Tuesday, May 05, 2009



-   Fr. Cedric Prakash sj *
On the occasion of  the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,  the United Nations decided that "the year commencing on 10th December 2008 shall be proclaimed the International Year of Human Rights Learning, to be devoted to activities undertaken to broaden and deepen human rights learning on the basis of the principles of universality, indivisibility, interdependency, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity, constructive dialogue and cooperation, with a view to enhancing the promotion and protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development, bearing in mind the duty of the State, regardless of the political, economic and cultural system, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the significance of national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds"(A/RES/62/171).
Very significantly, the proclamation of this year, also coincides with the sixtieth year of the promulgation of the Indian Constitution with its core principles of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. 
We have just completed a tumultuous phase in the history of Indian democracy, when in the run up to the General Elections, political parties of all shades and across the board, vied with each other, in highlighting almost  every other issue but on the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens.
 Most of the election manifestos, the campaigns, the posturing, the speeches have revolved around the personal, the mundane  and the venomous, but not on   critical issues of  "roti, kapda aur makaan", clean drinking water, primary health care and education,  the freedom of religion and the general welfare of the people.
At this juncture, it is anybody's guess who will form the next Government, but the UPA Government did bring in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), the Right to Information Act (RTI); got the Forest Bill approved in favour of the Adivasis, and even made efforts to pass the Women's Reservation Bill and the Compulsory Primary Education Bill.  However, one can also not deny, that keeping the reality in perspective, the UPA Government has not done enough on several counts, very specially in passing the law against communal violence, in providing adequate compensation for relief and rehabilitation for the victims of communal riots, and very specially for the protection of minorities in the country – be it Gujarat, Orissa or Karnataka.  
 It is in this scenario, the International Year of Human Rights Learning (IYHRL) comes as an important and significant intervention.  Many of those involved in education seem to be ignorant about it or have just ignored it.   The fact however  remains,  that the UN is "convinced that human rights learning should contribute to the fulfillment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a way of life for people everywhere". 
It is therefore appropriate that even if we have to be waking up at this late hour, we need to make a sincere attempt at every possible level,  to seriously and systematically mainstream Human Rights Learning.
There are several ways by which we can  do so.  These could  include :
 to make Human Rights Education a mandatory subject in all our educational institutions.  (This learning process could begin in Std. V and could / should continue even upto graduate level)
to foster a culture of Human Rights Learning in Church organizations, Parish / Diocesan Councils, in Mahila Mandals, Self-Help Groups (SHG)  etc.
to make the Sunday Liturgy / Homilies focus on the realities of the people around with a clear understanding of what Jesus would  do if he was in our place, as a response to these realities
to network / collaborate with all men and women of goodwill, very specially with peoples' movements and those struggling for the rights of the poor, marginalized and other vulnerable sections of society.
to engage in social analysis, research, programmes / projects, in think-tanks which seek to understand  the realities in society and to advocate on behalf of those whose rights are denied or exploited.
to make the defense and promotion of Human Rights an  integral dimension of way of proceeding, in keeping with the spirit and letter of the Indian Constitution.
The above are some of the ways by which we can truly observe this international year.  Some initiatives are already in place:  in the Diocese of  Shimoga, Karnataka, Bishop Gerald Lobo has made Human Rights Education  a mandatory subject in all Catholic Schools.  The Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has been organizing programmes on Rights Based Approach (RBA),  and Catholic Social Teaching (CST), for Diocesan Social Work Directors; the Jesuit Education Association (JEA) of Gujarat has decided that the Calendar (handbook) for the year 2009 – 2010 will have pages containing the  Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Preamble of the Indian Constitution. 
Such steps will surely go a long way in actualising the conviction that the UN holds "that every woman, man and child in order to realize his or her full human potential must be made aware of all his / her human rights and fundamental freedoms" .
The Catholic Church has a great opportunity to help set the tone and direction for this International Year.   We truly need to celebrate  Human Rights Learning !  The only way by which we can do so is to get into action…..NOW !!!
(* Fr. Cedric Prakash sj is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad based Jesuit  Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace)
5th May  2009
Post Box  4050, 
Ahmedabad  380 009,  Gujarat
Tel: 079 66522333,  27455913  
Fax:  27489018