Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"From Conflict Prevention to Conflict Transformation" - Fr. Cedric Prakash sj *

Introduction :
I feel very privileged to be with you at this Conference on the Future of Catholic Peacebuilding being held  in the University of Notre Dame.  I want to place on record, my deep and sincere gratitude to Mr. Gerard Powers and the Catholic Peacebuilding Network;  to the sponsors of this Conference and in particular, the Catholic Relief Services, who are instrumental in my being here.  Thanks also to my  dear friend Mr. Joe Bock of the Kroc Institute,  for journeying  with  me  these  past  years  in  many meaningful ways.
Having said this, let me get down to the task entrusted to me this afternoon and share with you my perspectives on the subject "From Conflict Prevention to Conflict Transformation".

Situating Conflict Transformation :
Today, April 14th,  is a special day for a large percentage of Indians.  It's the birth anniversary (born April 14th 1891) of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, one of the foremost leaders of post-independent India and widely regarded as the architect of  India's Constitution.   A Dalit from birth, this multi-faceted personality gave India a vision based on liberty, equity and justice.  Later on, like a true liberator, he led thousands of his people out of the Hindu fold,  to embrace the Buddhist faith.
This very act heralded three very distinct but very related dimensions of a conflict which goes back to centuries :
I.    that the Dalits were no longer prepared to accept oppression which denied    them their basic human rights
II.   that in free India, no one could be subjugated to a discrimination of any kind
III.  that in embracing a new religion, the Dalits would undergo a transforming experience of  "self-worth", and  "dignity in life".
In one of the most courageous protests in modern India, Dr. Ambedkar gave to  thousands of his adherents, the power to move from merely preventing a conflict (in terms of accepting the status quo; not responding to a potentially violent situation) to a transforming experience which has truly empowered them.
Having situated this presentation in something that is germane to Indian society, let me now attempt  to put across some fundamental aspects of this  afternoon's topic.

Conflict Prevention and Conflict Transformation :
Conflict prevention is, we are all aware, anything that prevents a conflict.  It could be certain ad hoc measures, cosmetic overtures and sometimes even long term responses.  We have several examples in our daily lives.  A little child bawling for a particular sweet or a specific toy just because his elder brother has it and ofcourse, the parents "for the sake of peace" make the elder brother to either give it to him or share it with him.  There are ofcourse many examples in the reverse too.
Moving further, there is the fact of people accepting the status quo.   It does not matter if some continue to be subjugated, oppressed or exploited.  They are told loud and clear "this is what God has designed for you so just accept questions have to be asked because this is your lot".  We have seen it  happening to the Afro-Americans of this country; we have seen it in the days of apartheid  in South Africa; we see it in Colombia and in Kenya and in the Philippines.  We see it as majority groups / religions  subjugate and deny those who are in the minority of their rights and freedoms.   We see it as women are stereotyped to their particular roles in their own homes and societies all across the world.
There is that old adage that "prevention is better than cure" but there is a more frightening type of response which tells one "what cannot be cured has to be endured".
We have several other initiatives which have been  put in place to prevent conflict.  There are the early warning systems; some years ago, in the slums of Ahmedabad, we initiated  peace committees which brought together leaders from different religions; we organized plays and programmes, festivals and competitions which attempted to transcend the narrow confines of one's religion; we took the children of one religion to visit the place of worship / shrine of another religion and vice-versa; we encouraged young Muslim girls to dance the traditional Hindu dance called the "garba" and young Hindu boys to sing traditional Muslim songs called "qawwali" .  In very sincere and committed ways, we did all this and more, in our efforts to prevent a conflict.  
However, over the years, we realized that our best efforts often came to naught when vested interests (be it politicians or landlords), when those who control the lives and destinies of the poor and the powerless, decide that there has to be a conflict and in fact, there is pretty little that can be done when these groups bear their fangs and sharpen their knives.  The conflict goes on.
Our efforts then geared towards conflict transformation.  How does one define it ?  I have taken the liberty of providing an understanding from wikipedia.  "Conflict transformation is the process by which conflicts, such as ethnic conflict, are transformed into peaceful outcomes. It differs from conflict resolution and conflict management approaches in that it recognizes "that contemporary conflicts require more than the reframing of positions and the identification of win-win outcomes. The very structure of parties and relationships may be embedded in a pattern of conflictual relationships that extend beyond the particular site of conflict. Conflict transformation is therefore a process of engaging with and transforming the relationships, interests, discourses and, if necessary, the very constitution of society that supports the continuation of violent conflict".
Conflict transformation approaches differ from those of conflict management or conflict resolution. Whereas conflict transformation involves transforming the relationships that support violence, conflict management approaches seek to merely manage and contain conflict, and conflict resolution approaches seek to move conflict parties away from zero-sum positions towards positive outcomes, often with the help of external actors. "
I am delighted that this Conference is being held here at Notre dame because Conflict Transformation theory is often associated with John Paul Lederach which is such an integral part of this campus and also with Johan Galtung who comes so frequently to Ahmedabad. 
The Gujarat Reality :
Before I enter some of the key dimensions of conflict transformation, I would like to highlight the Gujarat reality in which I live.  The year 2002 will go down as a watershed in the annals of our country.  In the wake of the burning of the car of a train carrying some Hindu pilgrims where fifty seven of them were burnt to death, right-wing Hindu fundamentalists organized a systematic pogrom on the Muslims of the State.  This was clearly with Government and official complicity.  It lasted for several months and at the end, more than 2000 Muslims were killed, thousands were rendered homeless, several women gang-raped and even today, more than six years down the road,  there is practically no justice for the victims of this carnage. 
One will have to look into history and the role of vested interests, very specially the adherents of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and their supporters who are largely responsible for fomenting the conflict.  But what is more important is the manner in which the hate, violence and prejudice has been institutionalized.  This keeps the conflict  on the perennial boil, simmering always, ready to break out at any moment, a virtual time-bomb.
Several of our efforts and initiatives these past years have been not mere to address the conflict but to transform it.  We have not met with the desired results but we are confident that  some day, there will be a total transformation.
A Multi-dimensional Approach :
Our efforts towards conflict transformation has been multi-dimensional.  If one has to talk about conflict transformation, then, one has to necessarily accept, that the interventions that have to be in place are many, rather than a single approach.  These include :
• to provide  the victims a new identity / a new dignity in life :
We are in the post Easter season of the Church's Liturgical year and I would like to highlight the fact that the apparitions of Jesus to His disciples  after His Resurrection were a transforming experience for them.  Scriptures make it evidently clear that the disciples were in a state of hopelessness, in a way totally defeated with the death of Jesus, but with His resurrection, there is not merely a new lease of life but the empowering grace which gives the disciples the courage at Pentecost to go out to the whole world.

