Monday, May 31, 2010

Mangalore air crash survivor thanks God

Surviving tragedies seems to run in the D’Souza family. Joel Pratap D’Souza, the youngest of three children in this Catholic family, was among eight survivors of the May 22 air crash in Mangalore that killed 158 people.
His father Joseph D’Souza was among four survivors from a boat that sank in the Arabian Sea with 14 people on board 26 years ago.
“Life is a mystery which no one can explain except God,” Joseph told UCA News on May 30 sitting with his son in their hut in Vamanjoor, 10 kilometers from Mangalore, Karnataka state.
Joel escaped death by jumping out of a hole in the aircraft that appeared near his seat. “I jumped and three others fell on me,” he recalled. He later spent five days in hospital after fracturing his spine and injuring his right knee.
Joel says his family believes providence saved him.
He said he didn’t think he would see his family again as he prepared to jump from the aircraft. “Yet God wanted me to live on,” he told UCA News on May 29.
Joel said he did not want to alarm his parents so he called his brother-in-law in Dubai, who broke the news to the family about his lucky escape.
His only regret was that he could not keep a promise to a traveling companion to drop him off home. “Unfortunately he died and his mother is inconsolable,” he added.
Joel’s father says God not only opened the aircraft near his son’s seat but also kept Joel’s presence of mind intact at a trying time. He said a Capuchin priest had visited the house the previous evening and prayed for the family.
Joel’s strength of character has impressed Air India’s chairman and managing director, Arvind Jadhav, who has offered him a job.

Bishops meet Andhra chief minister

Some 20 bishops and Church leaders in Andhra Pradesh met state chief minister K. Rosaiah May 29, discussing several issues including increasing attacks on Christians.
The Andhra Pradesh Federation of Churches (APFC), an apex body of the major Christian denominations including Catholics, organized the meeting.
The Christian leaders discussed ways to revive of subsidy given to the pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The subsidy was suspended after petitions were filed against it in the Supreme Court.
The others issues taken up include the construction of churches pending because of cases in the High Court and increasing atrocities on the pastors and Christians.
The Church also sought stat’s permission to construct over 3,000 houses for the victims of the floods of last October and the cyclone of last week.
APFC secretary Bishop P. Anthony of Kurnool read out the memorandum seeking reservation for dalit Christians. It urged the chief minister to send a letters to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi urging them to introduce the bill in the coming session of parliament.
The Chief Minister briefed them on action taken on various issues and assured financial support to the Christian schools under the Minority Welfare scheme as the policy to discontinue the grant-in-aid still stands.

Lay Catholic’s film bags international award

A film by a lay Catholic in Kerala that speaks of seven nuns and a divorcee has won the first prize at the 25th International Catholic Film Festival held at Niepokalanow, near Warsaw in Poland.
Leo Thaddeus used high degree of symbolism in photography, music, dialogue and art work in his 56-minute film titled Nurunguvettangal (gems of light), the jury noted.
Thaddeus’ work was among 172 films and 40 radio programs from 20 countries scrutinized at the three-day festival that ended May 30.
The film in Malayalam with English subtitles is a story of seven nuns like seven colors, or seven notes with their issues of attachments, boredom, conservatism, prejudice, workaholism, desires and fears.
The film is conceived and produced by the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel, (CMC) Province in Irinjalakkuda, Kerala in the context of several controversies regarding the lives of nuns. Some recent developments in the state have affirmed the prejudice of the society toward women choosing religious life.
The film written and directed by Thaddeus and shot in Wagamon and suburbs in Idukki district tries to project nuns as human beings with the similar feelings, emotions and conflicts as ordinary women.
“I do not want to label it a Christian film but as a film that looks deep into the convent life of certain human characters,” says Thaddeus who entered the tinsel world as an assistant to film director Bhadran.
Thaddeus’ directorial debut Pachamarathanalil starring Sreenivasan and Padmapriya was released two years ago.
Though the nine-member jury did not find any film fit for third prize in the feature film category, they made special mention of two films by Indian directors. They were: the festival opening film in English entitled The Last Appeal, story of St Faustina of the Divine Mercy devotion by Fr. Bala Udumala and To My Beloved Teacher, a Malayalam film with English subtitles by Salesain Father Jiji Kalavanal, based in Kerala.

Meghalaya clashes linked to dispute

A senior Presbyterian leader in Meghalaya says recent “ethnic clashes” in the Christian-dominated northeastern Indian state were part of a continuing border dispute with Assam.
Four people were killed and 26 injured on May 14 after police were forced to open fire on warring Khasi and Nepalese groups.
“Assam sends Nepalese people to settle in border areas, which it shares with Meghalaya in order to claim the areas as its own,” said Reverend P.B.M. Basaiamoit, vice-president of the National Council of Churches in India.
He said there are no ethnic tensions between native Meghalaya tribal groups – Garo, Jaintia, Khasi and Nepalese.
Fighting broke out in Langpih village, some 60 kilometers from Assam’s commercial capital Guwahati. Both Assam and Meghalaya lay claim to the area.
Langpih is located close to Meghalaya’s West Khasi Hills district, home to the Khasi tribe, and near Assam’s Kamrup district.
Khasi elders say Assam has settled many Nepalese migrants in the disputed area. Khasi people, fearing the loss of their land, often clash with the settlers.
The latest outbreak of violence started after the Khasi Students Union issued notices to the Nepalese to leave the area.
However, Khasi tribal leaders intervened and withdrew the notices saying the issue must be sorted out at state level, said Reverend Basaiamoit, who is based in Meghalaya.
The dead victims in the clashes were all Khasi.
Some 70 percent of the 2.3 million people in Meghalaya are Christians. It is one of three Christian dominated states in India. The others are Nagaland and Mizoram.

Time for Asia’s bishops to rise to fresh challenges

Akkad in Mesopotamia was the center of the world’s first empire some 25 centuries before Christ. The Akkadian language outlasted the empire, becoming the language of several later cultures, including Babylonia.
Even 45 centuries later, we possibly still use a couple of words from that language in our day-to-day activities, words that may descend from the Akkadian words asu, “to ascend,” and erub, “to descend.” They were the roots of the words for “east” and “west,” where the sun ascends and descends. In English, we pronounce them “Asia” and “Europe.”
Eventually, the word “Asia” came to mean the mass of lands, cultures and peoples east of the Roman Empire’s heartland, a usage that survives in the Catholic Church.
That is why the Church’s 1998 Extraordinary Synod for Asia included parts of the world such as Lebanon that nobody thinks of when they hear the word Asia. It also accounts for Pope John Paul II’s meaningless exclamation in Ecclesia in Asia that Jesus was born in Asia.
In fact, the concept of Asia is a Western one. No culture outside of Europe seems to have tried to develop a single word or concept to encompass and categorize hundreds of cultures, languages, religions and environments either in their own neighborhood or for the whole world.
In Europe itself, its own continental designation came to embody a sort of nostalgia for the unity of the Roman Empire, a nostalgia that finds its latest manifestation in the European Union.
So, what is Asia? The word is used to cover so much that it actually designates nothing. Tour guides in Israel, petroleum engineers in Saudi Arabia, shepherds in Afghanistan, software developers in India, fisherfolk in the Philippines, monks in Thailand, artists in Indonesia, factory workers in China, Orthodox priests in Siberia, “salary men” in Japan - what have they in common? Not much beyond their human genome and an ancient Roman designation of them all as Asian.
There is, however, one area where the word Asia has taken on a useful meaning. Ironically, it has done so within the Catholic Church which is so wedded to the language, culture, mindset and even geography of the Roman Empire.
The Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences began in 1970 when a group of bishops realized that more than any geographic designation, there were challenges and opportunities that linked them: post-colonial Churches that lacked power, the development of local Church leaders, the encounter with great religious and philosophic systems, poverty, political oppression and the beginnings of democracy.
The FABC began a process of theological exploration that took those challenges and opportunities as a starting point. A series of ground-breaking monographs, the FABC Papers, was one result.
Another result was a sense of communion among the bishops, a realization that what united them was not “Asianness,” but a shared commitment to evangelization in a non-Western world, in a non-Western mode.
The preparations for the Asia Synod showed how much this shared consciousness was at work when the bishops rejected the preparations by the Roman curia in favor of dealing with their own concerns.
When the FABC bishops with their experience of dealing with issues as a group encountered the other, unorganized, “Asian” participants at the Synod, it became clear that a new form of collegiality had appeared in the Church.
Unfortunately, the Synod seems to have been a high-water mark. Those appointed by Rome as successors to the FABC pioneers do not seem to be devoted to continuing the earlier work.
The FABC has changed from being a movement to being a bureaucracy that holds committee meetings and produces position papers, but which no longer provides an excited and exciting challenge to move the Church beyond the Roman Empire.
As a group of syllables, Asia has been around for a long, long time. As a useful designation in the Church, it had about 30 years of naming a part of the Church dedicated to finding new ways to evangelize outside the geographic and intellectual confines of the Roman Empire and its Vatican successor.
Can that vision be revitalized? What must we Catholics of this new “Asia” do to make that happen?
Maryknoll Father William Grimm is the publisher of UCA News and former editor-in-chief of “Katorikku Shimbun,” Japan’s Catholic weekly

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Helpline site for people from Northeast

Some Christian leaders in New Delhi jointly launched in 2007 a helpline-website to help students from northeast India, following increased incidents of rape and molestation of students from the region in the national capital.
North East Support Centre and Helpline website-– aims to help students, especially women university students, from the region who fall victim to various social evils.
The website also displays news regarding the northeast people, who are suffering because of the crimes committed against them.
It was initiated by the leaders of All India Catholic Union and All India Christian Council as a response to reports young men and women being harassed and sexual abused in market and work places because of their unique features and culture.

