Bengal political clashes appall Church leaders

Seven die in violence between Communists and villagers

Bengal political clashes appall Church leaders
Tribal people of Lalgarh during a recent demonstration on government’s highhandedness
Julian Das, Kolkata, India

January 10, 2011

Church people in West Bengal have condemned political violence that killed seven people and wounded 17 others in the eastern Indian state.

“We strongly condemn the brutal violence, which is disturbing the people in the state,” Father Reginald Fernandes, who directs Calcutta archdiocese’s social service center, told yesterday.

The incident occurred two days earlier when some villagers near Lalgarh in West Midnapore district revolted against communist demands to take up arms.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) heads a coalition that has ruled the state for the past three decades.

Communist workers shot at the villagers in what the party claims was self-defense. Father Fernandes accused the communists of unleashing a reign of terror ahead of the elections.

Elections to the state legislative assembly are due in May.

“The Church is seriously concerned about growing violence in the state,” Father Fernandes said. His center, Seva Kendra, would soon visit the area to plan Church intervention.

Claretian Father Peter James Xavier, who heads the local unit of the Conference of Religious, says the Church cannot take sides as the police and the Maoists closely monitor the “volatile” situation in the district.

Jesuit Father Irudaya Jothi of Udayani (awakening) Social Action Forum says as the polls approach every murder gets “a political coloring.”

He alleges the ruling party had planned the Lalgarh attack and warned “more violence is in store.”

The Jesuit priest wants the Christians to side with the "victims of injustice and political violence.”

On Jan. 8, intellectuals and celebrities in Kolkata joined opposition parties to block roads and stage sit-in demonstrations to protest the violence.

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