Assam: Mediating peace in a land at war

2012-07-25 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) “I renew my appeal that violence should come to an end and that we should sit together to discuss ways and means to restore peace”, says Bishop Thomas Pullopillil of Bongaigaon diocese, Assam, in the wake of violent clashes that have left 32 people dead and an estimated 170 thousand displaced and in desperate need of food and shelter. He speaks to Emer McCarthy. Listen:

The north-eastern Indian state lies between Bangladesh and Bhutan, on southern slopes of the Himalayas, and is famed for its natural beauty and rich and fertile farming land. However, this land has become the root cause of violent clashes between the indigenous Bodo tribals, who are mainly Catholic, and Muslim settlers, particularly in the districts of Kokajhar and Chirang.

“The trouble has been fomenting for some time, first as a war of words”, says the bishop whose diocese straddles these districts. This tension later exploded into open conflict following the killing of four young men from the Bodo tribe. Then some Muslims were killed and the backlash has now engulfed the whole region.

170 thousand people have been internally displaced by the violence and are seeking temporary shelter and protection in makeshift camps many of which have been set up by the Catholic Church.

Bishop Pullopillil says the main priority is to help those people in need who have lost everything in the violence, Christian and Muslim. But he adds, “ it is difficult to reach them, to get basic aid to them because of the instability. And now the government has imposed a curfew. So we are collaborating as much we can with other Christian churches, NGO’s and of course the government to resolve this situation”.

Another priority is locating leaders from the local Muslim community to engage in dialogue with in an attempt to find a peaceful resolution to the escalating crisis. He says Muslim leaders from outside the region have been contacted and asked to approach local leaders in an attempt to start some sort of dialogue. “We must sit together in peace. Because only in a peaceful atmosphere will any solution be found. This violence is affecting both communities, the Bodor and Muslim community. We are making every effort to facilitate talks between them.