learn all he can about the organizations of the Sangh Parivar, and adopt a policy that denounces religious violence in all its forms. To mention one immediate issue, it would be a disaster for global justice if Obama, as President, were to heed the demands of the diaspora community to grant Narendra Modi a visa -- especially since the Tehelka expose has made so clear the cooperation of the government of the state of Gujarat in those horrendous acts of violence.

President Obama has repeatedly shown a deeply felt commitment to the eradication of a politics based upon hate. Can we have confidence that he will carry that commitment into his relationship with India, even when the demands of powerful leaders of the NRI community make that difficult? I certainly hope so.

Martha Nussbaum is the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at The University of Chicago, and the author of The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India's Future.


Thursday, November 20, 2008


It is the right and the duty of every citizen above the age of 18 to exercise his/her vote. Here are some pointers which may be helpful :


 if you are above 18 years and a citizen of India, you must have your name on the Electoral Roll (ER).
 it is a basic identity for an adult citizen of India
 check immediately whether your name is on the ER (at your Taluka Office / Collector's Office / the local branch Office of a National political party).
 for inclusion of name on the ER, you will have to fill in Form No. 6.
 ask the concerned officer when you should return to confirm that your name is on the ER
 to raise any objection or for deletion of one's name, you will have to fill in Form No. 7.
 for correction of entries in the Electoral Roll you will have to fill in Form No. 8.
 please feel free to write your complaints to the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of your State and / or to the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Delhi
 always retain copies of your application / letters signed by the receiving officer for further reference.
 ensure that you have the updated Elector's Photo Identity Card (EPIC). (At times, you may be required to provide your own Passport Photos in order to receive an EPIC).
 help the poor, marginalized, underprivileged to have their names on the ER. – this may be their only identity


 get involved in mainstream politics.
 encourage / support political parties which focus on governance and on issues related to transparency, human rights, justice and peace and safeguarding the freedom of all citizens.
 check out the candidates, the parties wish to nominate for a particular seat.
 organize public debates / dialogues with them and assess their views / opinions / promises
 study their Election Manifesto of the previous elections and see whether the ruling party / sitting candidate has fulfilled the promises made.
 assess their views on vulnerable groups like the tribals, dalits, children, women, minorities and also on critical subjects like water, education, food, security, shelter, environment, employment, health and globalization.


 cast your vote – and do it early in the day !
 encourage all others to cast their votes too.
 vote for a party / individual that is not corrupt, criminal, casteist and / or communal
 DO NOT vote for an individual who belongs / subscribes to a party whose ideology is communal / divisive and / or fascist.
 you also have the right to cast your vote for "NO CANDIDATE"
 if you notice any bogus voting, rigging or booth capturing, bring it to the notice of the police / election officers immediately and preferably in writing.


 find out the details of your elected representative (name, address, telephone / fax nos., email, etc.)
 arrange that organizations, villages / groups invite the person to share his / her views about the area for the next five years.
 remember that they have budgetary allocations for their constituency; find out for what programmes the money will be / is being utilized.
 insist that your views / concerns are voiced in the Assembly / Parliament.
 remind the representative that as a voter you have a right to recall, or to ask for his / her resignation.
 while respecting the fact that s / he is elected , never provide unnecessary legitimacy if the person represents interests that are communal, corrupt, casteist and anti-Constitutional


 any concern / complaint in the context of the Electoral Rolls must be sent in writing (registered post / courier) immediately to : The Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of your State (eg. for Gujarat it is : Election Commission, General Administration Department, Block No. 7, II Floor, Sachivalaya, Gandhinagar 382 010
Tel.: (079) 23250316 / 23250318 , Fax: (079) 23250317
email :
 serious concerns like the disenfranchisement of a whole community / village must also be brought to the notice of : The Chief Election Commissioner of India, Nirvachan Sadan, Ashoka Road, New Delhi 110 001
Tel.: (011) 23717391 - 98 Fax : (011) 23713412 email :
 the above two may also be informed about any irregularities regarding the elections.
 The Election Commission of India has a very useful page : "A GUIDE FOR VOTERS" on their website
 use the Right to Information Act
 a private agency has a very useful website
 contact "PRASHANT" for further information / assistance.

