New Delhi (AsiaNews) – The Catholic Church of Kolkata is willing to mediate between farmers the state government in Nandigram (West Bengal) as Catholic volunteers stand by the local population scared by recent violence and feeling forgotten by the rest of the country.
Fr I.P. Sarto, spokesman for Kolkata’s Catholic Seva Kendra (Service Centre), said that the “Church is ready to act as a mediator. For this reason we asked to meet the Home secretary next week.”
Mgr Lucas Sirkar, archbishop of Kolkata, Mgr Salvadore Lobo, bishop of Baruipur, and Mgr Cyprian Monis, bishop of Asansol, expressed their full support for the initiative.
On January 7, the rural population set up barricades and occupied land in Nandigram to stop the government from seizing 8,800 hectares (22,000 acres) in order to establish a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) for industry.
On March 14 the police stormed the barricades shooting at demonstrators. At least 14 were killed and 800 arrested.
Police claimed that its officers came under fire, but none of them sustained any injury from bullets.
The events in Nandigram are not unique. Similar problems are replayed across India as rural communities resist the establishment of SEZs whenever they fail to take into account their interests.
In light of the ongoing crisis, West Bengal’s government is now re-examining the Nandigram SEZ project.
Mgr Sirkar told AsiaNews that the Church, “moved by the charity of Christ, wants to reach and help those who are suffering in Nandigram. We must bring the love and compassion of Christ to all, to those who suffer and those who don’t know Him yet.”
The Seva Kendra begun a camp on Good Friday (April 6) in Sonachura (Nandigram) where it offers aid and relief to the families impacted by the March 14 clashes.
Father Sarto said that many families and children were traumatised by the event and that about 100 families asked for help at the camp,
Many people still fear renewed violence because “police is now operating in the area and villagers feel very vulnerable.”
Those managing the camp have been instructed to offer “whatever protection they can” in case of more violence.
The Seva Kendra is also trying to provide material aid to residents, but the State Relief minister “told us that his department can intervene only during natural disasters, so we are looking into whatever best can be done to come up with some help for the villagers.”