Saturday, November 13, 2010

Listen to the cries of the children of India! by Fr Cedric Prakash sj(Cover story of THE NEW LEADER,Chennai,Nov 15th 2010)


Listening to the cries of the children of India


By Cedric Prakash, SJ


 'In a shocking incident, a father sacrificed his newborn girl child to keep his promise to his family deity 'Kitotarmata.' The man, Narottam Mana Devipujak, threw his child in a drain near his house in Sundarpuri, a busy slum area of Gandhidham, Gujarat.

According to the details of the case, the incident took place on Janmashtami night. Narottam, who sells vegetables from a kiosk, had vowed that he would offer a male goat to the goddess if a son was born to him. But if a girl child was born, he had sworn that he would straightway offer the child to the deity.

When his wife gave birth to a baby girl a day before Janmashtami, he decided to give her as an offering to the goddess. When everyone was glued to the TV watching the birth of Lord Krishna, he slipped away with his baby and threw her in a gutter close to the temple of the deity. Then he returned home, pretending as if, nothing had happened.'

The above, quoted in the DNA newspaper (September 7, 2010) is not a one-off incident. It is in fact, the shocking reality of the children of India and particularly of the girl child.

Significantly, on the very day this incident was reported, the international NGO 'Save the Children' released its global report titled, 'A Fair Chance at Life'.

The report highlights the fact that of the 26 million children born in India every year, approximately 1.83 million die before their fifth birthday; and in this, children from the poorest section of society are three times more likely to die at this stage in comparison with those from higher income groups. 

With 40 percent of the Indian population below the age of 18 years, India has the largest child population in the world, with the number in this bracket exceeding 400 million.   Apart from the already sordid reality provided above, the picture is even more painful when one realizes that in India today:

- Less than half of the school-going children (between the age of 6 and 14) go to school.

- Nearly three percent of the child population is physically or mentally challenged.

- More than 50 percent of the children are malnourished.

- Among married woman, 75 percent were under-age at the time of their marriage.

One can reel out statistics to highlight the dismal state of India's children, but the real question we need to ask ourselves is, what should be done in order to bring about a qualitative change in the lives of India's children.

In order to do this, we need to address certain key sectors in which interventions must be done. These include:

1) Health

Sometime last year, the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh said that it was a 'national shame' that 6000 children die in India every single day and of these 3000 die due to malnutrition. India is second after Bangladesh, with the most number of malnourished children in the world. Several children die from preventable illnesses such as diarrhea, typhoid, malaria, pneumonia and measles.

India's performance on the health sector for children is a far cry from the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). What is needed is an all out effort to address maternal health and child mortality. While the government does earmark a sizeable amount of funds to address this issue, it is clear that very little actually reaches those who need it the most. What we now need is a political will to ensure that government programmes are not only fully implemented but create the desired impact to bring about a qualitative improvement in health of the children of India. The Church in India, and in particular the women religious, have done creditable work in the field of maternal and child health care but more needs to be done.

2) Education

On April 1, 2010 the Government made 'the right to free and compulsory education' for children between the ages of 6-14 years', a law. This is a welcome step even though it has come sixty years too late.  Needless to say, an all-out effort will have to be made at every level, in order to ensure that children are not only 'roll numbers' but are provided with quality education as envisaged in the Right to Education (RTE).

The RTE is certainly full of loopholes. There are sections of society (especially those who run elitist schools), who are very reluctant to accept it. Some feel that the guarantees given to minorities in India, will now be watered down. In the fitness of things, it is important that the country embraces the spirit of the law, so that education actually reaches every child of the country.

The All India Catholic Education Policy 2007, focuses on 'total commitment to build a new and inclusive society in India through the provision of an education of quality and relevance to the marginalized sections of society, namely the Dalits, tribals and minority ethnic groups and thus express our solidarity with them and our commitment to justice, equity and love for all'.

3) Child Labour

The RTE also seeks to address growing child labour in the country. For many poor families there is absolutely no choice but to send their children to earn some money in order to eke out an existence.

The Constitution of India (Article 24) asserts that, 'no child below the age of 14 years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or employed in any hazardous employment.' The Child Labour Act (1986) also prohibits employing children. But across the country, in the cotton fields of Gujarat, in the zaari works of UP, in the firework factories of Tamil Nadu, in the coal mines of Meghalaya, in the carpet-making industry of Kashmir, millions of tiny hands work day and night and very often as bonded labour. That child labour exists often in nexus with the authorities, speaks volumes of the Government's lack of determination to tackle it. Civil society must come out and join the campaign against child labour.

