Wednesday, July 29, 2009

THE NOWHERE PEOPLE...Sumanahalli Society( Indian Express,29th July 2009)

The Indian Express

Johnson TA Posted online: Wednesday, Jul 29, 2009 at 0138 hrs

Bangalore : For the last eight years 51-year-old Thimmaiah, his wife Jayamma and 13-year-old daughter Varalakshmi have been living on the campus of the Sumanahalli Society — a centre for leprosy, HIV treatment, street kids, orphans and destitutes — located on 50 acres of what is now prime land in Bangalore. Sent out of his village after he developed leprosy, the Sumanahalli Society, run by Christian priests and nuns, is the only home for Thimmaiah and his family. His wife Jayamma is blind. Their life revolves around their daughter who looks after the couple between attending a school on the same campus.

Ten days ago, Thimmaiah learnt from Fr George Kannanthanum, the director of the society, that the BJP government in Karnataka in a July 6 Cabinet meeting has decided to take back the land leased to the society.

"There will be nowhere to go. I don't know what will become of us," says Thimmaiah.

At the St Joseph's School, run by the Sumanahalli Society, where Thimmaiah proudly says his daughter is learning English, the nine teachers have been informed about the possible government takeover of the land, but the 108 children have not been told yet. "We don't want to inform the children or their parents as yet because they will stop sending them. Most come from poor families who cannot afford books, fees or food and the free education here is the incentive to send them," says headmistress Sister Suma.

Over 1,700 people, including poor schoolchildren, AIDS-affected, destitute and disabled persons are set to be uprooted as the state government moves to take back 210 acres set aside for their rehabilitation and relief over the years.

"When I heard about the land being taken over by the government, I felt sad for all the people here who have nowhere to go. This land has given a new lease of life to so many hundreds of people," says 21-year-old Lokesh Kumar, a third-year law student in a local college who first came to Sumanahalli 10 years ago as a homeless boy after being diagnosed with leprosy at a home for runaway kids.

Apart from the 50 acres of land leased to the organisation, an adjacent 160-acre property with a Beggars Colony that houses 922 people — including 131 mentally disabled, 45 disabled and 402 elderly — will also be a part of the government land swoop. "The prime land valued at Rs 1,000 crore has been coveted by politicians for a while now. In 2007, during the JD(S)-BJP rule, a minister had proposed handing over the entire property at one-third of the market value to private developers. But the proposal did not go through," said a senior bureaucrat in the government.

While the Yeddyurappa government has officially announced plans to acquire the 160-acre Beggars Colony, the move on the Sumanahalli property has not been announced. But senior officials confirmed that a Cabinet decision has been taken in this regard.

"The Cabinet decision covers the entire land and includes Sumanahalli. A notification is yet to be issued. Modalities are being worked out for the takeover. The land will be entirely used for public purpose and will involve government agencies," said Principal Secretary, Social Welfare department, E Venkataiah, under whose purview the 210 acres of land falls. Social Welfare department officials said plans were afoot to finalise the rehabilitation of the people from the Beggars Colony, but added there were no such plans for Sumanahalli.

A Cabinet decision on moving the Beggars Colony was taken on July 6 after Yeddyurappa paid a "surprise visit" and expressed unhappiness over health, food and working conditions of the people living there.

In a press briefing on the proceedings of the July 6 Cabinet meeting, Home Minister V S Acharya announced that the Cabinet has decided to take over 160 acres of the Beggar's Colony on the Magadi Road for the construction of a hospital, a bus terminus and a large park, but remained silent on 50 acres of land with the Sumanahalli Society.

"We were not even issued a notice about the move to evict us from this land. We came to know about it accidentally during a meeting with a government official. Does this mean there is no place for the poor in Bangalore?" says Fr George Kannanthanam.

The Sumanahalli Society was started as a leprosy treatment and rehabilitation project in 1977 on 63 acres of land leased by the then chief minister Devaraj Urs. In a letter to the then archbishop of Bangalore, inviting him to set up the facility, Urs had stated that "it may be difficult for a government organisation to provide this, as tasks of mercy are not generally effectively done by a bureaucratic system". The society had been tasked with 'conducting, running and administering a centre for the welfare and rehabilitation of leprosy patients and other physically destitute persons and their families'.

Widely recognised for its humanitarian service, the Sumanahalli Society, with leprosy cases on the decline, has expanded into HIV treatment, rehabilitation of the disabled and destitutes. The society won the best NGO serving the disabled in Karnataka award in 2007. A garment factory started on the campus with government support provides employment to over 100 people including HIV patients, leprosy affected people and their family members.

