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Date: 20 August 2002

Teesta Setalvad Award Acceptance Speech

Teesta Setalvad, joint editor of Communalism Combat was awarded the Rajiv Gandhi Sadhbhavana Award, 2002 along with Harsh Mander, Action Aid India.

Esteemed friends,


While humbly accepting the honour being conferred upon me, my heart and thoughts reach out to the hundreds of thousands of displaced persons, six months without home or hearth, 35,000 children who have lost one or both parents and borne witness to debased levels of violence, women who have borne the brunt of their gender and community identities, men and boys who feel shellshocked even now at the conspiracy unleashed –in Gujarat.


The violence, perpetrated with single minded and cynical design and state connivance represents a milestone in the subcontinent’s bitter record of inter-community bloodshed. For, while there are the hapless and forgotten Kashmiri Pandits also displaced and bitterly abandoned in Jammu and Delhi camps, they have been innocent victims of foreign-bred mercenaries not home grown terror bands; terror bands who moreover speak of a narrow sense of Indian patriotism and nationhood.


Today those who seek to drastically alter the notion and idea of India, an India painfully carved out in 1947, an India wedded out of deep pragmatism and principle to the ideals of equity, parity and non-discrimination, occupy high office in the nation’s capital and in that state. They seek to use constitutional office for blatantly unconstitutional designs. Mass murder is lightly excused and those who masterminded the carnage are sought to be exonerated instead of being morally quarantined. It is a measure of the deep erosion of morality and principle in Indian public and political life that offices like that of the prime minister and his deputy are used for such narrow, divisive and sectarian gain.


The challenge before one and all of us, party and non party, government and non government is to genuine forge a united front against the forces of division, of facism, that threaten the basic tenor and fabric of lived India, village India, urban India. For that to happen, mistakes of the past need to be corrected, a genuine commitment to secularism re-affirmed. It behoves on the single largest opposition party in India to take the lead in this, millions expect it of you. Gujarat first and India too, offers a unique opportunity for mistakes to be acknowledged, then corrected. There can be no compromise on the  fundamental principles of non-sectarian governance and non-violence. If there have been serious deviations, and there have been some, a whole nation’s future and unity cries that they are seriously addressed.


Rehabilitation, emotional and physical,  of  those affected in Gujarat could provide a unique opportunity for building a healthy committed cadre in that state. Those in Delhi and  Gandhinagar who are making a crude push for polls to reap a harvest from the hatred that they have unleashed, I know and believe are crying wolf. A free and fair election in Gujarat, an election not controlled and manipulated by those who masterminded carnage, a poll where the intelligence and poll machinery is left to it’s constitutional conscience, will not bring back mass murderers to power. Gujaratis, one and all, I am convinced will reject the politics of hatred and division if the poll is free and fair.


I take this opportunity to thank in spirit, if not by individual name, each and every woman and man of conscience in Gujarat, comrades-in-arms working tirelessly for succour and sanity. A tribute to each one of them. At this moment, especially, I think of you and the deep anguish shared in past months. Many thoughts and warm gratitude for the entire Sabrang team and my own comrade-in-arms, Javed Anand without whom my work would not be possible.


Jawaharlal Nehruji, India’s first prime minister showed deep insight when he predicted that “Facism in India can only come in the garb of a Hindu rashtra.” We have seen to our horror and disgust what proponents of that narrow brand of Indian nationhood mean by that concept –in Gujarat. He also said, “If any person raises his hand to strike down another on the ground of religion, I shall fight him till the last breath of my life.”


Gandhiji, Nehru’s guru, that man in simple loin cloth who won the heart of millions of Indians was a Gujarati. His deep moral force and commitment to non-sectarian Indian nationhood and genuine toleration resulted in his brutal assassination by a fanatic representative of  sectarian nationhood. Gandhiji and his own concept of Ramrajya have bene misused by the heirs of his assassins but here is what he had to say on his own concept. Gandhiji said and wrote on February 26, 1947, "Let no one commit the mistake of thinking that Ramrajya means a rule of Hindus. My Ram is another name for Khuda or God. I want Khuda Raj which is the same thing as the Kingdom of God on Earth."                                                        


Gandhiji, who spoke for the poor and the disadvantaged, and his pupil Nehru, the darling

of millions, saw in their great vision that only a composite nationhood could hold India together and get the problems of poverty, starvation, drought, dowry burning, bonded labour addressed. The tragedy of this country is that with the dominance of the ideology of Hindu rashtra in public life, with proponents of it gaining power, every real issue that we need to tackle has got sidelined. India’s image lies brutally tarnished in the eyes of the world.


 It is time that the cobwebs created by a manipulation in public discourse get swept away. It is time that politics and public life begins to reflect the morality and  commitment that was envisioned by those who fought for, and won us, our freedom.


It is time that we, all of us dedicate ourselves, seriously, to redeem the idea of India.


Acceptance speech by Teesta Setalvad, Rajiv Gandhi Sadhbhavna Award, 2002



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