4) The Girl Child

The incident referred to at the start of this article, highlights the pitiable condition of the girl child in India. One must admit that there have been some efforts to address this sensitive issue.

However, one cannot deny the fact that there are innumerable and unrecorded numbers of girl children who are killed within hours of being born, while many others are killed in the womb itself.

Female feticide has definitely increased in the last 50 years in India. While in 1960, there were 976 girls per 1000 boys, there was a dramatic drop in 2001, when the ratio was 927 / 1000.

It is a known fact that one of every six girls does not live to see her fifteenth birthday and this is mainly due to the patriarchal mind-sets and the attitude of many who regard the girl as a 'burden'. Around 53 percent of girls in the age group of 5 to 9 years are illiterate.

Child marriages are rampant in India, and in most cases, it is the girl child who is married off. There are reported instances of girl children from Hyderabad married off by their parents to older men from the Middle East, in exchange for a hefty 'bride price' The girl child is also easy prey for sexual abuse and for the pornographic industry.

We need to bring about an attitudinal change in every section of society. Unless, this takes place on a priority, it will be a long time before India 'saves the girl child'. 

5) Child Abuse

It is estimated that there are approximately 2 million commercial sex workers between the ages of 5 to 15 years in India today, and an additional 3.5 million between the ages of 15 to 18 years. Child sex workers constitute around 40 percent of the commercial sex workers in India and the vast majority of these children are illiterate and come from very poor backgrounds.

There are several reports in the media of how children have been sexually abused by those who they trust the most, even within the sanctity and security of their own homes.

Child abuse has dominated the headlines of the world press for more than a year now because of some incidents where the accused are Catholic clergymen.

There have also been high profile cases in India where pedophiles have been arrested. Child pornography forms a huge chunk of the pornography market that is readily available everywhere both in the electronic and print form.

One of the issues related to child abuse, which the RTE tries to address, is that of corporal punishment for children in schools. It forbids any form of corporal punishment to school children

Another form of child abuse that takes place very subtly in society is when parents expect their children to perform in super human ways, be it in academics, sports or even on 'reality' shows.

Children no longer enjoy these activities but are goaded by obsessive parents.

Here again, a sincere effort by every section of society needs to be made to wipe out child abuse in the country.

6) Physically / Mentally Challenged Children

A fairly large section of the children of India are either physically or mentally challenged and a good percentage of these live in rural areas, which do not have the necessary infrastructure to cater to their needs. India woefully lacks specialized institutions which can provide support mechanisms to these children. Besides, the country as a whole has been rather insensitive to the plight of differently-abled people. Even the minimum easy access at public places and other conveniences are not provided to them. A greater sensitivity is needed to cater to such children but it will be awhile before society responds and becomes more inclusive.

7) Children affected by conflict

Millions of children throughout the country are today caught up in various types of conflicts. Several children are recruited by militant organizations and are indoctrinated with radical ideologies.

One regularly sees pictures of children wielding a weapon, be it a 'danda' or an 'AK-47'.

Communal violence too, has affected thousands of children in various states of India, especially in Gujarat and Orissa.

Many of them will carry the trauma all their lives having witnessed murder and other forms of brutality either on their parents or a loved member of their family.

There has not been any systematic approach to address this reality. Hopefully, when it actually becomes an Act, the Prevention of Communal Violence Bill will have a provision to deal with the plight of children who live in conflict areas of the country.

8) Children of migrant workers

Due to blatant industrialization and unplanned development, large numbers of poor, landless people are forced to migrate in search of employment. Besides, mega projects and even the mining industry have dispossessed many from the land which was rightfully theirs.

Children whose parents are migrant labourers are doubly affected in these situations. Even though the RTE refers to these children, no concrete mechanism is in place to address their reality.


The 'UN Convention on the Rights of the Child', provides India and the rest of the world with a blueprint on how we should address the reality of our children today. Unfortunately, many of the privileged of our country have not taken ownership of the issue, nor have successive Governments shown the political maturity to bring back the lost childhood of millions of children who live on the margins of society.

As we celebrate another 'Children's Day', it is imperative for all of us to listen to the cries of the children of India and pledge to ensure a happier childhood for them. We need to remind ourselves of the words of our Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore that, 'every child comes with a message that God is not yet discouraged of man.'