Dr.  Ambedkar gave this possibility to thousands of Dalits as he led them to embrace the Buddhist faith. 
Some may view this approach as an "easy way out",  but I really do believe that when you truly empower (with non-violent means) those who are at the receiving end of the conflict, the conflict itself is radically transformed.
• to ensure that the warring parties come together :
We have seen several instances when the parties which are actually in conflict come together at a particular stage.  This alters the course of the conflict tremendously, very specially if there is mutual respect, sensitivity and above all, attentive dialogue.  The focus should be on arriving at a lasting solution rather than on an exercise which is cosmetic or at best ad hoc.
In Gujarat,  we have failed miserably on this score because very often, the attitude of the perpetrators of the violence  has been either in a denial mode (it did not happen) or "they deserved it" (it was high time to teach them a lesson).  When there is such arrogance, naturally, any effort for a meaningful dialogue gets bogged down.

• to speak truth to power :
For us, in Gujarat, we have the example of Mahatma Gandhi, who in 1906 launched his Satyagraha (the force of truth) movement in Durban, South Africa in the wake of apartheid and discrimination.  Gandhi's strategy was two pronged :  let the truth be known; and let those in power on hearing it, act upon it.  Our many efforts to reduce the tensions and conflict in Gujarat have been geared towards this.
In the height of conflict, we are often confronted by myths and lies, by rumours and by a very systematic demonization of the other side (obviously those on the receiving end).  We have also realized that the powerful, the vested interests, try to cover the truth and even muzzle those who try to expose the truth.  But if one is serious about changing the face of conflict, the truth can never be hidden or suppressed. 

• to shame the perpetrators of violence :
We have been trying to do this in our own ways, in the wake of the Gujarat Carnage.  Let people know what they have done is wrong and let them realize that what has happened should not occur again.  This is in fact a double edged sword, because many think that such attempts are counter-productive and may even exacerbate the conflict.
However, from our own experience, we realize that the real perpetrators in a conflict are few in number and if they stand exposed, then perhaps others will realize that they should not imitate what they have done.

• to involve civil society :
Conflict transformation takes place when different stakeholders actually join in to address and change the actual conflict.  One needs to involve civil society groups and organizations to address the conflict.  These have to include apart from the warring groups,  decision makers, religious and political leadership, human rights and social activists, eminent citizens and somehow or the other, the poster boys and girls of our times (unfortunately, more often than not, these do not take a stand for truth and justice). 
Civil society groups / movements, need to provide the vision for transformation, the leadership to transcend the mundane and above all, the commitment to ensure that the conflict does not recur. 

• to ensure that the wheels of justice move :
In several conflicts, the perpetrators are never brought to book.  Whilst these conflicts are addressed temporarily, they are in fact not contained because the perpetrators continue to move around with impunity and also with immunity. 
For six years now in Gujarat,  this has been the scenario where those responsible for the Carnage do not seem to be within the pale of law.  We have made efforts to ensure that the judiciary expedite the due processes of law and bring to book those responsible.  This is easier said than done, but hopefully, when that happens, there will be a meaningful and effective change.

• to create the environment of forgiveness and reconciliation :
At the core of the Gospel of Jesus is "forgiveness".  Our God, we believe,  is "one of mercy and of compassion".  For real conflict transformation to take place, there must be forgiveness, reconciliation and healing at every possible level.   There has to be a forgiving attitude on the part of the victim, which is borne not out of fear but in fact, out of courage. 
We are also convinced that forgiveness does not take place in isolation.    One cannot forgive if those responsible for the crime / misdeeds do not ask for forgiveness or do not show the slightest signs of remorse.  We have the classic example of Jesus, when he hangs on the cross, responding to the thief on his right side.  We also believe that our  merciful and compassionate God, also vividly narrates the Parable of the Last Judgment.  Christianity in fact, would be meaningless if there was no repentance on the part of the sinner.

• to look into endemic issues :
Several of the conflicts which we have tried to address, have their roots in other issues which are endemic :  stark poverty, no access to political or economic power, denial of rights, etc.  These issues need to be addressed in a systemic and comprehensive manner. 
When this is done, one will realize very often, those at the receiving end in a conflict are denied their basic human rights.  Efforts should then be made to study the real causes of conflict and to put in place concrete mechanisms to address some of these root causes.