"Most people still identify us as a leprosy project, but we work with HIV/AIDS patients (30), differently abled (30), orphans (45), street boys (50), juvenile delinquents (40)," says Fr George Kannanthanam.

The society handed over 13 of its 63 acres to the government for building a road. In 2006, the society agreed to a proposal where 25 acres of land was to be taken by the government for creating a campus for the Visvesvaraya Technological University and the remaining 25 acres would be given as a grant to the society.

"When the 30-year lease over the property ended in 2007, government officials assured us that there will be no problems in continuing our work. We never expected this. The land has been earmarked for a social cause and if used commercially, it violates the basic principle of land use," the director said.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Amartya Sen on "Justice!"


Amartya Sen's story of Justice

Rashmee Roshan Lall, TNN 26 July 2009, 10:14am IST
In an exclusive interview with The Times of India, the Nobel laureate speaks about his most ambitious book yet.

Who is this book for? Academics who study justice? Philosophers who explore justice? Legislators who create the system that doles out justice? The layperson who thinks about justice?

It is a book on philosophy, but it is meant for everyone. I agree with Antonio Gramsci, the great Italian political leader, that philosophy is not "a strange and difficult thing", but all the things we reason about. Of course I hope there will be some academic interest from professional philosophers, and that those concerned with policy issues will also take an interest. But the idea of justice interests us all.

The Idea of Justice has been described as your most ambitious book yet, but will you accept that its length, subject and style could limit its reach?

The reach of our ideas is always limited to some extent, and if there is some ambition in the book, it lies in my refusal to give up, without a serious effort, trying to communicate with others. In writing about any difficult but important problem, we have to try to catch the complexities involved without making our arguments obtuse, perplexing or inaccessible. I believe it is easy to underestimate the breadth and reach of the interests of the general public. There is a kind of vanity of the self-defined "intellectuals" who bend down to talk to "common people". (It is, by the way, very bad for the intellectual's back to do so much bending down!) Since some of the most insightful comments I have received throughout my long life have come from very young students and sometimes even from unknown neighbours in a train (mostly in India รข€" British passengers don't like talking to strangers), I have reason to be optimistic about the interest, involvement and engagement of others.

Has the concept of justice in this century come only to mean human rights?

This is a very interesting question. The idea of human rights is much used in practice, and is very powerfully invoked by activists these days, often with admirable effect. However, the critics of the approach of human rights argue that the idea of such non-legal rights is lacking in foundation. A frequently asked question is: where do human rights come from and what gives them force? One of the aims of the book is to show in what sense - and in what way - human rights have a strong foundation through public reasoning, and how that foundation relates also to the basic analysis of social justice, which too is very dependent on the opportunity of public discussion. It is not so much that the concept of justice "has come only to mean human rights," but that the two related ideas have to be considered together.

It is also important to remember that the idea of human rights has been in use, often in very informal ways and frequently without being called human rights, for a very long time in world history - not just in the 20th and 21st centuries. For example, Ashoka's discussion of everyone's right to speak and to be heard by others, or Akbar's championing of the right to religious freedom, belongs to the subject matter of what is now called human rights. And they also relate to Ashoka's and Akbar's conceptions of social justice.

At the risk of forcing you to reduce 496 pages to a few sentences, what is justice? What should it be for us here?

Justice is a complex idea (I was not surprised that it took me 496 pages to discuss it), but it is very important to understand that justice has much to do with everyone being treated fairly. Even though that connection has been well discussed by the leading political philosopher of our time, John Rawls, I have argued that he neglects a couple of important connections. One neglect is the central recognition that a theory of justice has to be deeply concerned with systematic assessment of how to reduce injustice in the world, rather than only with the identification of what a hypothetical "perfectly just society" would look like.

There may be no agreement on the shape of perfect justice (and also perfect justice will hardly be achievable even if people did agree about what would be immaculately just), but we can still have reasoned agreement on many removable cases of manifest injustice, for example, slavery, or subjugation of women, or widespread hunger and deprivation, or the lack of schooling of children, or absence of available and affordable health care. Second, analysis of justice has to pay attention to the lives that people are actually able to lead, rather than exclusively concentrating only on the nature of "just institutions". In India, as anywhere else, we have to concentrate on removing injustices that are identifiable and that can be remedied.