Fr Cedric Prakash, SJ, is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.



-  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

Thursday, November 04, 2010

A Prayer for Social Justice...from PAX CHRISTI

A Prayer for Social Justice
God, we pray that Your Spirit may rule over all things.
May Your Spirit rule over kings and presidents
over prime ministers and generals
over CEOs and party bosses
over the legislature and over the bureaucrats
over all citizens.
May Your Spirit guide us on the way of peace
on the way of honest dialogue
on the way of reconciliation between peoples
on the way of disarmament and justice
on the way of freedom and life for all.
May Your Spirit lead us on the journey of
blessings shared with all,
on the journey of educational opportunity for all our children
on the adventure of research and study that helps
all men and women
on the road to meaningful work for all people
on the path of solidarity and love between all our
brothers and sisters.
May Your Spirit help us
to speak up with courage
to share what we have and what we are
to challenge the powers that be
to offer a message of liberation and life.
We make this prayer through Christ, our Lord. Amen
                                                                                                                                                                                      -PAX CHRISTI
- - - - - - -     - - - - - - - -    - - - - - - -   - - - - - 
 PRASHANT   (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



The Festival of Lights  

Enkindle in each of us

The Courage

To reach out to all

In Love, Hope, Justice & Peace

May we truly be a fire that kindles other fires.

Light a Lamp!            Say 'NO' to Firecrackers!

Happy Diwali !!!

                            Happy New Year !!!



Fr. Cedric Prakash & all at Prashant.                          


PRASHANT   (A Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace)
Hill Nagar, Near Kamdhenu Hall, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad - 380052, Gujarat, India.

Phone : 91  79   27455913,  66522333
Fax : 91  79  27489018




Tuesday, November 02, 2010




-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*

Dear Friends!


It is a great privilege to make this presentation at this workshop on 'The Earth Charter and Religion, Spirituality and Ethics' at this Conference. I thank the organisers for inviting me to do so.


·         Introduction:

Gujarat State, here in North-West India, is best known for Mahatma Gandhi!  He was born here and lived for fourteen long years on the banks of the river Sabarmati where he founded his ashram. From the hallowed grounds of the ashram, he gave India and the world, his twin doctrine of 'Ahimsa' (non-violence) and 'Satyagraha' (the force of truth).  From this city of Ahmedabad, Gandhi began his Dandi March, vowing never to return until he had gained for India her freedom.  India became a free country on August 15th, 1947; however, a few months later, on January 30th, 1948, Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in Delhi.


We begin this sharing focused on Mahatma Gandhi for several reasons; but also because on October 2nd, 2001 (the birth anniversary of Gandhi which has now been designated as the International Day for Non-Violence), we inaugurated our centre PRASHANT in this city with a prime focus on human rights, justice and peace. Our initiative was (and continues to be) inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Earth Charter with an overriding desire to ensure that the four key principles (justice, liberty, equality and fraternity) of the Constitution of India, becomes a reality for every single citizen of the country.


·         The Gujarat Carnage:

"Human Rights for all" is indeed a well-intentioned slogan but which has not changed the lives of millions of people all over the world. This is our experience as we encounter the reality of the poor and the marginalized and victims of every possible injustice and exploitation. These include women and the children, the dalits and the tribals, the slum dwellers and landless labourers, the displaced and the voiceless. The list is endless indeed!


As a Centre inspired by the Earth Charter and wanting to do our bit "to promote a culture of tolerance, non violence and peace" we were, in February 2002, thrown into one of the darkest chapters of the history of our country, generally referred to as the 'Gujarat Carnage'.


There are several reports and even films made, of the unfortunate happenings of 2002.  My intention is not to get into the gory details which many of us regard as a crime against humanity, but to briefly underline some facts in order to position our response.