• to promote Local Capacities for Peace :
Promoting Local Capacities for Peace  is another way of transforming a conflict.  People need, and can be brought together, through "connectors".  These include : systems and institutions, attitudes and actions, shared values and interests, common experiences, symbols and occasions. 
One must consistently  enhance these connectors or Local Capacities for Peace,  which in some small measure might help mitigate  the tensions or dividers, the capacities for war or conflict. 
The above are just approaches towards conflict transformation .  They are not in order of priority and are neither exhaustive.  There can be many other approaches in bringing about conflict transformation.  These need to be tried.  Some may work, others may not.  For us in Gujarat, some approaches work and others have failed miserably.   But as I said earlier, it has to be multi-dimensional and all along, there must be that hope that conflict transformation will take place.

Epilogue :
It is always difficult to conclude an open ended presentation like this. I would therefore like to invite you to visit one of the most enduring images from my city of Ahmedabad which is the commercial capital of Gujarat, in North-west India.  In the heart of the city  stands the Sidi Saiyed Mosque named after its builder.  The most exquisite craftsmanship in stone carving can be seen in this Mosque which was built in 1572. 
The distinguishing features of this mosque are the ten intricately carved stone windows.  One of the windows depicts the "tree of life" with delicate intertwining of the branches of a tree.  For years, this motif was the symbol of Ahmedabad and in fact, of Gujarat.  In a way, it symbolized all that India meant and stood for :  diverse cultures, faiths, languages, traditions,  peoples….yes, everything which indeed made up a great civilization.  Very different but very united.  A unity in diversity. 
A unique tapestry,  inter-woven with multi-colour hues as the light of the sun and the moon pierces the gaps of the window.  It is a transforming experience and one would never have imagined that sometime long ago, an ordinary craftsman very painstakingly carved out a time tested symbol.  It must definitely have been a conflict of some sort as he hewed, cut and shaped.  But as we look through the gaps  of  this  masterpiece,  what  one  goes  through is a transforming experience. 

We need to transform conflict just as we have been mandated to change our swords into ploughshares !

{ This presentation was made on April 14th 2008,  at the International Conference on "The Future of Catholic Peacebuilding",  held at the University of Notre Dame  (Indiana) USA,  from April 13th to 15th 2008 }
*Fr. Cedric Prakash sj is the Director of PRASHANT, the Jesuit Centre of Human Rights, Justice and Peace based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, North-west India. He is a member of the Citizens for Justice and Peace that set up the Concerned Citizens Tribunal to look into the Gujarat Carnage which took place in 2002; he has also testified before the US Commission on International Religious Freedom on the carnage. He is actively involved in the issues related to communal harmony, justice and peace. Among the various awards he has received are the Legion d' Honneur from the Government of France,   Minorities Rights Award 2006 from the Government of India, the Kabir Puraskar from the President of India for the promotion of communal peace and harmony in 1995 and the Rafi Ahmed Kidwai award for Humanitarian Service by the Indian Muslim Council, USA in 2003.

(A Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace)
Ahmedabad   380 052  
Gujarat,  INDIA

Sunday, May 25, 2008



It is a privilege to be with you here at this 2nd National Consultation on International Criminal Court and India.
I thank the organizers and all others involved (very specially Ms. Saumya Uma), for inviting me to address this august gathering on "Minority Rights and Accountability for Mass Crimes". 

Minorities and Minority Rights :
Being a Christian, I obviously  belong to a "minority community" of this country; however,  I really do not suffer from "minorityism" nor do I intend making myself a "victim" by being a minority in the country.
Having said this, it is important to put things in perspective.
Within every society, there are groups which are vulnerable.  Most often, this vulnerability is caused solely by the numbers they constitute.  The dominant group (the majority), tend to ignore them, look down upon them and/or even exploit them through the denial of basic human rights. 
We are aware that in several societies across the world, these attitudes are somewhat  acceptable.  The feelings run thus : we are the majority....since  we have the numbers....anyone else wanting to be around has to basically accept our terms and conditions. 
These attitudes go against the very principles of the Indian Constitution and of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Both these Charters emphasize, value and cherish, the inherent dignity of every human person, and the fact, that all are equal in our society.
This, we all know, is easier said than done.  From the attitudes of several, the political posturing of right-wing organizations, minorities are regarded and treated by several as second class citizens.
For the sake of clarity, we focus on the religious minorities of the country and very specifically, at Muslims and Christians.  We are aware that minority groups do include every group that does not subscribe to the majority culture, language, religion,  ideology, or for that matter, even ability.   Whilst the concerns of the other minority groups need to be addressed at some time or the other, the focus of this presentation will be the systematic marginalization and denial of human rights to the Muslims and Christians of India. 
Do minorities need special rights and privileges in this country ?  This will always be a contentious question.  For some, the answer is an obvious yes or no;  for others, there will be shades of grey.  The moot fact however remains :  every citizen of the country has to be guaranteed and ensured the rights and freedoms of the Indian Constitution;  but when a particular community is vulnerable, purely because of its numbers, the Government does have a sacred duty to protect that community, and provide it with certain privileges that would bring it on par with the majority community.