Muslims thank Germans for Gujarat solidarity

Two US-based Indian Muslim groups have praised German parliamentarians, who last month justified the European Union’s position in barring Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi from visiting EU nations.
“The German parliamentarians have taken a bold step. We admire them and ask others to follow their lead in order to bring Modi to justice,” Association of Indian Muslims of America (AIMA) and Indian Muslim Council - USA said in a statement.
Ute Granold from Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic Union Party and Pascal Kober from the Free Democratic Party visited the western Indian state in early April as part of a Catholic aid agency organized tour.
They said Modi was “persona non grata” in European countries for his alleged role in anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 2008.
The parliamentarians also accused Modi of acting like a dictator and criticized his government’s human rights record, drawing parallels between Gujarat under Modi and Germany under Hitler. They also objected to Gujarat history books glorifying Hitler.
The Muslim groups’ statement said the parliamentarians “had learnt first-hand what millions of others … know about Modi, his ideology of hate, his acts of omissions and commissions in the Gujarat genocide of 2002, and his strategy of projecting well-planned genocide as a spontaneous communal riot to hoodwink Gujarat, India and the world.”
The groups said in the past eight years, Modi has jailed hundreds of innocent Muslims labeling them terrorists and forcing many more to live in ghettos, with no basic facilities.
The parliamentarians “only stated what they have actually seen in Gujarat,” the Muslim groups said.
Modi offended by the Germans’ comments, wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on April 9 seeking an apology from them for making “malicious, malignant and maleficent” statements against him.

Church leaders slam Maoists for train attack

Church leaders in India have condemned a Maoist attack on a train in West Bengal that killed 65 people and injured another 200 early this morning.
Brother Mani Mekkunnel, national secretary of Conference of Religious India, condemned the attack which he said was a symbol of human cruelty.
“It is a sign of sickness and the time has come to tackle such things. The government should be firm while dealing with such elements,” the Montfort Brother said.
Sabotage of the track derailed 13 coaches, pushing them into the path of an oncoming freight train in the early hours of May 28.
“We express our condolences for those who are killed. One should understand that by killing people nobody can achieve their goal,” Reverend Enos Pradhan, general secretary of the Church of North India, told UCA news.
The Protestant Church official said the government should take adequate safety measures in sensitive places.
Herod Mullick, general secretary of the Kolkata-based Bangiya Christo Parishad (council for Bengal Christians), said the incident “was very unfortunate and the people behind this should realize that what they are doing is against humanity.”
Mullick said he fails to understand the attackers’ aim and wants them to abstain from violence.
“We will pray for the victims and for those behind this incident so that they change their way,” he told UCA news.
The train accident comes just 10 days after the Maoists blew up a bus in Jharkhand, another state in eastern India, killing 35 people.

Christian hall demolished in Tamil Nadu

A Christian prayer hall, allegedly built in violation of the government rules, has been demolished by government officials at Kambipadu near Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu.
The hall was demolished May 28 following complaints from Hindu Munnani that its construction violated a ban on any new building in the area.
Hindu Munnani is a religious and cultural organization in Tamil Nadu which was formed to defend the Hindu religion, protect Hindu religious monuments.
According to officials, local Hindu Munnani leader Ramamurthy had complained that the Government had banned new constructions after tidal waves lashed the area in 1964.
Besides this, strict rules banning construction near the sea were enforced after the 2004 Tsunami, they said.
The officials said there was no need for another church in the area as St.Anthony’s church existed there for several decades and that a new church might create tension among people.
“We decided to solve the problem at the start and demolish the church, which has been constructed violating all rules,” they said.
A church official is being questioned in connection with the construction, they said.

Church delegation meets Manipur CM

A delegation of the All Manipur Church Organisation met Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh to find a solution to the ongoing economic blockade in the state.
The Thursday meeting comes a day after the leaders of Manipur and Nagaland PCC agreed to hold talks with civil society groups to solve the issue, reported ANI.
The delegation, which was led by Prim Vaiphei, appealed to the chief minister for a dialogue with the All Naga Students’ Association Manipur (ANSAM) and United Naga Council, which are opposed to the district council election, saying the powers given to the district councils are not enough.
“The Chief Minister assured us that he would extend an invitation to the Naga groups very soon,” a member of the Church delegate said.
“We are concerned about the people’s welfare. So we met the chief minister. Conflicts and problems could be solved across the table,” he said.
The ANSAM have imposed a blockade on Imphal-Jiribam and Imphal-Dimapur highways since April 11 to protest against the election.
However, the first phase of the election was held peacefully on Wednesday in Chandel, Sadar Hills in Senapati district and Churachandpur.
Ukhrul, Senapati and Tamenglong districts would undergo polls on June 2 for the second phase.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Church workers told to focus on improving lives

As the Church faces accusations of using its social services for conversion, Sagar diocese in central India is training its workers to concentrate on the betterment of lives.
In a three-day training program that ended May 27, they were told that the diocese needs to be more focused and result oriented if it is to truly transform the lives of the poor. The training was aimed at program coordinators and leaders of over 600 self help groups, 500 of which are exclusively for women.
Davish Namdev, one of the 30 participants, declared the program a success and said “we could have done a better job had we got this training earlier.”
Hindu groups such as the Bharatiya Janata Party have frequently accused Christian groups of attempting to convert underprivileged people while performing social works.

Priests plead for an end to Gujarat violence

Catholic priests in Gujarat have called for an end to ongoing Hindu-Muslim violence in an Ahmedabad suburb.
The violence “is a hard reminder that tensions continue to simmer between the two communities and can erupt at any time and for any flimsy reason,” said Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash who directs a human rights center in the city.
A 55-year-old man, reportedly a Hindu, died on May 26 after being stabbed during group clashes. Mobs also set fire to several vehicles during the violence that began on May 24 in the Shahpur area of the state’s commercial capital.
In a statement, he called on people “not to fall prey to violence” and asked the warring groups to stop the violence immediately. He also called for the authorities to arrest those responsible for the violence and restore peace.
The latest violence “seems to have been engineered” to divert people’s attention away from a probe ordered by the Supreme Court into the murder of a Muslim, allegedly by police officials and politicians, said Father Jolly Nadukudiyil in Vadodara.
Sohrabuddin Sheik was shot dead in November 2005 after police accused him of being a terrorist and plotting to kill state Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
Father Joseph Appavoo, who visited riot-hit area on May 26, suspects a “political hand” in the violence.
He criticized the ruling pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian people’s party) and the opposition Congress Party of accusing each other of engineering riots without making efforts to bring peace.
The riot-prone western Indian state witnessed its worst sectarian violence in 2002, in which some 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were reportedly killed.

Crowds gather to pray for plane crash victims

Some 1,500 people from various religions attended a May 26 prayer meeting in Mangalore diocese for the victims of a recent plane crash.
On May 22, an Air India Express flight from Dubai to Mangalore, southern India, crashed on landing, killing 158 of the 166 people on board. The victims included Christians, Hindus and Muslims.
The Church condolence program included a requiem Mass led by Bishop Aloysius Paul D’Souza of Mangalore and an interreligious prayer meet.
The tragedy should not make people depressed or question God’s goodness, said Bishop D’Souza in his homily. Instead, he urged the gathering to find hope in Christ who overcame death.
The tragedy motivated people to help, console and pray for the victims, forgetting their religious differences, Shanhram Shetty, a local Hindu leader, told the interreligious meeting.
“We have shown our unique human concerns after the event without being labeled or differentiated [according to] religion, caste or creed,” Shetty added.
Muslim leader Mohammed Kunhi said that only faith in God could comfort the victims’ families.
The “unforgettable tragedy,” he told participants, has shown that death has no religion or caste. It has “awakened the human consciousness in us” and “called us to improve our lives” by fostering better relations with one other.
Later, Bishop D’Souza and Shetty joined Modihim Bava, a Muslim religious leader, in placing a floral wreath on a symbolic grave erected on a dais for the victims.

Kolkata Salesian gets international media award

The International Catholic Film Festival that began in Poland today honored Indian Salesian Father C.M. Paul with an award recognizing his multimedia works in spreading the gospel.
Father Paul was presented the St. Maxmillain Kolbe statuette with the inscription, “Fr C.M. Paul, Multimedia in the Service of the Gospel, honorary prize of Julian Kluenty, Catholic Film association (CFA), Poland 2010.”
The priest of Calcutta Salesian province is currently pursuing doctoral studies in Social Communications at the Salesian University, Rome.
Two prizes are offered in this category “for outstanding achievements both in Poland and abroad in the area of evangelization through multimedia.”
This is the seventh year of the award dedicated to Polish film director, cameraman, author of over 100 films, as well as president for the Warsaw Branch of Polish Association of Scientific Film, Julian Kulenty (1922–2000).
The earlier winners of the award include Mel Gibson of the Passion of Christ fame, Mother Angelica of the EWTN and Sr Angela Ann Zukowski president of Unda-World and founder director of the Centre for Religious Telecommunications, university of Dayton, Ohio.
“I am totally floored with this award,” says 56 year old Fr Paul in his brief presentation on receiving the award.
He was president of Indian unit of Signis, the Church forum for audio-visual people, and the first priest to be appointed to the Indian government’s Central Board of Film Certification.
The May 27-30 festival, holding its 25th uninterrupted screening, is held at Niepokalanow some 45 kilometers west of Polish capital Warsaw.
The Niepokalanow (City of the Immaculate) film festival had its genesis in the heydays of “Solidarnosc” (Solidarity) the national resistance movement against the Polish Communist Regime, in 1985. A group of activists formed the Catholic Film Association of Poland as a cultural forum.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

More girls in Kandhamal need help

Some nuns who run two hostels for riot-affected girls of Kandhamal say they want to provide education and shelter for more people, but fund scarcity hinders them.
“There is so much to be done to help children in Kandhamal,” says Sister Cletus, who coordinates two hostels in Sambalpur and Kantabanji, places some 300 kilometers away from Kandhamal, a tribal dominated district in Orissa state.
The situation of the girls was “pathetic” when the nuns visited the area following the riots, recalled Sister Cletus, a member of the Society of Jesus, Mary and Joseph congregation. “They had no schools, no houses and no one to seek help,” she added.
Kandhamal was the focus of a seven-week-long anti-Christian violence in 2008 that killed some 90 people and displaced 50,000, mostly Christians. Rioting Hindu mobs raped women, killed men and burned down houses, convents and churches.
“Thousands of girls continue without education. They were forced to abandon education at various stages of schooling,” the nun said. “If there was adequate funding” at least senior dropped out girls could have been given “some job oriented education.”
The two hostels care for some 45 girls, who attend a government school. “We had actually no hostels. But brought the girls away” in 2009 April and made arrangements for their studies “out of necessity,” the nun said.
The nun said they fund the girls from a hospital they manage in Sambalpur. The Conference of Religious India sponsored 30 cots. The students walk four kilometers to school every day. “We would be happy if some buys them bi-cycles,” the nun said.
When reminded that millions rupees have been collected from across the world for providing aid for the victims, the nun said collected funds are for building homes and providing rehabilitation. “Not for education. That is what I was told. And funds can used only for the purpose they have been collected,” she said.
Besides finances, another problem in managing the girls is the psychological problems of the girls. “All of them are traumatized,” she said adding several have been attacked or seen their family being attacked.
“They have a sought of mob-phobia. Whenever they see people come together, they panic,” she said narrating how the nuns counseled them to “get out of the fear” for people.

