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Human Rights Day in Mumbai

COME TOGETHER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

 

All human beings are born equal and free

All human beings can be what they want to be

 

On International Human Right's Day

Let's uphold our own dignity, our own freedom

 

Would you stay quiet if your brother is killed for demanding water? A peaceful congregation in Mumbai raises its voice against the unequal distribution of water. A police lathi-charge on the demonstration kills a protester, and nobody bothers!

 

Would you stay quiet if the military threw you out of your comfortable home?Sadly, this is our brethren in another part of the country has to face, daily. Chhattisgarh simmers as the Centre wages a war against tribals. Paramilitary forces drive away forests' original inhabitants. And a corporate-backed government paves way for mining companies - the new colonialists!

 

Would you still stay quiet if the military picked you up on mere suspicion? Sadly, citizens in the North East are facing exactly such a gory situation.

 

You have the right to dissent!

You have the right to speak out!

You have the right to fight it out!

 

Committee for the Release of Binayak Sen (CRBS) which comprises several groups organised a programme of Songs! Dance! Lejim! Tableau! 10th Dec. Outside Dadar Station E.

 

WHAT IT MEANS TO BE RELIGIOUS

 Asghar Ali Engineer


There is great misunderstanding both among believers and non-believers about what it means to be religious. For most of the believers religion is a set of rituals, appearance or even a set of dogmas and superstitions whereas for non-believers (rationalists and empiricists) it is nothing but irrational beliefs, dogmas and superstitions which impede human progress and also cause of violence and destruction. Even terrorism, they believe, is due to religion.

 

Then the question arises why millions of people believe in religion? The rationalists maintain it is because of illiteracy and irrationalism. But then many highly educated people also believe in religion so it is not easy to assign it only to illiteracy alone. And all those who believe in religion are not superstitious. Many of them are quite rational and even accept science and scientific methods without reservation. Sir Syed even maintained that there cannot be contradiction between word of God (Qur’an) and work of God (Nature and laws of nature). Moreover many great scientists have been believers in religion)

 

Then the question arises what it means to be truly religious? For ordinary people (including educated ones) religion is mixed bag. It comprises dogmas, customs and traditions which come from our culture rather than religion. Religion, once it becomes a powerful establishment, represents more of vested interests than religious teachings and values. It loses its dynamism. Interests become supreme rather than real spirit of religion.

 

Also, dogmas become more central than change as change for many believers bring a sense of insecurity and uncertainty whereas they believe in religion to ensure inner security. Also, dogmas ensure constancy of leadership as any change brings shift from orthodox leadership to modern leadership and orthodox leadership is better able to manipulate and control peoples for most people religion is a matter of belief rather than thinking and reflection.

 

In fact in its higher reaches religion is neither superstition, nor dogma and mere rituals. Religion poses problems when it is made to serve different human needs and interests. As water finds its own level, religion too finds its own level in unevenly developed society. For those who remain illiterate and backward it becomes a source of solace which is better served by dogmas and superst6itions rather than thinking and change.

 

However for highly educated and developed sections of society it becomes a source of values and philosophy and invites them to reflect on God’s creation. Qur’an repeatedly says why don’t you think? Why don’t you reflect on God’s creation? Qur’an, if understood in its proper spirit creates intellectual ferment and dynamism rather than stagnation and dogmas. Dogmas were created by theologians and they put basic emphasis on these dogmas as they serve their needs and interests.

 

Also, for many, religion is ritual-oriented rather than value-oriented. By performing certain rituals and maintaining certain appearances they think they are religious. For many others, religion is a source of values rather than rituals. Rituals serve a sense of community and identity and often become mechanical exercises and hardly inspire any inner change.

 

Then how should one look at religion and being religious? There are five most fundamental qualities for being truly religious without which one can claim to be religious but can hardly qualify to be one. These four fundamental qualities are 1) constant quest for truth; 2) to be humble; 3) to be compassionate and 4) to be anti-establishment 5) to be transcendent in vision.

 

We would like to throw some light on these essential qualities to be religious. In every religious tradition God’s name is truth. In Islamic tradition one of Allah’s name is Haq i.e. Truth. Without being truthful and engaged in constant quest for truth one can hardly be religious. All great founders of religion from Buddha to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) spent years of their lives in quest for truth and got inspiration to understand truth. It should be mission of one’s life to search for truth, in all its manifestations. Also, truth does not have one form and one manifestation. It is not stagnant or a dogma but dynamic and intellectually challenging.

