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Stewardship and Trusteesh
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  DEVOTIONAL  
 
   
Letter to Metropolitan
  By Rev A.P. Jacob and five other priests  
  Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar  
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  COUNSELING
 
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  NEWS  
     
 
   
  Priests plead for an end to Gujarat violence
 
By Fatima Tanveer, Ahmedabad

CATHOLIC priests in Gujarat have called for an end to ongoing Hindu-Muslim violence in an Ahmedabad suburb.

The violence "is a hard reminder that tensions continue to simmer between the two communities and can erupt at any time and for any flimsy reason," said Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash who directs a human rights center in the city.

A 55-year-old man, reportedly a Hindu, died on May 26 after being stabbed during group clashes. Mobs also set fire to several vehicles during the violence that began on May 24 in the Shahpur area of the state's commercial capital.

In a statement, he called on people "not to fall prey to violence" and asked the warring groups to stop the violence immediately. He also called for the authorities to arrest those responsible for the violence and restore peace.

The latest violence "seems to have been engineered" to divert people's attention away from a probe ordered by the Supreme Court into the murder of a Muslim, allegedly by police officials and politicians, said Father Jolly Nadukudiyil in Vadodara.

Sohrabuddin Sheik was shot dead in November 2005 after police accused him of being a terrorist and plotting to kill state Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

Father Joseph Appavoo, who visited riot-hit area on May 26, suspects a "political hand" in the violence.

He criticized the ruling pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian people's party) and the opposition Congress Party of accusing each other of engineering riots without making efforts to bring peace.

The riot-prone western Indian state witnessed its worst sectarian violence in 2002, in which some 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were reportedly killed.
 
   
   
  Crowds gather to pray for plane crash victims
  By Francis Rodrigues, Mangalore

SOME 1,500 people from various religions attended a May 26 prayer meeting in Mangalore diocese for the victims of a recent plane crash.

On May 22, an Air India Express flight from Dubai to Mangalore, southern India, crashed on landing, killing 158 of the 166 people on board. The victims included Christians, Hindus and Muslims.

The Church condolence program included a requiem Mass led by Bishop Aloysius Paul D'Souza of Mangalore and an interreligious prayer meet.

The tragedy should not make people depressed or question God's goodness, said Bishop D'Souza in his homily. Instead, he urged the gathering to find hope in Christ who overcame death.

The tragedy motivated people to help, console and pray for the victims, forgetting their religious differences, Shanhram Shetty, a local Hindu leader, told the interreligious meeting.

"We have shown our unique human concerns after the event without being labeled or differentiated [according to] religion, caste or creed," Shetty added.

Muslim leader Mohammed Kunhi said that only faith in God could comfort the victims' families.

The "unforgettable tragedy," he told participants, has shown that death has no religion or caste. It has "awakened the human consciousness in us" and "called us to improve our lives" by fostering better relations with one other.

Later, Bishop D'Souza and Shetty joined Modihim Bava, a Muslim religious leader, in placing a floral wreath on a symbolic grave erected on a dais for the victims.
 
   
   
  Hands off Christian school, state told
  By Saji Thomas, Jabalpur

A COURT directive forbidding Madhya Pradesh officials from interfering in the affairs of a Christian school is a "real help for all the minority schools across the state," says a priest of Satna diocese.

Father Jolly Kunnukadan, who handles such cases for the diocese, was commenting on a Madhya Pradesh High Court interim directive on May 20 over a complaint about a school run by the Mar Thoma Church.

The court accepted the petition of Father C.A. Varghese, principal of Christu Kula Mission Higher Secondary English School and asked officials not to interfere in the management until court's judgment.

The school principal had petitioned the court after officials on April 3 told the school to abandon an entrance examination and asked for admissions to be based on a lottery system.

The district education officer later insisted on accommodating his nominee in the school's management body, citing a state government circular.

The priest challenged the government circular based on a Supreme Court order that forbids state interference in the management of minority-run institutions.

The state has experienced similar instances of "illegal" interference from officials, said Father Kunnukadan, adding that the order was a "real help" for minority-run schools in the state.

Socially and politically influential people accuse Christians of forcible religious conversion, a crime, when they fail to get their wards admitted into Church-run schools, said a Church official who requested anonymity.
 
   
   
  Governor reviews arrangements for Amarnath Yatra
  From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, MAY 24 -- Governor N. N. Vohra, who is also chairman of Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB), visited Pahalgam today and took stock of arrangements being put in place at the Nunwan Base Camp for the ensuing annual yatra.

The Governor, accompanied by Sunita Narain, member of the Board and well-known environmentalist, and chief executive officer of the Board Raj Kumar Goyal discussed in detail the arrangements being made for the yatris.

Vohra took on-the-spot stock of the facilities at the base camp and those in pipeline in Pahalgam-Chandanwari sector. Holding discussions with Deputy Commissioner Anantnag, Sheikh Mushtaq Ahmad and other district-level officers of power, public health, roads and buildings, he directed the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Board and other authorities to ensure completion of work by June 20.

He asked the board to take up work on clearing the track and camping sites on a war-footing. Reviewing all sanitation-related arrangements under implementation at the base camp, he asked the CEO to prepare a comprehensive site plan of the camp so that various usage areas are clearly demarcated for being allocated to different service providers like langarwalas, shopkeepers, tentwalas, ponywalas and likewise.

Vohra instructed that all required sanitation measures should be effectively enforced to ensure that all flows from the camp are properly treated before they are discharged into water bodies. He directed that a proper Monitoring Protocol for monitoring discharges should be worked out before the commencement of the yatra.