Christian schools balk at Hinduism directive

Church officials in Mumbai are hotly disputing a new directive that Christian schools should follow Hindu traditions and culture more closely.
The Brihanmumbai (Greater Mumbai) Municipal Corporation passed a resolution on May 18, calling on Christian schools to give holidays for Hindu religious festivals and to allow girls to wear bangles and the traditional bindi on their foreheads. The resolution also states that school board seats should be automatically offered to elected councilors.
The corporation is dominated by two pro-Hindu groups, Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party. The chair of its Education Committee, Rukmini Kharatmol, insists that Catholic schools who seek government funding should follow Hindu traditions, as most students in them are Hindus.
Father Gregory Lobo, secretary of the Bombay Archdiocesan Board of Education, which coordinates 150 Catholic schools around the city, says most of their schools do give days off for important Hindu festivals and allow girls to wear the bindi and bangles. But he went on to add that “the corporation has no jurisdiction over our schools and only the state education department can issue instructions.”
Joseph Dias, general secretary of the Catholic Secular Forum, went further by saying his group “will not tolerate interference” and may seek legal counsel.
Dolphy D’Souza, president of the Bombay Catholic Sabha, dismissed the directions as a political gimmick and warned that Catholics could take to the streets if the corporation fails to withdraw them.

Church leaders applaud jail term for policeman

Church leaders in India have welcomed a jail sentence imposed on a former top police official for molesting a girl, driving her to suicide.
“We welcome the verdict but justice has taken a long time,” Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India spokesperson, Father Babu Joseph, told UCA News on May 26.
A day earlier, a Chandigarh court sentenced Shambhu Pratap Singh Rathore to 18 months in jail for the 1990 molestation of Ruchika Girhotra.
The girl committed suicide three years later at the age of 17, allegedly in the wake of continued harassment from Rathore.
A lower court had earlier sentenced Rathore to six months in jail and fined him 1,000 rupees (US$22). Nationwide protests and media scrutiny followed, leading to a reopening of the case.
The latest verdict “has given hope that justice can be obtained no matter how well connected the offender is,” Father Joseph said. It also has “a positive impact” as it sends a message that offenders must pay for their crimes.
Montfort Brother Mani Mekkunel, national secretary of the Conference of Religious India, welcomed the higher sentence. “It was already proved that he was guilty of the crime,” he told UCA News.
He also endorsed a new trend towards media campaigns seeking justice.
Girhotra was also expelled from the Sacred Heart Convent School.
However, the school, which is facing de-affiliation from the Catholic system over the expulsion, denied acting under pressure from Rathore.
“We welcome the judgment but deny all allegations that we did anything to Ruchika under pressure,” school manager Father Thomas Anchanikal told UCA News.

Annulment delays try Catholics’ patience

Long delays in processing applications for marriage annulments are forcing some Catholics to opt for a live-in relationship or civil marriage, or even threaten to break away from the Church altogether, according to a Goan church leader.
Father Rosario Oliveira, judicial vicar of Goa and Daman, says the archdiocesan court has seven qualified judges, which is not enough to handle the ever increasing caseload. In both 2007 and 2008 the court received just 50 applications, but the figure jumped to 71 in 2009 with many more expected this year.
Father Oliviera points out that annulments should be completed within 12 months but many cases have dragged on for years. Church law does not stipulate the maximum number of years a case can be allowed to continue.
The situation is further complicated by a rule that individual cases cannot be transferred between one judge and another, and the court’s senior priests face various health problems because of their age, which makes it difficult for them to all assemble for the sittings that are mandatory to ratify a verdict.
Wilfred Pereira, a Dubai-based journalist, says he had to wait 14 years for his annulment. “Had someone been in my place, he might have even lost faith in the church and turned to some other sect,” he says.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Unravelling Hindutva Terrorism

EDITORIALMay 22, 2010 vol xlv no 21 EPW Economic & Political Weekly

Communal prejudices have compromised our battle against terrorism.

When the bombs went off at Malegaon in September 2006, killing about 40 people and injuring many more who had gathered for the Friday afternoon prayer at a local mosque, the first arrests were of Muslim men who were supposed to belong to the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). The police claimed to have cracked the case. Less than a year later, in May 2007, when a similar bomb exploded in Hyderabad’s Mecca Masjid killing nine people, the police claimed that these were "sophisticated" bombs detonated via a cellphone located in Bangladesh and the main culprit was supposed to be a Muslim man affiliated to the Harkat-ul-Jehad al-Islami (HuJI). The police arrested some random young Muslims from the city and tortured them into confessing their "guilt". Six months later, when another bomb went off on the eve of the last Friday of Ramazan, in the Ajmer shrine in Rajasthan, it was again blamed on "jehadi terrorists".It has taken the courageous, if simple, act by Hemant Karkare, the anti-terrorism squad chief of Maharashtra police, of following the available leads to show the linkages between the Malegaon bomb blasts and Hindutva-linked groups. Without this one single act, all these linkages would, perhaps, have remained hidden behind the lies and half-truths dished out by our security establishment. As is well known now, a group called Abhinav Bharat organised this attack. This group includes some religious figures as well as a serving officer of the Indian Army. There have been other clear instances of Hindutva groups involved in bomb making in Nanded, Kanpur, Bhopal and Goa. Most of these are linked to the Bajrang Dal, which is a front of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). There is now a clear linkage between the RSS and its fronts and personnel and a series of bomb blasts. This is apart from the evidence, much stronger, which links this redoubtableorganisation, to scores of communal killings, the Gujarat riots of 2002 being the last of its "big" examples.If terror derived from religious fundamentalism has one headquarter in India, it is the RSS. Their younger siblings, the Islamic, Sikh or Christian fundamentalists, though dangerous in their own ways, cannot match the organisational network, financial muscle or political legitimacy that the RSS – its affiliates and personnel – possess. After all, India’s principal opposition party is a 100% subsidiary of the RSS and it is the shrill communal politics of this "family" which has created that political climate where any terrorist act could be, despite all evidence, linked to Muslims.Nevertheless, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism among Muslim communities is a serious issue. It has dangerous consequences, not just for its regressive social and political effects on the Muslims themselves, and needs to be fought with vigour. Islamic fundamentalism has also incubated and nurtured terrorist organisations and initiated violent acts, not just in India but also all over the world. None of this can be denied nor can the guard against Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism be lowered.However, it is now amply clear that our security agencies, government institutions and ministries, specially the home ministry, are deeply compromised by communal prejudice. In each of the cases highlighted above, and in many more, the prima facie evidence, both forensic and circumstantial, pointed to the involvement of Hindutva groups. Yet, unmindful of all evidence, they refused to follow open, clear leads pointing to Hindutva groups, but rather went around building fairy tales about Islamic terrorism’s involvement, picking up random Muslim men (and some women), torturing them till they accepted their "guilt" and finally claiming success in the case. As late as January this year, when the Hindutva terror link to Malegaon had been firmly established, and the Rajasthan police were already questioning the accused of the Ajmer blasts for their links to the Mecca Masjid bombs, the Hyderabad police was merrily arresting Muslims who, they claimed, were linked to the Mecca Masjid blast of 2007. The complicity of the Gujarat, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh police in the murder of Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife, or the killing of Ishrat Jehan and her friends is now clearly established. There is also prima facie evidence of communal prejudice and wrongdoing in police action in cases like the Batla House encounter in Delhi. Unfortunately, the list of cases where communal prejudice by the police and security establishment is evident is so long that it can fill volumes.While there has been some effort to recognise and address caste and gender prejudices and discriminations, there has been a certain cussedness about not accepting and redressing the discrimination and prejudice against religious minorities, particularly the Muslims. The present United Progressive Alliance government has taken some commendable steps to address this issue, primarily through reports of the Sachar Committee and the Ranganath Misra Commission. These have opened up space to discuss the structural discrimination and prejudice against Muslims in India as well as the measures needed to redress this. It is also true that the criminal link between Hindutva groups and bomb blasts has come to the fore under this regime. Nevertheless, this is not sufficient; urgent steps are needed to disinfect our security establishment of the communal virus. Whether the present Home Minister P Chidambaram can measure up to this task, and whether the Congress Party can find the political will to take on Hindutva inside the administration and state structures, is an open question.

