by Mr. Vivek D'souza
MATUNGA-MUMBAI, DECEMBER 9, 2014: The 2nd Youth forum on Human Rights took place on December 7, 2014 at Don Bosco International School, Matunga. Over 70 young adults from all walks of life and education took part. The theme of the event was 'Human Rights: Knowing it, Living it." This forum aimed at highlighting some of the very basic Human Rights that are important in terms of awareness, mobilization and taking action. The event kick started with a brief introduction on Human Rights given by Ms. Marina D'costa, the socio-political coordinator for Don Bosco Youth Services (DBYS).
Thereafter, a short video was played where the United Nations Secretary General Ban-Ki-Moon presented this year's slogan 'Human Rights 365'. It encompasses the idea that every day is Human Rights Day. The presence of Chief Guest Ms. Kia Scherr, President of One Life Alliance, and the Guest of Honour Fr. Steve Rodrigues sdb was very welcoming. A meaningful prayer service was animated by Mr. Alan.
Our dignitaries Ms. Kia, Fr. Steve, Fr. Glenn Lowe - Director of DBYS, and a few youth representatives joined in for the lighting of the lamp. Scripture passages from different religions were read. Ms. Kia Scherr gave the keynote address as she poured out her experiences during the 2008 Mumbai Attacks. She emphasized the role of peace – a vital element that can promote Human Rights for all. Fr. Steve Rodrigues too challenged the youth to be champions of peace and Human Rights.
Fr. Cleophas Braganza, assistant Director of DBYS, presented a comprehensive documentary on the origin of Human Rights. The session was very informative as it gave a deep insight on the origins from Natural Law to Natural Rights to Human Rights. Certainly, the establishment of these rights took many years of realization, hard work, struggle, awareness and even the death of millions. A 'I Stand for Human Rights' group photograph with the eminent panelists was another highlight.
The panel discussion focused on 3 crucial aspects of life that come under the purview of Human Rights. They were: Identity based Discrimination (Religious Minorities), Domestic Workers, and the Environment. The discussion consisted of eminent panelists – Dr. Ram Puniyani, Sr. Patsy Khan and Mr. Rishi Aggarwal who were experts in their fields of work. Fr. Savio Silveira sdb, Director of Don Bosco Development Society, moderated the panel discussion. Each of the panelists was given a limited speaking slot and clarifications were asked after each presentation.
Dr. Ram Puniyani, a Human Rights activist spoke about the atrocities faced by religious minorities. His area was never limited only to India. He spoke about the injustice of religious minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh and typically in the South Asian developing countries. According to Dr. Ram, the dominance of politics in religion is the root cause of conflict. Throughout his presentation, he briefly stated his views about communal violence and communal politics.
He spoke about how the rising classes harbored equality, fraternity and the idea of equal rights, whereas the declining classes sought to religion as their tool to propagate their political agenda causing misunderstandings and violence. "Criticizing a political tendency is not hatred. However, criticizing the religious community is a form of hatred. Hatred is manufactured. And this hatred burns like a flame in the hearts of those who claim that people belonging to other faiths are inferior," he emphasized.
Sr. Patsy Khan has worked with domestic workers for quite a long time. In her journey, she mentioned her experiences of coming across distraught domestic workers that have been used, abused, and humiliated. As her sacred calling, she decided to advocate for the rights of the domestic workers. She said, "In a modern city like Mumbai, domestic workers run the economy simply because double income families are dependent on them.
However, these domestic workers who apply for an in-residency full time job are victims of torture, brutality, violence and rape." She added, "In times like these, it has become increasingly difficult to lobby to the governments to advocate for the rights of the domestic workers." She further explained that it is we (citizens who buy labor) that need to be aware of their rights, treat them as equal individuals and empower them to be citizens of society.
Mr. Rishi Aggarwal is an advocate for nature. He specializes on the advocacy for the environment where he has worked effortlessly throughout his years in the saving of trees, right to breathe pollution-free air and has always emphasized on the importance of grassroots advocacy. Through short video clips, Mr. Aggarwal made us aware of the dust filled environment in which we live. He also spoke about the Blue-Green coalition that is a joint effort of the Blue-collar workers in the US and green environmentalists. He also focused on the importance on segregation of waste right from the source to avoid accumulations at dumpsites.
A very interactive Q and A session followed. All through the panel presentations and discussions, one could sense a new found hope and commitment to 'youth participation' and 'active citizenship' in such areas of advocacy. Fr. Silveira drew important conclusions to the entire morning's session.
In the afternoon, we broke for lunch, where the participants and the panelists enjoyed lip-smacking food. During the latter half of the day, the budding Human Rights activists assembled in the hall in ten groups. Through effective Case Studies, every group was given the task of identifying various Human Rights violations, course of area and possible solutions. Fr. Cleophas Braganza very ably conducted this session. Every group had to portray their interpretations through posters or other creative forms. A creative skit and lively songs by DBYS Youth highlighted Human Rights and violations in everyday life. A flash-mob dance 'Let it go' surprised all. The young participants joined in happily.
There are no fruitful forums without 'commitments'. Participants were given Human Rights materials that included posters, stickers, and bookmarks. As part of the commitment process, participants were asked to at least pen down one commitment that they would focus on. Photographs - selfies and groupies, holding placards titled 'I STAND FOR HUMAN RIGHTS' stole the show. They were instructed to spread the message of treating everyone with equality and making people aware of their basic human rights.
Indeed, the 2nd Youth Forum on Human Rights was really an eye-opener in terms of making young people aware of their Rights and Responsibilities. Today, young people are considered to be change makers and drivers of development. This 2nd Youth Forum on Human Rights was truly a platform for all to be empowered and to empower others to march with the marginalized in creating a just society. The presence of Fr. Ryan Alex, Director DYC – Mumbai, was highly appreciated. The 2nd Youth Forum on Human Rights concluded with a Vote of Thanks by Ms. Marina D'costa, the socio-political coordinator for DBYS.