IA1566.1184 May 16, 2002 96 EM-lines (No count of words)

AHMEDABAD, India (UCAN) -- Christians could be the next target of attack in western Indian Gujarat state, where sectarian violence has claimed about 1,000 lives, says Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash, a human rights activist.
The 51-year-old priest, who has won several national and regional awards for his human rights and development work in the region, also said the continuing Hindu outrage against Muslims can end only if the mindsets are changed.
The Jesuit priest, based in the state's commercial capital of Ahmedabad, continues his work for faith formation, interreligious dialogue and human rights as violence rages in the city and elsewhere in the state.
In the following interview with UCA News, Father Prakash analyzed the reason for the violence that started Feb. 27 after suspected Muslim militants set fire to a train coach killing 59 Hindu activists.
The Hindu activists were returning from voluntary work on a temple in northern India, where Hindu zealots demolished a mosque in 1991.

UCA NEWS: How would you describe the violence in Gujarat?
FATHER CEDRIC PRAKASH: I have been witness to violence that has killed thousands of people in the past in Bombay, Delhi and Ahmedabad. The government then had the will to contain those sectarian clashes. But this violence is not only sponsored by the state but also committed by it. It is very meticulously planned and horrendously carried out. Even after committing the crime, the government is trying to justify it with one lie after another.

Many term this as "state genocide."
Parallels to this holocaust can be drawn from Kosovo, (Adolf) Hitler's Germany or Rwanda. If the government lost control over the situation then it could become a civil war. But I don't think it is true here. The government is just not competent or doesn't want the violence to die down. Just as historical facts were tampered with to build up propaganda against the Jews, the people here also were systematically programmed to accept Muslims as their enemy. The Hindu hard-liners do this in an effort to grab power and create what they call a Hindu nation. But they hardly realize that they are losing the country as a whole. What could a Hindu do with a war-destroyed nation, even if one calls it a Hindu nation?

What has the Church been doing in these circumstances?
Right from day one, the national bodies of bishops in India and the local Church have condemned the violence and called for peace and justice. The Church has responded to this genocide as never before. But because of the nature of the violence, the work may not have been visible. The role of the Church bodies will be put to its real test once the violence ends. Several initiatives to help the victims came from non-Church leadership, although many Church bodies were involved in them. Church bodies do not put their label on the work, lest they run the risk of being branded as sectarian.
For us, the primary goal is to have the work done, so we join with others.

Could Christians be the next targets of attack?
Most likely, the Christians may be the target eventually. The missioners are fully prepared for such an attack. That preparedness, however, is not to counter violence with violence. We are gearing ourselves to change the prejudiced mindsets. The trend of violence would show that those villages where the missioners are active have stayed away from violence. This has irritated the Hindu fanatics, though they are not prepared to engineer an attack on the Christians now. But the missioners now have other issues to attend to. We are busy working with thousands who live without adequate food and shelter in the region, where cyclones, earthquakes and severe drought have played havoc in the past.

Why are the NGOs who were active during such natural calamities silent against the violence?
I am disappointed with the NGOs. When we formed a citizen's initiative against the violence, many of them were willing to join and contribute monetarily, but were unwilling to take leadership or reveal names publicly.
One reason may be the fears that the militants would target them or that the government may make them objects of a witch hunt.
The Hindu fundamentalists have targeted all those trying to help Muslims.
People are naturally afraid to lose their lives and families. Also, the fact is that the violence is too huge and complex that they really do not know how to proceed. Then, a majority of the NGOs that depend on state funds or state-controlled international resources do not want to stick their necks out. This violence is a different ball game altogether.

Are these NGOs losing moral courage?
The collective enthusiasm they showed during the earthquake (in 2001) was missing this time. The commitment was hardly evident. The Hindu militants used low castes and tribals as human weapons against Muslims. Their own oppressors, the high castes, provided them money and weapons to kill the Muslims. But those organizations that boast to champion the cause of low castes and tribals failed even to condemn these acts. The oppression of the dalits (low castes) was carried to international forums despite government protests. Now where is the moral stand to champion their cause when they have become perpetrators of violence?

But why are other people in the state also silent?
A major problem in the state is the immaturity of civil society.
Gujaratis (people in Gujarat) have been reduced to mere spectators by the present regime. Their reach has been limited and their capacity has been cut off.
There is no public outcry and no reaction. The protestors have been targeted and gradually the public voice has gone down the drain. They have become silent victims of oppression, in all forms and from all bodies. They are the victims of a system that fails to appreciate humanity. You tell a lie a thousand times and it becomes a truth. The crimes get an air of legitimacy by the silence of the majority community.

What would you say is the solution to this violence?
I don't see any solution unless the mindset changes. If you want to coexist you have to have a liberal mind. It is unfair to label a whole community because of the deeds of a tiny section of it. If we do that, Christians should be blamed for the arms and ammunition in the world, because some of the biggest arms producers are Christians. Should we brand Christians, Hindus or Muslims as terrorists? But Muslims are branded as enemies and terrorists here. This branding has stigmatized them to unimaginable levels. They are unfortunate victims of a mindset that cannot be changed easily. The hatred spread by false propaganda is too deep to heal.