Hands off Christian school, state told

A court directive forbidding Madhya Pradesh officials from interfering in the affairs of a Christian school is a “real help for all the minority schools across the state,” says a priest of Satna diocese.
Father Jolly Kunnukadan, who handles such cases for the diocese, was commenting on a Madhya Pradesh High Court interim directive on May 20 over a complaint about a school run by Mar Thoma Church.
The court accepted the petition of Father C.A. Varghese, principal of Christu Kula Mission Higher Secondary English School and asked officials not to interfere in the management until court’s judgment.
The school principal had petitioned the court after officials on April 3 told the school to abandon an entrance examination and asked for admissions to be based on a lottery system.
The district education officer later insisted on accommodating his nominee in the school’s management body, citing a state government circular.
The priest challenged the government circular based on a Supreme Court order that forbids state interference in the management of minority-run institutions.
The state has experienced similar instances of “illegal” interference from officials, said Father Kunnukadan, adding that the order was a “real help” for minority-run schools in the state.
Socially and politically influential people accuse Christians of forcible religious conversion, a crime, when they fail to get their wards admitted into Church-run schools, said a Church official who requested anonymity.

Christians come to aid of Naga refugees

Christians are bringing relief to some 1,500 Naga tribal people who fled violence near their homes in Manipur state and took refuge in neighboring Nagaland.
They had reportedly become targets for violence from police and paramilitary groups. Two students were shot and killed by police there on May 6.
“Many of them ran away with just the clothes they had on,” Father Nirappel Kuriacko Abraham, parish priest of St Francis De Sales parish in Nagaland capital Kohima said.
His parish donated money, clothes and rice.
“Fortunately, many Christians came forward, donating generously” to help the refugees said Susan Mao, a parishioner of St. Mary’s cathedral parish in Kohima.
“It is no joke cooking for 500 people in one camp. It is like organizing a wedding party every day.”
The displaced people, mostly women and children, live in several relief camps.
Naga groups in Manipur and neighboring Nagaland state have blocked two national highways to Manipur since April 11 in disputes over an election.
The blockade was intensified after Manipur blocked Naga separatist leader Thuingaleng Muivah from visiting his birthplace in Manipur.
Cathedral parish priest Father K.C. James, said his parishioners donated 6,560 rupees, two bags of rice, besides clothes and vegetables.
Students of St. Joseph’s College, Jakhama, where one of the victims of the police shooting studied, donated 12,000 rupees (US$265).
Asosu Kayina, living in a relief camp said she and her fellow refugees want to go home “because this is the sowing season” but they fear further violence, she said.

Salesian meeting inspires Indian prelate

The youngest of 10 bishops from India at a five-day meeting of Salesian prelates from around the world says he is “inspired and edified” by mingling with outstanding Church leaders.
Bishop George Palliparambil of Miao from Arunachal Pradesh is among 90 Salesian bishops gathered in Turin, Italy, May 21-25 to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the consecration of the first Salesian bishop in 1884.
The Salesians of Don Bosco congregation has 119 cardinals, archbishops and bishops, 10 of whom are from India.
“It was wonderful to be interacting with old and retired bishops, with great men like Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong and Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, archbishop of Tegucigalpa and others,” said the 56-year-old bishop.
The prelates also wrote to Pope Benedict XVI, saying, “Holy Father, please feel us close to you in this difficult hourfor the Church.” They added, “With Your Holiness, we share the concerns of the present moment.”

Six Indian entries at Catholic Film Festival

The International Catholic Film Festival beginning Thursday in Warsaw will have six entries from India, including two selected for the opening session of the three-day event.
The 25th festival will screen 172 films and 40 radio programs from 20 countries, including China, says Zygmunt Gutowsk, festival vice-president and one of the founding members of the festival.
Women are protagonists of all the six Indian entries, with three of them narrating the lives of women religious.
Of the six Indian films, four are directed and produced by three Salesians from Tripura, Tamilnadu and Kerala.
The 90-minute Kokbork film Yarwng (Roots) by Salesian Joseph Pulinthanath of Agartala has already bagged several awards in some 40 film festivals it has participated.
Salesian Father A. Raj of Trichy has submitted three short productions (15-minute) on AIDS awareness entitled Life, Love, and Hope.
The last two Salesian entries come from Kochi entitled Beloved Teacher and Yours My Life Entire, both by Salesian Father Jiji Kalavanal, who directs Don Bosco’s IMAGE (Institute of Media, Animation, Graphics and Efx) Vennala.
The remaining two films, both are stories of nuns. The first one entitled: The Last Appeal (33- minute) is a film on the life of St. Faustina, apostle of the Divine Mercy directed by Father Bala Udumala of Vijayawada diocese, Andhra Pradesh.
The second is a Malayalam telefilm entitled Nurunguvettangal (gems of light) by lay Catholic Leo Thaddeus from Kerala.
The opening films at the festival are The Last Appeal and Nurunguvettangal.
The oldest running International Catholic Film and Multimedia Festival venue is the hallowed City of the Immaculate (Niepokalanow) originally set up by St Maxmilian Kolbe, a Polish Conventual Franciscan friar who volunteered to die in place of a stranger in the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz in Poland.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Catholics serve food to beggars in Bhopal

Some 100 beggars ate at least one full meal a day in Bhopal, a central Indian city, thanks to efforts by a Catholic archdiocese.
“My grandchildren live because of it,” says Gangu Ram, a septuagenarian who begs on the streets in Bhopal, capital of Madhya Pradesh state.
Bhopal archdiocese launched the “God’s Kitchen” project a year ago. Father Anand Muttungal, the Church’s spokesperson who initiated the project, said witnessing two beggars fighting for a food packet inspired him to start it.
“We may not be able to feed all the hungry. But I am happy at least we can feed some,” he said.
Sheela Santiago, who directs it, said resources are “a great challenge” to the project. They depend on local donations. “Some were generous but many do not show interest,” she said.
She said they do not have savings but “providence” helps them find the money. Every day since April 2009, “we carry food packet to temples, mosques, rail and bus stations” and locations where we generally find beggars, she said.
Each day volunteers change the spot of distribution, lest people depend on charity for life.
However, Ram said his grandchildren, Paru, 10, and Gansu, 7, are exceptions, as they get the food packets daily.
Santiago said when she met the children they were too weak, “apparently suffering from food poisoning.” Santiago makes sure the children get food daily.
Paru said before the Church people came, he and his brother “had no chance of eating a full meal” of rice, bread and vegetables. He said they have now stopped searching roadside trashcans for food and eating leftovers.
Ajmal Singh Meena, a volunteer, says, “it is really a touching experience” to bring food to the beggars. He said it “is no big deal” to carry the packets on his motorbike.

Bishop plans to help air crash victims’ families

Bishop Aloysius Paul D’Souza of Mangalore has swung into action to help the families of victims of the air crash in the city that killed 158 people, as parishes across India prayed for the dead, several of them Catholics.
An Air India Express flight from Dubai to Mangalore, carrying mostly migrant workers, crashed on landing on the morning of May 22. The aircraft, with 166 people on board, overshot the runway and crashed into a valley, bursting into flames. Eight people survived.
Bishop Aloysius Paul D’Souza of Mangalore said some 17-18 Catholics from his diocese lost their lives. “I am trying to visit the grieving family members,” he said adding that he had already attended two funerals.
The bishop said his diocese is ready to help the families of those who have perished in whatever way possible. “But first we are trying to ascertain through the parish priests the actual need and then we will respond accordingly,” he said.
Mangalore diocese will organize a special Mass for the “deceased very soon,” said the bishop of the coastal region, from where thousands have gone to European and Persian Gulf nations to work.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of India said the “the horrifying tragedy” was “most shocking and disturbing” for the Church in India and for the country.
“Our heartfelt condolences go to the families and relatives of the victims. We earnestly pray for the departed souls of the innocent people who lost their lives in the plane crash,” the bishops’ conference said in a press release on May 23.
The bishops are “deeply pained” by the accident and share the anguish of all those who have suffered,” it said in the release signed by conference spokesperson Father Babu Joseph.
He said parishes across India have offered special prayers for the victims and their families.

Jesuit center helps to spread green message

A Jesuit social center in West Bengal, eastern India, has introduced 36 women to ways to protect environment.
The center, Udayani (awakening) Social Action Forum, organized a workshop May 21 for leaders of self-help groups from Kolkata and Baruipur to discuss issues of environmental protection.
Sunita Korali, a woman animator said, they have a responsibility to educate villagers on how environment destruction can affect lives.
“We waste a lot of water. But we can use the wasted water for cultivating seasonal vegetables in the kitchen garden,” she said. They plan to use bio-fertilizer in their rice paddy cultivation, she added.
Participants ended the workshop taking an oath holding lighted candles, saying they will not “hurt the earth” and always work to “care for her.”
Paromita Dutta, another women animator, said her group would avoid artificially flavored drinks and food. They will also work to ensure that streetlights are switched off early and complain against old vehicles that emit too much smoke.
Pratima Chakraborti from Baruipur said, as a village animator, she wants women to be conscious of ecological concerns. She targets some 300 women in her group that meets every fortnight.
She wants to stress the need of planting saplings and refraining from felling trees. “It would be hard for us to stop using plastic, but we would try to reduce its use,” she added.
Jesuit Father Irudaya Jothi, who directs the center, said the 35th General Congregation of his Society of Jesus mandated members to work for environmental protection.
“We wished to start the process from the grassroots level,” he said. The center hopes to organize more such training programs in villages, he added.

