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Am I My Neighbour's Keeper?

A Call to Christians for Solidarity

by Rev. Raj Bharath Patta, Executive Secretary,
COD of National Council of Churches India (NCCI), Senior Friend of SCM India

For the last few weeks, there has been clash among communities either in the name of ethnicity or religion and the ideology of conflict and the concept of hatred have been reaping greater fruits in this whole saga of violence.

Don't kill ChristiansInnocent victims had to pay the price in this whole episode. What Samuel Huntington has predicted the ‘Clash of Civilisations’, probably is taking its deep roots with the clash of faiths, clash of interests and clash of cultures as its manifestation.

Ongoing Violence

The violent episode in Orissa, which has been unabated for the last seven weeks, though there has been an uneasy calmness that lasted one week, resulted in the killings of nearly 50 people, the majority happen to be Dalit Christians. Nearly 50,000 Dalit & Tribal people have been displaced as their houses are either damaged or burnt down by the religious fundamentalists in Kandhamal district, Orissa.

Nearly ten people died in the communal violence in a village Bhainsa, Adilabad district, Andhra Pradesh during last week, the victims had been from the Muslim minority community. Nearly 51 people died in the violence in Assam during last few weeks in Udalguri and Darrang districts in Assam dodged by clashes between Bodos and Bangladeshi migrants, where the victims are the Tribals.

Besides these major incidents, there have been reported cases of communal violence in the states of Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Gujarat etc. Incidents of terrorism and bomb blasts continue to rock both the urban and the rural India, violence has crept into all corners of the Indian society.

Violation of Human Rights

All these incidents of violence on innocent people are grave realities of violations of human rights. Violence in the name of religion and ethnicity held in Kandhamal, reveals the brutality done by the religious fundamentalists. When the Constitution of India provides the safeguards of freedom of religion, every citizen has the right to profess, propagate and practice any religion of one’s own choice. Therefore violence in Kandhamal, exhibits the violation of human rights, the right to freedom of religion.

The other episodes of violence reveal the violation of the basic human right, the right to live. In our times today, human rights violations are on the high and have been registered in every sphere of life. Women’s rights, children’s rights, Dalit rights, Tribal rights, rights of the religious minorities, etc. have all been affected with the onset of violence and these continue to affect the life in all fronts.

Ongoing Solidarity

Time and again, it has been emphasised that the civil society needs to vigilant in building peace and harmony in times of crisis and build solidarity to communities that have been affected. Violence on any community is not a mere attack on that community, rather they are a violation of human rights and a breach of citizenship guaranteed by the Constitution on India. Even the National Integration Council, which met on October 13, 2008, under the auspices of the Ministry of Home affairs in New Delhi discussed and interacted on communal violence, and observed that the unity among different cultures in India has been tarnished by these acts of violence.

On a whole the solidarity to the communities affected, particularly to the Christians in Orissa is tremendous and we as Christians need to profusely thank the solidarity that we have received from all quarters of the world, from all religious communities and from people of all walks of life.

We as Christians also need to thank the solidarity systems and the pressure exerted both by the local and international friends put on the governments to intervene pro-actively, though they could not really contain the violence. We as Christians need to thank all the responsible citizens of this country from all faiths, who walked with us during protest rallies, peace rallies, condemning the violence as breach on Indian secularism and for all those who stood by us in times of crisis and violence on Dalit Christians and Christians in India.

We also need to thank the media for airing the immediate incidents as they happen, for exposing the inefficiency of the government machinery and for not being biased in their coverage of the violence, though few media people had actually reported it in their right-ideological perspective.

Am I my Neighbour’s Keeper?

But the real question that comes into light is, “Where are we Christians, in expressing our solidarity when the Muslims in Andhra Pradesh have been killed? Where are we Christians, in expressing our solidarity, when the Bodo Tribals have been killed in Assam? Where are we Christians, in expressing our solidarity, when Muslims have been killed in Gujarat?” These questions come at a time when we had the privilege of the solidarity from other people of faith, responsible citizens of India and from committed Human Rights activists and agencies, from across the world.

Leave about the reason, since they have been in solidarity, so we should also be, but are we as Christians not called to be in solidarity with all those that are oppressed and attacked violently? What happened to our role as ‘Good Samaritans’, which we often preach and are boasting about, when our co-citizens are killed and attacked? Was not Jesus Christ in solidarity with those from other communities and cultures during his time? If we as Christians are silent at a time like this, I fear that our moral responsibility as citizens of India is at stake and I also fear our calling, as Christians will lose its savour and character.

It is high time, that we need to join the civil society in expressing their solidarity with the bruised communities, with the wounded communities and with the communities who are in deep distress and despair at a time like this of now.

A Call for Solidarity

Therefore, now the calling for us Christians is to stand by those survivors of violence, express our solidarity and try to exert pressure on the government in ensuring safety and protection to all its citizens.

As Christians, as Churches, let us engage with the civil society in countering the forces of religious fundamentalism, communalism, casteism and all ethnic conflicts. Let us all dedicate as Christians to be the ambassadors of peace and harmony, to be the ones initiating peace-building measures in our communities and to be responsible citizens of India. We as Christians need to be the apostles of secularism and democracy.

We as Christians need to love our neighbours as we love our communities and ourselves. If we as a faith-based community can be a channel for promoting peace, secularism, national integration, unity, justice, and liberation, only then can we fulfil the calling as Christians.

Let our voices be heard on behalf of all those victims, irrespective of their religion, region and caste. Only when we Christians stand with those affected people now, tomorrow we can expect their solidarity and support. Let us not escape the crisis, but let us be in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in other faith communities, who have been attacked and killed.

Let us be reminded with the words of Pastor Martin Niemöller who said:

“In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist; And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist; And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew; And then... they came for me... And by that time there was no one left to speak up.”