Mangaluru: Catholic Association of South Kanara (CASK)- a century old association organized a seminar on Human Rights, with keynote speaker Fr Cedric Prakash Sj, a Human rights activist, and also director of Prashant-a Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace, Ahmedabad, on Friday, 14 August 2015 at Avila Hall-St Agnes College here. The seminar began with invoking God’s blessings through a prayer song sung the students of St Agnes.
Capt. JP Menezes-President of CASK welcomed the gathering and also introduced Fr Cedric Prakash. Quoting Nelson Mandela’s words ” to deny people their human rights is to challenge their humanity”, Fr Cedric in his keynote address said, “Human Rights’ is indeed a very vast subject: the study and understanding of it can certainly not be confined to the time parameters and constraints of a short Seminar. ‘Human Rights’ involves every dimension of human existence rooted and enshrined in the very first Article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which unequivocally states that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”.
He further said, “I would like to focus today on just four human rights which are threatened as never before in our country today. They are: the right to life; the right to freedom of speech and expression; the right to freely practice and propagate one’s religion; and the right to safe / clean water and sanitation. The right to life is a fundamental right which is guaranteed not only in our Constitution but also in Article 3 of the UDHR which states “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”. Unfortunately, this fundamental right has been under attack and has come in for much debate in India and in other parts of the world. This right is based on three premises: God alone is the author of life and death; every State and every Government must protect the life of all its citizens and provide security to all; no human being has the right to endanger or take one’s own life or that of any other human being. Yes, we certainly all need to do much more soul-searching to make the right to life a reality for every single citizen all over”.
“Regarding the right to freedom of speech and expression, despite commitments to protect freedom of speech, our government has not taken decisive action against militant groups that threaten and attack people over views they do not like. In the face of weak government responses and threats of lawsuits from Hindu ultranationalist groups, a few publishers withdrew or cancelled books being prepared for publication. This indeed is a stinging indictment of a government and how it has systematically tried not only to erode but also to destroy Article 19 of the Constitution of India which guarantees to every citizen of India the fundamental right to freedom of speech and of expression. Very significantly, this very same right is enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.
” In order to preserve what is sacred to the people of India, we need to remind ourselves of the words of Mahatma Gandhi “many people, especially, ignorant people, want to punish you for speaking the truth, for being correct, for being you. Never apologise for being correct, or for being years ahead of your time. If you’re right and you know it, speak your mind. Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is still the truth.”For, we the people of India, our choice is clear: to protect and preserve our fundamental right of free speech and expression – whatever the consequences!”
“The right to freely practice and propagate one’s religion-The fundamental right that ‘all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion’ is a corner stone of our country which has a secular and pluralistic fabric. This fundamental right has in the recent months come in for much attack particularly since May 2014 when the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) began ruling the country. The Sangh Parivar (the BJP is an integral part of it) has gone hammer and tongs against the minorities; their strategies include ‘ghar wapsi’ programmes’; propagating the ‘Gita’ as the national book; demanding a ban on ‘cow slaughter’; idolizing ‘Godse’; attempting to substitute Christmas Day with ‘Good Governance Day’; propagating that India is a ‘Hindu nation’; attacking Churches and Church personnel in Delhi and other parts of the country; making derogatory remarks on Mother Teresa and minorities in general. What remains at the crux of the debate is whether every Indian can freely and fearlessly preach, practice and propagate one’s religion – and embrace the religion of one’s choice!”
“The right to safe / clean water and sanitation-On 28 July 2010, through Resolution 64/292, the United Nations General Assembly explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realisation of all human rights. The Resolution calls upon States and international organisations to provide financial resources, help capacity-building and technology transfer to help countries, in particular developing countries, to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all”.
“The human right to water and sanitation is derived from the right to an adequate standard of living and inextricably related to the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, as well as the right to life and human dignity. The human right to water and sanitation entitles everyone to sufficient, safe, accessible, culturally acceptable and affordable water and sanitation services for personal and domestic uses, and which are delivered in a participatory, accountable and non-discriminatory manner. Governments are obliged to ensure that everybody gains access to these services over a considered time frame, through creating an enabling environment, namely by adopting appropriate legislation, policies, programmes and ensuring that these are adequately resourced and monitored.
