DIPHU, India (UCAN) – Christian leaders in northeastern India have brought together members of warring ethnic groups in an attempt to end violence in the region.
Baptist, Catholic and Presbyterian churches jointly hosted a peace conference on May 3 in Assam state's Karbi Anglong district, the scene of recurrent communal clashes since 2003.
During that time, four major conflicts involving ethnic Dimasa, Hmar, Karbi, Khasi and Kuki communities killed hundreds and displaced thousands of people from their farmlands and homes.
Diphu Citizens Forum, comprised mainly of Baptist, Catholic and Presbyterian Church leaders, organized the peace conference to unite people in the multiethnic state.
About 60 representatives from the Dimasa, Karbi, Khasi and Kuki tribes as well as other groups including the Manipuri and Naga attended the conference, which was held at Diphu Catholic Diocese's social service center. Diphu town is approximately 2,000 kilometers (about 1,250 miles) east of New Delhi.
"We have been able to unite because of the help from the churches," says Kim Touthang, 37, a Kuki woman leader. "Normalcy is fast returning because the church does not encourage revenge," she told UCA News after the conference.
Expressing solidarity with people affected by the violence, participants observed that intolerance has spread across the region, breeding aggressive fanaticism and interethnic rivalries.
A conference statement said, "Prejudices borne out of ignorance are the seeds of hostility and hatred." It asserted that "respect" for others has become "not only a virtue but a condition for survival" in the region.
It urged people to reject intolerance and to hope that political and religious leaders would use their authority to strengthen tolerance.
Teachers and parents should inculcate in children "the spirit of openness and respect for other peoples" as well as "the ideals of altruism, compassion and solidarity for all those who suffer from poverty, disease and illiteracy," it said.
A clash between Karbi and Kuki communities in 2003 displaced 25,000 people, and a Dimasa-Karbi conflict in 2005 rendered more than 75,000 people homeless. Karbi and Khasi people fought in 2004, and the Dimasa and Hmar communities in North Cachar district clashed in 2003.
"Many displaced people are still in relief camps," Catholic Father Tom Mangattuthazhe, joint secretary of the Diphu Citizens Peace Forum, told UCA News. The conflicts become "more acute each time," he added.
According to the priest, also spokesperson for Diphu Diocese, which covers Karbi-Anglong district, groups with vested interests engineer these riots during the May-July growing season or during the October-December period, when exams are normally conducted. The violence adversely affects "agriculture and education," hampering the progress of tribal people, he said.
Hilson Singnar, 34, director of Christian Education for Diphu Baptist Church, says peace is necessary for the socioeconomic advancement of the region. But he sees peace as dependent on the resolution of differences. "We the church leaders are aiming toward that," he said.
Rev. W. Teron, 56, pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Diphu, said his people have conducted "innumerable prayer meetings and fasted for peace." These efforts have brought what he called "a sense of normalcy," as evident from the presence of people of several ethnic groups at the conference.
Roshni Thousen, 20, who had to flee with her family during a conflict in 2003, told UCA News, "There is no way besides having unity to bring peace."
Youth leader Lolita Hasnu, 24, expressed happiness that normalcy seems to be returning to the region. "Though we are Hindus, we appreciate the church taking part in this effort," she said.
Mrinoy Teron, 35, a Karbi tribal, also lauded the Christians' peace efforts. "Now that the peace process is happening here, the message should spread out from here," he added.
A Karbi Anglong Baptist Convention member, Aderson Tokbi, claimed only "a section of people" resort to violence but "innocent people are trapped in it."
Promoting peace education among the youth is part of the mission of the Diphu Citizens Peace Forum, says its president Solomon Rongpi, a Karbi Baptist.
Hindus form 64 percent of Assam's 26.65 million people. Christians, spread among several denominations, number about 3.7 percent.
Republished by Catholic Online with permission of the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News), the world's largest Asian church news agency (www.ucanews.com).