11/23/2009, 00.00
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Mgr. Menamparampil: Assam, peace threatened by terrorism and by government force

by Nirmala Carvalho
On November 22, three bombs caused 8 deaths and 54 wounded in Nalbari. In north-east India, terrorism has religious, ethnic and political connotations. For the Bishop of Guwahati, engaged for years in peace-making, the attacks are a response to violent acts of force by the authorities. Politicians fail to offer an economic solution to a cultural problem".

Guwahati (AsiaNews) – “The two November 22 bombings that killed 8 people and wounded 54 in Nalbari declare to the world that there is a major unsolved problem in our state”. Bishop Thomas Menamparampil, Archbishop of Guwahati, tells AsiaNews, the three bombs that have bloodied the Indian state of Assam.  

Two bombs were placed on two bicycles near the police station in Nalbari exploding at around 10:30 local time. Ten minutes after a third bomb exploded in the area of Gopal Bazar.

Police suspicion immediately focused on the separatist United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), which for 30 years has been waging a war in the country between China, Bhutan and India for "the sovereignty of socialist Assam". The investigations do not exclude however that the attack could have been carried out by the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Ndfb), another rebel group operating in the region for the establishment of an independent state of Bodo ethnicity that represents 5.3 % of the population of Assam.  

Archbishop Menamparampil has long been engaged in the process of pacification of the region (see AsiaNews, 12/02/2009, "Guwahati archbishop mediates between Muslims and tribal Hindu") in which terrorism take on a religious, ethnic and political dimension. For 13 years the Joint Peace Team of North-east India led by the bishop is involved in the talks between the different ethnic groups that are opposed to each other in the region.  

The Bishop of Guwahati tells AsiaNews that the bombs in Nalbari could be a response to the recent arrests of some Ulfa leaders. "These attacks are the militant group’s attempts to call public attention to the fact they are still active. Every time a political leader threatens to hit a rebel group or announces that he has, there is a violent response and we lose more lives. Demonstrations of force by the authorities are not the best way to persuade armed young people to return to peace talks".  

Mgr. Menamparampil said: "I still keep in a drawer the bullet that I earned ten years ago in Churachandpur during talks between representatives of the Kuki and Paita tribes that were in conflict."  

The Church's involvement in reconciliation efforts between ethnic groups and warring factions has a long history. "There are those who cynically ask what our efforts have brought," says the Bishop. "I am not surprised. Every time I participate in discussions that may fail. But every time we get even a small contribution to peace, we are infinitely grateful: even one life saved has an immense value. "

Mgr. Menamparampil explains that the Joint Peace Team "does not ever involve itself with political issues. Claims for self-determination, the establishment of an autonomous district or independent states are not our field of action".  For the bishop the high road to peace means "being sensitive to the problems, real or perceived, of the various groups." The bombs like those of Nalbari undermine this approach because it drags these claims into violence. When there are attacks, "we - the bishop says - we are in a situation of helplessness”.  

The anger that animates the different ethnic groups and the various rebel factions has deep roots, related to historical events in the region. Mgr. Menamparampil says however, that it is made worse by the arrogance of the local administration and "even the atrocities committed by the police torture, sham dialogue and targeted eliminations”. The bishop explains: "The special powers the army has in sensitive areas can draw a veil of silence on many misdeeds. Civil society responds with protests, groups of young armed men with AK-47s”.

According to the prelate, "the mistake that our political leadership is making is its failure to offer an economic solution to a cultural problem." The authorities make attractive proposals to various leaders ignoring how attached different communities are to their ethnic identity "," passing bribes to those who shout the loudest transforming them into administration tools". The prelate also complains that certain circles of power "use the missionaries as scapegoats" because they are opposed to their commitment to the growth and development of communities.  

"Every problem has a solution. We must keep searching for it," he says. He cites the proposal of the Indian economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen of "public reasoning" to address "the different perceptions of justice." "Psychologists - adds Mgr. Menamparampil - affirm that provoking a disturbed person will not help. Sociologists tell us that social imbalances must be removed to create a peaceful society. People of different religious faiths teach that peace is the fruit of an upright life. The Lord Jesus proclaimed that those who work for peace are children of God. May we earn that glorious name! May peace reign in our society!”


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