Jammu (Fides Service ) – “There are at least 600,000 displaced persons in Kashmir: this is a social tragedy and it has gone on for too long. The problem of the homeless has exhausted Kashmir’s social and economic resources. People are demoralised and some even desperate”. This cry of alarm was sounded by Father Jose Vaddakkel, procurator of Jammu-Srinagar diocese the only church circumscription in Jammu and Kashmir state for over fifty years the scene of border battle between India and Pakistan.
Father Vaddakkel says these 600,000 homeless people live in government camps and receive aid from the government, humanitarian organisations and the local Church. “We have a network of volunteers to assist them, providing food and clothing and also counselling and children’s programmes to help overcome war trauma. ”.
Father Vaddakkel says these people are non Christians, 70% Hindu and 30% Muslim. He says the only hope for improvement lies with talks between the governments of India and Pakistan”.
The Bishop of Jammu-Srinagar, Mgr Peter Celestine Elampassery, makes regular visits to the camps to offer comfort and encouragement. Not long ago speaking to Fides the Bishop said “the situation in Kashmir grows daily worse. The economy has collapsed, tourism, the main source of local income, has disappeared. The people are exhausted by the war and life is a daily struggle”.
Last week a report issued by the Norwegian Refugees Council put the number of displaced persons at 650,000 living in disastrous conditions, in dire need of healthcare and schooling for children. NRC said that Kashmir state local government re-settlement plans are insufficient and that many people are afraid to return home because of continued violence by separatist. NRC says the Indian government fails to respect even minimum guaranteed living standards for these people and sends very few personnel, a need often filled by Christian volunteers.
Kashmir has a population of 9 million of whom only 12,000 are Catholics. The diocese, established in 1952 and its bishop cares for the whole of Kashmir which is the second largest diocese in India. The Bishop is assisted by 41 priests, 160 sisters and 20 lay catechists. The local Church runs dispensaries, social service centres and school. (PA) (Fides Service 6/11/2003 Lines: 32 Words: 388)