Manipur tribals pray for peace in Delhi

Some 100 Christians from different ethnic communities of Manipur living in Delhi joined to pray for peace in their state, where an economic blockade and violence continue for more than 40 days.
Key leaders of migrant Meitei, Chin, Kuki, Mizo, Zomi and Naga communities prayed together a Methodist Church in New Delhi May 22. The Meitei Christian churches in different parts of Manipur also held prayers on Saturday and Sunday.
Naga tribal groups in Manipur and neighboring Nagaland state have since April 11 blocked two national highways to land-locked Manipur cutting off its supplies of food, medicine and other essentials.
The economic blockade was intensified to protest Manipur state’s refusal to allow Naga separatist leader Thuingaleng Muivah to visit his birthplace there.
Muivah is among leaders demanding a greater Naga homeland comprising Nagaland and parts of Manipur where Naga people live. Manipur state reportedly fears the visit would inflame Naga passions as the leader plans to address several meetings.
Manipur is home to nearly 40 ethnic tribes belonging to different religions and linguistic communities.
A theology Totong Haokip, during prayer said that in Manipur, all the communities maintain a “tribal mentality, which is the greatest stumbling block for maintaining peace. Let’s pray to our God to remove such egotism,” he said.
People of various tribes namely, Rongmei, Mizo, Kuki, Zaliangrong, Tangkhul Naga, Meitei, Vaiphei, Hmar, Zou, Paite and Gangte “shed their tears in prayers” while praying for peace in the state, a press release said.
The prayer meeting was “really a very significant step” to help “love flourish among the diverse communities of Manipur and Nagaland,” said Lamboi Suantak, a youth leader in Delhi.
Reverend Madhu Chandra of All India Christian Council, urged the people that they “need God’s guidance” to help administrative bodies to find an amicable solution.
The ethnic Diasporas from Manipur living in Delhi also felt the importance of all the tribes from Manipur, living in Delhi to realize their role in bringing peace in Manipur.
“They also decided to conduct a regular prayer meeting in Manipur and Delhi in the coming days,” the release said.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

UPA- One year after return to power

The following is an article written by Mr. Ram Puniyani on the blog on May 20, 2010.

This May 2010, UPA completed its one year in the seat of power for the second term. Now it is being christened as UPA II and political pundits are evaluating its performance on various scales of performance, foreign policy, economic performance, farmer’s suicides, foreign affairs etc. One point which, does not find much mention while evaluating its performance, is the plight of minorities during this year. The ground reality is that after the Gujarat carnage and Kandhamal violence the minorities are feeling a great amount of intimidation and fear, a curtailment of their democratic right to equality. It is crucial that we weigh the performance of the ruling Government vis a vis the overall security and equity of minorities.One can observe that there have been hollow promises to uplift the condition of minorities and to ensure proper rehabilitation and create a situation of security. But major efforts in this direction are missing. The proactive stance needed from the ruling government is no where in sight. One knows that the health of the democracy has to be judged by the state of security and equity of minorities. The only way to march towards a society where religious identities are not the sole identities is to go through a period where the religious minorities are ensured security and equity, a life of dignity, which helps them overcome their helplessness so that the overarching national identities become more important and more determining in social and political affairs of the nation.The victims of Kandhmal violence are crying for justice and rehabilitation. The Government which was ruling when the violence took place continues to rule without its partner the BJP, still the process of rehabilitation is not adequate and the atmosphere of intimidation continues. Surely it is the state Government which has the primary responsibility but the central Government has a Constitutional duty to ensure that the spirit of National Integration is preserved by undertaking steps for concrete protection of the minorities. The doors of temples of justice for these victims do not seem to be opening most of the time. The communalized police machinery and state apparatus do not pay attention to these issues unless there is a political will at the top. The political leadership at the top does not heed these demands unless it fits into their electoral arithmetic. At the moment it seems that this arithmetic does not favor strong, honest actions on the part of the ruling establishments. Gujarat by now has become a sort of ‘Hindu Rashtra in one state’ with Narendra Modi getting stronger, politically more assertive. Despite the claims of Swarnim Gujarat the minority community is living in the condition of fear and intimidation to the extent that it does not even want to express its anxieties, fearing further intimidation by the state.The major problems faced by Muslim minorities are the economic ones, insecurity and those created due to political under-representation. For economic relief Sachar Committee has proposed many a measures, the UPA has theoretically accepted them and the Prime Minister had the courage to say that minorities have the first right on resources. But it has remained restricted to paper only. The implementation of schemes for upliftment are lacking the strong will power and putting in place the honest and committed mechanism for the same, which is missing. The ghettoisation of minorities in different cities is on the rise. Economic marginalization is visible all around. It is because of these twin problems that the conservative elements are finding bigger prominence in the society. A thriving community will ignore such elements issuing fatwa’s like the one against women working where they have to interact with men, but such elements assume prominence only when the community feels intimidated from outside. We need all round efforts for creating a social mind set which is respectful of all the communities.The Rangnath Mishra committee report recommending 10% reservations for Muslims is kept in the deep freeze. The fear that this will create adverse reaction from communal elements or will annoy a section of dalits is preventing the action on this. What is needed is to bypass communal elements and to engage with dalit sections to ensure that Rangnath Mishra report is implemented while preserving the interests of those who are already the beneficiaries of these provisions. The work on ‘Equal Opportunity Commission’ seems to be moving with the snails pace.The latest investigations into the acts of terror, like the one of Ajmer show that Hindu extremist groups may be the one’s who indulged in various blasts near mosques and dargahs. They were under wraps so far. Their parent organizations are merrily operating, while the popular notion ‘All Terrorists are Muslims’ rules the social common sense. The organizations to which Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur or Swami Aseemanand belongs are doing their activities unhindered and have already been given enough time to cover their tracks. The methods of police, their line of investigation has fed into these popular perceptions ruining many a young careers and lives of many.On the top of all this two major moves, the one of Women’s reservation Bill is again going to bypass the Minority women, as at present the social situation is acting as a big brake on their coming out to demand for their rights in full measure. The provisions needed to safeguard their representation have been given a go by in the present scheme of things. Secondly in the ongoing census the column of religion is missing. How are we going to plan for the allocation of resources for minorities? Yes, in an ideal situation religion of the person should not matter in citizenship, but if a large section of society is in need of affirmative action, ignoring this column in census figure will make it impossible in future to undertake affirmative steps for their betterment.The UPA II, seems to have reconstituted the National Integration Council but its meeting is nowhere in sight. The importance which this issue deserves seems to be missing in the efforts of UPA II. Surely it has its plate full with many issues, but is this issue, the issue of National Integration, the issue of minorities not important enough to be dealt with in all the seriousness and commitment?

Church condoles deaths in Mangalore air crash

The Catholic Bishops Conference of India has joined others to condole the death of 158 people, mostly migrant workers from Dubai, who died when their Air India Express crashed on landing at Mangalore airport, a Christian stronghold region in western India.
The Boeing 737 flight, carrying 160 passengers and six crew members, overshot the runway on its final approach. Media quoted some of the eight survivors saying the plane split into two as it fell into a gorge. Two of the eight survivors said they jumped out seconds before the flight exploded.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, in a message said he received the news of the tragedy “with great sadness” and “prayed at my Eucharistic celebration for the victims and their families.
“The Indian Church “grieves over this great loss of life in the air tragedy. We are aware that words cannot take away the grief, sorrow and pain, but we offer our prayers and solidarity to the families,” his message to AisaNews said.
The Indian Church prays that those who have survived this ordeal may soon recover. The Church extends all support-emotional, spiritual and financial-to the survivors to enable them to cope and recover, and to help them in all ways possible, it added.
The cardinal prayed for the “outpouring of the Holy Spirit” on the families so that they be consoled in their “sufferings and pain over the loss of their loved ones.”
Mangalore International Airport sits on top of a hill, near the town of Bajpe. Some experts consider it difficult for landing. In the past ten years, the overall safety record of India’s airline industry has generally been good.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Missionary School Principals Vow To Fight Sena-BJP Corporators Hindutva Proposal Tooth & Nail

Mumbai: Principals of missionary-run schools said they will fight tooth and nail to ensure that the saffron combines Hindutva ideology is not implemented in their classrooms.The Archdiocesan Board of Education (ABE) runs 150 missionary schools in and around Mumbai,most of which are government aided.We are a minority and if need be,we will go to court to fight for our rights, said Father Gregory Lobo,general secretary,ABE.In what legal experts call an unconstitutional move,corporators of the Sena-BJP alliance,which rules the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC),proposed on Tuesday that their ideology be promoted in missionary-run schools.But their move to take aided schools to task for promoting Christianity and avoiding Hindu practices is illogical,say irate principals.On Diwali,we are all Hindus;on Christmas,we are all Christians;and on Eid,we are all Muslims.This is the culture of our school, said Father Saturnino Almeida,principal of Fr Agnel School in Vashi.Many educational heads said the corporators proposal ignores the fact that their schools follow and promote a cultural ethos that is purely Indian where no one religion is given importance.In the army,a soldier does not wear a costume that boasts his religion,but follows the rules and dons his uniform.Similarly,students go to schools for a specific reason.Rules are laid down to ensure that there is discipline,not to promote any one faith among students, said Fr Jude Fernandes,principal of St Stanislaus High School,Bandra.He added that like in every other school,his institution too follows all festivals.The idea,he said,is to ensure that students are acquainted with and learn to respect all regions and faiths practised in India.There appears to be a need to make a distinction between Indian culture and Hindutva ideology.Just because we follow a particular faith,it doesnt make us less the Indian.We are Indians first and then Catholics, said Fr Francis Swamy,principal of Holy Christ School in Andheri (E).On the issue of promoting traditional Indian accessories such as bangles and bindis,Fr Swami said: We need to differentiate between respecting culture in its true sense as compared to a superficial level. The proposal has done little to inspire students,teachers and principals,especially when there are more pressing issues like improving quality of education which are not being addressed.Our aim is to follow a code of conduct,a discipline,and not to disown any faith, added Swamy.

BMC's Hindutva diktat upsets schools

MUMBAI: In what appears to be a medieval fatwa, the Sena-BJP-ruled BMC has sought to make it mandatory for the 150-odd missionary-run schools in the city to promote 'Hindutva traditions'. The municipal corporation's education committee will now write to the state education department seeking permission to enforce its widening list of demands. The move has caused widespread anguish among both parents and the academic community, with experts pointing out that these diktats have no legal standing. The missionary schools have threatened to go to court if they are made to toe the parties' line. On Tuesday, the saffron combine had proposed that these institutions allow their students to wear their 'Indian-ness' in the form of bindis and bangles. A day later, it hardened its stance, with demands like more holidays for Ganpati and Diwali, a corporators' quota in these schools similar to that given to MLAs, a school notice board prominently displaying the names of corporators in the education committee, and all communication to the BMC to be written in Marathi. "While reviewing proposals from BMC-aided schools, we came across many missionary schools who had written to us in English. And many corporators observed that while these schools approach the BMC for aid, they do not adhere to Hindu traditions. If these missionaries come here to impart education, they should adhere to Hindu traditions as most of the students are Hindus. Why should they forbid girls from wearing bindis or bangles or even using mehendi? What is the need for such rigid discipline?" asked education committee chairperson Rukmini Kharatmol.