The Indian Reality :
A careful analysis of post-independent India will show several instances of how Muslims and Christians have been systematically targeted by right-wing Hindu elements / outfits in this country.  In several of these instances, those responsible for these crimes are never brought to book.  A closer study of these incidents also reveal  the complicity of the administration either directly or indirectly.  These include the politicians, the police, the judiciary and even at times, bureaucrats.
We have some classic examples in recent history :
The Gujarat Carnage of 2002 will go down in the history of the country  as one when the State Government abdicated its responsibility by operationalizing its hate agenda and by doing all  in its power to try to annihilate a whole minority community.  The way the Chief Minister ordered his  henchmen to kill innocent Muslims, the way Government Ministers sat in the police control room and barked orders, the way the police looked the other way when mobs came to loot, to burn,  to rape, to kill, find parallels only in Hitler's Germany or in the genocides that took place in Rwanda or Bosnia. 
The tragic fact is that the wheels of justice move so slowly that even more than six years down the road, the masterminds and the real culprits hold high positions of power and are able to convey an arrogance, that no one can touch them.   I really do not think that I should elaborate any more on the Gujarat Carnage, the details of which are known the world over. 
One needs to visit parts of Orissa State where Christians were terrorized and attacked, specially in the Kandhamal (Phulbani) District just before Christmas in December 2007.  The complicity of the State administration was very evident when the Collector of the District ordered that no relief and rehabilitation work could be undertaken for the victims without his express permission.  The Orissa High Court threw out a Petition asking for a Stay of this Order.  However, fortunately and very recently, the Supreme Court has granted an interim Stay on the Collector's Order.  In the meantime, right-wing Hindu outfits have continued to attack the Christians; and even as late as mid-March 2008, Christians were prevented from holding their religious services leading up to Easter. 
What is taking place in Orissa is not a one off.  Christians continue to be the target of attacks in Gujarat, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and several other States in India.  Many of these States are ruled by the BJP and the message is loud and clear : we are here for the majority community  and very reflective of the response of the Gujarat Carnage, the police literally saying in all these incidents "we have no orders to protect you". 
In Gujarat, just before Christmas every year some "ghar vapasi" programme is organized, efforts are made to vitiate the atmosphere as much as possible and the bogey of "conversion" is raised.   This year, some Catholic Priests, Sisters and    people were beaten up in a village not far from Baroda, where they had gone to conduct a social awareness programme for the people. 
At this juncture, I need to digress a bit and also put into context what happened to the Sikh community in November 1984 here in Delhi and several other parts of India.  In the wake of the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on October 31st 1984, several hundreds of Sikhs were brutally massacred and burnt alive all over.   Together with some of my companions from Vidya Jyoti, Delhi,  we responded to this gigantic tragedy in every possible way.  In our efforts in providing relief, rehabilitation and even reconciliation and healing, one thing was evidently clear was that if the Government and the law and order mechanism had played their respective roles, a tragedy of such magnitude would never have taken place.  The involvement and complicity of Congress politicians and those in Government at that time, has never been in doubt. 
Having situated this presentation in attacks  of  minorities of the country, I have also tried to highlight how these things would never have taken place were it not for the total complicity and involvement of the Government and those responsible for protecting life, property and other freedoms of the ordinary citizen. 
The questions we need to ask those in power :  is the Government (be it Central or State), accountable for mass crimes ?  If not, to whom does one go ?  Is the judiciary beyond the pale of compromise and corruption ?  Can a minority who is a victim of violence, hate and prejudice, by some from the  majority community, actually take recourse and seek solace from the judiciary, be it in his / her State or in the Apex Court of the country ?
Here, it is important for me to quote a section of "a letter campaign after the Gujarat Carnage" dated 14th May 2002, written by Saumya Uma the Coordinator of ICC-India. 
"Many of us within India, who are determined to make the perpetrators accountable for the crimes, are worried that they may not be effectively prosecuted within the Indian legal  system.   Domestic   legal   sanctions   do   exist   to   punish   perpetrators   and
Deter  future   perpetrators  of   heinous   acts  such  as  those  committed  in  Gujarat.
However, persons who have massacred minority communities within India, namely the Sikhs in 1984, Muslims after the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1993 and Christians in the last few years, have escaped the clutches of domestic law due to state complicity in the crimes.  These instances illustrate the Indian government's unwillingness and inability to prosecute the offenders time and again.
The violent acts in Gujarat attract the definitions and ingredients of "genocide" and "crimes against humanity" stated in the Rome Statute quiet clearly.  The reports of  fact-finding missions substantiate this.  In 1998, the Indian government abstained from voting on the Rome Treaty establishing the ICC.   Subsequently, there has been no apparent move to ratify the Treaty.  The Indian government has haughtily brushed aside legitimate international concern towards the situation in Gujarat.  However, India, in principle, recognizes that there are some actions that necessarily invite international scrutiny.  This is apt here to mention that the Indian government ratified in August 1959 the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 1948 (which contains a similar definition of genocide).  In fact, it was one of the prime movers of the Convention in 1948.  It is therefore additionally duty-bound to prosecute and punish the offenders, irrespective of their position.
There is an urgent need to persuade the Indian government to prosecute all offenders as well as to accede to the Treaty establishing the ICC, especially in the wake of the Gujarat violence.  It is clear  that the ICC statute will have no retrospective jurisdiction, and hence will not directly impact the prosecution of offenders in the Gujarat carnage.  However, many of us in India are convinced that the wave of awful violence that has swept Gujarat can spread elsewhere in India too.  It is important to have international legal mechanisms, such as the ICC, in place in order to terminate the culture of impunity within the country.".

