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Have Faith....

By Teesta Setalvad

29 September, 2003

Can lessons from history, honestly learnt, and
remembered, prevent unspeakable cruelties in the
present and deeper schisms between man and man in
the future?

Nuremberg and Germany have had the courage to
face their history, a history that not merely for
the German people but for all of humanity raised
then, and raises still, raw and brutal questions
of the minds and hearts of men and women. And the
darkness that can reside within.

Yet we must have faith. This faith gets
reaffirmed in the myriad or million small deeds
and thoughts of a majority of one billion Indians
and a third more of South Asians who dream and
aspire to a belly fool of food; for fair access
to quality learning for their young; to medical
care against starvation and other epidemics;
protection against flood, cyclone and drought.
For the kind of existence that about 60 per cent
of their people already have. Indiscriminate
policies of globalisation and liberalization that
are resulting in the withdrawal of the State from
sectors of education, health and social security,
do not believe in the dignity and protection of
labour and the marginalized sections of the third
world. Marginalised by caste, community and

But even as the bare existence of a third to
forty per cent of our people in South Asia -in
India alone this would mean 400 million
people--is seriously under assault from a callous
and irresponsible political, social and economic
elite, the right to dream of a land free of
bitter hatreds has over the past two decades
slowly but surely been snatched away. Today with
justice to the victims of perpetrated pogroms
seeming distant, if not impossible, the now every
day threat of mindless targeted violence has
become a terrifying reality.

We are faced in India with the threat of hatred
and division impinging on every aspect of public
discourse and life. Caste has been an unfortunate
historic factor that has denied dignity and
access, apart from perpetrating brutal violence
on 25 per cent of Indians in the past. Today a
more blatant use of hate speech and writing
against sections of Indians, on grounds of
religious affiliation, has become the norm that
precedes, and creates the climate for mass
pogroms. Such discourse goes unchallenged by
authorities though we remain a political
democracy wedded to the rule of law.

For human rights defenders engaged in the
struggle for a more equitous system, through our
engagements with, and challenges to, the
institutions of the judiciary, police, parliament
and bureaucracy-the lofty mandate contained in
the words 'We The People...' in the Preamble to
our Constitution, often seem reduced to a
banality on a piece of parchment paper. This
extreme right wing politics, shockingly and
painfully models itself on the ways of Mussolini
and Hitler, and under democratic India executes
and then celebrates pogroms against children,
women and men of a particular faith.

A stable, democratic and secular India -which
means an India that can hold its head high ---as
we once could, when, though 'poor', we led the
Non Aligned Movement in the world and did an
honest job of assuring safety and security to all
Indians ---is vital for peace, for growth and
yes, for the prosperity of the whole South Asian

Our sheer size and pre-dominance demands this.
Pivotal to this peace is a resolution of the
Kashmir conflict after calling people from the
Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh region to the
negotiation table. It is a shame that instead of
leading a discourse within the region on peace,
on sanity, on tolerance, India today takes a part
in articulating shrill noises against neighbours.
We even led the sub-continent on its deplorable
road towards turning nuclear. I would like to, at
this stage, congratulate my co-recipient of the
Nuremberg International Human Rights award for
2003, Mr. Rehman a Pakistani and a colleague in
this struggle for the rights of all, albeit
across the border.

The history of the division of the sub-continent
on religious lines took nearly one million lives
and caused the forced migration of 15 million
people. Lasting durable peace within the region,
thanks to this history, is linked critically to
peace within the countries of the region and
their castes and communities. Those struggling
for the rights of minorities across national
borders have a need to link and sustain each
other's struggles. And they know it.

Yet, despite all of this, we must carry on, firm
in our belief that things must and will change.
And the struggle for that glorious change if
pre-determined by its duration is no struggle at
all. The demands that such an indeterminate
struggle, in time terms, makes on us, as
individuals, as colleagues, as parents is
enormous and the stake and cost, are high. On
this precious occasion, I would like especially
to remember our two children, Tamara and Jibran
who have sacrificed much and lost so much time
with us in their growing up years due to this
engagement. I hope and pray to a God that I do
not believe in, that they have learnt some and
much more importantly, that they understand.

My work in the past decade, that coincides with
the decade of publication of our journal,
Communalism Combat, would simply have been
inconceivable but for the camaraderie and passion
shared in this cause with my husband-colleague,
Javed. As strength, as inspiration, as learning,
this togetherness has made the work possible. I
am thrilled that he is here with me to share the
moment of glory of receiving particularly this
award, which has a resonance and meaning far
exceeding any other. I know that he has put up
with the pressure of my own temperament and zeal
for this work that catapults him and our
wonderful team at Sabrang into sometimes
impossible directions.

The India of old has irretrievably changed and
the secure foundations of glory in a shared past,
in our literature, music and culture that we grew
up with are not available for our children.
Streaks of insanity and noises of hate impinge in
the classroom and at school ominously making
distinctions between the legitimate 'us' and the
traitorous 'them.' History is being
surreptitiously distorted to support the politics
of exclusion and hate. The infamous Nuremberg
laws that forbade marriage between sections of
one people have not been forcibly enacted yet but
Geetabehn, a Hindu, happily married to Salim, a
Muslim, in Gujarat until April 4, 2002 last year
was stripped and mutilated in public before being
butchered alive on the streets of Ahmedabad,
Gujarat's leading commercial centre. Victims of
the Gujarat carnage, or Genocide as we have
called it face exclusion in jobs and have been
denied dignified return to their agricultural
lands much less have they got justice.

The language of fascism and its glorification of
violence and extermination have
deeply disfigured Indian public life. We struggle
today against it reaching a crescendo. In that
struggle we try among other things to, in Martin
Luther King Junior's word, to break the silence
of the good people who we believe are still
numerically stronger than the wicked people who
execute evil deeds.

Thank You Nuremberg. Thank You Germany. For
giving us hope that all in the faraway
self-centred First World -and I refer here to the
stance of the German foreign minister on the
abhorrent war against Iraq-are not the same. The
feeling, commitment and content of the speeches
delivered today are refreshers for us who strive
to make the Indian political class sensitive to
human rights. Thank you for today. The
outstanding music, the flower and chilly
arrangements. Dr Maly, the Nuremberg City Office
and Dr Hesselmann. For today and hopes for

Thank you, All.