04/21/2006, 00.00
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Catholic Relief Services celebrate 60 years in India

by Nirmala Carvalho

The organization, born in the United States, has worked in India for decades. Kevin Hartigan, director of the South Asia section of CRS, said: "We feel honoured and proud".

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Today, Catholic Relief Services launches two days of celebration to mark 60 years of work in India, "always aiming for better conditions for disadvantaged classes of the population".

CRS was set up in 1942 by the Bishops' Conference of the United States with a brief to help poor and marginalized people around the world, without distinction of race, caste or creed. After three years, the organisation came to India, where it immediately sought to involve the people in efforts to better themselves.

Kevin Hartigan, 45 years, is director of the South Asia section of CRS. He told AsiaNews: "We are a vehicle of solidarity between people in the USA and people in India. Although we do not work directly with the population, we support nearly 3,000 Indian partners and Indian organisations."

In India, 89% of beneficiaries of CRS projects are indigenous people, members of lower castes, and people legally classified as "other backward classes". These people typically live on the fringes of society: they work as tenant farmers, unskilled workers and street sweepers. CRS develops programmes for them in the sectors of health, agriculture, education and AIDS prevention.

Hartigan continued: "The great majority of our work is focused on outcastes, Dalits, and tribals and there is also a strong commitment to empowering girls and women."

About discrimination and violence against minorities, Hartigan said: "India is not our country, and we don't have the knowledge or the authority to speak about these problems. Some of our Indian partners are very involved in certain fields, but we leave it to them to decide about which issues to take action and how to do so."

He added: "The most important aspect of our work, the universal element, is solidarity through humanitarian aid. A good part of our work is undertaken around natural disasters. The Indian people always respond to appeals to a universal value like charity, much more than in our country."

Hartigan's closing remark was: "We feel honoured by the welcome we had 60 years ago, and by the way we have been treated by the Indian Government and our partners all this time. We are proud to be able to be a vehicle for better understanding between our two nations."

Around 600 people are expected to take part in the organisation's Jubilee celebrations.

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