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Gujarat priest wins top French award

Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash was awarded his efforts to defend human rights.

india Updated: May 19, 2006 21:08 IST

The French government has awarded Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash with the Chevalier de la Legion d' Honneur for his efforts to defend human rights.

French Ambassador to India Dominique Girard, in a letter to the priest dated May 16, said French President Jacques Chirac has conferred the top civilian award on the priest.

"It is an honour not only for me but also for all my co-workers who have been relentlessly crusading for restoring human rights in every sphere of life, especially in communally infested Gujarat state," Father Prakash said.

The 54-year-old firebrand activist who has been promoting human rights for over 30 years received numerous death threats for supporting Muslim victims after the 2002 Gujarat communal violence.

He said receiving the news of the award was a very "humbling experience" and it was a "great morale booster" for all hard working activists who work for human rights without counting the costs.

The letter addressed to him said that with the award France acknowledges the priest's "lifetime commitment to the defence and the promotion of human rights in India".

The award would be presented by the French ambassador at a function to be held in Ahmedabad toward the end of June.

Father Prakash is the director of Prashanth, Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace, headquartered in Ahmedabad. He is also coordinator of the voluntary organisation Integral Social Development (POISD).

Besides, he is national vice-president of the Peoples Union for Human Rights (PUHR) and a spokesperson of the Christian community in Gujarat as well as the secretary for Social Communications of the Western Region Catholic Bishops Council.

The French award was initiated by the first Consul of the French Republic Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 and is given to an elite group of people who distinguish themselves through military or civilian valour.

Father Prakash has been championing the cause of human rights in Gujarat and in other parts of India.

In the wake of Hindu-Muslims riots in 2002, he testified before the US Commission for International Religious Freedom in Washington. The priest was also invited to address several universities and public meetings across the US to highlight human rights violations.

Other awards received by him include the Kabir Puraskar, which the president of India conferred on him in 1995 for promoting communal harmony and peace in 2003.

The Indian Muslim Council, US, presented him with the Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Award for Humanitarian Work in 2004. He was also awarded the Fr Parmananda Divarkar Award for Communication for Peace in January 2004 for promoting dialogue for peace and inter-community harmony.