By Javid A. Malla
Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Christian leaders joined together to symbolically usher in peace by ringing a church bell in Srinagar, the main city in the violence-torn Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.
The bell at the 120-year-old Holy Family Catholic Church, the largest in the city, rang Oct. 29 for the first time in 50 years after it stopped working. The bell and belfry was damaged in a fire 1967 and the economically poor parishioners had no resources to install a new one until one of the 30 odd Catholic families in the parish donated a 105 kilogram bell this year, Father Roy Mathews said.
“We wanted to share this occasion with well-wishers of other faiths who joined and prayed for peace and normalcy, brotherhood and mutual respect for values and beliefs,” said Father Mathews the parish priest.
Religious tolerance in Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state is “grossly misunderstood outside Kashmir. Our message to the world is clear that we are all one here and accept each other,” the priest said.
Manzoor Ahmad Malik, a Muslim at the church function, told ucanews.com that he was happy to see people from other faiths. “We want to give a message of peace to the world.”
He regretted that Muslims were being presented in India and outside as intolerant to other religions.
“People here want and have been living in peace,” said Malik.
The region witnessed turmoil since 1947 when British India was partitioned to create India and Pakistan. Both nations have fought three wars over the Muslim dominated region they now administer in parts.
The Indian side of Kashmir has witnessed armed insurgency to free itself from Indian rule and to establish a Muslim state or to make it part of Pakistan. In the height of insurgency in 1990, thousands of Kashmiri Hindus, known popularly as Kashmiri Pundits, fled the valley.
“Today’s church function is a message to Kashmiri Pundits to come back. We want them to come back and live like they lived before,” Malik told ucanews.com.
Some 20,000 Christians, mostly Catholics, form a tiny minority in mostly Muslim population of 12.5 million in Jammu and Kashmir state.
Earlier, Bishop Ivan Pereira of Jammu-Srinagar, whose diocese covers the entire state, told ucanews.com that Christians faced no danger, despite secessionist violence during the past three decades.
“Christians weren’t targeted or intimated,” the bishop said, adding that Christians and Muslims live in harmony with other faiths.