Is justice essential for democracy to flourish?

One of the main arguments of the book is the role of open public discussion for our understanding of the demands of justice, and particularly of the removal of injustice. Indeed, democracy can be seen as "government by discussion" (an approach made famous by John Stuart Mill), and the pursuit of justice can be much enhanced by good democratic practice - not just well-fought elections but also open and well-aimed public discussion, with a free and vigorous media. In an earlier book, I discussed a remark of a very poor and nearly illiterate peasant, who lived in a village close to Santiniketan (where I come from). "It is not difficult to silence us," he said, "but this is not because we cannot speak." In that quiet confidence there are reasons of hope for the future of justice and democracy in India.

Lord Meghnad Desai once said that you "prefer to be subversive in a technical way". Might he have meant that you are not a 'doer' but seek change through technical argument? Do you see yourself as an activist?

I see myself as an activist - through writing, speaking and arguing. I've done my share of demonstrations when I was young, when I was a student in Calcutta. Do I believe that causes that activists take up could be helped by reasoning? Yes. But perhaps Meghnad's comment about my being subversive in a technical way relates to the fact that I don't take the view that technical or mathematical arguments are useless and distractive. I still don't know why I was given the Nobel Prize, but whether that was deserved or not, the works of mine they cited were all quite technical - many of them also mathematical.

If I could just get you to comment on an unfolding matter here. Would it be just to give Ajmal Kasab the death penalty? We're often criticized for continuing with capital punishment.

I'm opposed to the death penalty in general and wouldn't want it given to Ajmal Kasab or anyone else. But this, of course, is not a subject matter of my book - it is not an engineer's handbook. I do discuss the need for prevailing practices, including capital punishment, to be scrutinized by public reasoning, and note the fact that capital punishment is most used in countries with relatively little public discussion, the three biggest users being China, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Next comes the US, and I discuss why I disagree with those judges in the US Supreme Court who think that arguments coming from elsewhere (like Europe) are of no relevance in America.

Is justice culturally specific?

No, because there is an obligation to engage in argument no matter where it comes from - far or near.
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PRASHANT   (A Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace)
Street Address : Hill Nagar, Near Kamdhenu Hall, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad - 380052, Gujarat, India
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Monday, July 20, 2009

The Pope's Road Map


The Pope's Road Map 
-   Fr. Cedric Prakash sj *

The Pope has done it!  This time, however, in a way far different, with which he is generally characterized.  In a stand, which is bound to have far reaching implications on the global moral, social, economic and political order, Benedict XVI made public on July 7th, 2009, his latest Encyclical letter entitled "Caritas in Veritate" (Charity in Truth). 
The document aims to delve more deeply into certain aspects of the integral development of our age in the light of charity and truth.  In the very opening para, the Holy Father emphasizes that, "love – caritas - is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace".  Further, in the introductory remarks, the Pope considers two important criteria which are of special relevance to the commitment to development in an increasingly globalised society and these are justice and the common good.  Justice, for him, is the primary way of charity; and "to desire the common good and strive towards it is a requirement of justice and charity". 
He underlines the indispensable importance to build a society according to freedom and justice and he emphatically states that "it is necessary to cultivate a public conscience that considers food and access to water as universal rights of all human beings, without distinction or discrimination".
In a blunt reference to globalization and the current economic crisis, the Pope asserts "that traditional principles of social ethics like transparency, honesty and responsibility cannot be ignored or attenuated" and further, "that justice must be applied to every phase of economic activity because this is always concerned with man and his needs".
World leaders at the G-8 Summit in Italy will surely pay close attention to the Chapter devoted to the cooperation of the human family, where he calls upon the rich nations "to allocate larger portions of their gross domestic product to development aid".  He makes no bones of the fact that the United Nations Organization needs to be reformed with "real teeth" and "would need to be universally recognized and to be vested with the effective power to ensure security for all, regard for justice and respect for rights".  It is also imperative for him that "poor nations have an important voice in shared decision making on issues of global importance".
With this major Charter, Pope Benedict has truly provided not only the Christians, but "all people of goodwill" with a road map for the challenges ahead.  In his concluding para, he reiterates that "as we contemplate the vast amount of work to be done, we are sustained by our faith that God is present alongside all those who come together in his name to work for justice".
The point is, are those in governance actually listening?
8th July, 2009
(* Fr. Cedric Prakash sj, is the Director of PRASHANT, the Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace, Ahmedabad)

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