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lacked a civil society movement to halt the hatred in
Sent: July 7, 2009 8:59:48 AM
on behalf of Goanet News
| By Melanie P Kumar
When minorities have no place in a state sworn to
secularism, when freedom of speech and expression is
curtailed, what vibrant Gujarat are we talking about,
asks Father Cedric Prakash, human rights activist from
Fr Cedric Prakash is a Jesuit priest and currently the
Director of Prashant, a centre for human rights,
justice and peace in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Prakash
founded Prashant in October 2001 as a response to the
growing human rights violations all over Gujarat
especially against the poor and vulnerable sections of
In the wake of the Gujarat carnage of 2002, Prashant
has been trying to ensure justice for the many
victims. The centre has carefully documented various
attacks on the minorities and has provided impetus for
analysis and research. Prashant has also highlighted
the growing communalisation of education in the state.
Prakash himself has been a very visible and vocal
critic of the Gujarat government’s role in the riots
of 2002. He has testified on this issue before the US
Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)
and has also succeeded in bringing to world attention
the plight of the minorities of Gujarat and other
parts of India.
For his consistent work in the promotion of human
rights, justice, communal harmony and peace, he has
received several national and international
recognitions which include the Kabir Puraskar from the
President of India in 1995, the Legion of Honour from
the President of France in 2006 and the National
Minority Rights Award from the National Commission for
Minorities also in 2006.
You were among the few in Gujarat who spoke out
against the Godhra carnage of 2002. How successful
have you been in initiating criminal action against
There are other voices of sanity that speak out
against the Gujarat carnage of 2002. Yes, we are few
but that does not mean to say we can be silenced.
Recent rulings from the Supreme Court have provided a
ray of hope! Hopefully, six fast track courts will be
put into action soon. At this moment we are eagerly
looking forward to a day when truth and justice will
triumph in Gujarat.
Would you say that you have been successful in
creating public awareness in the state of Gujarat
against the unjust actions of the government?
It is not easy to do this in Gujarat. The vernacular
press for one is generally biased and most of them
fail to report important news concerning the situation
of minority and other vulnerable sections of society.
On the other hand, the Sangh Parivar consistently
brings out patrikas which demonise the minorities and
we really do not have an effective machinery to
counter this false and malicious propaganda.
What has been the role of the intelligentsia in
Gujarat in raising their voices against injustice?
In Gujarat some people have spoken out against the
violence meted out to the minorities, especially the
Muslims. However, we definitely lacked a civil society
movement where top intelligentsia could have come out
on the streets in order to halt this wave of hatred.
In fact, politicians and petty criminals motivated by
the government, the Sangh Parivar and their ilk, ruled
the roost. That is another problem because here you
directly have to confront the powers that in a way
control your destiny.
What is the situation of the average Muslim in
Gujarat after 2002?
In most parts of Gujarat today, a Muslim is treated as
a second class citizen. He cannot hope to live in the
upmarket areas of Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Surat.
Neither can he involve himself in commerce like shops
and other business ventures in all areas or have a
choice of where to send his children to school. In
other words, more and more the community is being
pushed into ghetto-like situations. In Juhapura, we
have one of the biggest Muslim ghettoes with over
400,000 Muslims living there. Even senior Muslim
officials including those in the government must be
willing to submit themselves for questioning at any
given time. In some housing societies, there are
bye-laws which clearly forbid the selling of one’s
house to a Muslim. All these actions are in complete
violation of a person’s fundamental rights.
What about the land that is owned by Muslims?
Most of them are making distress sales for fear of
losing more money. Even brokers from their own
communities are exploiting the situation to make a
fast buck. Chief Minister Modi has also been clever
enough to split up the Muslims who are a fragmented
lot in the absence of good leadership. Many of the
Dawoodi Bohras who take their directives from the
Syedna at Burhanpur are supporting Modi in Gujarat.
