Mgr Ivan Pereira says people are affected by unrest in the Indian state. Students have been staying away from schools fearing “nationalists and young activists”. Catholics too are afraid. Christians are appreciated by other religious groups "because wherever we go, we are an instrument of peace".
New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Tensions continue in Jammu and Kashmir, a region claimed by both India and Pakistan. Reacting to the situation, Mgr Ivan Pereira, bishop of Jammu-Srinagar, spoke to AsiaNews, repeating a message of peace.
As leader of the Catholic Church in the State of Jammu and Kashmir "I wish to appeal to the government and the people, urging them to solve the dispute peacefully. State Ministers must address the issue in the most appropriate manner," the prelate said. "The whole Christian community is praying for peace in Jammu and Kashmir".
The current crisis began on 5 August, when the Indian government revoked Art 370 of the Indian Constitution, which granted the State a special autonomy. As a result, the Kashmir Valley has been plunged once again into chaos and violence.
"In Jammu things are back to normal; telephone services and communications have been restored. The situation is calm,” said the bishop. "In Kashmir instead life is at a standstill; the internet isn’t working. People are taking to the streets to protest, mostly peaceful ".
Public schools reopened this week, he said, "but the authorities have failed to inform parents, who were surprised at hearing that classes were back on.”
Although the authorities called for students to go back to school, the latter “have stayed away fearing what might happen. They are afraid of nationalists and young activists."
In Srinagar, posters appeared overnight this week, calling for a protest march at the UN Military Observer Group for India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP). In order to prevent fresh unrest during Friday prayers, the authorities deployed more security forces across the city today.
Meanwhile, at least 152 people have been hurt by teargas and banned pellets since security forces launched their crackdown, data from two major local hospitals indicate.
In view of the violence, "the Catholic community, however small, is very much afraid,” Bishop Pereira said.
“We know that it (the government’s decision) is not against [our] religion,” he explained, “but has to do with politics. There are no religious discussions at the moment. There is fear among Catholics living here."
"Relations between the Christian community and other religious communities are cordial, both the Hindu majority, and Buddhists and Muslims,” he added. “The Christian religion is very much appreciated by all other faiths, the government and people, because wherever we go, we try to be an instrument of peace between religions.” (A.C.F.)