The Governor also reviewed progress made on cleaning of the area by way of collection of solid waste to ensure conservation of ecology and environment.

Emphasizing that environment and ecology must be maintained and preserved by taking all possible measures, particularly timely collection and treatment, he stressed the use of plastic shredders for disposal of plastic bottles and other plastic materials and segregation of waste materials for appropriate treatment.

The Shrine Board and various other concerned government agencies are being geared up for making necessary arrangements at the base camp and all along the routes to the Cave.

The Governor said that a practical Protocol for monitoring liquid wastes would be put into force before the commencement of yatra and environment would be maintained by taking all possible measures, particularly by ensuring timely collection and treatment of all kinds of wastes.

On return from Pahalgam, the Governor over-flew Chandanwari-Sheshnag-Panchtarni-Sangam-Baltal track to assess the level of snowfall and present snow melt, with a view to assessing the time-frame of preparatory works getting completed in time. He would be undertaking weekly review meetings with the CEO and all other concerned officers to ensure timely completion of all arrangements.
 
   
   
  Queen's Baton Relay to reach J&K on June 28, state excited
  From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, MAY 24 -- With New Delhi bracing up to host the Commonwealth Games, the "Queen's Baton Relay (QBR)" will be in Jammu and Kashmir from June 28 to July 3.

The relay will follow the route: Jammu, Srinagar, Kargil and Leh. "It will exit Jammu and Kashmir on July, 3 after spending five nights in the state", says Raj Kadiya, Additional Director General (ADG).

Launched by the Queen at Buckingham Palace on October 29 last year, it is scheduled to cover 1, 90, 000 kms and travel to all 71 Commonwealth nations.

"In its 340 days' journey, it will connect with over two billion people", says the ADG. Moving through Europe, Africa, Caribbean and America, it is now in Oceania. "Wherever the baton has visited, its historical journey has created unprecedented waves of excitement and hype. The baton, which is the centrepiece of the QBR, has been the cynosure of all eyes.

"With soil collected from different parts of the country and physically glued on its exterior, the baton carries the soul and spirit of India".

Giving details, he said that the relay will reach Jammu by road on June 28 and then Srinagar, the next day by air. On July 1, it will fly to Leh and then to Chandigarh on July 2.

"Officials in many states have told us that it is not feasible and advisable to carry the relay by road. As such we are carrying aerial relay in those states. Kashmir is one of those states", he said, adding the relay will help to showcase the culture of the respective areas. The ADG said that QBR is the first activity of the Commonwealth Games.

"After the 1982 Asian Games, this is the biggest sporting activity in India", says Priya Singh Pal, Media and Communication Manager. She said 8000 athletes, 15,000 technical staff, 400 doctors, 140 physiotherapists, 1600 employees, 50 international consultancies, 470 sub-committees with 475 members will be discharging their duties during the Games.

Singh added that 40,000 rooms would be booked and 30,000 volunteers will offer their services. "There will be 270 gold and silver medals and 280 bronze medals. One lakh tourists are expected to visit New Delhi during the Games and 22 lakh spectators are expected to watch the Games".

She informed the Herald of India that 17 sports events and four parasport events will take place. "Professionals like Javaid Akther and Bharat Balla will be roped in for the inauguration ceremony. A R Rehman's music album will also be presented".

She added that Pragati Maadan will be the main venue for the games. "Road shows have been organized outside India for promotion of the Games. 1500 blood tests would be carried out and 20 doping control centres would be established".
 
   
   
  Bishop plans to help air crash victims' families
 
By Ritu Sharma, New Delhi

THE Bishop of Mangalore in southern India has swung into action to help the families of victims of the air crash in the city that killed 158 people, as parishes across India prayed for the dead, several of them Catholics.

An Air India Express flight from Dubai to Mangalore, carrying mostly migrant workers, crashed on landing on the morning of May 22. The aircraft, with 166 people on board, overshot the runway and crashed into a valley, bursting into flames. Eight people survived.

Bishop Aloysius Paul D'Souza of Mangalore said some 17-18 Catholics from his diocese lost their lives. "I am trying to visit the grieving family members," he said adding that he had already attended two funerals.

The bishop said his diocese is ready to help the families of those who have perished in whatever way possible. "But first we are trying to ascertain through the parish priests the actual need and then we will respond accordingly," he said.

Mangalore diocese will organize a special Mass for the "deceased very soon," said the bishop of the coastal region, from where thousands have gone to European and Persian Gulf nations to work.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of India said the "the horrifying tragedy" was "most shocking and disturbing" for the Church in India and for the country.

"Our heartfelt condolences go to the families and relatives of the victims. We earnestly pray for the departed souls of the innocent people who lost their lives in the plane crash," the bishops' conference said in a press release on May 23.

The bishops are "deeply pained" by the accident and share the anguish of all those who have suffered," it said in the release signed by conference spokesperson Father Babu Joseph.

He said parishes across India have offered special prayers for the victims and their families.
 
   
   
  Jesuit center helps to spread green message
  By Julian Das, Kolkata

A JESUIT social center in West Bengal has introduced 36 women to ways to protect environment.

The center, Udayani (awakening) Social Action Forum, organized a workshop May 21 for leaders of self-help groups from Kolkata and Baruipur to discuss issues of environmental protection.

Sunita Korali, a woman animator said, they have a responsibility to educate villagers on how environment destruction can affect lives.

"We waste a lot of water. But we can use the wasted water for cultivating seasonal vegetables in the kitchen garden," she said. They plan to use bio-fertilizer in their rice paddy cultivation, she added.

