Monday, July 30, 2012

The course that’s been changing lives in Mumbai

MUMBAI: Every evening, when St Xavier's College turns on its yellow lights, a thousand canteen boys, sweepers, hawkers, labourers, milk vendors, clerks and receptionists wrap up a tough day's work and rush in for their lectures. Once in, they are in a world where all they are expected to do is hold a pen and pay attention.

Few in the city know about the evening course at the college. Started 24 years ago, the commerce section is perhaps a little out of sync with the loud Malhar and the campus fashion a sharp contrast to what one sees in top colleges. Also, most students don't return to a home or comforting security each day. Principal Errol Fernandes said, "The morning section was started to provide excellent education. The criterion to admit students is merit. The evening classes were started to cater to the distressed section of society and give them hope of a better life."

The classes begin with a short prayer of silence. "Students are asked to take a deep breath so they can get rid of the grime and tiredness of the day," Fernandes explained.
As the section enters its silver jubilee year, it has turned autonomous. Unlike other colleges, the attendance here is high, probably because the reason to study is different. There are no free lectures, and very often extra classes for weaker students are held on the train, during the faculty's journey back home.

For long, excellent education has mostly been the privilege of the moneyed and the meritorious. The commerce section at St Xavier's was started with the aim of breaking away from that norm. "These students are the ones who really need the help," said economics professor Kamaji Bokare. "The rate of change of life you see here is really high."

Akshay Shetty, who used to run a roadside stall outside Old Custom's House, is today a senior executive at a mutual fund firm. "I went on to do my master's and am also a cost accountant. The biggest change has been the respect I get today," says a proud Shetty. Till about five years ago, Prabhakar Poojary was a canteen boy in BEST earning Rs 600 a month. Today, he heads the Singapore, Dubai and Mauritius markets of a private fund and takes home an enviable pay packet of Rs 30 lakh. "When tough life becomes a routine, the rest becomes easy," he says.

Teachers take pride in the fact that two ex-students have made the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad—one is the vice-president of a private bank—but most importantly, they speak of the values the course has instilled in their students. Ravi Gaba was always a bright student; he bagged several cash awards in his years at St Xavier's. "When he graduated, he gave us all the cash prizes (totaling Rs 18,000) that he had won and said he wanted to leave it back for another needy student," recalled accounts professor Rajesh Vora.

Going to college means different things to different people. For some, collegiate education rebuilds their lives, for some others it is the bridge to a better path. For many others, it's a plunge out of a dark a day that shines as bright as the lights on the campus they walk to each evening.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Karnataka : Christians Attacked

Hindu extremists attack a Christian family, beat them up including two women, damaged their house and accused them of forceful conversion in Vyasmallapura Thanda, Bellary District, Karnataka.

According to reports from EFI, the extremists shouting and beating a Tahndora (drum) on May 28 blocked the believers, stopped them from going to the church and threatened them that there will be a village panchayat on Monday to pass judgment on Devendra Naik and his family for their faith in Christ.

On the same day, Naik reported the matter to the area Sub Inspector, Girish Naik, but the Inspector ignored his call, reported our correspondent.

Subsequently on the next day, a mob of about 50 extremists led by Umesh Naik broke the house of Davendra Naik, beat him up and his mother, sister and father and forcefully brought them to Sevalal temple.

Area Christian leaders intervened and the police summoned the extremists to the station and questioned them. The entire conversation was documented.

The extremists accused Devendra Naik of forcible conversion and claimed that they are ready to go to jail as well stand before the court as witnesses that Naik is involved in forceful conversion.

Thereafter, the police threatened to arrest the Christian’s family on charges of forcible conversion. However, Naik told the police that he was not involved in any kind of forceful conversion, reported our correspondent.

Area Christians leaders submitted a letter to the police officials on behalf of Naik that he was not involved in forceful conversion.

The police thereafter arranged a peace talk between the two parties and reached a compromise. Protection was given to Naik and his family and a constable was posted in the area to see the development in this issue.