Mass Crimes : the tip of the iceberg :
Whilst looking at mass crimes, one also needs to pay attention to what lies below the surface and the systematic build up which ultimately leads to the mass crime.  Among them are :
• The demonization of minority religions / groups – Muslims are most often referred to as "Jehadis" / "Terrorists"; Christians as "converters"
• The spread of hate prejudices through school textbooks; we have some glaring examples from the Gujarat State textbooks
• The promulgation of anti-conversion laws in the name of protecting the national religion
• The protection that right-wing Hindu outfits get from the State when these take law and order into their own hands eg. the film "Parzania" not being allowed to be shown  in  Gujarat;  a  Hindu  girl  being  prevented  from  marrying  a Muslim boy
• Ghettoization  of  minority  communities.   It's  much  easier  to  target  them  then
• Denying minorities access to quality education and employment in Government positions like police, bureaucracy, etc.
• Whipping up passions among the majority community against the minorities (like the Shabri Kumbh in the Dangs District of Gujarat a couple of years ago).
• Allowing the majority community to literally do what they want and making a huge issue if something similar is done by someone from the minority community (eg. you allow temples to mushroom everywhere but you destroy a 400 year old Dargah in Baroda).
This and much more, constitutes the buildup; ultimately it gets mainstreamed and literally becomes part of the system.  So when the mobs come to loot, to destroy, burn,  rape, kill, it's just alright because for a long time now, they have been gradually fed with the fodder and intoxication of hate.  They know that nothing will happen to them because the propaganda has the patronage of the powers.

Why India needs to ratify the ICC Treaty :
From the above, it is clear that those who control our lives and destinies and commit crimes,  escape the clutches of domestic law  and therefore need to be brought to book at a forum which is able to transcend the boundaries of ones nation.
It is important for India to ratify the ICC Treaty and become part of this international movement for justice, for the following reasons :
→ it  would  be  a deterrent  to  people like Modi to get away with mass crimes against   
     Minorities  of  the  country.  The way the Gujarat Government  has acted  with  total   
     impunity and with foregone  immunity,  will make any one who values human rights
     to  squirm.
→ it  will  provide  the  minorities of  the country  with a real sense of security.  We are
     aware  that there are provisions and  safeguards  within  the Constitution but  then,  
     when those who are  meant  to protect and  guarantee these safeguards,  abdicate
     their  Constitutional  responsibility,   then  there  must  be  some higher mechanism
     to  which  minorities  can  turn  to  for  their  own  security.  In  this  case,  the  next 
     recourse has to be the ICC.
→ the  world  gave  birth to the  United Nations in the wake of  the horrendous  acts of
     violence which preceded and culminated in the second world  war.  The whole idea
     was  that  countries  would now have a  mechanism not only to  prevent further war
     but  also to ensure that  smaller nations are not trampled over by the mightier ones. 
     However, everyone is aware that  the UN does not have the teeth which it needs to
     have.   The  ICC which does have  a juridical  status would  definitely  fulfill this role
     and  address in India  the  onslaught  by the Hindu-right on the Muslim and
     Christian minorities.
→  it  would  contain  in  some  way,  the  corruption  that  is prevalent in  the judiciary
     today.  It is not without reason that  Prime Minister Manmohan Singh  in an address
     at the inaugural session of the Conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices on
     April 19th 2008, very strongly asserted that "corruption is another challenge that we
     face  both in the Government  and  in  the Judiciary".  (It  is  very  ironical  that  'The
     Indian   Express'  of   April   20th  whilst  headlining   the  statement  of   the   Prime
     Minister, also headlined another bit of news saying that a lawyer linked to a scam is
     recommended for the post of a judge in the High Court of Punjab and Haryana  !!!).
Conclusion :
It is extremely fortuitous  that the ICC India campaign has organized this 2nd National Consultation on International Criminal Court and India.  The writing on the wall is clear.  India cannot shirk her responsibility and not sign the ICC Treaty.  It has to become part of this global movement for justice.  There are too many of our rulers who live in a world of impunity and believe that no matter what they do, nothing can happen to them.  The ICC is the answer.
India needs to wake up to this imperative,  otherwise she will be held responsible for betraying her own people !

(This presentation was made at the 2nd National Consultation on International  Criminal  Court  &  India  organized in  New  Delhi, on  25th – 26th  April, 2008.)

(  *  Fr. Cedric Prakash sj is the Director of PRASHANT, the Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace, based in Ahmedabad.  This Centre has been actively involved in Justice, Peace and Communal Harmony issues.  Fr. Prakash is the recipient of several national and international awards including the "Kabir Puraskar" for Communal Harmony from the President of India in 199, the "Legion d'Honneur" from the President of France in 2006 and the Minorities Rights Award 2006 from the Government of India. )
Ahmedabad 380 009
Gujarat, INDIA


Thursday, May 22, 2008


For several years now, the Gujarat State Board of School Textbooks have churned out textbooks which are totally substandard.  They are full of errors: grammatical and typographical, there are several factual inaccuracies and half truths, and also very strong biases and prejudices.  There are several statements within these textbooks which are apparently designed to promote communal and casteist feelings.
The Std. X textbook in Social Sciences which had a first edition in 2006 (and was "reprinted" in 2007), has a whole chapter XXI (pages 212 onwards) entitled 'Social Problems and Challenges'.   Most of this chapter is devoted to communalism, casteism and terrorism.  Several statements in this chapter and elsewhere in the textbook cast very serious aspersions on the minority community.  "In India, the Hindus are in majority and other religious communities are in minority.  The Muslims form the largest among the minority communities.  When a community works intentionally to safeguard its narrow interests, it creates social tension". 
In the section on terrorism, the textbook categorically states "In Std VIII, you have already studied that terrorism is a global problem".  A quick cross reference to the Std. VIII textbook has this blatant statement "Making full use of Muslim fanaticism, Osama Bin Laden organized die-hard Muslims and founded the International Jehad organization in the name of the Jehadi movement".  Both the textbooks very strongly insinuate that terrorism in the world  is the doing only of groups belonging to the  minority religions or of tribal groups. 
The Std. VIII textbook (page 194) states "Destruction of the World Trade Centre in the US, the exchange of bullets outside the Indian Parliament House, the attack on the legislative Assembly of Jammu Kashmir, attacks on the Akshardham and the Raghunath temple, the massacre at Gulmarg, terrorist attack in Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia,  suicide attack in Chechenya, terrorist attacks in Morocco -  these are some of the examples of terrorist activities worldwide.".  There are several references to the tribal groups in the North-east of India, who indulge in insurgency.  There are clear references of terrorism in Punjab (read "Sikh"), terrorism in Kashmir (read "Muslims"), but there is no mention at all of the Gujarat Carnage of 2002,  of the way Muslims have been ghettoized in Gujarat or the role of the RSS, VHP and other right-wing organizations which subscribe to the Hindutva ideology and who are responsible for fomenting  communalism, hate and violence in Gujarat and in other parts of the country. 
In Std. IX, the Social Science textbook (reprint 2006) (page 3), very proudly proclaims "The Governor Albuquerque allowed the Portuguese to plunder the natives; to convert and to enslave people.".  This and other veiled references literally puts a strong bias against the Christians.
The textbooks apparently uphold the caste system in India.  The section on casteism in Std. X (page 213) asserts "Social structure in India is based on casteism. The concept of casteism was different earlier than what it is today.  According to the early concept, the social structure was based on four classes – Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras.  Every class could practice the profession allotted to it.  The professions practices by the lower class people were considered to be inferior.".

