by Fr Cedric Prakash
Ahmedabad witnessed a unique event on February 7 and 8, 2015, as a two-day State Level Convention brought together more than 500 women and men from all over Gujarat. They were local leaders; mainly adivasis, Dalits and other backward communities (OBCs). They had come together to highlight their many grievances, to increase their bonding and in solidarity to say to those who attempt to control their lives and destinies, that they can no longer be taken for granted.
The theme of the Convention was Chaalo Lokshahi melaviye (Come let us ensure People’s Rule: Democracy).
In his inaugural address to the Convention, Fr Francis Parmar, the Provincial of the Gujarat Jesuits, emphasised that the four pillars of justice, liberty, fraternity and equality should never be compromised. He called upon the people to be united so that they can achieve their goals; to be truly effective, he asserted, one needs to have the commitment to struggle to the very end.
The highlight of the programme was a Public Hearing presided over by Girish Patel, senior counsel of the Gujarat High Court and the doyen of the human rights movement of Gujarat. The other jury members were Dr Sudarshan Iyengar, former vice-chancellor of the Gujarat Vidyapith and Rohit Prajapati, environmental activist. Several local leaders representing various communities from across Gujarat made submissions about their pathetic conditions. These included issues related to ‘jal-jungle-jameen’ (water, forest and land), their right to shelter, their right to livelihood and work, atrocities on Dalits and on women; the way their land acquired by the big corporations and mega-projects like that of Ukai and issues related to Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA Act, 1996) and Panchayati Raj.
Girish Patel exhorted the huge gathering to come out in the open and together to demand their legitimate rights. “The rights belong to the people and the Government must realise this”, he said. “The judiciary has consistently failed the poor, the marginalised and the other sub-altern groups of the country.”
Several other eminent personalities and activists addressed the Convention; these included Hemant Shah, Anand Mazgaonkar, Mahesh Pandya and Trupti Shah. Added to the bonding of a memorable convention was a delightful programme consisting of adivasi dances and various plays which focused on different social themes.
The convention concluded with an resolution which unanimously says, “We, leaders and other concerned citizens of Gujarat (representing 750 villages of 34 talukas and urban slums of Surat and Ahmedabad) at the conclusion of a State Level Peoples’ Convention held in Ahmedabad on February 7 and 8, 2015 on the theme ‘Chaalo Lokshahi melaviye’ (Come let us ensure People’s Rule: Democracy) resolve that: there are several issues which afflict us greatly; these include our forests’ lands, displacement, the north bank of the Ukai, non-implementation of the PESA law, the tardy delivery of justice on atrocities to the Dalits; the deliberate injustice by several Panchayats; the unresolved questions regarding housing for the poor in the cities – are just some of them. We, therefore strongly condemn the total inaction on the part of the Government. We call upon the Government and their relevant institutions to act promptly and to ensure that we get our legitimate rights and the justice due to us.”
This Peoples’ Convention was held under the aegis of PEOPLESJ (Promoting Effective Organisations, People’s Leadership for Equity, Solidarity & Justice) which is an initiative of JESA-Gujarat.
(Fr Cedric Prakash is the Director of PRASHANT Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace, Ahmedabad.)