“Fresh drinking water is an issue of primary importance, since it is indispensable for human life and for supporting terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Sources of fresh water are necessary for health care, agriculture and industry. Water supplies used to be relatively constant, but now in many places demand exceeds the sustainable supply, with dramatic consequences in the short and long term. In India, it is common knowledge for women to trudge several kilometres a day to fetch a pot of drinking water. In the larger cities, where the municipality is expected to provide water, the water pipelines are old and often corroded; they become one with the sewage lines. The building mafia in several of our cities are in nexus with the Government; they have filled up areas like lakes, talavs and ponds which are meant for water conservation and regeneration. The corporate ‘soft drinks’ lobby – would rather sell us bottled water – then ensure safe drinking water for all. So as the Church in India observes ‘Ecological Justice Sunday’ on the August 16th all of us can pay attention to the fact that the poor and the marginalised of the country have no access to clean and safe drinking water and proper sanitation”.
Concluding his speech, Fr Cedric Prakash said, “How can we respond? Having presented these four human rights, I guess the question uppermost in your minds is: “what should our response be?” My immediate reaction to that is “you tell me, what your response should be?” However, I would like to propose the following possibilities as a response: to be witnesses of our faith; to propagate and to ensure human rights for all; to be aware of what is happening around us; to foster an intellectual depth that is critical; to have the courage to speak truth to power; to collaborate with all men and women of goodwill; and to take a stand that is prophetic”.
Fr Cedric’s talk on Human Rights issues received a thunderous applaud from the audience. Following the talk, the release of the book ” Slaves of Sultans” authored by Alan Machado Prabhu was done by Dr Olinda Pereira-Founder of Vishwas Trust and by Fr Cedric Prakash. Dr William D’souza briefed about the book and introduced the author, Alan who belongs to the Macedo (Machado) Prabhu family, originally ganvkars of Goa. Machado family was taken captive by Tipu Sultan to Srirangapatana in 1784. Alan’s interest in the traumatic history of his family, most of it forgotten, has led him onward through a long journey of which ‘Slaves of Sultan’ is the latest and most comprehensive. Alan is an engineer by profession and has worked in Australia and UK.
Dr Olinda Pereira who turns 90 on 15 August was felicitated during the occasion with a cheque for Rs 10,000 for her charitable work – and as Dr Derek Lobo -past president of CASK mentioned while introducing Dr Olinda wittingly said, ” Dr Olinda didn’t wanted any bouquet, memento or fruit basket while felicitating her, but I am sure she wont mind accepting the cheque?”. Thanking CASK for felicitating and presenting her a cheque, Dr Olinda stressed that children should respect and take care of their parents and seniors. “It’s sad to see that so many elders are housed in old age homes neglected by their children. These elderly folks get depressed being left alone in old age homes without the company of their family or children. Please don’t neglect your elders-take care and love them” urged Dr Olinda.
Nayana Fernandes-VP of Cask informed the audience that this year 111 scholarship cheques of Rs 4000 each will be distributed to the recipients, and few cheques were presented to the students during the occasion. Dr Michael Lobo also distributed his CD named “Feminine Boys” comprising of 100 songs composed by him and sung by various singers, to musician FM Lobo and Dr Olinda Pereira. Mario Saldanha- Secretary of Cask proposed the vote of thanks, while the entire programme was professionally compered by Dr anand Pereira- Jt Secretary of Cask. The programme ended with everyone singing the National Anthem mark 69th Independence Day.
As we observe the 68th anniversary of our freedom. It is a moment for us to remind ourselves of the words of our Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore who in his ‘Gitanjali’ writes:
“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high,
Where knowledge is free,
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls,
Where words come out from the depth of truth,
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection,
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sands of dead habit,
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever widening thought and action,
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake!”