In Hadagali Taluk there are about 6 Churches with 450 believers.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Indian Christians forced into Hindu worship, driven from homes

Hindu extremists forced 15 Christians to participate in Hindu worship rituals, then beat them up and rousted them from their village, according to an evangelical organization in India.
The Evangelical Fellowship of India said that on June 19, 150 Hindus rounded up 12 Christians in Jawanga, a village in the tropical Dakshin Bastar district of Chhattisgarh state, in eastern India.
The Christians were taken to the Pendevi Temple, where they were forced to worship tribal and Hindu deities, and to participate in Hindu rituals, Akhilesh Edgar of the Evangelical Fellowship of India told Open Doors News. He said the abductors then assaulted the Christians, though Edgar did not provide detail about the extent of any injuries they may have suffered.
Rather than let the Christians return home, the Hindus chased them out of the village. The Christians sought the help of John Nag, a pastor in Geelam about 5 kilometers from Jawanga, and Sonsingh Jhali, known locally as an advocate for Christians.
The Evangelical Fellowship of India said Nag and Asaram Bech, in whose house the Jawanga Christians sometimes held prayer meetings, approached the elected head of the village, who refused to permit the Christians’ return. The uprooted Jawanga villagers are staying with other Christians in Geelam, the organization said.
The evangelical group said the Christians did not file a complaint with the police, for fear of stirring religious tensions.
The June 19 episode is only the most recent example of harassment of Christians in Chhattisgarh. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported in April that 300 residents of Belgal village disrupted the attempted burial of a man who had converted to Christianity. Ten people were injured, and the burial was completed after district authorities intervened.
At the national level, India is religiously pluralistic, encompassing the world’s third-largest Muslim population and about 25 million Christians, or about 1 of every 50 people in the country. Persecution of religious minorities generally intensifies at the regional and local levels, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Chhattisgarh is one of five Indian states that has adopted a Freedom of Religion Act, which the commission says has had the opposite effect.
“While intended to reduce forced conversions and decrease communal violence, states with these laws have higher incidents of intimidation, harassment, and violence against religious minorities, particularly Christians,” the commission concluded in its 2012 annual report.
India is listed at No. 32 on the Open Doors World Watch list of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. “Persecution is largely due to the amazing growth of Christianity among the low castes and Dalits, which threatens Hindu leaders,” according to the World Watch List. “Violence against pastors and church gatherings continues on a monthly basis, usually in rural areas.”

Click here for source

Thursday, July 12, 2012

How to observe the fourth anniversary of Kandhamal

By  John Dayal

On 24th August this year, Kandhamal will complete four years of its
trial by fire, gun and axe. The violence, which lasted several weeks
and saw sporadic incidents even three months later, registered over
52,000 people hiding for their life in nearby Sal forests, almost 6,000 houses burnt to the ground, more than 300 places of worship and church-run institutions destroyed, and perhaps as many as 100 persons, some of them women, killed in the most horrendous manner.

Just one person has been convicted of murder, and in other cases, frightened witnesses, bad investigation and shoddy court cases have meant that ringleaders have escaped the law. Hundreds of families still have no house, and several hundred more have not completed reconstruction because, despite massive help from the church, the money ran out. Many remain unemployed, hundreds have lost out on education, and businesses are yet to be rebuilt. At a more human level, perhaps the entire Kandhamal needs sustained trauma counselling. In the words of a young priest or pastor, “I am still afraid when I try to go back to my area.”

Patently, there is a sort of a disjunct between the efforts of the Church, which can rightly point out it has spent crores during various facets of relief and rehabilitation – from money spent in feeding refugees in the first months of the violence, to finally upto Rs 30,000 or more given to each family to reconstruct their houses because the government grant of Rs 20,000 to Rs 50,000 was either not forthcoming or grossly insufficient to rebuild houses where the cost came from a minimum of Rs 70,000 to upward of Rs 100,000, depending on the location and the size of the house.

