By Anto Akkara
A senior Indian church official has called on churches in his country to address increasing Maoist violence, as well as the strong-arm response to it by the State.
“The situation is getting worse, and more and more incidents of violence are reported. We should not remain silent spectators to this increasing violence,” the Rev. Asir Ebenezer, acting general secretary of the National Council of Churches in India, told Ecumenical News International.
Ebenezer, whose organization groups 30 Orthodox and Protestant churches, made his remarks on 6 April following increasing violence by Maoists, who say they support the poor, against State officials, and a coordinated government crackdown on the rebels.
Seventy-six security personnel died on 6 April, when a convoy was ambushed by hundreds of Maoists in a remote village of central Chattisgarh state.
Earlier, between 29 March and 1 April, when Christians were marking Holy Week, Maoist rebels attacked several institutions, including a Christian school, in eastern Bihar state. The rebels said this was in retaliation for the government crackdown on them under the anti-Maoist “operation green hunt,” which has drawn criticism from civil rights groups.
P. Chidambaram, India’s home affairs minister, declared on 3 April that his government had little option but to go all out against the Maoists in the wake of widespread violence. Earlier, the rebels had laid siege to a district in West Bengal state.
The minister made his statement hours after 11 commandos, engaged in a Maoist search operation in a jungle area of the Koraput district in eastern Orissa state, were killed, with many more injured, when a landmine blew up their truck.
Maoists are said to have created havoc in poor and backward areas of central and eastern India by holding kangaroo courts, handing out punishments, and killing hundreds of security personnel, besides kidnapping State officials.
The areas worst affected by Maoist violence include impoverished tribal regions in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chattisgrah, Orissa and West Bengal states, where the Maoist groups, who revere the Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, challenge the India’s legal system.
“Just as we learnt to respond to AIDS, it is time for the church to start playing a crucial role to bring peace and stop the violence,” said Ebenezer. “We should be able to persuade both sides to give up violence, and facilitate dialogue. We should also make the government aware of the root cause of this rebellion – social inequality and injustice.”
Still, the NCCI leader added, “Since the subject is very sensitive, churches are extremely cautious and are remaining silent on this. We must break this silence and try to play the role of peacemakers.”