 

2) Along with constant quest for truth humility is required. Any sense of truth being any ones monopoly leads to sense of arrogance and destroys the very quality of truth. That is why Qur’an says that All previous prophets came with truth and requires Muslims not to distinguish between one and the other prophets, those who do so are not true believers. All prophets and great religious thinkers were committed to quest for truth. Also, Qur’an maintains that Allah has created diversity, not unifr4moity so that one could understand different forms of truth without leading to arrogance. Anyone engaged in quest for truth has to have a quality of humility. Qur’an strongly denounces mustakbitin (the powerful and arrogant). Most of the Prophets mentioned in the Qur’an were of humble origin.

 

Third important quality for being truly religious is being compassionate i.e. being sensitive to others suffering. Anyone who is not compassionate cannot be a true human being, let alone religious. Allah’s name in Qur’an is Compassionate Merciful (Al-Rahman al-Rahim) and Prophet Muhammad has been described as Mercy of the Worlds (Rahmatan li-Al’alamin). Any Muslim who is not compassionate would never be a true Muslim.

 

Similarly a true religious person has to be anti-establishment as most of the establishments represent vested interest rather than values. Some people try to control these establishments and do anything to retain their control over it. They tend to become authoritarian and try to eliminate their rivals. Also, a truly religious person would always be inspired by future vision rather than what is given. He would be engaged in creating new world as what is given is never perfect. Those who have these qualities would indeed be really truly religious people.

 

Peace stars of 2010 declared


Upon nomination by their colleagues and admirers, the Association for

Communal Harmony in Asia (ACHA) has decided to honor Dr. Mohammad
Arif, Jatin Desai, Ashfaq Fateh, Faisal Khan, Dilafrose Qazi and Awais
Sheikh, all peace and harmony activists from India and Pakistan, with
the ACHA Peace Star Award 2010.

They now join the ranks of reputed peace, harmony and human rights
personalities from India, Pakistan, like Karamat Ali, Sayeeda Diep,
Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer, B. M. Kutty, Dr. Abdul Hameed Nayyar, Dr. Ram
Puniyani, Dr. Lenin Raghuvanshi, and Dr. Ingrid Shafer from the
U.S.A., who have been honored with this award in previous years.

Also for his services to ACHA, Sharafat Ali of Karachi has been
accepted for the ACHA Award.

The awards are given every two years. The ACHA Peace Star Award is
given to individuals (and organizations), that have performed
meritorious work in promotion of peace and communal harmony, while the
ACHA Award is meant for individuals (and organizations), that have
performed substantial service to ACHA.

These Awards do not have any financial value. They have been set up to
recognize some of the unsung peace and harmony heroes and heroines,
and those who have performed substantial service to ACHA.

ACHA is a 17-year-old, U.S.-based, nonprofit organization, which is
dedicated to promoting peace in South Asia, and harmony among South
Asians everywhere. More information about ACHA can be found at its two
websites: www.asiapeace.org, & www.indiapakistanpeace.org

Brief information about this year’s recipients, in alphabetical order,
is as follows:

Dr. Mohammad Arif hails from Varanasi. Inspired by Gandhian philosophy
he abandoned his academic career to promote communal harmony,
composite culture, secularism and democratic values. In this pursuit
he has built alliances of Dalits, Tribals and minority groups;
organized awareness sessions for the media, and seminars, lectures,
conventions, training workshops for peace and harmony workers, and
street-plays for the general public; developed training modules;
published awareness and training materials; established a library of
resource materials to facilitate research on and documentation of
sectarian clashes; and has founded the Centre for Harmony & Peace.
Some of his initiatives have helped abort severe conflicts in such
communally sensitive areas as Varanasi and have aided capacity
building in other areas.

Jatin Desai of Mumbai has been a devoted community activist ever since
his college days. He has persisted in his efforts in spite of
trumped-up charges of attempted murder and armed robbery brought
against him by his opponents. He has organized Tribals in Maharashtra
to help them fight for their land, forest and water rights; Dalits for
their right to draw water from the community well; his fellow
journalists to struggle for better wages as well as resistance against
curbs on their freedom of expression, threatened by certain fascist
organizations. He worked for restoration of peace during the 1992-93
Mumbai communal riots and bomb-blasts, and helped mobilize secular
forces during the Gujarat genocide of 2002. For the last 10 years he
has been active in the Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace &
Democracy (PIPFPD), and has visited Pakistan many times, in this
regard. To help promote people-to-people contacts and enduring
friendship between India and Pakistan, he has organized many meetings
in Mumbai and Delhi. Also in 2007, he organized a bicycle march from
Mumbai to Pakistan, and helped organize an India-Pakistan conference
“A Road Map toward Peace” in Delhi, earlier this year. Besides, he has
been working with other peace activists on developing a mechanism
through which fishermen, arrested by the two governments, upon
accidentally drifting across the maritime boundary between India and
Pakistan, do not have to languish in foreign jails, even after they
have completed their terms. Finally he has been active in the
antinuclear movement; is associated with the Gandhian organization,
Mumbai Sarvodaya Mandal; and at least once a week is interviewed on
various TV channels on issues like Indo-Pak relations, human rights,
freedom of expression. He has been honored with Ram Bapat award for
promoting peace and social justice through his writings.