Participants ended the workshop taking an oath holding lighted candles, saying they will not "hurt the earth' and always work to "care for her."

Paromita Dutta, another women animator, said her group would avoid artificially flavored drinks and food. They will also work to ensure that streetlights are switched off early and complain against old vehicles that emit too much smoke.

Pratima Chakraborti from Baruipur said, as a village animator, she wants women to be conscious of ecological concerns. She targets some 300 women in her group that meets every fortnight.

She wants to stress the need of planting saplings and refraining from felling trees. "It would be hard for us to stop using plastic, but we would try to reduce its use," she added.

Jesuit Father Irudaya Jothi, who directs the center, said the 35th General Congregation of his Society of Jesus mandated members to work for environmental protection.

"We wished to start the process from the grassroots level," he said. The center hopes to organize more such training programs in villages, he added.
 
   
   
  Catholics serve food to beggars in Bhopal
  By Saji Thomas, Bhopal

SOME 100 beggars eat at least one full meal a day in Bhopal, a central Indian city, thanks to efforts by a Catholic archdiocese.

"My grandchildren live because of it," says Gangu Ram, a septuagenarian who begs on the streets in Bhopal, capital of Madhya Pradesh state.

Bhopal archdiocese launched the "God's Kitchen" project a year ago. Father Anand Muttungal, the Church's spokesperson who initiated the project, said witnessing two beggars fighting for a food packet inspired him to start it.

"We may not be able to feed all the hungry. But I am happy at least we can feed some," he said.

Sheela Santiago, who directs it, said resources are "a great challenge" to the project. They depend on local donations. "Some were generous but many do not show interest," she said.

She said they do not have savings but "providence" helps them find the money. Every day since April 2009, "we carry food packet to temples, mosques, rail and bus stations" and locations where we generally find beggars, she said.

Each day volunteers change the spot of distribution, lest people depend on charity for life.

However, Ram said his grandchildren, Paru, 10, and Gansu, 7, are exceptions, as they get the food packets daily.

Santiago said when she met the children they were too weak, "apparently suffering from food poisoning." Santiago makes sure the children get food daily.

Paru said before the Church people came, he and his brother "had no chance of eating a full meal" of rice, bread and vegetables. He said they have now stopped searching roadside trashcans for food and eating leftovers.

Ajmal Singh Meena, a volunteer, says, "it is really a touching experience" to bring food to the beggars. He said it "is no big deal" to carry the packets on his motorbike.
 
   
   
  Malaysia's bloggers debate 'Allah' issue
  By ucanews.com reporter, Kuala Lumpur

The Herald newspaper in Malaysia has been in the eye of the storm over Malay Christians' use of the word "Allah" for God.
Malaysian bloggers gathered this week to debate last year's High Court decision to allow the Catholic newspaper Herald to use "Allah" in its Malay-language section.

"It is not wrong for Christians to say their 'three-in-one' God is Allah. It is their religion. Isn't 'Allah' God?" asked Khalid Samad, a Member of Parliament from the opposition Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS), told the annual meeting of the country's bloggers.

"People use semantics to confuse the issue," he said, adding that the Malay-language Bible uses "Allah" for God, and he sees "no problem" in it.

Prophet Muhammad did not tell Christians it is haram (forbidden) to use the word "Allah" just because Christians believe in the Trinity, said another Muslim speaker, Harris Ibrahim, founder of the blog, People's Parliament.

"Even if it is possible to confuse the Muslim community [over the issue], it is we who are at fault, if we are weak. Why blame others?"

A youth activist and pro-government blogger, Akhramsyah Muammar Ubaidah Sanusi, said the Allah issue should not be politicized. "The Catholic Church should show it is as magnanimous as it claims to be, and make suggestions on how to solve the issue."

A prominent opposition figure and lawyer, Zaid Ibrahim, told participants that the "government should accept the decision of the court."

"Go back to the Qur'an," he said. "Non-Muslims are allowed to use the word 'Allah' and Muslims have to accept it."
 
   
   
  Tap hydro potential to the full, CM asks power corporation
  From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, MAY 21 -- "The time has come to formally assess all losses that state of Jammu and Kashmir has suffered as a result of the the Indus-Water Treaty by utilizing services of reputed consultants so that authentic figures of such losses can be projected at relevant meetings for compensation", said the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah on Friday. He was chairing a high-level Board of Directors meeting of the Jammu and Kashmir Power Development Corporation (JKPDC), here.

The Chief Minister approved a proposal for streamlining and re-organization of the Corporation so that it is able to emerge as one of the ideal and powerful Corporations like the Jammu and Kashmir Bank.

Omar Abdullah stressed the need for generating full efficiency in the Corporation so that the target of tapping 3000 MW of power during the next four years is achieved comfortably. This will not only make state self-sufficient in hydro power but it will be able to earn a huge revenue out of the surplus power.

The meeting was informed that the Corporation is fully geared up to clear all power generation projects on a fast track basis, so that the target fixed for harnessing the rich hydel potential of the state is achieved in a time-bound manner. "All necessary steps and procedural formalities stand completed to kickstart an ambitious 690 MW Ratlay power project. The tariff bidding process stands completed. The state will be able to receive 15 per cent free power and additional one percent cost will be spent on development of Kishtwar area where theRatlay project is being launched. Similarly, 55 per cent power will be provided to the state at Rs. 1.44 paisa per unit".

The Chief Minister directed JKPDC to take up the challenge of making the state one of the ideal and efficient power-generating states. "God has bestowed the state not only with natural beauty but real hydro treasure is concealed in different parts of our state", he said, adding "if we compare the state with any part of the world we should be proud that hydro-electric power is abundantly available here. The Corporation has been assigned with a job to adopt all possible methods so that we are not only benefited but also are able to use the source for overall development of state".

