28, Nov 2020 | CJP Team
CJP secretary Teesta Setalvad received her honourary doctorate from the University of British Columbia (UBC) on Thursday in an online ceremony. The Doctor of Laws degree was awarded to the journalist and human rights defender online, as international travel has been suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Introducing Setalvad, UBC vice chancellor and Santa J. Ono said, “Teesta Setalvad is an Indian civil rights activist and an author who has made extraordinary contributions in support of marginalized populations plagued by communal violence.” He said Setalvad’s work has also “exposed majoritarianism and religious fanaticism in India and other parts of the world. She has also been influential on issues concerning rights of women, religious minorities, Indigenous persons, and the LGBTQ community.”
Accepting the honour Setalvad said, “This is indeed a rare, unusual and precious occasion. Rare and unusual because of the creative way in which we are together remotely online, given all the challenges our societies and peoples face in wake of the crippling Coronavirus pandemic. Now more than ever the impact has been worse on our marginalized and unseen populations.”
On the subject of rights and privilege, Setalvad said, “There are Laws and Laws. Laws that can underline universal and sublime principles of equality, dignity, diversity and non-discrimination, emancipatory laws, and those that can institutionalise inequality, indignity, homogeneity and discrimination. Societies such as ours, that are still layered by privilege and structural difference and discrimination, resist the implementation of the former, especially if they have been passed to ensure the recognition of rights of those rendered voiceless, women, indigenous peoples (Adivasis), religious minorities, Dalits, working Indians.”
Teesta Setalvad’s entire speech may be read here:
Mr Chancellor, Mr President and Members of the UBC Community This is indeed a rare, unusual and precious occasion. Rare and unusual because of the creative ways in which we are together, remotely online, given what all the challenges our societies and peoples face in the wake of the crippling Coronavirus Pandemic. Now more than ever, the impact has been worst on our most marginalised and unseen populations who, ironically are also among those who contribute most fundamentally to run our urban and rural economies. Precious because even in these solitary and otherwise bleak times, there comes such a moment where I, among others, am one of those fortunate enough to indulge in a moment of celebration, recognition and vindication for the work put in for the realisation of legal and civil rights, in defence of diversity and non-discrimination, for decades. It is a humbling and rewarding moment. To all the other recipients of the honorary doctorate degrees I offer Saluts! Esteemed Friends, world over we are seeing a brute assault on fundamental freedoms and dignity, where, ironically it is the State and Governments that lead this charge. Sadness, Dread, Tears and Anger are what my fellow compatriots in the human rights and media fraternity within my country, and I wake up to each day as the Rule of Law premised on a Constitutional philosophy of due process, adherence to both transparency and accountability, is trampled. For decades now, our involvement, and my obsession if you like, has involved working with the application of the law for the realisation of social justice, inclusion and compassion. In this journey, that often and inevitably leads to a conflict with entrenched interests within and outside Government, what is stark is the refusal of existing agencies to apply legal standards to interrogate available evidence, apply laws to question perpetrators in positions of power during the occurrence of mass, targeted crimes. Our job then, as lawyers and activists is to stay the course, persevere, not abandon the Survivor in her pursuit for justice and often therefore face the malice of an unforgiving system. To push the envelope in the pursuit of justice remains the real challenge. The long arm of the law is often twisted by vindicive regimes and substantive justice is often delayed, or completely denied. Friends, today in my country as in so many across the world, which include Turkey, Hungary, Pakistan among many others, State power is being abused at every and all levels to stifle voices of social and political dissent. Jail terms under draconian anti-terror federal and state laws have denied lawyers, thinkers, activists and working citizens their freedoms. This abuse continues even as we meet and I speak. The northern region of Kashmir is a particular target and the media there functions under serious threat. Vendetta and Revenge appears to be the guiding principle of regimes. Promptness and Vigilance from the institutions created to check such fundamental abuses, are tardy and wanting. The challenge for us today is to renew the faith, the pledge to ourselves, the