Christian activists say they are sceptical about promises by Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to restore peace to the troubled western state of Gujarat, which has been plagued by violence since mid- March when riots left more than 700 people, mostly Muslims, dead.
Prime Minister Vajpayee said he was “ashamed” about the events in Gujarat and about the fact that many people “had become refugees in their own country,” in an address to Muslim victims of the riots at a refugee camp in Ahmedabad.
The communal riots broke out following the burning of a train, allegedly by Muslims, that left dozens of Hindus dead.
Prime Minister Vajpayee promised to compensate families of the people who were killed in the violence and promised two months’ free food rations for the 100,000 Muslims now living in relief camps across the state.
Later, the prime minister instructed Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi to take “urgent steps” to contain the violence in the state.
However, Christian and secular activists expressed doubts that the prime minister’s words and monetary aid would be enough.
“This will remain mere rhetoric to keep intact the prime minister’s image,” Ipe Joseph, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), said. The NCCI groups 29 Orthodox and Protestant churches.
Church leaders blamed the continuing violence on the local government’s lack of political will to contain it.
In a statement issued on April 4, the NCCI demanded that peace be restored in Gujarat even if it meant a change of leadership.
“The present leadership [of the Gujarat government] has not demonstrated a political will, efficiency and a neutral position to contain the violence and provide protection to the most vulnerable sections of the communities.”
Churches were alarmed at the Amnesty International report which said that both the state administration and the police may have taken insufficient action to protect the population during the massacres and in some cases may even have connived with the attackers.
Jesuit priest Cedric Prakash, spokesperson for the ecumenical United Christian Forum for Human Rights in Gujarat said, “Peace is unlikely to return here as long as the culprits remain in power.”