He said wherever new power projects are being taken up special attention may be made to develop the area and create ideal developmental infrastructure in that area. Expressing satisfaction over the road map that has been presented for developing different power projects and exploring maximum hydro power through these projects, he hoped that not a single second will be wasted by the Corporation to achieve its goal.

The Board also reviewed the ongoing construction work on the 450 Baglihar stage II Power project. The board was informed that JKPDC is determined to ensure completion of the project within targeted period, 2012.
 
   
   
  Committee to formulate land use policy in Jammu and Kashmir
  From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, MAY 21 -- A high-power committee has been constituted by the government to formulate an appropriate land use policy for conservation of land, water bodies and ecosystem.

The committee would comprise minister for law and parliamentary affairs, minister for agriculture and minister for revenue.

The step has been taken to check unplanned urbanization due to population growth and industrialization, which have adversely affected agriculture land in a big way leading to its shrinkage.

The ongoing process of over-exploitation and conversion of agriculture land has exposed entire the agriculture sector to serious threats. Though various laws in the state are in place that prohibit and restrict conversion of agriculture land for non-agriculture purposes, still need has been felt for a comprehensive review of the existing law on land use and making a strict law to make land use implementation agencies effective and accountable.

In this connection, the law department, before finalizing the draft legislation on the subject, has sought public opinion on various related issues to work out a comprehensive, well-meaning, broad-based and practicable land use policy.

These issues include prohibition on conversion of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes, total ban on conversion of water bodies, canals, rivers, rivulets, ponds and springs for purposes other than their natural use, mode and mechanism of meeting genuine needs of group housing, industrial and commercial requirements and infrastructure development, prohibition on transfer of agricultural land to non-agriculture use except in favour of landless labourers, village artisans and limited transfer for construction of dwelling houses, shops and business establishments, proper utilization of land and making it mandatory for land owner to cultivate land, mechanism for effectively monitoring implementation of proposed land use policy, establishment of a State Land Use Board for formulating policies and laying down guidelines to protect agricultural land from degradation and any other suggestion that may be useful for conservation of land, water bodies and ecosystem and arresting the trend of indiscriminate change of land use.
 
   
   
  Violence will not be tolerated, warns Omar Abdullah
  From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, MAY 20 -- Maintaining that nobody would be allowed to take law and order into his hands, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah on Thursday said the government had no problem with the programme proposed to be organized by the Mirwaiz faction of the Hurriyat Conference in connection with the death anniversary of Mirwaiz Molvi Mohammad Farooq on Friday.

"If Mirwaiz Umar Farooq wants to hold a programme in memory of his father, I have no problem, provided the people organizing it do not take law into their hands", said Omar while talking to media persons on the sidelines of a function organized by the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages (JKAACL) in connection with the 45th best book award 2009 at Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre (SKICC).

The Chief Minister said that the law and order situation held key to such programmes and hoped that there would be no tension on account of law and order. "Everybody has a right to remember his father and the same holds true for Mirwaiz Umar. The government wouldn't stop him from organizing such programmes provided it is peaceful", he added.

Referring to 8 per cent reservation for Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes in the state, Omar said that some people here are making a "mountain out of a molehill".

"These people want to remain in focus. I ask them where they were when there was inter-district reservation of 100 per cent in the state. Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP) and some other people want to draw mileage out of these issues and I believe my coalition government has done justice by providing just eight percent reservation for SC/STs across the state", he said.

He refused to give his comment on the mercy petition of Afzal Guru saying that he has already made his position clear on this issue. It would be in place to mention here that the Chief Minister has already said that law should be allowed to hold its own course regarding the execution of Afzal Guru.

Zaffar Iqbal, Secretary JKAACL, said that the academy provides a platform to artists to display their talent and interact with one another. "The academy was established 52 years back. Many books in different languages have been published, so far". He informed the audience that 40 kanals of land have already been identified for Tehzeeb Mahal but not much progress has been made over it. Iqbal further gave details of activities of the Academy.

Various publications of the Academy in different languages and on various subjects were released by the Chief Minister on the occasion. Students of Institute of Music and Fine Arts presented a group song.

The chief minister, who is also president of the Academy gave away awards at the presentation ceremony at SKICC here organized by the Academy. The writers, who received awards included Tarnum Reyaz for Mera Rakht Safar (Urdu), Farooq Fayaz for Kashmiri Folk Lore (English), Vaid Rahi for Lal Ded (Dogri), Amin Kamil for Yimieoni Sukhan (Kashmiri), Jan Mohammad Hakim for Jan-e-Gajal (Gojri), Tersing Chospal for Sharsems Kyi Melong (Ladakhi), Sham Bihari for Main Samandar Hoa Saksata Tha (Hindi), Sabar Mirza for Rang Rutan Gulzar (Pahari) and Harbajan Singh Sagar for Band Darwaza Da Bartan (Punjabi).

Born in 1933 at Jammu, Ved Rahi has carved a niche for himself in the world of films and letters by the dint of his hard labour and determination. During his career spanning over five decades, he has written and directed feature films such as "Pehchan", "Aap Aye Bahar Ayi" and many other successful flicks. He has also written and directed various popular TV serials like "Gul Gulshan Gulfam", "Katha Sagar" in addition to scores of short and documentary films. Apart from writing for cinema, he has authored several books in Hindi, Dogri and Urdu.