But you have to admit that Vibrant Gujarat is a
reality and Modi’s suitability for the prime
minister’s post has been endorsed by corporate czars
like Ratan Tata, Anil Ambani and Sunil Mittal?
‘Vibrant Gujarat’ is one of the big lies in today’s
India. We have several documents to bust this myth.
Just because a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) is
signed, that doesn’t mean it has become actual
investment in the state. On an RTI application, the
Gujarat government has itself admitted that less than
40% of the promised investment has actually begun.
Besides we also have to question this whole concept of
‘vibrancy’ and for whom; when people do not have food,
clothing and shelter, when a sizeable majority have no
access to clean drinking water and quality education,
when infant mortality and female foeticide are on the
rise, then we have to question this myth of vibrancy.
Above all, when minorities have no place in a state
which has been sworn to secularism, what are we
talking about! Finally, freedom of speech and
expression is curtailed. When Aamir Khan emphatically
states that the tribal oustees of the Narmada dam
should be humanely rehabilitated, his film Fanaa is
banned from the state. So what Vibrant Gujarat are we
talking about? It is easy for the corporate czars to
endorse Modi as PM. Of course they would! When a few
of them get land, water, electricity, infrastructure
to maximise their profits at the cost of the state
exchequer they certainly would want him as prime
Why would a corporation not be happy if free
water and land is offered to them and tax-free loans
for the next 99 years! What right has a chief minister
to sell the state to a business house? But you have to
admit the arrival of Modi has spelt financial
prosperity for Gujarat?
It is a matter of perception. Financial prosperity for
whom? For the few rich and other vested interests. The
waters of the Narmada dam for one are used by the
people of Ahmedabad city and for the water parks
frequented by the rich; whereas the parched lands of
Kutch, Saurashtra and North Gujarat remain without
water. The Adanis Project has destroyed the livelihood
of thousands of fishermen in coastal Gujarat. Reliance
Petrochemicals in Jamnagar have meant a great loss for
small agriculturists in that area. So once again,
financial prosperity for whom?
What would you suggest as an alternative?
I am against the idea of freebies being offered to a
select set of companies. The welfare of other sections
has to be factored in too and there has to be a
harnessing of local and natural resources for the good
How is the issue of conversion being dealt with
The Government of Gujarat in typical fascist style has
also raised the bogey of conversion. In 2003, it
passed the Freedom of Religion Act and five years
later, in April 2008, they framed the rules necessary
to govern the implementation of the law. Government
permission has to be sought for changing one’s
religion in Gujarat and the punishment against women,
tribals and dalits is more severe for such an action
than it is for a male particularly if he is from the
topmost rung of the caste system. This law is really
very draconian and is violative of Article 25 of the
Constitution of India and Article 18 of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights.
What do you think can help the state?
The problem of Gujarat is the absence of a left
movement. Even with the failure of so many mills and
the loss of jobs in the 1980s, there was no trade
union movement to take up the cause of workers. The
two-party system has been a great disadvantage here.
There has to be a local leader who understands the
dynamics of Gujarat who must rise up and take on Modi.
The Congress has not paid too much attention to
building up its cadres.
Would you say that the recent parliamentary
election has conveyed a message to the Gujarat
The result of the recent parliamentary elections is
really a big blow to Modi. First of all much less then
50% of the total electorate cast their votes, which is
already saying much. Secondly, there has not been a
dramatic rise in the vote share of the BJP, as
compared to the Congress. The interesting thing is
that Modi was always boasting that he would win 25 out
of the 26 seats in Gujarat; winning just 15 (just one
more than last time) is in fact a big set-back and at
least three of those who won for the BJP were
candidates who are actually against him. Besides, at
least two of those who lost the elections from the
Congress lost by a very insignificant margin. So in
fact, this election is a defeat for Modi. On the other
hand, the Gujarat government very effectively
sabotaged the NREGA which would have definitely been a
blessing to the small rural person.