Domestic violence law ‘puts women at risk’

Catholic nuns are criticizing the Indian government over a law meant to protect women from domestic violence.
They say women can be prosecuted under a law that is actually meant to protect them. “This will defeat the very purpose of the law” which is aimed to protect the dignity of women,” said Sister Jessy Kurian, a Supreme Court lawyer.
The federal government’s Women and Child Development ministry told Delhi High Court that the main purpose of the law - Protection of Women against Domestic Violence - is to save women. However, the law is not solely to “protect them from male persons,” the government, said adding that “domestic violence can’t be guided by the gender of the perpetrator.”
The government’s response came when the Delhi High Court sought its response on a case of a woman challenging her estranged daughter-in-law.
The mother-in-law contended the law cannot be used to prosecute women. Courts across India have given conflicting interpretations of the law in similar cases, with some dismissing petitions against women based on the law.
Women lawyers say the government’s stand can lead to misuse of the law as it now allows even men to file petitions against domestic violence.
It could “lead to misuse of the law,’ said Sister Julie George, a lawyer with Streevani (voice of women) NGO based in Pune. In such cases women would not be protected under this law, she said.
However, women should be allowed to file complaints against women, Sister George said.
This is “the only law which protects a woman in a family or a live-in relationship” from violence. Changing its orientation would harm women, she said.
However, Sister Kurian said the law should not allow prosecution of women accepting complaints from men. She favored women filing complaints against women under the law.

Christianity ‘inspired the Indian penal code’

Lawyers say that Christian values played a big role in the development of the Indian penal code, laws which the Gujarat High Court recently said embodied the basic tenets of Hinduism and Islam.
“There appears to be a lack of knowledge among the legal fraternity about the historical background” of the code, said senior lawyer Joy Matthew, a Christian.
He said British Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay drafted the code in 1860 with help from British legal experts who lived in then colonial India. “All of them had a Western upbringing and Christian backgrounds,” the lawyer said.
According to Matthew, the source of Macaulay’s code was the Ten Commandments. The code was also influenced by the French and other European judicial systems, he said.
The high court judges made the “observation” May 16 while upholding a seven-year jail term given to two Muslims youth who fired at a Hindu in 2002.
The judges denounced the contention that the violence was revenge against an anti-Muslim riot in the state. “Neither Hindu nor Muslim religion permits taking of revenge,” they said.
The court said both Islam and Hinduism permit attacking a person only for self-defense. At the same time, no religion advocates revenge and the attacking of innocent people.
“Everybody is influenced to some extent by religion,” said Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash, who runs a human rights center in Ahmedabad, the state’s commercial capital.
Macaulay would have “definitely been influenced” by his Christian background, said the priest. However, he stressed that the law should maintain its secular nature and judges should not mix religion with legal issues.
Kirit Mahida, a Catholic activist, said the whole code may not be influenced by Christianity. However, certain elements, such as punishment for sodomy and attempted suicide, reflect Christian principles.
He noted that work on the penal code began after the 1857 revolt against the British.

Church leaders welcome probe in Muslim’s killing

Church leaders in West Bengal, eastern India, have hailed a court order for a federal probe into the death of a Muslim, allegedly murdered by his Hindu father-in-law.
The Calcutta High Court May 18 concluded that the death of Rizwanur Rahman was a case of murder and ordered the federal Criminal Bureau of Investigations to re-investigate it.
The order came after state police investigations produced little result.
The body of Rahman, who married Priyanka Todi, daughter of industrialist Ashok Todi, was found on rail tracks near the city on Sept. 21, 2007. He was 30. It was considered a suicide initially.
However, family members said Todi had arranged to kill Rahman as the businessman was against the marriage of his daughter to a low-income Muslim.
The investigation will bring the “truth to light” said Sister Gracy Sundar, provincial superior of the Holy Cross of Chavanod congregation. She said the court order is a “positive move” as only “an impartial inquiry can reveal the truth.”
“Up to this juncture, justice has not been done for Rahman,” said Father Mathai L. Badabet, editor of the Calcutta archdiocesan weekly, The Herald. “There is a chance for truth to see the light of day only if there is no political interference.”
However, Jesuit Father M. S. Arockiasamy, prefect of St. Xavier’s High School at Durgapur, said it is wrong to conclude that Rahman was murdered by his father-in-law unless investigations prove it.
Rahman was a student of the Jesuit-run St Xavier’s College and worked as a computer graphics trainer. He married Priyanka on Aug. 18, 2007.
A three-day candle-light vigil was held in front of the Jesuit college in the city from Sept. 28, 2007, protesting against police and state apathy in the investigations.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Catholic priest honored for curing leprosy

Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan felicitated social activist Father Christudas on Tuesday for curing thousands of leprosy patients.
Father Christudas, who has treated over 50,000 leprosy patients in Bihar’s Sundarpur village expressed his happiness to receive the ‘The Week - Man of the Year 2009′ in Mumbai, news agency ANI reported.
‘I feel delighted because it is honoring social workers, who are involved in this kind of work. It’s not a personal award; it is for all those social workers, who are working for the people,” said Christudas.
“Leprosy patients are such a group of people who are being denied of, rejected by everybody. I thought I should do something for them,” he added.
Meanwhile, Ashok Chavan said the Maharashtra Government is starting Rajiv Gandhi Health Mission, under which people of the Below Poverty Line (BPL) category would be given treatment free of cost.
“The State government has officially launched the mission and work would start soon, he said.
Besides Chavan, novelist Shobha De was also present to felicitate the activist at the function.
The Kerala-based “The Week” selected Father Christudas of Bettiah diocese for its last year’s recognition and ran the cover of its December last week edition with his photograph.
The 72-year-old priest’s Little Flower Centre is in Sunderpur village in Raxaul town on the India-Nepal border, an area known for large number of colonies for this socially segregated people. The priest began the center in 1981 with about 100 people suffering from leprosy.
His center spread over 8 hectares of land grows wheat and runs a poultry farm that meets 40 percent of its needs. The complex includes a school, hostel, hospital, work center and a village of 200 families - all cured patients.
“The Week” said Bihar’s northern region now has 22 leper colonies, 10 less than when Father Christudas began his center 28 year ago. “And only patients are the older generation,” it said.
The priest wants his rehabilitation center to flourish, but is also looking forward to a time when the hospital will have no patients. “Then I will know that my life has been a worthy one,” he told the weekly.

Arunachal installs tallest Jesus statue

The opening of the first Cathedral in Miao diocese in Arunachal Pradesh was marked by the installation of a 36-feet-long statue of Jesus, billed as the tallest in India.
State Finance Minister Setong Sena unveiled the statue oon May 2 on a hilltop in the upper colony area of Miao.
The Church and statue overlooks the town and has a 172 steps approach leading to the shrine. For those unable to climb the steps there is a gently winding road.
The fiber glass stature weighing half a tone was created by a Kolkata-based firm, Church Art. It specializes in creating statues other artifacts for churches.
“This towering figure of Christ overseeing the whole of Miao, with open arms, invites everyone to seek peace and live the way of love,” said Bishop P K George of Miao.
Pope Benedict erected the diocese on December 7, 2005 and appointed the Salesian missioner its first bishop.
The newly erected Cathedral was blessed by Cardinal Toppo at the presence of some 12,000 people, including those from different parts of Arunachal and neighboring states.
The diocese, which covers East Arunachal area has some 70,000 Catholics, according to officials.
The world’s tallest statues of Jesus is the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro which is 39.6 meters followed by two 32-meter-high statues of Jesus Christ in the North Sulawesi Province of Indonesia and Christ of Vung Tau on Mount Nho in Ba Ria-Vung Tau province of Vietnam respectively.

Saffron roots for Hindu touch in missionary schools

MUMBAI: The saffron combine, which rules the BMC, seems to have found a virtue in "traditional Indian" accessories like the bindi and the bangle. With an eye on the up-coming civic polls, corporators now want to tighten their grip over the aided missionary schools. The Archdiocesan Board of Education (ABE), runs 150 missionary schools in and around Mumbai, most of which are aided. In a bid to promote their "Hindutva ideology", the Sena-BJP alliance has decided to take missionary schools to task for "promoting Christianity, and avoiding Hindu practices". In a meeting held by the civic education committee on Tuesday, corporators said these aided missionary schools should abide by the rules set for other schools. "They don't celebrate many of Hindu festivals. Children are even forbidden to follow Hindu traditions such as applying mehendi and wearing bindis and bangles," said Sena corporator Rajiv Chaugule. The corporators said the discipline in those schools was "too harsh" and drilled fear in the children's minds. One corporator said in some schools, it was not even mandatory for the students to sing the national song or anthem. "We have noticed that in some missionary schools, children are taught to sing only Christian hymns," said the corporator. However, Father Gregory Lobo, general-secretary of the ABE, said they did allow girls to put on bindis. "We are minority schools protected under the Constitution. We do allow kids to wear bindis and bangles; some schools even allow girls to wear mehendi, while some do not. But if there is a problem, we can ask even those schools to allow girls to put mehendi," said Father Lobo. "The only thing that we do not allow is boys wearing kadas. That is because, they often use the kadas to attack each other when they get into fights."

