Human Rights, Democracy and Development Signposts to 21st Century

Welcome Address by Mr.Henry Thiagaraj, Managing Trustee, Dalit Liberation Education Trust, Chennai, on the occasion of inaugurating the Seminar on"Human Rights Education for Prevention of Violence" commemorating the 52nd Anniversary of Universal Declaration of Human Rights ( Human Rights Day) on 11th December 2000, organized by the Human Rights Education Movement of India

Member, National Human Rights Commission

Vice Chancellor of University of Mumbai and President of the World Human Rights Day commemoration programme.

Director, United Nations Information Centre, New Delhi

Member - National Commission for SC / ST, New Delhi

Formerly Judge, High Court, Mumbai

Editor, Dalit International Newsletter

Dalit Theologian & Chairman, DLET



It is my pleasant duty to welcome all of you this afternoon, as we commemorate the 52nd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations at Mumbai. In welcoming you, I would like to provide an introduction to the distinguished guests and say a few words about our work and our vision.

First I would like to welcome to Dr.Justice K.Ramaswamy, who is the Chief Guest of this afternoon. He spared his valuable time to come from Delhi for our function to encourage the work of the Non-Governmental Organizations. Many of you may have known that Dr. Justice Ramaswamy was a very distinguished Judge of the Supreme Court of India who is “jurist par excellence” a title he has earned by hard work. He has established a record in the Supreme Court that he accounted for 2229 reported judgements of the Supreme Court. Again in the Supreme Court, in the year 1996 alone, he has given 710 judgements. In the High Court of Andhra Pradesh where he served with great distinction, in one year he disposed of 10,000 cases. His judgements on social justice especially for the tribal and vulnerable sections of the people has been appreciated by the Members of the bar in India. He established the Right To Health of the people in his judgements. It is really a great honour to have you with us this afternoon and we extend a hearty welcome to you, Sir.

Dr.Bhalchandra Mungekar, Our respected Vice Chancellor, walking in the footsteps of Dr Ambedkar is an outstanding scholar in Economics and is internationally recognised for his scholarship. At the same time he is a social activist and he is in touch with grassroots people and their problems. He visited Chennai for a Seminar in Madras University and then took time off to visit our Trust, see our work and our Delta Training Centre. When we approached him to hold this Programme here, he welcomed us with open arms and an open heart. We are thankful to you Dr.Mungekar and we warmly welcome you, Sir.

Mr.Feodor Starcevic, Director of United Nations Information Centre, is the most popular diplomat in Delhi. He is a great supporter of the NGO’s and the civil society. He is very unique that he transcends barriers in the International Bureaucracy in reaching out to the people with warmth. He provides a human face to the UN in India. He has consistently supported our work for the downtrodden. It is a great pleasure in extending a warm welcome to Mr.Starcevic.

Mrs.Veena Nayyar became popular as a dynamic Member of the National Commission for SC/ST by reviewing the work of District Administrators and Collectors in implementing the programmes for the uplift of the Dalits. In the process she has earned the affection of the Dalit people all over India as the defender of the Dalit Human Rights. We are very happy that she found time to be with us this afternoon amidst a busy schedule at Delhi. I extend a warm welcome to you, Madam.

Justice Hosbet Suresh, is a well-known Judge of Mumbai High Court interested in Human Rights and environment issues. He supports the work of the NGO’s. I am happy he found time to be with us. And I welcome, warmly you, Sir.

Dr.John C.B.Webster, is well known Professor of History and a defender of Dalit Human Rights. He had served in Punjab for 15 years. He is known for his research all over India. Dr. Webster has made special effort to stop in Mumbai on his return journey to U.S. I warmly welcome him.

Bishop Dr.M. Azariah, the Chairman of our Trust is well known all over the world for highlighting the discrimination of Dalit people and Dalit Christians. He is an activist and a friend, philosopher and guide to us. I warmly welcome him.

Ms.Teesta Setalvad, is a fine example of how a media person can work for Human Rights. More about her will be stated in the citation for her. I warmly welcome Ms. Setalvad.

Last three years our Award functions were held in Delhi, this year we are delighted to organise this Programme in Mumbai for three reasons. First Maharashtra, the Marathi region, gave us the liberator of our Dalit people, Babasaheb Dr Ambedkar, Babasaheb Ambedkar studied in Mumbai University. We are delighted we have this opportunity to be associated with our friends here in this region.

Secondly, we want the business community in Mumbai, the Business Capital of India to lead this nation by establishing human rights desks in Chambers of Commerce and promote human rights education, similar to the British Business Community. For example Prince of Wales Business Forum has promoted Human Rights for Corporate Business Houses. I hope something like this can be accomplished here.