Dr. Farooq Fayaz has authored seven books in English and Kashmiri, some of which have been given the status of reference books at the university level. He has done substantial work on oral history of Kashmir which has been acclaimed in literary and academic circles.

Initiating his literary career early in his life, Shyam Bihari has turned into a versatile writer who writes and translates into many languages with equal felicity and ease. He has one book of poetry to his credit, in addition to innumerable research papers, translations and poems.

Born at Kapran in south Kashmir's Kulgam in 1924, Muhammad Amin Kamil is one of the defining litterateurs of Kashmir language. Besides, being a seminal poet, he is an exceptional short story writer and novelist. He has written scores of books and plays. He has received number of awards including the Padam Shree.

Tsering Chospal has written many documentaries, some of which are on some historical figures. He has edited biography of Lama Tsultin Nyima in Ladakhi and autobiography of Gergan Konchok Sodnam. He has also edited the Academy's prestigious Ladakhi publication "The life and message of Hazrat Muhammad (SAW)."

Sabir Mirza has written number of books, collection of Urdu, Pahari, Punjabi verses, Gojri poems and some research work. He has been honoured by various organizations for his contribution to field of culture and literature.

Harbajan Singh Sagar has authored dozens of papers on diverse topics in addition to translations of many Urdu, Hindi and Kashmiri short stories in Punjabi language. He is recipient of many awards.

Tarannum Reyaz started her literary career with publication of her Urdu translations of works of Anita Desai, Vishnu Prabhakar for the Sahitya Akademi. She has authored more than 10 books of fiction, criticism and poetry including two novels and a collection of poetry.
 
   
   
  Two cases, two kinds of justice -- A short comment
  By Raja Jaikrishan

TWO cases -- Ruchika molestation case and Nithari murder and rape of children case -- have bared chinks in our criminal justice system. Money and position do steer the course of justice, case histories reveal.

Former DGP Rathore molests Ruchika, "gets her expelled from school" and drives her to suicide after she presses charges against him. He gets as many as 13 cases filed against her brother Ashu.

It takes 19 years to get Rathore convicted and stripped of his police medal.

His smirk after conviction and sentence of six months' imprisonment and a fine of Rs 1,000 shows he is unrepentant.

Smirk fails to return to his lips as he leaves the Chandigarh judge's courtroom on Tuesday as the judge deferred verdict on the quantum of punishment to May 25.

Rathore with his lawyer wife is hopeful that he will be able to bend laws in his favour.

About 300 km away from Chandigarh, a Ghaziabad court sentences to death Surinder Koli, domestic help of businessman Moninder Singh Koli in the Nithari cases, within four years.

Residents of Nithari, mainly migrant labour from Bengal and Bihar, feel the CBI should be held responsible if Moninder Singh Pandher escapes without punishment.

Earlier, both Pandher and Koli were sentenced to death in another Nithari murder and rape case. However, Pandher was acquitted by the Allahabad high court on the plea that he was abroad on the day of the crime.

The CBI had filed 19 cases related to the rape and murder of children and a young woman, whose body parts were found in a drain behind Pandher's D5, Sector 31, Noida bungalow in 2006.
 
   
   
  Marian statue spared by rioters thanks to priest
  By Vorapoj Singha

THE pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Church says he prevented angry red-shirts from destroying a Marian statue in front of his church during deadly riots in Bangkok.

"About 7 p.m. last night [May 19], I confronted more than 10 rioters who had just pelted a nearby bank and mini-mart with bricks. Then they came for the Our Lady of Fatima statue. I talked to them and begged them not to destroy the statue or damage our church," Father Surachai Kitsawat told UCA News May 20.

Arsonists and rioters wreaked havoc in many areas of Bangkok on May 19, after "red shirt" leaders announced an end to their occupation of a central commercial district.

Deadly clashes with security forces had raged since May 14 in several areas of Thailand's capital including Din Daeng, where Our Lady of Fatima Church is located.

At least 35 buildings in the city were burned in arson attacks, including luxury hotels, shopping plazas, banks and a TV station. Government buildings in several cities in northern and northeastern Thailand, which are red-shirt strongholds, were also torched.

The government has placed Bangkok and 23 other provinces under curfew for four nights starting May 19.

According to Father Surachai, during the May 19 rampage, his parishioners helped evacuate three Dominican nuns living in a building opposite his church. "The nuns had to climb out of the building using a ladder."

Meanwhile, dozens of Catholic university students who gathered on May 20 in Xavier Hall, the Jesuits' residence, helped rescue property from a nearby burning shopping mall.
 
   
   
  Church leaders welcome probe on killing
  By Julian Das

CHURCH leaders in West Bengal have hailed a court order for a federal probe into the death of a Muslim, allegedly murdered by his Hindu father-in-law.

The Calcutta High Court May 18 concluded that the death of Rizwanur Rahman was a case of murder and ordered the federal Criminal Bureau of Investigations to re-investigate it.

The order came after state police investigations produced little result.

The body of Rahman, who married Priyanka Todi, daughter of industrialist Ashok Todi, was found on rail tracks near the city on Sept. 21, 2007. He was 30. It was considered a suicide initially.

However, family members said Todi had arranged to kill Rahman as the businessman was against the marriage of his daughter to a low-income Muslim.

The investigation will bring the "truth to light" said Sister Gracy Sundar, provincial superior of the Holy Cross of Chavanod congregation. She said the court order is a "positive move" as only "an impartial inquiry can reveal the truth."

"Up to this juncture, justice has not been done for Rahman," said Father Mathai L. Badabet, editor of the Calcutta archdiocesan weekly, The Herald. "There is a chance for truth to see the light of day only if there is no political interference."

