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Church develops DIY poll monitoring

Peace committee observes election in volatile fishing village to keep opponents in check reporter, Kochi

April 14, 2011

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The Catholic Church has taught Kerala authorities a lesson in how to ensure violence-free polls by setting an example in a volatile fishing village in the state. The initiative by Father Shanthappan, parish priest of Holy Spirit Church, ensured peaceful voting and a record turnout in trouble-prone Mampally in Thiruvananthapuram archdiocese. The coastal village has traditionally witnessed violence on polling days with opposing party supporters clashing over minor issues that would dissuade many people from voting. This time around, however, the priest devised a novel method of keeping violence at bay. He organized a peace committee to monitor everything and persuade people of the need to maintain peace. P Chandrasekharan, additional director-general of police, said the village was one of the more sensitive areas and well known for poll violence, but this time there were no ugly incidents in the area. “It was the peace committee of the Church undertaking community policing which helped to achieve this,” he said. The initiative was a great success because all people, including Muslims and Hindus, cooperated, Fr. Shanthappan said. The poll was not only peaceful this time; it also saw a turnout of 84 percent, higher than the state average of 75 percent. The priest said he called a meeting in February between all the parties and religious groups and discussed the idea of setting up a peace committee for a violence-free election. “We selected a group of 50 people and trained them how to monitor the polls. We then set up 12-member core groups. The peer leaders organized neighborhood meetings and educated everyone on how to avoid violence on polling day.” Mampally has 3, 500 Muslims, 9, 000 Hindus and 4,500 Catholics. IB13970.1649
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