Christians pray for peace in Manipur

The All India Christian Council plans a prayer meeting for peace in Manipur, where a month-old road blockade has cut off supplies of food, medicine and other essentials to this eastern Indian state.
The council said the May 22 prayer program in New Delhi will make “earnest prayers” for peace to prevail in Manipur in the backdrop of escalating violence.
“Peace, love, friendship and harmony of people in Manipur are shaken. We need God’s guidance and wisdom so the economic blockade can be called off and normal life can return to Manipur,” said Rev. Madhu Chandra, regional secretary of AICC, reported
AICC said common people in hills and valley of Manipur were suffering without food and other commodities due to the economic blockade for last one month.
“The life has reached its most difficult stage without food and essential commodities. There is acute shortage of fuel, which has affected students not being able to go to schools and colleges. Hospitals have run out of oxygen, there is shortage of medicines,” it said.
The economic blockade was to protest Manipur state’s refusal to allow Naga separatist leader Thuingaleng Muivah to visit his birthplace there.
Muivah is among leaders demanding a greater Naga homeland comprising Nagaland and parts of Manipur where Naga people live. Manipur state reportedly fears the visit would inflame Naga passions as the leader plans to address several meetings.

Nuns stress parental role in children’s education

Canossian sisters have launched an initiative to increase parental involvement in the education of their children in a bid to raise moral and academic standards.
“Problematic students mostly come from problematic families,” said Sister Cynthia Chan Sum-yee, who heads the Canossian Missions in Hong Kong and Macau.
Parents exert the most influence over students, she told UCA News.
The congregation runs 19 kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, as well as colleges in Hong Kong.
Every Canossian school is holding regular parent meetings and is inviting Catholic parents to join Bible-sharing gatherings, Sister Chan said.
Recently, the congregation organized a joint school-parent gathering to help parents learn how to communicate more effectively with their children.
“Even a genius needs close parental attention to discover and learn,” the nun said.
Parents say they like the monthly Bible-sharing, which gives them spiritual enrichment after work and allows them to share parenting issues and approach relations with their children in a fresh way.
Sister Regina But, principal of Canossa College, said education must move along with the times, and “we must recognize the changes in young people and society.”
The greatest challenge nowadays is to guide students away from distorted values such as materialism, since some young people are confused or think very little about their real needs, she said.
Student Vince Wu said the school attaches great importance to nurturing virtues. As well as emphasizing academic studies, students are also encouraged to join extra-curricular activities to live a more balanced life.

Count ‘religious minorities’ in census: AICC

A Christian leader has written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urging him to specially count “religious minorities” in the ongoing 2011 census just like the including ‘caste’ in the format.
Abraham Mathai, general secretary of the All India Christian Council (AICC), underlined the need for including religious minorities in the census, reported
“If not included, this will certainly result in minority groups being swallowed up in a situation whereby the central and state government exchequers would not have made budgetary provisions to cater for their social and developmental needs,” Mathai said.
Mathai, who is also the vice president of Maharashtra State Minorities Commission, stressed that it is imperative to have a special column to categorize minority religious groups so it can prevent minority groups being in greater jeopardy at the hands of callous governments.
Census format has a column to mark the religion of each person and each census have tabulated the number of people following a particular religion in India. However, Mathai is wants the census count number of people who are a religious minority.
Not providing a special column, says Mathai, is tantamount to denying the existence of religious minorities in a country where religious intolerance is rife and gross violations on the rights of the minorities have been experienced.
Adding such a column, he said, would enable enumerators to provide accurate statistics to agencies such as the Planning Commission which then would result in adequate provisions in the respective central and state government budget allocations.
The current census began on April 1 and will count an estimated 1.2 billion population. This will be India’s 15th census since 1872. Home Minister P Chidambaram has described it as “the biggest exercise since humankind came into existence.
Caste will be included in the present census despite opposition from Hindu nationalist groups. The first census that categorized people’s caste was conducted in 1931 when the British ruled India.

Caritas joins flood response in Sri Lanka

Caritas has joined with government and civil organizations in providing aid to victims of floods that have lashed the country since May 14.
According to the government-run Disaster Management Center, more than 450,000 have been displaced in 11 districts, 17 persons have died and three are missing.
Many roads, including highways in Colombo, have been submerged resulting in traffic chaos.
Caritas-Sethsarana, the social action arm of Colombo archdiocese, has distributed food to victims, as well as provided a lifeboat and medical service to them.
“We are helping about 20,000 flood families in the Western Province at the moment,” said assistant director Father Lawrence Ramanayake,
“Our operation is conducted through the parish priests of the affected areas. “They organize people to cook and distribute food to victims,” Father Ramanayake said.
Caritas-Sethsarana has allocated about 500,000 rupees (US$5,000) for immediate relief aid and also “sent a doctor to help victims,” said the priest.
In Galle diocese in the southern part of the country, 250 families are facing severe problems, said Father Damian Arsakularatne, director of Caritas-Galle.
“Measures have been taken to provide immediate aid including cooked meals to families affected by the floods,” he said.
Father George Sigamoney, national director of Caritas, said the organization is collecting information from all affected dioceses to better assist people in need.
The government has also allocated 8 million rupees for relief aid, and said it will give financial assistance to victims.

Forced conversion of Christian and Hindu girls at rise in Pakistan.

Islamabad: May 19, 2010. (PCP) A Christian girl who was kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam has been reunited with her family after three years apart. Tina Barkat, now 28, was kidnapped by the family of her friend Sobia, who together with her uncle forced her to convert to Islam and marry one of their relatives, Qaiser. Tina tried to escape from the family several times but says it was not until the security around her was relaxed following the birth of her second baby to Qaiser that she was able to escape.She alleges that while she was forced to live with Qaiser and his family, his parents were very abusive towards her and her husband used to beat her. She is now with her family and does not wish to return to her Muslim husband. His family have reacted by registering a case against Tina and her family. Her father, Barkat Masih, an elder in his local church, was detained illegally by the police over the incident but was freed after CLAAS appealed to the high court. He told CLAAS that the police did not help him when he went to them in a bid to secure Tina’s release. Instead of registering a kidnapping case against Sobia’s family, he says the police threatened him and told him not to come back to register a complaint again because his daughter had already converted to Islam and therefore had no further relationship with them - the custom in Pakistan when a person converts and marries into a Muslim family. Tina says her husband has made threats against her father if she is not returned. Qaiser maintains that since Tina converted to Islam, she cannot convert back to Christianity. CLAAS is providing her with free legal assistance and has filed for a divorce in the court on her behalf. Joseph Francis, director of CLAAS Pakistan, said the kidnapping and forced conversion of Christian and Hindu girls was on the rise in Pakistan. Nasir Saeed, director of CLAAS UK, agreed that it was a serious problem. CLAAS has brought the worrying trend to the attention of the Pakistani government and is pressing for legislation to end forced conversions and ensure the protection of women and young girls belonging to a minority group, who are particularly at risk.

France to build new mega-mosque

MARSEILLE, France — French Muslims celebrate a milestone on Thursday when building work begins on a mega-mosque in Marseille, the nation's biggest, and a potent symbol of Islam's place in modern France.
A day after the French government approved a bill banning the full Islamic veil, Muslim leaders will join politicians for a ceremony to lay the cornerstone at a dusty construction site in northern Marseille.
France's second city is home to 250,000 Muslims, many of whom flock to makeshift prayer houses in basements, rented rooms and dingy garages to worship.
With a minaret soaring 25 metres (82 feet) high, the Grand Mosque will hold up to 7,000 people in its prayer room and the complex will also boast a Koranic school, library, restaurant and tea room when it opens in 2012.
For more than 60 years, Muslim leaders have campaigned for a mega-mosque as a prominent gathering place that would bring Islam out of the basements and allow it to thrive under Marseille's Mediterranean sun.
The turning point came in 2001 when Mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin, a member of President Nicolas Sarkozy's right-wing party, decided to back the 22-million-euro (27 million dollars) project, overriding objections from the far-right.
Like Sarkozy, Gaudin has argued that supporting new mosques will help France's large Muslim minority integrate into the mainstream and foster a form of moderate, modern Islam that shuns burqas.
"This is the real face of Islam in France," said Nourredine Cheikh, president of the association that has lead the campaign for the Grand Mosque, as he pointed at the architect plans for the massive new complex.
"This is recognition. This is what tells me that I have the same status as Catholics and other religious people in this country."
The grand mosque will be built in the Saint-Louis area of Marseille, an ethnically mixed neighbourhood where Nasir's pizzeria and Bernard's driving school share the same street.
The building permit was formally handed over to Muslim leaders in November, despite court challenges from the far-right who have dubbed the new building a "cathedral mosque" meant to rival Marseille's Catholic churches.
Home to Europe's biggest Muslim minority, estimated at between five and six million, France has for years been debating how far it is willing to go to accomodate Islam, now the country's second religion.
Soon after Switzerland voted to ban minaret construction last year, Sarkozy warned French Muslims to "avoid ostentation" in the practice of their religion and he has declared the face-covering veil "not welcome" in France.
With parliament now set to debate a bill that would bar women from wearing the full Islamic veil, Muslim leaders worry about a surge of Islamophobia in France.
Last month, gunmen sprayed bullets across the facade of the Arrahma mosque in Istres, a town a few dozen kilometres from Marseille, raising alarm among Muslims.
Salima Bassousilia, a 46-year-old pastry chef, said it was high time that the new mosque became a reality and suggested it would help "appease" those who fear Islam, simply by providing a more positive image.
"This is a good project. It will be an honour for us to come here," she said, standing outside the construction site.
Nasrin Belkadir said he has often been left to worship in the street outside his small prayer house which quickly fills up on holy days.
"The dogs have relieved themselves there and this is where we lay our mats to pray," he said shaking his head in disapproval. Belkadir is looking forward to an end to the current setup of makeshift mosques.
There will be no blaring call to prayer from the Grand Mosque's minaret, but simply a blue light that will flash five times a day to summon the Marseille faithful.
After years of delays, the project still faces hurdles to raise the full 22 million euros needed to finance it.
Cheikh, an Algerian-born businessman, said his group is hoping for big donations from north African countries, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia to cover most of the cost.