Issued by :

PRASHANT (Centre for Human Right, Justice and Peace)
Near Kamdhenu Hall, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad 380 052, Gujarat, India
Tel.: 079 66522333 / 27455913 Fax : 079 27489018

(November 2008)

(This is used in Public Interest to promote and safeguard our Constitutional Rights and Obligations. Kindly circulate this widely)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Conversion is basic to one's spiritual existence By Fali S. Nariman

Conversion is basic to one's spiritual existence
By Fali S. Nariman

Source: Asian Age (20 October 2008)

History is the sum total of things that could have been avoided. When the history of this country comes to be written and we are able to see things in perspective, it will record that a great statesman, (former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee), missed his true destiny when he said, after visiting Gujarat at the end of 1998: "We must have a debate on conversions". This was at the time when only crosses and bibles were being burnt. It got much worse after that. What he should have said was: "We must stop this senseless attack on minorities and minority religious institutions: because that has always been our tradition and our law".
As for tradition — it was in the 3rd century AD that the religious hegemony of the Brahmins in Hindustan was contested by kshatriya noblemen who founded Buddhism. This new religion rejected the predetermination of status by birth and the hierarchical ranking of castes. It became the religion of the kings who ruled India for several hundred years. Embraced by the Emperor Ashoka (273-232 BC), Buddhism gained a foothold in the subcontinent. For more than 200 years it posed a real threat to Hinduism. Then in the 17th century Adi Shankara, with superlative missionary zeal, almost single-handedly restored the authority of the Vedas as the basis of Hindu thought. Not by force, but by the power of persuasion. By his discourses throughout the length and breadth of Hindustan this great young man (he died at age 32) put an end to the hegemony of Buddhism in India. He did this by exercising his inherent right to propagate his own religion — and he succeeded: there was no violence, no bloodshed.
During the reign of Harsh Vardhan (AD 606-648) — the last Buddhist king — the great casteless religion was stamped out in the land of its birth. Sir Charles Eliot, oriental scholar, described the denouement in an expressive phrase: "Brahmanism killed Buddhism by a fraternal embrace"! This was true conversion: and our tradition respects it.
So does — our law. The Fundamental Rights chapter of our Constitution says that all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion. The draft article (Article 19) corresponding to Article 25 was restricted to "profess and practice religion", it was changed, after debate and deliberation, to "profess, practice and propagate religion".
During the debate in the Constituent Assembly, one of the makers of modern India, Mr T.T. Krishnamachari, a Hindu by faith, had this to say on draft Article 19:
"Sir, I know as a person who has studied for about 14 years in Christian institutions that no attempt had been made to convert me from my own faith and to practice Christianity. I am very well aware of the influences that Christianity has brought to bear upon our own ideals and our own outlook, and I am not prepared to say here that they should be prevented from propagating their religion. I would ask the House to look at the facts so far as the history of this type of conversion is concerned. It depends upon the way in which certain religionists and certain communities treat their less fortunate brethern. The fact that many people in this country have embraced Christianity is due partly to the status that it gave to them.
Why should we forget that particular fact? An untouchable who became a Christian became an equal in every matter along with the high-caste Hindu, and if we remove the need to obtain that particular advantage that he might probably get — it is undoubtedly a very important advantage, apart from the fact that he has faith in the religion itself — well, the incentive for anybody to become a Christian will not probably exist."
Draft Article 19, with the word "propagate", was put to vote and was adopted as part of the Constitution of India 1950 (it is now Article 25). There may be two opinions on the subsequent decision of our Supreme Court in the case of Father Stanislaus case (1977) — about forced conversions — but it has stood the test of time, and we have all lived, without much discomfort, for nearly three decades with the Supreme Court's declaration of the law. After all, to be converted to a different religious persuasion is not a matter of force but of free volition and choice. It is basic to one's spiritual existence. No one — no State — can deny it. It is recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) to which India is a signatory. The UDHR proclaims that everyone has a right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, which includes "the freedom to change one's religion or belief"; it is also reproduced in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which India had ratified in 1979. Conversion by force in an offence — those who indulge in it can and must be prosecuted: so far hardly anyone has been. But there is no excuse for indulging in violence and mayhem.
Way back in January 1999 — it now seems only like yesterday! — Swami Nikhilananda who studied geology at my old alma mater St. Xavier's College, Mumbai, now a senior monk of the Chinmaya Order, was questioned about the ghastly incidents in Orissa leading to murder of the Australian missionary and his two children. "What is your reaction to the militancy of the VHP and the Bajrang Dal?" he was pointedly asked. He did not evade the question. He did not say "what militancy?" or "who says they are militant?" Swami Nikhilananda's answer was direct and straight forward. He said "such violence is condemnable. For a Hindu who swears by ahimsa and equality of all religions such acts are barbaric to say the least. The Hindu society is known for its tolerance and it is unfortunate that a few fanatics seek to divide society by their actions".
The trouble today is that the "fanatics" are not so few: They are getting more vocal and more violent and what bothers me is that there has been only sporadic condemnation by leaders of religious and political parties.
As a nation we appear to be ignoring the stern warning of the ancient Greeks: "Whom the Gods destroy, they first make mad".
Fali S. Nariman is an eminent constitutional lawyer