Help us help themhttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/help-us-help-them/

Help us help them

The Roman Catholic Church is ‘civil society’ too. And unlike some other NGOs,it is willing to help tackle the Maoists in tribal areas...

Even as the debate on how exactly to tackle the menace of Maoist/Naxalite violence keeps raging within the government on the one hand,and in the media — which also occasionally allows the voice of the Maoist sympathisers — on the other,more and more innocent lives are being lost. One wonders where the ‘buck’ will finally stop.

Last month when the Congress President Mrs. Sonia Gandhi wrote in Congress mouthpiece Sandesh that “The rise of Naxalism is a reflection of the need for our development initiatives to reach the grassroots,especially in our most backward districts. This is why our government is putting in place more targeted development schemes for our most backward districts”,it seemed clear where the debate would finally rest. No one doubted her intentions.

Unfortunately,two days after her observations,the Maoists struck again,this time a line bus carrying civilians,though several special police officers (SPO) had boarded it too. The bus was blown up in the same area where 75 CRPF personnel had previously lost their lives when their convoy was attacked. The toll this time was 50. Following the dastardly incident,while sympathisers found it difficult to come to the Maoists’ defence,the government still dithered on the exact course of action it should take. This brought a new angle to the debate.

The new debate was not centered only on whether to take the help of army or about air-strikes/support etc,but about a two-pronged approach to the problem. This would include development as a long-term measure and military/police action as a short-term measure to contain violence.

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What is,however,missing in the current debate is the role of civil society and NGOs as a third force — going beyond writing articles or shouting their lungs off in television studios to more concrete action at the grassroots.

Social scientist Kancha Ilaiah,decrying the recent Maoist violence,wrote in a newspaper article that “about 50 years ago,the tribals of this region [North East were as illiterate as those of Dandakaranya. But today Mizoram has 95 per cent literacy (more than Kerala),Manipur has 68.87 per cent,Meghalaya 63.31 per cent and Nagaland 66.11 per cent¿.This educational development has to be seen in the background of the committed activities of missionaries. They averted violent struggles and at the same time,ensured the uplift of tribals. It was a slow but sure process of development and empowerment”.

I know I am treading on hazardous ground and offering dynamite to the right-wing RSS,VHP and Bajrang Dal to pounce on me,saying that in the states mentioned above,the majority are now Christians — repeating the same old stereotype,of missionaries being out to ‘convert’ the gullible masses.

Why I still dare write it is because I know as well as they do that their allegations are not at all true. Rather than entering into a debate and reiterating what the missionaries have been saying ad nauseam that the RSS and its front organisations — many of them involved in Kandhamal-type violence — need not worry about the work of Christians as three consecutive censuses in India have clearly registered a slow but sure decline in the Christian community’s numbers here. Nor is there a single case proved so far of any conversion that goes contrary to the provisions of the Constitution.

The work of education begun by Francis Xavier and the Jesuits in the sixteenth century in Goa, and continued later the eighteenth century by William Carey in Bengal,and which goes on to this day,has been all for the development of the subcontinent — and after Independence for the poor and backward classes of India. If there were conversions,as indeed there were,and will continue to be,then it was by those who freely chose to embrace the religion of those who gave them human dignity and made them stand for their own fundamental human rights.

If the RSS,VHP,Bajrang Dal and other outfits,instead of being paranoid about the Christians’ work for the poor,would,as Archbishop Vincent M. Concessao of Delhi keeps saying,“please join hands with us to work for the education and development of Dalits and the poor”,they would not only help in eliminating the menace of Maoist violence but they would also come to know the truth about religious conversions.

Thus while the government decides on what action is to be taken,hopefully avoiding bloodshed on both sides,the need of the hour is for all to come together and join hands to free those areas not only of Maoist/Naxal violence but also provide freedom to our tribals from hunger,disease and darkness of ignorance which keeps them under-developed and out of the mainstream. And what should stop us from working together?

The writer is Director of the Delhi Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church