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People before Church
   
 
  By UCAN  
  THE Church should re-examine the way it works from a human rights perspective, says Montfort Brother Varghese Theckenath, who works among victims of sectarian violence in India.

The director of the Montfort Social Institute in Hyderabad, south India, says the Church failed in its mission in Orissa, eastern India, in light of the anti-Christian violence that erupted in 2008.

The riots killed some 90 people and displaced more than 50,000 others, mostly Christians.

Brother Theckenath says the Church must dare to speak up for human rights, be politically involved, and put people ahead of its own institutions.

In an interview with UCA News, he analyzes the causes of the Church's failure to respond adequately to the Orissa tragedy and says the Church in general needs to learn to look at issues, such as its own sex abuse scandals, from a human rights perspective.

UCA NEWS: What made you to go Orissa?

BROTHER VARGHESE THECKENATH: When people have problems, we cannot sit quiet. When riots and disasters happen, I have always initiated and coordinated activities for the victims.

But your Orissa response came almost two years late. Why?

When the riots began in August 2008, I was in Costa Rica doing an academic course. The first opportunity I had to meet some Kandhamal victims was when I came back two months after the violence broke. I thought I must do something.

In December that year, some of us traveled to Kandhamal to celebrate Christmas in Naugaon, one of the worst affected places. Since then I have been going to Orissa periodically. An area we thought we should intervene in was human rights violations.

But more than one-and-a-half years after the riots, thousands still live in slums away from their villages. What can you do now?

There are different dynamics at work there. We have gathered the Religious who are lawyers to help the victims get legal remedies. We have realized it is the time to enter since several cases are being disposed off without the victims getting justice. Of the 11 murder cases disposed off, there was conviction only in one case. This is the right time to have a legal response.

What do you plan to do?

We have decided on three areas. First, to ask for the closure of two fast track courts set up to speed up the trial of riot cases. They no more dispense justice. Secondly, the trial should be done outside Kandhamal because legal process is hampered by threats and intimidation from radicals.

Thirdly, we want a special probe team to reopen and re-investigate cases that are already disposed off, particularly the murder cases. The investigation and trial process were faulty. So we are pleading the Supreme Court to re-open the murder cases.

Which of these three areas are you currently working on?

Now we are gathering the documents of the 11 murder cases for experts to analyze them. The Religious lawyers have taken turns to visit the field in batches to gather evidence to bring other cases to court. The government puts the death toll around 40, actually it should be around 95.

After collecting the materials, we will approach a lawyer to re-file the cases. The only thing that makes victims go on is the hope of getting justice. For them, it is extremely important. It is a question of self-respect.

Why doesn't anybody, even the Church, know the number of people killed in the Orissa riots?

It is because the system has failed. This is a tragedy that should have pricked the conscience of India as a nation. But somehow it has not happened. The Church is in the field by default. We are there because there is nobody else. Our first aim is to help the victims through the justice system.

The Church should also see how it can create a civil society group that says Kandhamal is a tragedy that concerns all the citizens of this country. Until the people of this country own up to it, things will keep repeating. This should not be an agenda of the Church, but the nation.

Why did the Church fail in Orissa as a community?

The Church has not taught our people how to be citizens and how to assert their civil rights. Across the spectrum, Indian Christians are not political enough.

The Church has never learned or talked about organizing democratic protests or taking to streets. It is not politically involved. It has not realized the need for the citizens of a free nation to assert their rights.

Secondly, the hierarchical Church considers the institution more important than people. Despite the violence and the suffering of the victims, the Church was trying to protect its institution.

One example: The administration wanted to close the camps [where the victims lived]. The Church people approved it although they knew the riot survivors were afraid to go back to their villages. The Church was afraid of losing the good will of the administration and the influential people around.

Third, we do not have the courage to speak up. A Muslim friend told me that when the Gujarat riots happened the Church was silent and he thought it was because the victims were Muslims. But in Orissa the victims were Christians and still the Church could not speak. "When will the Church speak out?" he asked.

The Kandhamal incident was the Indian Church's first close encounter with sectarian violence in a big way. We hadn't seen anything like that before. We always thought we had the answer to all challenges and problems. But in Orissa, we were a miserable failure.

It is time we learned that we need help from others. We have failed to make Kandhamal a national issue, an issue of rights violation.

What is the future?

The Church has to move ahead. It has to wrestle with these issues: give importance to people instead of institutions, become political and have the courage to speak out. The Church needs to have a paradigm shift in its approach to these issues.

