Catholics have welcomed a Gujarat police initiative to bring Hindus and Muslims together on the cricket field but some say more is needed to remove underlying sectarian pressures.
Police in the western Indian organized the first inter-faith match recently in Vadodara, a city where there have been frequent clashes between Muslims and Hindus in the past.
Father Cedric Prakash, a Jesuit who directs a human rights center in Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s commercial hub, welcomed such initiatives and said they should be encouraged if they help reduce sectarian tension.
But without any attempt to bring the two communities closer at grassroots level, they were just “cosmetic exercises,” the priest told ucanews.com on June 8.
“Does a Hindu welcome a Muslim in a locality populated by Hindus?” asked the priest who was among the few people to work among victims of Hindu-Muslim clashes in 2002.
Muslims are not allowed to buy houses in Hindu areas in Ahmedabad and other cities in the state, the priest said.
Authorities should check such “endemic social diseases” by inter-mixing communities so that they get to know each other better, Father Prakash said.
He challenged police to restore “broken hearts” by repairing the dargah (Muslim tombs) destroyed during the 2002 clashes.
“I do not believe a few inter-religious cricket tournaments will bring about a change of heart among people,” said another Jesuit, Father Xavier Manjooran.
Authorities and police have done little to bring changes in people’s attitude, he added.
Vadodara diocese’s vicar general Father Joel R. Pais welcomed the police initiative, saying it would help bridge the “wide gap” between Muslims and Hindus.
Cricket matches offer opportunities for young people to interact with each other and remove mistrust, he said.