Constitution of India and the world, that we will not be silenced by this relentless assault. There are Laws and Laws. Laws that can underline universal and sublime principles of equality, dignity, diversity and non-discrimination, emancipatory laws, and those that can institutionalise inequality, indignity, homogeneity and discrimination. Societies such as ours, that are still layered by privilege and structural difference and discrimination, resist the implementation of the former, especially if they have been passed to ensure the recognition of rights of those rendered voiceless, women, indigenous peoples (Adivasis), religious minorities, Dalits, working Indians. In past centuries --before the world evolved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and countries evolved (or so we believed) on the former more inclusive and equitous frameworks –the term Black Laws to label those which denied and discriminated was common. Though today we understand that it is extremely racist to use such a term. Ironic is it not that in the 21st century world, and India –our being the world’s largest democracy – a string of such Anti-inclusion and anti-empowerment Laws are being passed by Legislatures that have one thing in common. A brute electoral majority. Electoral victories and majorities clearly do not deepen Constitutional Rights Driven Morality, they often vitiate it. Not only are these developments a challenge for the student of law, philosophy and political science but ought to raise a serious reckoning to all those concerned with taking or leading our societies towards a more humane and just order. One of the most fundamental assaults in my country likely to cause a ‘civil death’ to millions of Indians has been through amendments in Citizenship Laws and threatened documentary tests of citizenship. Already in the north eastern state of Assam a staggering 2.2 million Indians and their families face the spectre of statelessness. It is in this world of inverted order and disordered logic that another phenomenon challenges humane existence. The persistence, spread and legitimisation of Hate Speech (and Expression). Hate Speech is not Free Speech in that it almost always targets already vulnerable populations situated in structural, social or political inequality. Weaponising the nation state and weaponising religion go hand in hand when sedition, blasphemy and apostasy laws are used to block critical questioning and expression. Hate speech anywhere is proliferating and the vicious spoken and written word is often the precursor to the physical targeting of vulnerable populations and minorities. The UBC academic community is a fit place to share these concerns with. A daunting challenge is to set right this inversion and put our societies and governments back on the road to both Truth and Justice. Thank You ALL.
The remote ceremony may be viewed here:
Setalvad finds herself in an august company. Some of the human rights defenders honoured this year include:
Keiko Mary Kitagawa, O.B.C., who with her family was among the more than 22,000 Canadians of Japanese descent uprooted, disposed, dispersed, incarcerated and enslaved during and after the Second World War. Kitagawa is a tireless social justice and anti-racism leader and activist, whose efforts led to Japanese Canadian students who had not been able to complete their education due to forced removal and incarceration in 1942, ultimately being conferred with honorary undergraduate degrees in 2012.
Tantoo Cardinal, C.M., a celebrated Canadian actor of First Nations/Métis descent who has been widely recognized for her contributions to the growth and development of Aboriginal performing arts in Canada, especially breaking barriers for onscreen representation of Indigenous peoples and has challenged negative stereotypes throughout her career.
Tracy Porteous, a Registered Clinical Counsellor and leader in the Canadian anti-violence movement who for the better part of four decades has worked to address gender-based violence through cross-sectoral policy, program, training and legislative development.
Paul Thiele who overcame his own visual impairment to study comparative literature and complete his Bachelor of Arts degree. He subsequently became the co-founder, architect and head of UBC’s Crane Library, an invaluable resource centre for visually impaired students for over 50 years. His knowledge regarding visual impairment issues has helped to shape legislation and inform library management throughout Canada.
Other recipients include first ever Principal Dancer of Chinese-Canadian heritage at The National Ballet of Canada, Chan Hon Goh, one of Canada’s most celebrated and respected authors, Lawrence Hill, member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, Doug Johnson, advocate for the rights of people with lived experience of dementia, Jim Mann, and UBC Chancellor Emeritus Sarah Morgan-Silvester who is known for championing diverse and inclusive environments, particularly for women.