Thirdly it is my vision that a Human Rights media movement should emerge in Mumbai to give a lead to our nation – especially in the field of education and influencing public opinion and shaping the political will. Ms.Teesta Setalvad the recipient of Human Rights Award 2000 today is a fine example of this effort. One can easily imagine the miracle happening in India and the social transformation, which may come into our society when the powerful communication media and the powerful business can join together. If educationists and intellectuals can join in this effort it will bring even better results. I leave this idea with you to take it up in whatever appropriate manner you may feel to extend your co-operation.

The Dalit Liberation Education Trust was established in 1985 at Chennai for work among grassroots communities providing awareness education on Human Rights in rural areas. Out of this experience we realised the need for a national movement for Human Rights that in 1988 at New Delhi YMCA we commemorated the 40th Anniversary of the UDHR, in which distinguished persons like Dr. K. R Narayanan, our beloved President then as the Minister for Science & Technology, Mr I.K Gujral, Mrs Margaret Alva, some foreign Ambassadors and others participated. We were privileged then to get an invitation to participate in the World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna and its preparatory meetings in Asia. In 1996 we accepted the invitation of Justice Ranganath Mishra, then Chairperson of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to jointly (with NHRC) organise a historically significant National Conference on Societal Violence on Dalits, which was inaugurated by the then Speaker of Lok Sabha, Mr P.A. Sangma. Several distinguished scholars all over India participated in it. The proceedings of this National Conference are now available in a book form; entitled “Human Rights of Dalits Societal Violence” brought out by Gyan Publishing House, Delhi.

We instituted the Human Rights Award in 1995 to acknowledge the Human Rights Activists who struggle, suffer to protect Human Rights and promote Human Rights. The First award went to Mr Sivalingam, Advocate in Nilgiris, a staunch defender of the rights of the plantation workers and repatriates. He suffered imprisonment for several months then. And he is no more with us. For promotion of Human Rights the award was given to research scholars and journalists. Two of the Human Rights Award Recipients are with us: Mr. Starcevic who received during the 50th Anniversary of UDHR in 1998 for promoting Human Rights and earlier to Dr Webster, a professor of History for his pioneering research work on conversion movements of Dalits. We now work in 80 villages in three Districts in Tamil Nadu among rural poor. We have established a Multipurpose Training Centre, The Delta Campus, south of Mahabalipuram in a beautiful rural setting where we have a School of Nursing and a School of Catering to train rural poor youth from oppressed communities’. The Delta training Centre is also a place where people from different country's and cultures can work together and realise the human dignity. I extend an invitation to all of you to visit us. We are keen to share our experience with people in other parts of the country and therefore participate in advocacy programmes networking nationally.

We are living at a momentous time in history. We are privileged to enter the new millennium. I know all of you are here because you want to make a difference in this world, to make this world a better place to live, a world in which peace and progress can be enjoyed by children and the younger generations.

As we move into a new phase of life in the 21st century, we do not want to carry the historical burden of discrimination, violence and hate. We want to be really free, enjoy the fruits of freedom in India as global citizens. In this process we have to examine human mind, which produce man-made disasters like tribal wars, religious feuds, hate and societal violence. The Noble Peace Prize Winner, Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., the liberator of African American people in the USA, said: ”We have learned to fly in the air like birds, and swim the sea like fish but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers. Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men”.

In this context, the United Nations has declared the year 2001, as the International Year to Combat Racism. The United Nations reminds us that we are living in the “Third Decade of Combating Racism”. The United Nations has convened the historically important WORLD CONFERENCE ON RACISM in September 2001, which will be held in Durban, South Africa. There is a debate going on among the NGO’s whether the caste discrimination has a racial origin, whether caste discrimination comes under the purview of Racial Discrimination and whether it should be included in the agenda of the World Conference on Racism. In this context of combating communalism, discrimination, we are eager to end violence, the reason we thought it is important to organise this Seminar on Prevention of Violence through Human Rights Education to draw the attention of our Nation to this important aspect. It is the denial of the right to development, which manifests in violence in rural areas. The UN is emphasizing the right to development in the recent years. Though the Declaration on the Right to Development was publicized in 1986, its importance is yet to be realised. It is my conviction that human rights is the new paradigm for 21st Century in which all governments, all societies, all development programmes and democratic process will be measured and judged by Human Rights enjoyed by the people.

I hope these ideas will stimulate some discussions among the NGOs and during the Seminar this afternoon. Once again I welcome all of you.

Thank You.

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