12/21/2006, 00.00
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Christmas in Assam, wounded by Aids and poverty

by Nirmala Carvalho
Fr Tom Mangattuthazhe Thomas visited villages in rural areas in the eastern state of Assam to prepare for Christmas celebrations. Upon his return, he made a call for reflection on the social ills afflicting tribal people.

Diphu (AsiaNews) – Christmas in north-east India “should be lived as a joyous time but it should also prompt each one to reflect upon social ills afflicting this region and stimulate a reflection on possible healing solutions.”

Fr Tom Mangattuthazhe Thomas who lives in the Bishop’s House in Diphu, in the eastern state of Assam, was speaking to AsiaNews about preparations for local Christmas celebrations. These “should not be an end in themselves but should serve to encourage reflection about the many problems afflicting local people.” Precisely for this reason, the priest visited a remote rural village in the state where he celebrated Mass for the Catholic community and spent some days.

 “After an enjoyable evening, with Christmas carols by children from the village, we sat down around a table. I was served refreshments by a lady of around 40 who had a very sad, miserable and forlorn look. To get to know her situation, I asked some friends about her family and learned that the woman and her husband worked in a tea plantation and had four children, three boys and a girl.  One boy died two years ago of malaria. Then, in 2001, “a man came to her village, promising her a better future for her daughter in one of the metropolitan cities.  In sheer desperation due to the poverty in the village, she entrusted her only girl to the man who sold her for 400 rupees, less than 7 euros. The family did all they could to trace the girl but their efforts were vain: the ‘family hosting her’, that is, her exploiters, refused to set her free and the police did nothing. Now they are desperate. This is only one in so many cases of human trafficking.”

Fr Tom continued: “From our sources, we have learned that most prostitutes in Mumbai come from these areas. The girls, like the daughter of this poor woman, are lured away by the illusion of a better life and reduced to the slavery of drugs and other attractions of the consumerist lifestyle in big cities.”

But the problem does not stop here: “The tribal people who leave their places of origin to seek education or work in cities are exploited in all ways and are completely ignorant of the risks they face. Two years ago, 11 youth left this village to go to study in Bangalore: seven came back with HIV.”

The priest urged reflection on the situation: “I ask myself, can’t we do anything for them? I came here to celebrate the birth of the child Jesus and I see around me other children who risk slavery. Love and peace could heal the wounds of this part of India: Christmas brings them but it is our task to learn its teachings.”

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