However, Jesuit Father M. S. Arockiasamy, prefect of St. Xavier's High School at Durgapur, said it is wrong to conclude that Rahman was murdered by his father-in-law unless investigations prove it.

Rahman was a student of the Jesuit-run St Xavier's College and worked as a computer graphics trainer. He married Priyanka on Aug. 18, 2007.

A three-day candle-light vigil was held in front of the Jesuit college in the city from Sept. 28, 2007, protesting against police and state apathy in the investigations.
 
   
   
  Christian influence on penal code discussed
  By Fatima Tanveer

COMMENT by the Gujarat High Court that the Indian Penal Code embodies the basic tenets of Hinduism and Islam has become a discussion point for some Christian lawyers and activists.

"There appears to be a lack of knowledge among the legal fraternity about the historical background" of the code, said senior lawyer Joy Matthew, a Christian.

He said British Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay drafted the code in 1860 with help from British legal experts who lived in then colonial India. "All of them had a Western upbringing and Christian backgrounds," the lawyer said.

According to Matthew, the source of Macaulay's code was the Ten Commandments. The code was also influenced by the French and other European judicial systems, he said.

The high court judges made the "observation" May 16 while upholding a seven-year jail term given to two Muslims youth who fired at a Hindu in 2002.

The judges denounced the contention that the violence was revenge against an anti-Muslim riot in the state. "Neither Hindu nor Muslim religion permits taking of revenge," they said.

The court said both Islam and Hinduism permit attacking a person only for self-defense. At the same time, no religion advocates revenge and the attacking of innocent people.

"Everybody is influenced to some extent by religion," said Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash, who runs a human rights center in Ahmedabad, the state's commercial capital.

Macaulay would have "definitely been influenced" by his Christian background, said the priest. However, he stressed that the law should maintain its secular nature and judges should not mix religion with legal issues.

Kirit Mahida, a Catholic activist, said the whole code may not be influenced by Christianity. However, certain elements, such as punishment for sodomy and attempted suicide, reflect Christian principles.

He noted that work on the penal code began after the 1857 revolt against the British.
 
   
   
  Teaching mission brings English to poor villages
  KURNOOL, MAY 20 (UCAN) -- Bishop Anthony Poola of Kurnool has made it his mission to bring English language teaching to Andhra Pradesh state's poorest remote villages.

He took the reins of the diocese two years ago and began setting up free village schools. The parish priest and villagers select teachers from local women who have passed their school finals.

"People here have a craze for English [language] education. Even the poorest want to educate children in English schools," said Mary Muriel, principal of one in Kurnool.

The diocese provides a one-month training and refresher program to teach kindergarten and grade one. Students are moved to regular schools when they reach grade two.

The third annual training program for 49 teachers ended May 13.

Teaching takes place in the local chapel and the diocese supplies books and other materials.

The village school in Pedda Kadabur is "running so well [that] our little ones are speaking English!" elder Henry Gummala said.

He has asked the bishop to expand the program to "at least up to fifth grade."

Lilly Pushpa says she "never imagined" herself to be a teacher.

"My students speak good English," she said. She has been asked to be a teacher in the town but prefers to "serve my own poor little ones," she said.

The bishop wants "to respect the poor" and "give them the best," diocesan officials say.

The initiative has had the added benefit of sparking awareness of the importance of education for girls, said Father Andrew Mendem, secretary of the Education Commission of Kurnool diocese.
 
   
   
  Facebook Prophet plan enrages Pakistanis
  By ucanews.com reporter

Pakistan has blocked social networking website Facebook for hosting a competition inviting users to draw caricatures of Prophet Muhammad.

The competition, called
"Draw Mohammed Day," was announced on Facebook on April 20 and is scheduled to be held on May 20. Media reports say there are 45 million users of Facebook in Pakistan.

A text message campaign to launch an "attack on Facebook" is presently underway. The message contains instructions to Internet users on how to block the Facebook server.

Protests have also been organized in several cities against the competition.

On May 19, more than a thousand women held a demonstration, blocking three kilometers of road near the tomb of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, in Karachi. Jamat-e-Islami, a religio-political party, organized the protest.

Protestors demanded a permanent ban of Facebook and chanted slogans against the website operators.

"We welcome the decision of the courts in banning the site and will make every sacrifice to implement the verdict," Ghafoor Ahmed, a politician, said in his address.

Catholic leaders have also condemned the Facebook competition.

Father Thomas Gulfam of Karachi archdiocese said he plans to organize a protest and a press conference against Facebook in collaboration with Jamat-e-Islami.

Father Nadeem J. Shakir, executive secretary of the bishops' commission for social communications, said: "The West fails to understand the religious sensitivities of the East... We have already seen the impact of blasphemous caricatures on minority Christians, and the current unrest may lead to another controversial issue between Christian and Muslims."

Father Gulfam, Christian general secretary of Heralds of Peace, an interreligious group, also condemned the Facebook competition on television on May 20.

"Christianity never advocates hurting others' religious sentiments... Facebook authorities should not repeat this act," he said.
 
   
   
  Orissa's adivasi satyagraha gathers support
 
By Raja Jaikrishan


NEW DELHI, MAY 19 -- After the hallowed Jagannath rathyatra, Kandhamal riots and Kalahandi starvation deaths, Orissa will now be known for the adivasi satyagraha.

For years they have been braving state atrocities, ranging from lathi-charge to firing, but they have not yielded their land and forests to corporations.

Their anti-displacement satyagraha has stalled work at the national missile testing range of the defence ministry at Baliapal, the bauxite mining at the Gandhamardan hills by Nalco, the mining at Niyamgiri hills by the London-based Vedanta and Arcelor Mittal's proposed steel plant in Keonjhar district.

