International Peace Day prayers for Kashmir
Catholic schools are praying and organizing peace programs in the conflict zone
Children pray for peace in Kashmir at a program organised by Holy Family Catholic Church on Sept. 21, International Peace Day. (Photo by Umer Asif)
Catholic parishes gathered school children and others to pray for peace on international Peace Day Sept. 21 in India’s Jammu and Kashmir state where recent violence has killed 81 people and injured about 10,000 others.
"We prayed for peace and normality to be restored," said Father Mathew from Holy Family Catholic Church, Srinagar, the state capital.
India's only Muslim-majority state has been witnessing unrest since July 8 when security forces shot dead a separatist militant Burhan Wani. The cycle of violence, curfews and shootouts continued as demands to separate from India reached fever pitch.
Normal life has been disrupted as separatist leaders called for strikes and protests. Business establishments, schools and the majority of government offices have been shut since the recent unrest began.
Streets have been left deserted and educational institutions have not opened. The state government suspended internet and mobile phone services in the region as a way of stopping protesters from organizing and sending message campaigns.
Indian security forces waiting on a deserted road in Srinagar where demands for freedom from India turned violent, killing some 81 people and injuring 10,000 (Photo by Umer Asif)
Most of the dead and injured were young people, Father Mathew said. "Our hearts and prayers go to those innocent children who are maimed or on the verge of losing their vision due to pellet injuries."
Hundreds of students from across the state participated in the prayer program organized by the Jammu-Srinagar Diocese, Caritas India and local Catholic schools.
They also launched a project, Maitri Abhiyan ("friendship campaign"). The project plans to create peace clubs of 30-40 students aimed to spread the message of peace, oneness and solidarity, said Father Shaiju Chacko, the diocesan spokesman.
As the federal government announced plans this week to deploy 4,000 additional troops in the area, the Church plans to solve issues through dialogue, according to Father Mathew.
"We believe spiritual energy created through prayers will heal in the wounded psyche of Kashmir, along with dialogue at the highest level engaging all stakeholders," he said.
Separatists allege that India’s ruling pro-Hindu government is employing "strong arm tactics" to crush a "genuine demand" for self-determination. India, reiterating the region is an integral part of the country, accuses its neighbor Pakistan of supporting Muslims groups causing unrest in the region.
The separatist movement that began some 30 years ago has claimed an estimated 100,000 lives, including civilians, militants and army personnel. The armed struggle demands either freedom from Indian rule or a merger with Pakistan.
Ever since 1947, when India and Pakistan become separate states after British rule ended, Jammu and Kashmir has been disputed territory with both countries ruling part of it.
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