The very introduction of the textbook, (page 2) whilst speaking about culture, associates Indian culture with the upper castes.  "Indian culture aims at achieving the goal of 'Dharma' (righteousness) 'Artha' (material possession), 'Kama' (physical pleasure) and 'Moksha' (Salvation). 
India is a country of peace and tolerance.  There is no place for war, battle or strife in Indian culture.  The emphasis has been laid on achieving peace all around.  The words 'Om Shanti ... Shanti' uttered at the end of any prayer, support it.".
In several places of the textbooks, over-emphasis is given to concepts, festivals, rituals and even language, which belong only to a certain section of Hindu society.  There is hardly any reference (occasionally there is a passing comment) of the very positive contribution made to India's culture and heritage by the lower castes and by other religious minorities like the Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis, etc.  What perhaps takes the cake is this "The great Sanskrit grammarian Panini has given it scientific shape.  Today it is recognized as a suitable language for the computer.".  And in the chapter on "India's Heritage of Science and Technology",  the books extols the role of "Vastu Shashtra" !
It is a known fact that over the years, Governments and ideologies have very cleverly manipulated the minds of students by forcing them to study  half truths and untruths and a perverted history which obviously lacks objectivity.  The Social Science textbooks of the Gujarat State Board are classic examples of how communal and casteist feelings are promoted at a very early age. 
The above examples are just a tip of the iceberg.  The least that can be done is that these textbooks are withdrawn and that the rights of the children of Gujarat are respected atleast in providing them with an education which is qualitatively good and objective.

(* 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)
Near Kamdhenu Hall
Drive-in Road,   Ahmedabad   380 052
Gujarat, India
Tel:   91  79 66522333 /27455913 
Fax:  91 79 27489018
17th May  2008


Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Dear Friends,

I feel very privileged to be with you all at this the 4th National Conference of the Christian Legal Association (CLA).  I would like to express my gratitude to Ms. Tehmina Arora (the General Secretary of the CLA), the other organizers of this Conference and to all, who in any way have given me this opportunity to be here today.
The theme of this Conference, "Arise and Build", is indeed a challenging one.  I am sure that the inputs and deliberations since yesterday, have focused on the key dimensions of Nehemiah's prophetic vision and mission.  We have absolutely no choice but to "Arise and Build".
This task, however, will never be accomplished if we are unable to grasp some of the key nuances and fundamental issues that plague our society today.  Foremost among them is the emergence of "fascism".  I would therefore like to focus on the theme of my presentation, namely,  "Countering Fascism : Lessons for the Christian Lawyer".

Fascism :
A group as eminent as this, surely does not need a textbook definition of  "fascism".  But to set the tone of this  presentation, it is important to emphasize some distinctive elements  of a fascist ideology; these include :
  denying human rights (to most people)
  curtailing freedom
  being intolerant
  targeting minorities and other vulnerable groups 
  spreading lies, myths, half-truths 
  using  others in very manipulative ways to get their job done
  playing one against the other (divide and rule)
  feeling constantly  threatened / suspicious of the other
  subverting essentials of democracy like the judiciary, police, media and   
 creating an impression that there is an overwhelming "support" for what they do
                    The list is endless.....!
In history, we have several instances of fascists who have ruthlessly ruled for a period of time.  There have been ideologies which could not be questioned.  The damage that these do to the psyche of people and to the soul of a nation is irreparable.  The most classic case in recent history is that of Hitler and of the Nazi ideology.
During the time of Jesus, King Herod was the symbol of fascism:  whether it was in the killing of innocent children or being threatened  by the likes of John the Baptist.   In today's world,  we  have several instances of how fascism takes deep roots.  Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, is uppermost in the minds of many today: of how one man can systematically crush all opposition, and impoverish large sections of his own people.  The world will never be able to forget the likes of Milosevic,  of Pol Pot or the military dictators of African States who have just allowed power to corrupt them absolutely.  In their world view, there is no space for  democratic values or traditions.   And for us in India, the one who  takes the cake is none other than Narendra Modi, the fascist ruler of Gujarat.

