Christian leaders in Orissa call for the immediate release of abducted Italians "without any harm"
by Nirmala Carvalho
"Our sincere prayers for the abducted Italians and their family," the archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar offers. For Global Council of Indian Christians president, the kidnapping is a "heinous act" and raises questions about public order in Kandhamal. Maoist rebels accuse the two Italians of treating Tribals as animals, but on his website one of the men says, "Be careful not to include a business transaction with the tribal people."

Bhubaneshwar (AsiaNews) - Orissa bishops have called for the immediate release of the two Italian men abducted by Maoist rebels last Wednesday, "without any harm". "We do hope the government machinery and people of good will do all that is possible to free the hostages," Mgr John Barwa SVD, archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar, told AsiaNews. "Our sincere prayers for the Italian abducted victims and their family," added the prelate, who is also president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Orissa.

At present, Orissa authorities are keeping a low profile to allow negotiations to go ahead. In an audio message, the rebels made 14 demands, including a call for new talks, the release of political prisoners and a ban on tourists in tribal areas. Maoist rebels abducted the Italians claiming they were taking pictures of tribal women (Adivasi) as if they were animals.

Sajan George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), calls the abduction "a heinous act" and urges Orissa authorities to "to take all necessary steps" to free the victims. At the same time, the abduction raises questions about public order in such an unstable area.

Kandhamal District saw bloody anti-Christian pogroms in 2008 by Hindu ultranationalist Sangh Parivar groups. With the support of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) administration, these groups targeted Christian Tribals and Dalits.

What is more, the charges levelled at the Italians are hard to believe. Paolo Bosusco, 54, runs the Orissa Adventurous Trekking, an Indian-Italian adventure agency that organises trips to pristine areas.

In India for 20 years, Bosusco's "travel philosophy is founded on trying to have genuine and honest rapport with people still living a life following their old custom and traditions; therefore one of our rules is never to force our attitudes in any way. For example, we shall never ask the tribal to organize dances especially for us or something like that for money."

Equally, "One needs a lot of discretion in the relationship with the tribal people. [. . .] Often it is better to resist the impulse to take a snap of someone very interesting [. . .]. Be careful not to include a business transaction with the tribal people. [...] those who feel they cannot accept these conditions, it would be better for them to go with some other agency."

Claudio Colangelo, 60, has worked as a volunteer on a number of international cooperation projects in the medical field. In the past, he worked in Peru with Amazon Promise, a US-based NGO. He was in India on a holiday with his wife who has already flown back to Italy.

Inspired by Mao Zedong, the Naxalite movement emerged in the 1960s when two members of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sayal, led a violent uprising among tribal Santal people in the village of Naxalbari (West Bengal) against land grabs by local landowners.

Viewed as the country's greatest security threat, the Naxalite rebellion is active in 20 of India's 28 states. It can count on 10,000 fighters organised in a People's Liberation Guerrilla Army, mostly illiterate tribal farmers, plus 50,000 members.

(Santosh Digal contributed to the article)