CULTURE OF PEACE :  WOMEN’S PERSPECTIVES

VALEDICTORY   ADDRESS

                                                                                                                       -       * Fr. Cedric Prakash sj

 

 

Dear Friends,

 

I feel very honored to be invited to deliver this Valedictory address at the conclusion of your Workshop on “Culture of Peace : Women’s Perspectives”.  I would like to thank Dr. Krishna Ahooja Patel, UN Representative and International President of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Geneva.  Dr. Sadhana Vora, Professor and Head of the Peace Research Centre of the Gujarat Vidyapith and all the other organizers of this Workshop for inviting me to be here with you this evening.

 

I am sure that the inputs and the deliberations of the past few days would have highlighted the role and responsibility of women in creating a Culture of Peace in this decade dedicated to it.  I am sure that each one of you will be going back to your respective organizations and responsibilities enthused with new ideas and wanting to contribute your mite towards the building of a more just, humane and peaceful society.

 

Notwithstanding all this, I would like to put forward four aspects  which I think are fundamental in creating this culture of peace and obviously from the perspective of Women. 

 

1.   Prevent discrimination and violence against Women :

Charity they say, begins at home.  I think this can also be applied for Ahimsa, which our revered Bapu so lovingly tried to propagate in keeping with the Jaina tradition of a fairly large section of  Gujarati society.  Unfortunately, this Ahimsa hardly exists in so many sections of society.  We see well-to-do and educated women indulging in violent practices like amniocentesis and female foeticide.   In fact, Gujarat as a State, tops in this  ! 

 

The Girl-child, is still blatantly discriminated against, as society in general prefers the first- born to be a male ;  dowry or bride price is still an evil that seems to be accepted everywhere ;  the fact that women are relegated to stereotype roles or jobs is something that can hardly be discussed in most fora.  Domestic violence against women is rampant, though hardly anyone would like to speak about it.  At times, when women have the “audacity”  to either get out of a difficult marriage, it is she who is condemned by the rest of society. 

 

So, in a way, we cannot talk of a Culture of Peace, if you women, do not have the courage to be able to ensure that there is Ahimsa from the time a female is conceived in your womb and to give the Girl-child the same status as a boy within society.  Unless there are vehement protests  by  you about what is happening in society, nothing will actually change.

 

2.     Take a stand for truth and justice :

Whilst charity begins at home, any charity that stay only there is selfish and totally unacceptable.  It must permeate outside the boundaries of one’s family into wider society.  The same should be about Ahimsa.   We must be able to ensure that a true culture of peace exists in society at large.  I have always been maintaining that this cannot take place in isolation from truth and justice.  In less than a  month from now, we will be observing in great shame, the third anniversary of the Gujarat Carnage.  Till today,  the complete truth has not yet come out and the perpetrators of the violence have not yet been brought to justice.  The sad fact of the Gujarat Carnage is that some women of the city of Ahmedabad and also in some other parts of Gujarat indulged in violent acts.  The sadder part is that many of the crimes were committed against women belonging to the minority community.  A couple of days ago, on the 27th of January Amnesty International released its latest report in London entitled "Justice, the victim -- Gujarat state fails to protect women from violence".  We need fora like this, groups of committed people to make public, documents such as these, to ensure that those responsible for these heinous crimes are brought to book and ultimately to ensure that such acts are not repeated any more.

 

But again I would like to reiterate that just saying that things were bad and that it may not happen again will just not help.  When the world got together a few days ago at Auschwitz where more than a million Jews were gassed to death by the Nazi regime, the show of solidarity was indeed symbolic….. “ We don’t want such regimes to visit us any more ! ”.

 

3.           Encourage Local Capacities for Peace  :

Women, in every society, play a critical role in creating  either divisiveness or peace.  Take for example in an Indian situation…. the village well or the water tap is where notes are exchanged;  the market-place, the nursery of children or even an ordinary workplace are areas in which one sees a tremendous bonding that takes place.  Some times, these exchanges may be used for small talk :  the latest film, fashion or even some gossip.  But societies at war have shown tremendous improvement when women have literally clubbed together from preventing their sons from taking up arms or as in  Manipur recently,  coming out together in a show of strength against the Indian Army.

 

Local Capacities for Peace need to be encouraged because women do have a very influencing role on their children and on society at large.  This again cannot be done in vacuum.  We will have to make a check-list to see whether the people we deal with belong to the same ethnic group or class or whether there is a diverse mix which would help create bridges and oasis of peace.

 

In the western side of the city of Ahmedabad, a Muslim today cannot buy an apartment.  Recently, a young Muslim woman told me that when she tried to get a Tata telephone number, she was directly refused until she went to the highest officer and threatened to expose their communal bias.  So the challenge today to those of you who have attended this Workshop is that culture of Peace cannot be established by the United Nations unless we begin in our own small, direct and pragmatic way, in the neighborhoods we live in.

 

4.      Be Committed  to praxis :

Yes,  we will never have a Culture of Peace if there is no commitment to its practice.  Our world has been saturated with a plethora of words, ideas, suggestions.  But ultimately, what we need is very concrete action, at every level, beginning with oneself.  We therefore need an attitudinal change.  A change in mindset which will generate this commitment. 

 

We often lack courage to begin….something small yet concrete.  We wait for the big thing – the “utopian” which may never take place.  We are often not gripped with the fact that the longest journey begins with a single step.  We are afraid to light a candle, preferring to curse the darkness.

 

I am hoping that this Workshop would have helped generate very concrete action.  Unless there is a commitment to praxis, all our theories are sterile.  So the challenge before you, as you try to create a Culture of Peace, is to be able to make this concept a reality in your own lives, in your own families, in your neighborhoods and in society at large.

 

In conclusion, I would like to end this address with a blessing of Peace from Atharva Veda (19.9.14) 

 

Peace be to earth and to airy spaces !

Peace be to heaven, peace to the waters,

peace to the plants and peace to the trees !

May all the gods grant me peace !
By this invocation of peace may peace be diffused !

By this invocation of peace may peace bring peace !
With this peace the dreadful I appease,

with this peace the cruel I appease,

with this peace all evil I appease,

so that peace may prevail, happiness prevail !
May everything for us be peaceful

 

Thank you very much !

 

 

 

 

 

(This VALEDICTORY ADDRESS was delivered at the Workshop on Culture of Peace : Women’s perspectives” jointly organized by the Peace Research Centre of the Gujarat Vidyapith, Ahmedabad and Women’s International league for Peace and Freedom, Geneva on 29th January 2005 at the Gujarat Vidyapith, Ahmedabad).m

 

 

*    Fr. Cedric Prakash is  the Director of PRASHANT,  the Jesuit Centre of Human Rights, Justice and Peace based in Ahmedabad..   He is actively involved in issues related to Religious Harmony, Inter-faith Dialogue, Justice and Peace.  He is a member of the Citizens for Justice and Peace that set up the Concerned Citizens’ Tribunal to look into the Gujarat Carnage which took place in 2002; he has also testified before the US Commission on  International Religious Freedom on the carnage.   In 1995, he was awarded India’s highest civilian award for the promotion of communal harmony and peace,  the Kabir Puraskar by the President of India. Among the other awards which he has received are :   the Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Award for Humanitarian Service by the Indian Muslim Council, USA, ( June 2003)  and  the Communication for Peace Award by the XIC, Bombay, ( January 2004). 

 

 

 

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