Faith leaders in India protect refugees from Assam violence

Faith leaders in India protect refugees from Assam violence

By ENInews
25 Aug 2012

Religious leaders and groups have assured safety and protection to thousands of people fleeing sectarian violence in India's northeastern Assam state - writes Anto Akkara.

In the past week or so, more than 30,000 people have jammed train stations in and around Bangalore, following intimidation in Assam and rumours of attacks spread on social media.

In the past month, Assam's Kokraijhar region has seen clashes between local ethnic Bodo people and Muslim migrants that have left at least 79 dead and over 400,000 homeless.

In Bangalore, Muslim groups held special Eid al-Fitr celebrations at the end of Ramadan that included non-Muslim people from the north-east.

"India belongs to all ... You will be safe here," said Syed Shah Shamsul Haq Khadri, a senior Muslim leader of Bangalore's Karnataka state, patting the shoulder of an anguished north-east youth on 21 August 2012 at an Eid Fellowship gathering.

"We appeal to all the north-east people to come back... The irresponsible rumour mongering has to be condemned," said Anwar Sharief, chairman of Jumma Masjid Trust Board. It hosted the special Eid gathering at which Hindu and Christian leaders also joined Muslim leaders.

"The exodus was not without reason," Rini Ralte, chairperson of Women's Studies Department of the United Theological College in Bangalore, told ENInews at the Eid meet.

"My north-east friends had reported several incidents of our people threatened in the streets," said Ralte who came to the meet in her traditional dress of Mizoram state in north-east India.

Meanwhile, the Student Christian Movement of India (SCMI) organised an Eid dinner in Bangalore on 18 August at which dozens of north-east youth interacted with Muslim leaders and youth.

"At the meet, some of the Muslims even offered to shelter the north-eastern people," the Rev Raj Bharath Patta, SCMI General Secretary, told ENInews.

At least a quarter of the 2,500 members of his congregation fled Bangalore, the Rev Zhabu Yimsung, pastor of the Naga Christian Fellowship in Bangalore that caters to the Baptist Christians from Nagaland state in north-east, told ENInews.

"Most of them were under pressure from their parents to return home. The people in the region have bitter memories of ethnic conflicts. Hope they will return soon," said Yinsung.

Assam chief Minister Tarun Gogoi met on 21 August an 11-member church delegation led by the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) that had visited several refugee camps around Kokraijhar.

"The chief minister even urged the churches to initiate steps for peace building," Samuel Jayakumar, secretary of the Commission on Policy, Governance and Public Witness of NCCI, told ENInews from Guwahati, capital of Assam.

Meanwhile Lutheran World Service India Trust (LWSIT), an associate programme of the Lutheran World Federation's Department for World Service, has said that it is extending emergency services to 5,000 families in 60 villages affected by the ethnic conflict through its Evangelical Lutheran Church.

LWSIT is providing supplementary baby food, clothing, hygiene items, shelter and sleeping materials, said executive director James Vijayakumar.

[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]

[Ekk/3]

Keywords: armed violence | assam | india
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