Gujarat  Reality Today :
Gujarat is a textbook case, if one wants to study and analyze not merely the emergence of fascism but how it spreads its tentacles far and wide.  We at 'PRASHANT' have been documenting this reality very systematically.   Among the key trends are  : 
• more than two thousand Muslims have been killed in the Gujarat Carnage of 2002 in one of the most horrendous tragedies of post independence India.
• if one is a Muslim today in Ahmedabad,  one cannot buy a house or own a shop in the western up-market  part of the city.  Muslims are normally confined to ghettoes in  the eastern part  of the city  or in some rare pockets in the western part.
• most Muslims in Gujarat  continue to live in  fear and insecurity.
• an insignificant incident can spark off a major  riot (as  it happened in Ahmedabad on January 28th / 29th 2008).
• State-sponsored terrorism continues with frightening regularity.  In the past few years,  several Muslim youth have been killed in "police encounters".  Last year,  Senior IPS Officers were arrested for stage-managing such  "encounters"  and for killing Muslim youth.
• in the Central Jail in Ahmedabad, there are about 200 detainees under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). All of them happen to be Muslims.
• some of those who are accused of the violence against the Muslims and who were even seen leading the mobs have  once again been elected as MLAs and some have even become Ministers.
• the Sangh Parivar continues its vicious campaign against the Muslims, Christians and other vulnerable groups with impunity (a group of Christians were brutally attacked in Kawant just before Christmas).  Attacks on Christians in Gujarat and so called "ghar vapasi" programmes happen with frightening regularity just before Christmas.  Even the judiciary has been tampered with;  there are public prosecutors appointed by the Government who have primary membership  in the RSS / VHP.  (It is therefore not without reason that the Supreme Court of India has said that it has very little faith in the Gujarat judiciary  and has even moved cases out of the State).
• in March 2003, Gujarat passed an anti-conversion law entitled "Freedom of Religion Act".  This law  prohibits any person from changing his or her faith unless a permission is granted.   It has taken the Government more than five years to frame the Rules for the implementation of this draconian Act  (it finally did so w.e.f.1st April 2008). 
• the Textbooks brought out by the Gujarat State Textbook Board, are replete with untruths, inaccuracies and with prejudiced  statements against  Muslims, Christians, women, Scheduled castes / tribes.
• on August 6th 2006, at an examination of the Gujarat  Public Service Commission for Medical Officers, almost fifteen of the hundred questions asked were communally sensitive and directed against Muslims and Christians.
• the attacks exactly a year ago, in Baroda, on the Dean, students of Fine Arts and their exhibits,  by right-wing Hindu fundamentalists, are  symbolic  of how freedom of expression is curtailed in the State.         
• movies like "Parzania" and "Fanaa"  are banned in the State because they either symbolize a reality or take a stand for the truth.  
• the gang rape of a Dalit Teacher-Trainee by her own teachers, seems to be the tip of the iceberg, as more and more sordid tales (apparently with Government patronage), tumble out.
• the killing of tribals by the police, whilst the former were demanding their rights is an indicator of the marginalization of this important  segment of society. 
• above all,  the reappearance (after the Election Commission had them blackened out just before the last elections) of the "Hindu Rashtra" boards in Ahmedabad city and across the State clearly shows how polarized the State has become.
On May 1st 2008, we saw an unimaginable act by the Collector of Amreli when he literally stooped down to touch the feet of the Chief Minister of the State.  Fortunately, there is a hue and cry in some sections of the media. 
The truth of the matter is that fascism has not merely come to stay but there are several who have begun accepting it as a way of life. That is the tragedy.  This is where Christian Lawyers could play a significant role.

The Challenges for the Christian Lawyer :
How then does one counter fascism?  Is it possible to learn from the lessons of history ?  Do we have the wherewithal not merely to defend ourselves  but to counter the forces that unleash the venom of hate and violence ?  Of discrimination and division  ?
Having provided you with a perspective on how fascism is at work in Gujarat, I would like to dwell on some challenges (which are also lessons) for the Christian Lawyer :
1.  To say "no" to fascism :
      The  stand  of  the Christian  lawyer has to be clear.  He / she is someone, who being a   
      disciple of Jesus  is  wedded to  the rights  and values of a free citizen.  There is no room for 
      compromise.   One has to say "NO" to fascism.
2. To speak "Truth" to power :
      If one is committed to "Truth" (and Jesus clearly says us "I am the Way, the  Truth,  the 
      Light  and  the Life"), there  can  be  no two  ways of what is to be  expected  from  a 
      Christian  lawyer.  One cannot indulge in untruths and  half-truths.  One has to have 
      the ability to speak the "truth" at all times and very specially 'Truth to Power'.  Jesus silently   
      nails the  lie of Pontius Pilate when the latter asks him "What is Truth ?" (Jn 18:38).