With the election results in Karnataka, would
you say that there is a danger of the state going the
I am really unhappy with the way things are shaping in
Karnataka. The government here has presided over the
bashing up of minorities; youth do not have the
freedom to do what they want and even fall in love
with the person they would like to. Freedom of
expression and speech is also curtailed. This has
resulted in a massive electoral triumph for the BJP.
It is high time civil society woke up and protested
the rise of fundamentalism and fascism in the state.
Tomorrow may be too
What would you say about the attacks on the
Christian minorities in Karnataka? How conscious are
the churches here about the threat?
The fact that the Christians in Karnataka have been
the target of systematic and vicious attacks is a
matter of great concern. These are not sporadic
attacks and they should not be taken lightly. They are
being meticulously planned with the agenda of
destroying the credibility of the work of the church
here. Unfortunately, there has not been an adequate
response from the church in Karnataka. The church has
to get out of its ostrich-like mentality and being
isolated within the walls of their compounds. They
should have the courage to speak truth to power and to
take on this current government of Karnataka which has
presided over the attacks on the Christians.
What do you feel civil society should do in
Please do not be complacent. Spread the message of
peace. Identify civil society groups across the state,
which can band together under one leadership. Groups
like the PUCL, which are minus any particular
ideology, can play a big part in preventing the
fascist juggernaut from taking a stranglehold in
(Melanie Kumar is an
independent journalist based in Bangalore)
Infochange News & Features, July 2009
Obama correctly snubs Kenya on trip to Africa
By The Kansas City Star Editorial Board
In Ghana tonight, the streets are lined with flashy
new billboards of their new president and of ours.
It’s part of the hoopla and glory that has the West
African nation standing tall as the first sub-Saharan
nation to host President Barack Obama.
In Kenya, meanwhile, home to Obama’s late father,
politicians are carefully snuffing out talk that it’s
a calculated snub. But the snub is deserved. By
heading to Ghana, Obama compliments one of Africa’s
oldest successful democracies. Ghana again peacefully
changed governments after elections in late December
and early January, the fifth time since the end of
military rule in 1957.
President John Atta Mills defeated an incumbent,
becoming the second opposition leader to peacefully
take control in Ghana. The nation serves as the
backdrop for Obama’s push for more peaceful democratic
and economic developments across Africa.
In contrast to Ghana, the elections in Kenya in late
2007 and early 2008 — with bitterly contested results
— led to horrific ethnic violence, more than 1,000
deaths and many still-displaced persons.
A compromise government has accomplished little; the
president, vice president and prime minister were once
all political foes. The Kenyan Parliament is still
grossly overpaid, stalemates prevail and a new
constitution hasn’t made progress. The once-strong
East African economy is struggling with diminished
tourism and a drooping flower export business. Many
Kenyans are looking ahead to 2012, and new leaders. As
a new U.S. senator in 2006, Obama and his family
visited the birthplace of his father, in one of the
poorest provinces of Kenya. His step-grandmother’s
home has become a much-touted tourist destination.
Obama didn’t need to visit the country again; Kenyans’
pride in his success is sky high. On meeting
Americans, school kids are quick to yell out, “Tell
Barack Obama hello for me.” And a popular t-shirt has
Obama’s face above the words: “Made in Kenya.” Kenya’s
best hope of getting their hero back on his father’s
soil is real progress. The country should hold those
responsible for violence accountable, approve a new
constitution that leads to a credible judiciary,
strengthen press freedoms and curb corruption.
Ghana sets a strong example and appropriately reaps
the rewards of Obama’s attention.
'Catastrophy for Sri Lanka to take triumphant
London (PTI): A
noted historian has warned that it would be
catastrophic for Sri Lanka to take a triumphant
position on its victory over LTTE and it is time the
country gave democracy and pluralism a chance.