The CPI-led agitation has so far succeeded in stalling Tata's Rs 15,000-crore steel project at Kalinga Nagar and Posco's Rs 52,000-crore steel plant at Kujang near Paradip. It cost the tribals 14 lives in 2006 and 2007.

Their peaceful resistance has drawn support from the local BJP and Congress leaders.

"The Orissa government has literally declared a war on the local people who are opposing displacement from their ancestral land. This is no governance," BJP Rajya Sabha member Balbir Punj, who led a three-member BJP parliamentary team to the Kalinga Nagar and Posco project sites, told media persons at Bhubaneswar.

The state Congress president attacked the ruling Biju Janata Dal over the state government's "man-hunting business" to grab land. "Ever since this government came to power in 2000, it has been indulging in a killing spree to acquire land for private companies. It does not spare even opposition leaders who try to resist its tyranny."

He cited the case of party leader Umesh Chandra Swain and CPI Lok Sabha member Bibhu Prasad Tarai who were arrested when they tried to reach out to the people injured in the police lathi-charge at the Posco project site.

With these statements, the Congress and the BJP have tried to save their skin from the voters' wrath.

Six parties and six grassroots organizations have called for state-wide protests on May 20 and May 21 in reaction to the "police excesses" on anti-Posco activists in Jagatsinghpur district.

The six parties include the CPI, the CPM, the Forward Bloc, JMM, RJD and the SJP. The grassroots organizations have planned a road blockade on May 20 in protest against the "state-sponsored terror".

The organizations include the Lok Shakti Abhiyan, the SUCL, the CPI (ML) New Democracy, the CPI (ML) Liberation, the CPI (ML) and the Samajvadi Jan Parishad.

"We will support the protest day call on May 21 given by the left and other parties," said Prafulla Samantra of the Lok Shakti Abhiyan.

CPI leader D. Raja in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has alleged that the Orissa government was attacking peaceful protesters against the Posco project, which is "in direct violation of the law".

He said that 3,000 of the 4,000 acres of land to be given for Posco's steel plant is a forest area.

"Under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, many of the people of the area are eligible for rights over this land, especially the lands they are cultivating. They have been living in the area for more than 75 years," he said.

"I urge upon you to immediately intervene, instruct the environment ministry to withdraw the illegal clearance, review the Posco project in light of the fact that it is a notorious blacklisted multinational, and halt the police atrocities against the struggling people of the area," Raja said in his letter.
 
   
   
  Mining firm forced to stop Goan operations
  By Bosco de Souza Eremita

PANAJI, MAY 19 (UCAN) -- The federal government has suspended operations of global mining giant Vedanta Resources in Goa, following protests from villagers.

On May 17, the government suspended the statutory mining clearances granted to Sesa Goa mines, a firm owned by Vedanta group, to set up an iron ore project at Pirna and Nadora, two villages in Goa's northern region.

The federal Ministry of Environment and Forests cleared the project on June 9, 2009, but a local group challenged the order saying the project threatens to destroy their environment and livelihoods.

The project was granted environmental clearance in June last year, but was challenged by a local group, Pirna Naroda Nagrik Kruti Samiti (PNNS). It argued that all villagers who attended a mandatory public hearing on the project opposed it.

The National Environment Appellate Authority, the federal authority to address environment clearances issues in certain restricted areas, reportedly wrote to the company May 17 asking it to suspend the project.

The Church of England, which has a £2.5m (US$3.6 million) share in the Vedanta group had withdrawn its stake following controversies in its unethical mining resorted by the company in Orissa.

"Yet an expert appraisal committee decided to overlook the opposition and recommended environmental clearance. The committee did not even bother to look at the minutes of the public hearing that opposed the mining," said leading anti-mining activist Sebastian Rodrigues.

Rodrigues said the expert committee at the time was headed by one M.L. Majumdar, who himself was on the board of four mining companies and, therefore, the decision was biased.

The federal authority reportedly asked to suspend the project until a committee visits the area and examine the reasons of local opposition and the project's impact on agriculture, health and environment.
 
   
   
  Religious learn peace building in West Bengal
  By Julian Das

KOLKATA, MAY 19 (UCAN) -- A two-day conflict resolution workshop here has given priests and nuns the practical skills to deal with unrest in West Bengal state, they say.

Conference of Religious India's West Bengal unit organized the May 18-19 program in Kolkata in collaboration with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a faith-based organization that helps victims of conflict and war.

Pauline Sister Philomena Joseph, the unit's secretary, said people face conflicts in personal and community life.

"If we can resolve them in these areas, we will be able to resolve them in wider society," she said.

Sister Joseph, one of the 20 participants from 13 congregations, said that she "learned down-to-earth skills" and expressed hope she would now look at conflicts "in a new light."

Jesuit Father Irudaya Jothi, one of the four priests in the program, said it had helped him see social conflicts in the state "in a balanced way, without rushing to take sides."

Father Jyothi, who runs Udayani (awakening) Social Action Forum, said messengers of peace have a "greater role to play" in society when it is disturbed by violence and conflict.

He said five districts in West Bengal experience intermittent social conflict mostly because of ethnicity, religion, and social exploitation.

Many of the Christians are involved in these conflicts. However, the "Church has not adequately responded" to the conflicts in the state, he said.

Father Jothi expressed hope that the workshop would help Religious take the lead.

Loreto Sister Christine Coutinho said conflicts are "bound to happen" in religious communities since members come from different backgrounds. The program showed them ways to resolve such everyday conflicts, she told UCA News.

