by Fr Cedric Prakash Sj
Ahmedabad: It was a sea of humanity which Ahmedabad has rarely witnessed in recent times. They came from all over – young and old, poor and rich from the slums and from the villages, ordinary people and those who belong to the cream of society. There were Hindus and Muslims, Jains and Buddhists, Parsis and Christians; some of them were also agnostics and atheists. They represented a whole cross section of society.
In spite of their differences, they were together with one voice: ‘Enough is Enough!’ ‘Stop the Attacks on women, minorities, adivasis, dalits, farmers, poor and other vulnerable sections!’ ‘Protect & Promote Constitutional Rights!’ Speaker after speaker voiced their concern about what is happening in the country today. A handout distributed at the Dharna highlighted in particular the frequency of the attacks on women and minorities:
“What is happening to the women in India is indeed shocking; a highly patriarchal mindset with great gender insensitivity naturally provokes and even legitimises inhuman acts. Almost daily, we read about assaults, molestations and rapes of women. A normal society will never be able to accept the brutal rape of a six year old girl child in Ahmedabad or the barbaric gang-rape of a seventy-two year old nun in West Bengal. Yogi Adityanath’s men telling Hindus to rape dead Muslim women is sick to the core! Women today from all walks of life feel more and more insecure.
The attacks on minorities take place today with frightening regularity. Ministers of the Central Government and Members of Parliament make the most derogatory remarks against Christians and Muslims; they do so with impunity and immunity. Attacks on Christian institutions, Church personnel and the desecration of what is sacred to the Christians seem to happen all the time. Minorities are systematically denigrated with a highly placed politician even going on record to say that ‘Mosques and Churches are mere buildings’; besides, the divisive ‘ghar wapsi’ programmes; the insidious remarks to make ‘Gita’ as the country’s national book; the attempts to take away the ‘secular’ dimension from the Constitution are all areas of concern for large sections of India’s population.”
Among the several eminent speakers which spoke were Archbishop Stanislaus Fernandes sj of Gandhinagar, Bishop Silvans Christian of the CNI, Gujarat, Bishop Thomas Macwan of Ahmedabad, Fr. Francis Parmar, the Provincial Superior of the Gujarat Jesuits, Girish Patel, Senior Counsel, Gujarat High Court and doyen of the Human Rights Movement of Gujarat, Gautam Thakker of the PUCL, Sr Nirmala Principal of the Convent of Jesus and Mary Baroda, women activists Ms. Sophia Khan , Meenakshi Joshi, Sara Baltiwala and Ms. Sheba George.
At the end of the programme, the general feeling of the massive crowd was one of great satisfaction of the way they had broad-canvassed the issues that face the common person today and they were convinced that civil society all over needs to come out in larger numbers in order to safeguard the rights and freedom of every single citizen of the country.
The dharna was organised by the Gujarat United Christian Forum for Human Rights (GUCFHR) and supported by several like-minded individuals and groups which include Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Movement for Secular Democracy (MSD), Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), ANHAD, SANCHETNA, SAHR WARU, Darshan, INSAF, Ahmedabad Women Action Group (AWAG), SAFAR, Jan Sangharsh Manch (JSM)