3. To stop playing "footsie" with fascists :
There are some who think that they can cozy-cuddle with fascists.  They  want their pictures to be taken with them, and feel very elated  if  fascists call  them by their "first name".  These are people like the  brothers of Joseph  in the Old Testament who would sell off their community, kith and kin for  anything !  They indulge in footsie  games because they have neither the  spine nor the courage to take  on the fascists.  No one can call himself a  Christian or a lawyer for that matter, if one indulges in such  dangerous games.  Jesus  never  indulged.  He called  the fascists of His time, "whitened sepulchures and  brood of vipers".
4. To study and excel in law :
Christians have excelled in all possible fields.  Can we truly say that we also excel in the field of law ?  Why is it that we lack top-notch lawyers who know their law, who are articulate, and who can stand up to the might of any injustice ?  Yes, there are some but these are just too few....they can be counted. 
We cannot truly call ourselves Christian lawyers unless we stick our necks out; we need to make a thorough study of our Constitution and the laws of our land and put them to good use in our professional lives.  If only we do this, we would be able to prevent people like Modi  from getting away with mass crimes against Minorities of the country. The way the Gujarat Government has acted with total impunity and with  foregone immunity, will make any one who values human rights to squirm.
5. To defend the rights of the poor, the weak, whoever they be :
It is a proven fact that people look up to the Christians as community  builders through their selfless service especially in the field of health and  education.  As Christian lawyers we could go a step further in bringing  a sense of security to vulnerable groups in society, by taking up and fighting for their cause in a fair and just manner. 
We have enough provisions and safeguards within the Constitution; but when those  who are meant to protect and guarantee these safeguards abdicate their  Constitutional responsibility, then there must be some mechanism, some forum that can provide the necessary security to the poor, the weak, the victims.
6. To  network  and  be  involved  in  advocacy :
As responsible Christian lawyers we need to  link up and network with likeminded people and groups.  There are many people concerned about what is happening in society today  but very often, the solidarity dimension is lacking.  When we  provide ourselves with possibilities of creating these linkages, forging new alliances and even joining existing movements and groups, we will be able to take the battle to the other side. 
Gujarat would have been  lost long ago, were it not for a  small  but  committed  group of people who courageously faced  the onslaught of the communal juggernaut.   One is painfully aware that numbers are still lacking.  Hopefully, when more people are encouraged  to network and get involved in advocacy, crucial issues such as "religious  fundamentalism" can be addressed and resolved.  Above all, the ordinary  citizen needs to be educated about his / her rights and freedoms. 
7. To say "no" to corruption and help arrest it :
Corruption has eaten into all our systems and it is one of the main causes of  the rot in our society.  To begin with, as Christian lawyers, let us learn to say "no"  to corruption  and let us help arrest  this rot in every possible way by our own life examples.   
Prime Minister  Manmohan Singh  in an address at the inaugural session of the  Conference of Chief Ministers and Chief Justices on April 19th 2008, very  strongly asserted that "corruption is another challenge that we face  both in the Government  and  in  the Judiciary".  (It  is  very  ironical  that  'The Indian   Express'  of   April   20th whilst  headlining   the  statement  of  the   Prime Minister, also headlined another bit of news saying that a lawyer linked to a scam is recommended for the post of a judge in the High Court of Punjab and Haryana  !!!).
Very interestingly, just a couple of days ago (on May 16th), I read in the "Mumbai Mirror" of how the Bar Council of India (BCI) has sent out a questionnaire about corruption in the Judiciary.
8. To be Prophetic :
The role of a prophet is to denounce the injustices and the wrongs in society and to announce the "Good News".  We read in the Old Testament, how Prophets have played a significant role in the ushering of a society which is more just and more humane. 
The theme  of this Conference is centered around Nehemiah who did not hesitate in taking a stand against the rulers of his time.  It is not without reason that Jesus consistently lambasted the lawyers of his time.  Christian lawyers in India have a special role to play in the context of what is happening.  We need to arise and build but as I said in my opening remarks, this can happen only if we address the issues which are endemic in our society.

Conclusion :
At a Conference like this,  I think there can be no other conclusion more appropriate than the words of the celebrated Lebanese writer Kahlil Gibran in his book 'The Prophet'.  This is what he has to say to the lawyers :
Then the lawyer said, But what of our Laws, master?
And he answered: You delight in laying down laws,
Yet you delight more in breaking them.
Like children playing by the ocean who build sand-towers with constancy and then destroy them with laughter.
But while you build your sand-towers the ocean brings more sand to the shore, And when you destroy them the ocean laughs with you.
Verily the ocean laughs always with the innocent.
But what of those to whom life is not an ocean, and man-made laws are not sand-towers,
But to whom life is a rock, and the law a chisel with which they would carve it in their own likeness ?
What of the cripple who hates dancers ?"What of the ox who loves his yoke and deems the elk and deer of the forest stray and vagrant things ?
What of the old serpent who cannot shed his skin, and calls all others naked and shameless ?
And of him who comes early to the wedding feast, and when over-fed and tired goes his way saying that all feasts are violation and all feasters law-breakers.
What  shall I say of these save that they too stand in the sunlight, but with their backs to the sun ?
They see only their shadows, and their shadows are their laws.
And what is the sun to them but a caster of shadows ?
And what is it to acknowledge the laws but to stoop down and trace their shadows upon the earth ?
But you who walk facing the sun, what images drawn on the earth can hold you ?
You who travel with the wind, what weather-vane shall direct your course ?
What man's law shall bind you if you break your yoke but upon no man's prison door ?
What laws shall you fear if you dance but stumble against no man's iron chains ?
And who is he that shall bring you judgment if you tear off your garment yet leave it in no man's path ?
People of Orphalese, you can muffle the drum, and you can loosen the strings of the Iyre, but who shall command the skylark not to sing ?
Gibran challenges the Lawyers of his time....The time has come to stop bashing your own and take on as Rabindranath Tagore would say "the insolent might of the fascist"
I wish you all good courage,  dear Christian Lawyers, "TO ARISE AND BUILD", from this very moment !
Thank you !

(This address  was  given to the 4th National Conference of the Christian Legal Association held  in Kolkata  on 17th – 18th  May 2008, with the theme "Arise and Build")
 (  *    Fr. Cedric Prakash sj is the Director of PRASHANT, the Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace, based in Ahmedabad.  This Centre has been actively involved in Justice, Peace and Communal Harmony issues.  Fr. Prakash is the recipient of several national and international awards which includes the "Kabir Puraskar" for Communal Harmony from the President of India in 1995, the "Legion d'Honneur" from the President of France in 2006 and the Minorities Rights Award 2006 from the Government of India).

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