Tuesday, December 09, 2014



-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*

Human Rights 365’ is the theme of the 2014 Human Rights Day on December 10th.

For the first time since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted and proclaimed by a UN General Assembly Resolution 217A (III) of 10 December 1948 with a clarion call that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”, the need is felt that it is just not one day but every single day should be Human Rights Day! How true!

This year’s slogan, Human Rights 365, states the UN website “encompasses the idea that every day is Human Rights Day. It celebrates the fundamental proposition in the Universal Declaration that each one of us, everywhere, at all times is entitled to the full range of human rights, that human rights belong equally to each of us and bind us together as a global community with the same ideals and values.

The theme itself is a challenging one which necessitates that human rights cannot be relegated to lip-service acts or to our observance just once a year through dharnas, rallies, and public shows etc. These do have a place given the fact that being human, we need to awake and to be awakened about the grim realities around us. But such a day should also motivate us to act very concretely on serious issues which affect common people day in and day out.

Let us look at what is happening in various parts of India and particularly in Gujarat in order to understand the way human rights are daily violated. Newspapers today carried news items about women being raped in the cities of Ahmedabad and Surat and just a couple of days ago, India was once again shocked by a young executive being raped in a taxi-cab in New Delhi. Some of these cases make the news very specially if the middle class or the rich are the victims; but the situation in India is such that most women-victims are poor, they are often tribals or dalits and just do not have the opportunity of either garnering the necessary sympathy and support or the police and judicial action to bring the culprits to book.

There is another significant article in one of the leading papers today of the way the livelihood of the salt-pan workers, in the Little Rann of Kutch in Gujarat, is threatened.   The article states “these salt-pan workers are caught between two extremes as on one side they struggle for drinking water.....and on the other – the flooding (from a canal from the Narmada Project) threatens to wash away their salt produced” and ultimately livelihood.

The irony is while the rich, powerful and vested interests of Gujarat have gone all ga-ga about the Narmada Dam, this project has caused unmitigated suffering to the tribals of the area. Apart from the destruction to flora and fauna, and ecological destruction, thousands of tribals have been displaced over the years.  The increase in the height of the dam is clearly violative of the rights of the people in the area. The tragedy is that the waters from this dam are being used for industrial purposes and by urban centres like Ahmedabad – hardly benefitting the poor in the parched areas of Gujarat.

Another news items speaks about ‘thirteen child labourers being rescued in Surat’.  All these children are from Bihar and aged between nine and thirteen years. Gujarat might easily have one of the highest percentages of child labourers in the country. It is common knowledge that children from Rajasthan are smuggled across the border to work in the cotton fields of North Gujarat; there are several children working in the diamond polishing units and even in the ‘kitlis’ (tea stalls) all over Gujarat. It is not uncommon to see children working in brick-kilns, quarrying works and other intensive labour works not only in Gujarat but in several other parts of the country.

Farmers too are being given a rough deal all across India and particularly in States like Gujarat. ‘The Right to fair compensation and transparency in Land Acquisition & Rehabilitation & Resettlement Act, 2013’ was passed by the previous UPA Government in order to rectify the wrongs done to the farmers. This Act came into force from January 1st 2014. Very strangely, the Government of Gujarat which talks about a so-called ‘Development Model’ (complete with myths, illusions and half-truths) has not yet made this Act operational but has come out with some ‘draft rules’ which seriously violate the rights of farmers.

And what does one have to say about minority rights? Those who trampled upon the rights of the minorities; who killed people at will; who looted, burnt and raped have either not been punished, claim immunity or are out on bail. Thanks to vested interests who have bought up media houses, a sense of ‘majoritarianism’ has permeated into sections of Indian society. So a Union Minister can get away using the most abusive and derogatory remarks on minority communities; so an NGO subscribing to a fundamentalist and fascist ideology can go into a Christian school to intimidate and harass and make ridiculous demands from the management there.

The list of human rights violations on the poor, vulnerable and sub-alterns and on those who defend them is endless indeed!

In his message for the day, the Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon states, “I call on States to honour the obligations to protect human rights everyday of the year, I call on people to hold their Governments to account.”  The world will be watching if he has the courage to say these words to the Prime Minister of India and to the Chief Minister of Gujarat when he comes to the so-called “Vibrant Gujarat Summit” early in January 2015.

Yes, because of what is happening in Gujarat and other parts in India, human rights for all have to be promoted and protected on not just one day but on every single day of the year!

10th December, 2014

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