Since 1992, Ashfaq Fateh of Toba Tek Singh has been engaged in efforts
to bring together Muslims and Christians of his area to work on such
issues as the rights of minorities in Pakistan,  restoration of the
joint electorate system, abolition of the religion column on the
national identity card, and amendment of the discriminatory blasphemy
laws in Pakistan Penal Code. In his capacity as chairperson for the
Harmony Foundation he has inspired programs in government schools to
promote peace, to discourage gender discrimination, and to do away
with hatred on the basis of religion. As principal of a high school,
for the last several years he has organized activities for students
from his and other area schools, to create awareness of issues related
to human rights, conflict resolution, peace, and communal harmony.
Starting in 2005, for five years, he served as coordinator for the
programs of the International Young Catholic Student designed to
promote peace and harmony. To promote peace between the two neighbors,
he participated in a peace mission to India in August 1998, just after
both countries had conducted nuclear tests. Since then he has made
several peace visits to India and has welcomed Indian peace activists
in Pakistan. He has worked on petitions to ease travel between the two
nations. Earlier this year, on June 25, under the auspices of Aman Ki
Asha, a joint venture of The Times of India and Jang Group of
Publication, he led a group of young students to the Indo-Pak Border
at Wagah, where they exchanged peace messages on kerchiefs with their
Indian counterparts, to mark the passing of the 2010 Queen’s
Commonwealth Games Baton torch to the other side. He has served as the
national convener of the Bangladesh-Bharat Pakistan Peoples Forum,
national coordinator for Friends of the United Nations, country
representative for Peaceful Schools International, and country head of
Peace Pal International. He has even dedicated his home has Indo-Pak
Peace house. Currently under the auspices of the Ravi Foundation, is
leading effort in his area to organize feeding of over 4,000
flood-affected animals.

A lawyer by professional training, Faisal Khan of New Delhi is a key
member of Asha Parivar and National Alliance of Peoples Movements
(NAPM), and has the responsibility for organizing and coordinating
their programs in the states of Gujarat, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir,
and those in the north-eastern India. He has organized several peace
marches and has fasted in order to draw people’s attention to the
victims of communal and gender violence, state repression or skewed
development in India. He has led goodwill missions at the recent
Kumbha Mela and Ajmer Sharif Urs, where he and his colleagues
discussed with groups of pilgrims the importance and ways of
maintaining communal harmony. In 2006, he led a peace delegation to
the Kashmir Valley, where he and his colleagues discussed with common
people and political leaders about issues confronting them and the way
to confront them. Also he has actively campaigned for peace between
India and Pakistan and organized peace marches from India to Pakistan.

Even in the face of attempts on her life, bullets of the military as
well as militants, Dilafrose Qazi has persisted in single-handedly
trying to empower women in the conflict-ridden state of Jammu &
Kashmir.  In pursuit of this goal, she has established schools for
girls, an engineering & technology college as well as embroidery
classes for women, camps for medical and psychological treatment of
women battered by daily violence going around them, a dairy farm for
rape victims, and rehabilitation programs for militancy-hit families.
At times, she was ordered to close some of her institutions by
militants and religious zealot, and at one time her refusal to act
upon such diktats led to kidnapping of her father, brothers, and
husband. Concerned about the future of young people growing up in
Kashmir, and in migrant camps in and outside the state, she has
endeavored for Hindu-Muslim amity. She could have lived a comfortable
life elsewhere, but she continues to live in Srinagar.

Awais Sheikh is President of Pakistan-India Peace Initiatives. Just
after the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, he organized a peace
demonstration at Lahore Press Club, and helped organize as well as
participated in a peace march at Amritsar. He has authored Samjhota
Express, a book about peace and friendship between India, which has
been translated in Hindi and Punjabi. As a Punjab High Court Advocate,
he is representing Sarabjit Singh, an Indian convicted of spying,
currently lodged in Lahore Central Jail. For his services he was
designated Ambassador for Peace in 2007. Also he is the only Pakistani
who has twice been honored by the Bharatiya Dalit Sahitya Academy with
the Dr. Ambedkar International Award.

 

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