Once in same jail as Gandhi, Naidoo gets Pravasi Award

January 10th, 2009 - 8:43 pm ICT by IANS  

Pratibha PatilChennai, Jan 10 (IANS) Two years ago, Parmanathan ‘Prema’ Naidoo stood in the doorway of the cell at the Fort in Johannesburg, now the premises of the Constitutional Court in a democratic South Africa, and recalled the torture he had undergone as an apartheid-era prisoner in the same jail where young lawyer Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi had been imprisoned almost a century earlier and later Nelson Mandela as well.The occasion was the birth anniversary of Gandhi, and a special puppet show from India was being presented at the court to mark the occasion.

It was thus fitting when Naidoo joined a dozen other People of Indian Origin (PIO) on stage at the Convention Centre here Friday to receive a Pravasi Bharatiya Award from President Pratibha Patil on the anniversary of the day that Gandhi first arrived in South Africa to develop his philosophies that would assist both India and later South Africa to gain independence.

Some of the 1,500 delegates from all over the diaspora were puzzled as to why Naidoo was getting an award from the Indian government when his citation indicated that he had played an important role in the formation of the anti-South African Indian Council Committee (SAIC) in 1981.

In fact, the SAIC was an apartheid-era body created by the white minority government in an attempt to appease the political aspirations of the million plus South African Indians descended from the first indentured labourers who arrived in the country in 1860.

Naidoo was instrumental in mobilising the masses to reject those who stood for election to the SAIC, resulting in very poor turnouts at the polls.

Repeatedly harassed by security police of the apartheid government, Naidoo was always at the forefront of fighting issues on behalf of the community in the huge Indian area of Lenasia, south of Johannesburg, where the city’s Indians had been forcibly resettled under apartheid area separate development laws.

After the first democratic elections, Naidoo was elected to the municipality and is now in charge of environmental projects for the city. He has already introduced large new parks and other environmental projects in previously underdeveloped areas like Lenasia and Soweto.

That sort of lifelong commitment secured the Pravasi Award for Naidoo, who told IANS in his characteristic humble way that he had accepted the award on behalf of the many other fighters, some of whom had even given their lives in the struggle for freedom.

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