Naxals are our 'own people': Narendra Modi

New Delhi: Naxals are our “own people” and the government must hold dialogue with them. That’s the view of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
“These (Naxals) are our people. We will have to explain to them that violence cannot be a solution to problems. Dialogue is the best way to solve the Naxal problem,” said Modi at a function in Aligarh.
Modi's statement is surprising as his party, the BJP, has insisted on a tough policy against the Naxals.
Just on Wednesday, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh called the rebels “terrorists”.
"They are the biggest terrorists; Naxalism is a biggest challenge to the democracy. They want to capture power at gunpoint," said Singh

Religious learn peace building in West Bengal

A two-day conflict resolution workshop here has given priests and nuns the practical skills to deal with unrest in West Bengal state, they say.
Conference of Religious India’s West Bengal unit organized the May 18-19 program in Kolkata in collaboration with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a faith-based organization that helps victims of conflict and war.
Pauline Sister Philomena Joseph, the unit’s secretary, said people face conflicts in personal and community life.
“If we can resolve them in these areas, we will be able to resolve them in wider society,” she said.
Sister Joseph, one of the 20 participants from 13 congregations, said that she “learned down-to-earth skills” and expressed hope she would now look at conflicts “in a new light.”
Jesuit Father Irudaya Jothi, one of the four priests in the program, said it had helped him see social conflicts in the state “in a balanced way, without rushing to take sides.”
Father Jyothi, who runs Udayani (awakening) Social Action Forum, said messengers of peace have a “greater role to play” in society when it is disturbed by violence and conflict.
He said five districts in West Bengal experience intermittent social conflict mostly because of ethnicity, religion, and social exploitation.
Many of the Christians are involved in these conflicts. However, the “Church has not adequately responded” to the conflicts in the state, he said.
Father Jothi expressed hope that the workshop would help Religious take the lead.
Loreto Sister Christine Coutinho said conflicts are “bound to happen” in religious communities since members come from different backgrounds. The program showed them ways to resolve such everyday conflicts, she told UCA News.
MCC project officer Thomas Harris, pastor of the Church of North India’s Union Chapel, said many “look up to Christians” as peace-builders. “We have a responsibility to uphold this special privileged position,” he said.

Mining firm forced to stop Goan operations

The federal government has suspended operations of global mining giant Vedanta Resources in Goa, following protests from villagers.
On May 17, the government suspended the statutory mining clearances granted to Sesa Goa mines, a firm owned by Vedanta group, to set up an iron ore project at Pirna and Nadora, two villages in Goa’s northern region.
The federal Ministry of Environment and Forests cleared the project on June 9, 2009, but a local group challenged the order saying the project threatens to destroy their environment and livelihoods.
The project was granted environmental clearance in June last year, but was challenged by a local group, Pirna Naroda Nagrik Kruti Samiti (PNNS). It argued that all villagers who attended a mandatory public hearing on the project opposed it.
The National Environment Appellate Authority, the federal authority to address environment clearances issues in certain restricted areas, reportedly wrote to the company May 17 asking it to suspend the project.
The Church of England, which has a £2.5m (US$3.6 million) share in the Vedanta group had withdrawn its stake following controversies in its unethical mining resorted by the company in Orissa.
“Yet an expert appraisal committee decided to overlook the opposition and recommended environmental clearance. The committee did not even bother to look at the minutes of the public hearing that opposed the mining,” said leading anti-mining activist Sebastian Rodrigues.
Rodrigues said the expert committee at the time was headed by one M.L. Majumdar, who himself was on the board of four mining companies and therefore the decision was biased.
The federal authority reportedly asked to suspend the project until a committee visits the area and examine the reasons of local opposition and the project’s impact on agriculture, health and environment.

Church condemns bloody Maoist attack

Church leaders have condemned the killing of 31 people in central India by Maoists who blew up a private bus carrying 50 policemen and civilians.
“It is sad that many innocent lives were lost,” said Carmelite Father Abraham Maliekal of Jagadalpur parish in Chhattisgarh state.
The outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist, known locally as the Naxalites, is accused of planting a landmine that blew up the bus on May 17, about 450 kilometers south of Raipur, the state capital. The blast killed 16 police personnel and 15 civilians.
The Church “condemns all forms of violence” and “wants everyone to sink their differences to work for social peace,” said the priest in the Maoist-infested state.
The Maoist movement began some four decades ago as they waged an armed struggle against the government purportedly to bring about an equitable distribution of land. Their growing base and bloodier actions have forced the government to declare them a national security threat.
The blast site “was a horrifying scene” with “body parts strewn for around 300 meters,” said Pastor Anish Andrews, secretary of the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum, who visited the spot.
The blood-stained clothes and large patches of blood on the road were disturbing, he said, adding that “it is really sad that we can only pray for the victims.”
He said it was the first time that so many civilians have been killed in a Maoist attack as “normally they target only armed police personnel.”
Carmelite Father Father Joseph Kuttiyanickal, who works on the outskirts of Dantewada where the blast occurred, said, “People are in a state of deep shock” over the “huge loss of lives, especially of civilians.”
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh said the Maoist attack was “planned” and aimed at “demoralizing police and terrorizing civilians.”

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hindu group charged in Goa bomb blast

Federal investigators have charged 11 people, including six members of a rightwing Hindu group, over bomb blasts that occurred during a popular Indian festival in Goa.
The National Investigating Agency (NIA) on May 17 presented to a court in Goa a 3,000-page document accusing 11 people of criminally conspiring to terrorize people.
Six of the accused belong to the Sanatan Sanstha (eternal foundation), a radical Hindu group. Two of its members were killed when bombs they were transporting exploded on Oct. 16, 2009, during Diwali, the festival of lights.
According to the charge sheet, the accused had between June and October last year conspired to strike terror among Diwali merry makers.
It alleged the accused had conducted a rehearsal a few months before the accidental blast.
The NIA has named 250 witnesses in the case.
Four of the accused are in judicial custody, five have absconded and the rest are expected to be arrested soon.
Sanatan Sanstha had opposed glorifying Narkasur, a demon, during Diwali. Festival organizers conduct statewide contests for the most evil-looking effigy of the demon.
The charge sheet does not directly name Sanatan Sanstha, but states the conspiracy was hatched at one of its centers.
Sanatan Sanstha has shown “extreme interest” in Hindu religious matters and organized martial arts training in Goa’s northern region, where Hindus are a majority, the charges state.
Goa Chief Minister Digambar Kamat said his government would study the charge sheet before deciding to ban the Hindu outfit.
Virendra Marathe, a Sanatan Sanstha official, said his organization has denied involvement in the blasts. However, the police have confiscated the center’s documents and computer hard disks as part of their investigations.

Global Tamil Christian meet in Tiruchi

The World Christian Tamil Conference, which is set to start in Thiruchirapally this Friday will gather over 500 delegates, including scholars from US and Malaysia.
Some 130 research papers presented during the three-day conference, reported news agency Press Trust of India.
World Christian Academy, the Church of South India (CSI) are chief organizers and sponsors of the program, Bishop G Paul Vasantha Kumar told reporters here Tuesday.
The meet was being held after a gap of 14 years since the fifth edition in New York in 1996, he said.
Union Minister for IT and Communication A Raja and Tamil Nadu Ministers K N Nehru, N Selvaraj and Geetha Jeevan would attend the conference, Paul said.

Manipur seeks Christian help to end blockade

The Manipur state government has sought the help of Christian leaders to end a month-old road blockade that has cut off supplies of food, medicine and other essentials to this eastern Indian state.
Naga tribal groups in Manipur and neighboring Nagaland state have since April 11 blocked two national highways to land-locked Manipur.
The government on May 17 sent a nine-member delegation of the All Manipur Christian Organization, an ecumenical body in Manipur, to Nagaland to discuss with Naga groups to find a way out of the impasse.
The economic blockade was to protest Manipur state’s refusal to allow Naga separatist leader Thuingaleng Muivah to visit his birthplace there.
Muivah is among leaders demanding a greater Naga homeland comprising Nagaland and parts of Manipur where Naga people live. Manipur state reportedly fears the visit would inflame Naga passions as the leader plans to address several meetings.
Manipur government spokesperson N. Biren Singh said the Church delegation is expected to appeal to the All Naga Students Association and the United Naga Council to call off the indefinite blockade.
Manipur Chief Minster Ibobi Singh is “hoping that the Church leaders” in Manipur and Nagaland will be able to convince Naga leaders to lift the economic blockade, he said.
The lack of essential commodities has pushed the state to a crisis. Hospitals have suspended surgeries for want of oxygen cylinders and offices have been shut as there is now no fuel for transportation.
Bishop Dominic Lumon, who is based in the Manipur capital Imphal, has asked parishes to conduct prayers for peace. Father Tomy Orumpakat, vicar general of Imphal diocese pointed out that “at this moment only prayer can move hearts.”
Christians form about 80 percent of Nagaland’s some 2 million people, and 34 percent of Manipur’s 2.1 million people.

Kandhamal women live ‘under siege and fear’

Women survivors of the attacks on Christians in Orissa are still traumatized two years later, a new study of their plight has found.
“What we saw in Kandhamal is disgusting. Women there are living under siege and fear,” says Jalinder Adsule, a member of the study team who visited the district recently.
Survivors have become fatalistic and submissive, he said.
The government has done nothing to restore the abused women’s confidence, team leader Gita Balakrishnan said.
Other team members said there were still few signs of peace.
“It is not peace but terror and fears that stalk Kandhamal society,” said Sister Pramila Topno.
The study was made by 11 students and six teachers from Mumbai’s Church-managed social work college, Nirmala Niketan (house of innocence).
Team members interviewed nearly 300 women in 55 villages of Kandhamal.
The study aimed to gather better information on the extent of violence on women during the anti-Christian riots that rocked Kandhamal for seven weeks starting Aug. 24, 2008.
Nothing has been done for women who were forced to hide in forests for days during the seven-week long violence, said Sister Anitha Chettiar, a member of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary congregation that runs Nirmala Niketan and a senior lecturer there.
Many women had refused to report attacks on them because their violators were protected by police, she said.
Jaycelyn Andrade, a student, said the Kandhamal women now view violence as a way of life.
They have “internalized fear and believe they cannot get out of this sense of insecurity.”