"In the aftermath of defeat of Tamil Tigers, it would
be catastrophic if the Sri Lankan Government were to
take a triumphant position. I am told there is a
proposal to build statues of a Sri Lankan King who
died 2,000 years ago to commemorate the victory,"
Ramachandra Guha, the Bangalore-based historian and
biographer said while delivering the fifth Nehru
memorial Lecture 2009 on "Democracy and Violence in
South Asia and Beyond" at the Nehru Centre here on
Patrick French, a noted writer presided over the
function, which was attended by the Indian High
Commissioner to the UK, Shiv Shankar Mukherjee.
Drawing a parallel between the violence in Jammu and
Kashmir and Northern Sri Lanka, Mr. Guha who has
previously taught at the Universities of Yale and
Stanford, said: "Just as Kashmir is a big blot on
India's democracy, the treatment of Tamils is a signal
failure of Sri Lankan democracy.
"As in Kashmir, the problem arose because of denial of
democracy's software and hardware - elections were
rigged both in Kashmir and Northern Sri Lanka," he
said, adding "cultural pluralism in terms of language,
in terms of dress, in terms of faith is a serious part
The historian said "in northern Sri Lanka, apart from
rigging the elections, there was discrimination on the
basis of language and religion".
Mr. Guha said in 1956 Sinhala was made the sole
official language of the island placing it on a
position of superiority. This act of injustice was
compounded in 1972 when Buddhism was made official
religion of Sri Lanka - meaning Buddhists were
superior to Tamils, Muslims, Christians and Hindus.
"Discrimination on the basis of religion and language
was further intensified by the burning of the great
Jaffna Library in 1981 when the Sri Lankan army in an
act of petty and vicious vindictiveness put to flame
the great repository of Tamil culture and two years
later, there was a progrom against Tamils in the Sri
Lankan capital of Colombo, orchestrated and directed
by ruling politicians," he stressed.
Mr. Guha also noted that the LTTE supremo V
Prabhakaran had assassinated every rival Tamil
politician. Emphasising that the Tamils in Sri Lanka
had also made "terrible mistakes", he said "Prabhakaran
led the Tamil people down the road to disaster."
Answering a question, Mr. Guha said he wanted India to
be a "more contented and less violent place." He said
"the greatness of modern Indian democracy is that
every citizen is equal, regardless of language and
religion. That is what Sri Lanka can learn from
Barack Obama urges 'new black mindset'
No one has written your destiny for you
- your destiny is in your hands
Story from BBC NEWS:
US President Barack Obama has told America's
oldest civil rights organisation that African
Americans should take charge of their own lives.
He told the National Association for the Advancement
of Colored People (NAACP) there were "no excuses" for
minority children not to succeed.
Mr. Obama's comments came in a speech at a dinner
marking the 100th anniversary of the NAACP. It is his
first speech focussing on race since he became US
president. The BBC's Jon Donnison in Washington says
the tone of the speech was passionate, even
"Make no mistake: The pain of discrimination is still
felt in America," Mr. Obama told the NAACP members
gathered for the anniversary dinner in New York. He
said discrimination was still felt by minorities in
the US, including African Americans, Latinos, Muslim
Americans and gay people. But he told the NAACP
members they had to take responsibility for their
lives and their communities.
"Government programmes alone won't get our children to
the promised land - we need a new mindset, a new set
of attitudes," he said.
The president said African American communities had
"internalised a set of limitations" and "come to
expect so little from the world and from ourselves".
But he said African American children should instead
aspire to be scientists, engineers, Supreme Court
judges and presidents.
"We have to say to our children: 'Yes, if you're
African-American, the odds of growing up amid crime
and gangs are higher. Yes, if you live in a poor
neighbourhood, you will face challenges that someone
in a wealthy suburb does not.' "But that's not a
reason to get bad grades, that's not a reason to cut
class, that's not a reason to give up on your
education and drop out of school," he said.
"No one has written your destiny for you - your
destiny is in your hands. You cannot forget that,
that's what we have to teach our children." Mr Obama
also said he wanted to see a return to strong
parenting and adults taking responsibility for the
discipline of all children in their community.
He drew on his own experiences of growing up with a
single mother, praising her for giving him "the chance
to make the most of life".
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