In Orissa, besides the ongoing cases, there are other issues that the Church should be concerned about such as the displacement of families and trafficking of women from the violence-hit areas. How to do it and who will do? I do not know.

Does your institute plan some program to help the Church in Orissa-like situations?

We have to help people see such issues in the right perspective. The whole sex abuse scandal now shaking the world is a question of human rights. It is not a question of sin and forgiveness alone.

The Church's stand was that the abusive priests confessed, were forgiven and they moved on. The Church did not ask what happened to the abused children. The world is looking at the issue from the perspective of the rights of the abused children.

Human rights is a new perspective for the Church. When we look at the Church with a human rights perspective, convent life, celibacy, papacy and other fundamental institutions of the Church may require a serious review.

Is the Church ready for it?

When you speak of the Church, there are two kinds of Church at work. One is that of men of the cloth, of the hierarchy. The other is the ordinary people. The top level will not change on its own. Change will happen from the bottom. But it will happen.

Now some quarters are calling for a third Vatican Council. It may happen and these issues may be discussed. As a student of sociology, it is very difficult for me to say when the change will happen. But as a believer, I believe that if the Spirit is leading the Church, change will happen; and most probably it will happen sooner than we anticipate.
 
   
Music with a difference
   
 
  By Archana Sudheer Gayen  
  IT was party time for youngsters at U180's season launch at YMCA in New Delhi, recently. The Heinz Auditorium reverberated with heavy music and the sound of feet tapping. U180 is a monthly concert organised by LiveJam, a charitable trust working among urban youth to spread the message of freedom from drugs and alcohol and to help those who come from broken homes.

With humble beginnings in a small town in Kerala, LiveJam has come a long way in terms of its outreach to youth across the country. Envisioned in 2004 by Bonny Andrews, LiveJam is a movement that has touched numerous young lives. It has toured campuses in Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kochi, Kolkata, Ooty, Pune, Thiruvananthapuram, Colombo, Berlin and Kathmandu over the last four seasons, with a wide array of music programs. U180 is part of that movement.

What's unique is that the medium used here is contemporary music, arts, media and entertainment. It encourages youngsters to live life to the fullest by saying no to drugs, sex and alcohol.

So, what's the whole idea behind the event, we ask the visionary. "U180 stands for 'you' turning 180 degrees. It simply means to turn away from the track you are on. Sometimes, it's hard to change our ways and thoughts, even if we want to. Addiction, lifestyle issues, broken home impacts; to name a few," says LiveJam Director Bonny Andrews.

"This concert is a contemporary place to communicate the gospel through music, arts, media and life-changing testimonies. It's a place where youngsters are comfortable and can bring friends. It is also a platform to encourage and promote budding bands," he says.

The event has roots in Andrews' personal story. "My family was changed by the Gospel. My father struggled with alcoholism, while my younger brother fought drug addiction. Jesus Christ freed them from their problems and they live happy lives now. I want to share this happiness with youngster around the country. Here at LiveJam, we share real-life stories of persons who have struggled with these issues, who are now out of it and are making a difference in others' lives."

On how the concert is different from numerous others that also are for the youth, Andrews says, "The main idea here is to say no to drugs, alcohol and sex and enjoy life to the fullest. It is to communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ and see young urban lives touched and transformed."

U180 showcases artistes of varying genre from different countries. The season launch saw performances by city-based Ave Verdad, solo artistes Sheril Philip and GeeWin Chukwuemeka Clement, Tony and the Band and the LiveJam home band featuring Bonny Andrews and his team. GeeWin, who is from Nigeria, released his debut album 'Worship Culture' on the occasion.

"U180 is a good platform for upcoming artistes. Music is the best way to reach out to youngsters," says singer Sheril Philip, who performed on the occasion. Philip, who has been singing since she was eight, accompanied world-renowned Gospel singer Darlene Zschech during her 2007 India tour.

In the words of Delhi-based pastor-cum-photographer-artist Joshua John, the event was a 'Praise Party.' "It was one of those rare events; a Christian overturn. The energy was awesome and it was great to see so many youth participate in the event."

On how to reach out to the youth of today, John says, "You've to be blunt, creative and colourful. You have to be able to speak their language. Otherwise, it doesn't make sense."

For more details of upcoming events, log on to www.livejam.in or email at contact@livejam.in.
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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