In most cases, the house that was destroyed was bigger than the house that was sought to be rebuilt in the given amount of money. And no one thought of how the family would furnish the  house, and buy other commodities that make a house into a home. No one is accusing anyone in the church of corruption, but perhaps each church, Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical and Pentecost, needs to make a discreet private audit of its resources committed to Kandhamal since 2007. Funding agencies and generous churches across the country and around the world would want to know, and hope, that their donations have made a lasting difference in the lives of the victims. And there has been no government assistance in rebuilding the places of worship.

So how do we observe the fourth anniversary of the worst violence
against the Christian community in India in recent centuries, other
than in prayer and protest?

The pursuit of Justice would be a good way, I think. Justice at all levels. And holding the State – not Orissa alone, but the Indian State – to account, learning our Constitutional lessons from developments in Gujarat which saw a near genocide against the Muslim community in 2002, and the violence against Sikhs in Delhi and other cities in 1984.

The Sikhs lawyers and retired judges, and the widows, have taught us the valuable lesson of persistence in the pursuit of justice. Decades later, they have not lost  an iota of their zeal. The intensity of their passion to see that justice is done, is remarkable, and is, in fact bearing fruit. They have  shown  that it is possible to demand, and get, appropriate reparation and relief. They have also networked effectively with civil society, got the highest in the land to apologise, and have held powerful politicians accountable for their actions.

The  Muslims community, too, has proved the relevance of networking with civil society and using all means, judicial, political, and civil to get justice to the victims. The Supreme Court of India in many  epochal judgements effectively ensured justice in Gujarat. The final word is till to be said, and there is hope that political bosses, police officers and even subordinate judiciary will pay for their crimes and their abetment to crime, or impunity, before long.

Public outcry in Kandhamal too, as a matter of fact, began when the then Archbishop, Raphael Cheenath, approached the Supreme court and successfully urged it to upturn the order of the Collector, Krishan
Kumar, who had banned Christian organisations from brining relief to
the ravaged district. Cheenath was again in court seeking appropriate relief and rehabilitation. Now a group of religious have approached the Supreme Court to order a fresh look into the cases of murder in the district during the violence.

We have been advocating that Church and the victims approach the Supreme Court for a fresh investigation and retrial into all cases of murder as the so-called Fast Track Courts have seine  veritable miscarriage of justice. It has also been our case that instead of a display of charity, what rebuilding in Kandhamal needed was concerted action to ensure that that the government, through the district administration  met the entire expense, rather than give a pro rata amount decided by some bureaucrats on their whim and fancy without even determining how much  was really needed to pay for the bricks, cement, steel, wood and asbestos or steel sheets needed to build, a house. It was the governments job, many felt, to ensure reemployment, rebuilding of businesses and local self help groups which were earlier flourishing in the turmeric and ginger trade. The church relief could then have gone into rebuilding lives.

An important recent order of the Supreme Court relates to its refusing to stay a Gujarat High court order of 8 February 2012 asking the Gujarat government to pay compensation to over 500 shrines damaged during the infamous 2002 riots in the wake of Godhra train carnage. A bench of justices K S Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra asked the state government to furnish details of the number of religious structures actually damaged and the financial cost of their reconstruction. The Gujarat government has been reluctant, saying public funds cannot be used for religious porpoises, forgetting the crores of rupees it has spent in such functions as Shabri Kumbhs in the Dangs some years ago.

High Court Acting Chief Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya and Justice J B
Pardiwala had ordered compensation for over 500 places of worships in the state on a plea by Islamic Relief Committee of Gujarat (IRCG), an NGO. The court also ordered that principal judges of 26 districts of
the state will receive the applications for compensation of religious structures in their respective districts and decide on it. They have been asked to send their decisions to the high court within six months.

That is the way to go. Charity is easy. The pursuit of justice is not easy. It is time consuming, expensive, and needs a dedicated core team which will not accept defeat. Kandhamal needs such a pursuit of justice.