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PUCL Bulletin, March 2006

First Nani A Palkhivala Award to PUCL

-- By Y.H. Malegam, 16 January 2006

(As reported in the February issue of the ’Bulletin the PUCL was awarded the first Nani A. Palkhivala Award for the Preservation of Civil Liberties. The Palkhivala Memorial Trust announced an individual Award also to Ms. Navaz Kotwal. We give below the Citations for both – Chief Editor)

People’s Union for Civil Liberties

People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Delhi was founded by Jaya Prakash Narayan, V.M. Tarkunde and M.C. Chagla in response to the dark times in our Country’s history when the Emergency was declared and civil liberties denied to its citizens. PUCL’s Charter is to defend and promote civil liberties and the democratic way of life throughout India.

From the days of the Founding Conference in 1980 in which Nani Palkhivala along with many eminent citizens participated, the organization has grown from strength to strength. It has responded to the crises in the country (and there were many) when civil liberties and the democratic way of life were under attack. It has rendered signal service in their protection.

PUCL’s credo is to ensure the sanctity of the rights of the individual, consistent, as it always must be, with the rights of others, for only then can we aspire to call ourselves a truly democratic country. With the broad palette of concerns that PUCL has and its reach in almost all the States of India, it has been involved with and acted in a variety of matters ranging from the deprivation of rights of the underprivileged, poor and oppressed both in the rural and urban areas, who would otherwise have no voice, women’s rights, corruption in our polity, preservation of human rights, independence of the Judiciary and freedom of the press.

PUCL has through various actions and interventions, worked for these issues. It has held talks, seminars, workshops, carried out campaigns in the media, filed scores of public interest litigations, mobilized public opinion, investigated complaints of violations of civil liberties, and succeeded in redressing many violations of the people’s rights, and thereby preserving their civil liberties.

The Charter of Demands of PUCL appropriately asks for the freedom of the press, the repeal of repressive laws, the right to information, the freedom and independence of the judiciary… which are all the bedrock of a democracy and the guarantee for the protection of civil liberties.

Through this Award the Trust applauds and recognizes the contribution of People’s Union for Civil Liberties in the defense and protection of civil liberties and citizens’ rights and its continued efforts for the preservation of the fragile fabric of our Democracy. – Y.H. Malegam, Chairman, C/o. Forum of Free Enterprise, Peninsula House, 2nd Floor, 235, Dr. D.N. Road, Mumbai 400 001, 16 January 2006.

Ms Navaz Kotwal

The People Ms. Navaz Kotwal at the age of 26 joined Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) as a volunteer with no training or experience of CHRI’s concerns for the promotion of human rights and civil liberties. The end of February 2002 saw the shameful communal carnage take place in Gujarat. Her ability to speak Gujarati singled her out to go to Gujarat to see what assistance and legal relief could be organized for the riot afflicted.

Navaz made the restoration of civil liberties for the people affected by Gujarat’s traumatic events her mission. Witness to the tragedies there, Navaz threw herself first into providing physical relief to the victims and then to restoring to them what was left of their homes and lives. In doing this, she realised that securing justice was the first step to communal peace and to the regaining of civil liberties. When the Government moved hastily to shut down relief camps, despite not being able to ensure the safe return of the families to their villages, Navaz brought the plight of the people to the media, Government and Parliament, thereby preventing the premature closure of the camps.

Navaz through her efforts ensured the safe return of 49 families to their village homes they had been forced to flee. Navaz has since 2002, collected numerous testimonies and videographed tales of riot survivors with a view to assisting them to initiate legal redress for their rights and to get them their day in Court. The poor and oppressed are vulnerable to intimidation when seeking remedies for their wrongs, but the meticulous details of Navaz’s findings could not be denied and are now being examined by a Commission of Inquiry looking into the causes of this communal carnage.

The efforts of Navaz and her small team of colleagues and lawyers in documenting the horrors of that time – murders, arson, rapes, looting – have revealed the total denial of the civil liberties of the people and have resulted in the cases being reopened for investigation. When in March 2002, twenty three members of the minority community were hacked to death and the police did not file a report, despite eye witness accounts, the cases were finally registered in 2003 due to Navaz’s dogged persistence.

To ensure that people are armed with systems and resources, should such awful happenings occur again, Navaz has created and designed programmes guided by para-legals for imparting legal literacy to the poor and unschooled of both communities so that they have a common language of understanding and mutual respect for each other’s rights and liberties.

Repairing and making whole the delicate structure of a society torn apart by riots was a priority for Navaz, knowing that such a bonding would in future be a sure basis for securing civil liberties. In doing so, Navaz has now become the role model for the community.

Navaz came as a raw recruit to CHRI with no formal legal training and she has now empowered herself with knowledge, which has benefited many, who have, because of her, got a voice. This she and her colleagues did, against high odds, risking their personal safety as they are constantly under threat. In making this Award the Trust salutes this courageous and dedicated citizen for her efforts to protect civil liberties and hopes she will serve as an inspiration to others, exemplifying as she does, the creed by which Nani Palkhivala lived and worked, namely that even one person can make a difference.

(Y.H. Malegam, Chairman, C/o. Forum of Free Enterprise, Peninsula House, 2nd Floor, 235, Dr. D.N. Road, Mumbai 400 001)

People's Union for Civil Liberties, 81 Sahayoga Apartmrnts, Mayur Vihar I, Delhi 110091, India. Phone (91) 11 2275 0014