On February 27th, 2002 the car (S-6) of the Sabarmati Express train coming towards Ahmedabad from the temple town of Ayodhya (earlier on 6th December 1992, a mosque was demolished there, which caused plenty of conflict and bloodshed all over the country) caught fire.  Till today, no one has been able to pin-point the cause of the fire (though many believe that it was accidental) but the sad fact is that 59 persons were killed (many of them were Hindus who had gone to Ayodhya to help out in a project to build a temple on the place where the mosque was destroyed).  This tragedy was announced in Parliament and was also highlighted by all media throughout the country.  However, nothing untoward happened as an immediate consequence.  Sadly enough, more than twenty fours later, with the apparent connivance of the Gujarat Government, several mobs (armed with all kinds of weapons) began attacking Muslims in Ahmedabad and several parts of the State. Three months of violence and blood-shed, rape, arson and loot left about 2000 Muslims dead, and thousands of others homeless. What took place in Gujarat in those terrible months would make sensitive human beings bow their heads down in shame.  The facts of this tragedy have been carefully documented by several human rights and civil society groups in India and abroad, by the National Human Rights Commission and even by the Supreme Court of India. Several Governments across the world, particularly the United States and the European Union, have taken cognizance and have in some ways responded to this Carnage.  The annual Freedom of Religion Report of the United States, year after year, refers to the Gujarat reality and the fact that justice is still elusive for many of the victims. 


·         Our Response:

As a Centre, committed to peace through a frame-work of human rights and justice, we could obviously not remain silent in the face of such unprecedented violence and hate crimes.  We had to listen to the cries of our people. We had to translate in some small ways the lofty ideals of the Earth Charter into very tangible action; to ensure that the foundational relationship is the relationship between human beings where dignity, respect and acceptance of the other, is at the core.  As an organization inspired by the person and message of Jesus Christ, we are confronted over and over again by several Christian values and by questions like "who is my brother?" "How can you love God whom you cannot see when you are unable to love your brother whom you see?"  As we try to  promote inter-religious dialogue, we are aware that there is no religion worth its name that teaches prejudice, hate, divisiveness and violence.  In our search to respond to "why?" " why?" "why?", we have been endeavouring:


i)                    to stand up and speak up for human rights for all

in collaboration with several other women and men of goodwill, we have been trying our best "to awaken a new reverence for life… quicken the struggle for justice and peace and the joyful celebration of life". We are convinced that diversity is wealth which needs to be welcomed by all.  So what does one do if we know that Muslims cannot own a house or run a business in this western up-market part of the city?  Through a variety of ways (meetings, seminars, inter-faith prayer), we have been trying to welcome Muslims to our Centre and we have even been encouraging some of our Hindu friends to accept Muslims as their neighbour. All this though is easier said than done


ii)                  to help create an environment of truth and justice

true and sustainable peace, we believe, is a direct consequence of justice at every level.  Gandhi showed that truth is a non-negotiable and only when we speak truth to power, will we move towards creating an environment of justice. There are thousands of Muslims – victims of the Gujarat Carnage who still hope and pray for justice. We have been accompanying some of them in this journey in every possible way. The going indeed is hard and very often, because of our strong stands of issues, we ourselves become the target from those who control the reigns of power and those who live in a denial mode.


iii)                to help build bridges among people

we have been trying to build bridges between people of the different communities. We have made some efforts in healing and reconciliation; in some who show remorse and others who have the magnanimity to forgive. We bring people together to collaborate on other human right issues (the Rights of Women, the Right to Food, the Right to Education, a greater sensitivity to the environment); by praying together, celebrating festivals together, by looking at the commonalities that bind people across the religious divide.  Our Advocacy efforts have helped in some ways, to create a conducive atmosphere for sustainable justice and peace, where "we care for the community of life with understanding, compassion and love".



In essence, the Earth Charter encompasses the vision and ideals of Mahatma Gandhi and of all religions of the world.  Since 2001, in some small ways we have been trying to realise 'the way of proceeding' enshrined in the Earth Charter.  But, ours is just a drop in the ocean, a single step of a very long journey ahead.  We are confident. We are hopeful that with every small effort and with the intrinsic goodness in humankind, we will overcome some day.


This year, marks the 150th birth anniversary of another great Indian, our Noble Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. It is therefore, fitting to pray with him:


Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high,

Where knowledge is free,

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls,

Where words come out from the depth of truth,

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection,

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sands of dead habit,

Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever widening thought and action,

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, led my country awake!


And I say, let all human beings awake to the vision and the directives of the Earth Charter!


(This presentation was made at the workshop on 'The Earth Charter and Religion, Spirituality and Ethics' during the International Conference on 'Ethical Framework for a Sustainable World' at Ahmedabad on November 2nd, 2010)


(*Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace)

Address: PRASHANT, Hill Nagar, Near Kamdhenu Hall, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad – 380052, Gujarat, India

Phone: (+91) 79 27455913,  66522333 Cell: 9824034536
Fax:  (+91) 79 27489018