MCC project officer Thomas Harris, pastor of the Church of North India's Union Chapel, said many "look up to Christians" as peace-builders. "We have a responsibility to uphold this special privileged position," he said.
 
   
   
  Christians pray for peace, Maoist violence condemned
  By Saji Thomas

JABALPUR, MAY 19 (UCAN) -- Church leaders have condemned the killing of 31 people in central India by Maoists who blew up a private bus carrying 50 policemen and civilians.

"It is sad that many innocent lives were lost," said Carmelite Father Abraham Maliekal of Jagadalpur parish in Chhattisgarh state.

The outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist, known locally as the Naxalites, is accused of planting a landmine that blew up the bus on May 17, about 450 kilometers south of Raipur, the state capital. The blast killed 16 police personnel and 15 civilians.

The Church "condemns all forms of violence" and "wants everyone to sink their differences to work for social peace," said the priest in the Maoist-infested state.

The Maoist movement began some four decades ago as they waged an armed struggle against the government purportedly to bring about an equitable distribution of land. Their growing base and bloodier actions have forced the government to declare them a national security threat.

The blast site "was a horrifying scene" with "body parts strewn for around 300 meters," said Pastor Anish Andrews, secretary of the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum, who visited the spot.

The blood-stained clothes and large patches of blood on the road were disturbing, he said, adding that "it is really sad that we can only pray for the victims."

He said it was the first time that so many civilians have been killed in a Maoist attack as "normally they target only armed police personnel."

Carmelite Father Father Joseph Kuttiyanickal, who works on the outskirts of Dantewada where the blast occurred, said, "People are in a state of deep shock" over the "huge loss of lives, especially of civilians."

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh said the Maoist attack was "planned" and aimed at "demoralizing police and terrorizing civilians".
 
   
   
  Peace school teaches young to live and let live
  By Philip Mathew

BANGALORE, MAY 18 (UCAN) -- A three-month conflict resolution course has brought together 19 young people from six Asian countries to learn how to live alongside people of other faiths.

One young Filipino Muslim said that before the course he had thought coexistence with other faiths was "an illusion."

Living with people with different religions during the course had helped him discover the "essence" of his own faith, Tirmizy Abdullah, from Mindanao, Philippines, said.

Before the program, he believed his was "the only right and exclusive path toward God."

The young people were Christian, Buddhist and Muslim and came from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines and Thailand.

Kipo, from a refugee camp on the Thai-Myanmar border, said the program gave him confidence to work for peace "because I have learned a lot from the exposure and experience."

He said he had lost self-confidence in the refugee camp as nothing there could give him hope.

The program is organized by the Christian Conference of Asia and the Asia and Pacific Alliance of YMCAs. The latest course ended on May 14 but the program has been going since 2007 and has so far included 100 young people.

The program includes lectures, exposure visits and interaction among the participants that helped them learn about each other's beliefs.
 
   
   
  Christians head peace negotiations in northeastern India
  GUWAHATI, MAY 18 (UCAN) -- The Manipur state government has sought the help of Christian leaders to end a month-old road blockade that has cut off supplies of food, medicine and other essentials to this eastern Indian state.

Naga tribal groups in Manipur and neighboring Nagaland state have since April 11 blocked two national highways to land-locked Manipur.

The government on May 17 sent a nine-member delegation of the All Manipur Christian Organization, an ecumenical body in Manipur, to Nagaland to discuss with Naga groups to find a way out of the impasse.

The economic blockade was to protest Manipur state's refusal to allow Naga separatist leader Thuingaleng Muivah to visit his birthplace there.

Muivah is among leaders demanding a greater Naga homeland comprising Nagaland and parts of Manipur where Naga people live. Manipur state reportedly fears the visit would inflame Naga passions as the leader plans to address several meetings.

Manipur government spokesperson N. Biren Singh said the Church delegation is expected to appeal to the All Naga Students Association and the United Naga Council to call off the indefinite blockade.

Manipur Chief Minster Ibobi Singh is "hoping that the Church leaders" in Manipur and Nagaland will be able to convince Naga leaders to lift the economic blockade, he said.

The lack of essential commodities has pushed the state to a crisis. Hospitals have suspended surgeries for want of oxygen cylinders and offices have been shut as there is now no fuel for transportation.

Bishop Dominic Lumon, who is based in the Manipur capital Imphal, has asked parishes to conduct prayers for peace. Father Tomy Orumpakat, vicar general of Imphal diocese pointed out that "at this moment only prayer can move hearts."

Christians form about 80 percent of Nagaland's some 2 million people, and 34 percent of Manipur's 2.1 million people.
 
   
   
  Rightwing Hindus face Goa blast terror charges
  PANAJI, MAY 18 (UCAN) -- Federal investigators have charged 11 people, including six members of a rightwing Hindu group, over bomb blasts that occurred during a popular Indian festival in Goa.

The National Investigating Agency (NIA) on May 17 presented to a court in Goa a 3,000-page document accusing 11 people of criminally conspiring to terrorize people.

Six of the accused belong to the Sanatan Sanstha (eternal foundation), a radical Hindu group. Two of its members were killed when bombs they were transporting exploded on Oct. 16, 2009, during Diwali, the festival of lights.

According to the charge sheet, the accused had between June and October last year conspired to strike terror among Diwali merry makers.

It alleged the accused had conducted a rehearsal a few months before the accidental blast.

The NIA has named 250 witnesses in the case.

Four of the accused are in judicial custody, five have absconded and the rest are expected to be arrested soon.

Sanatan Sanstha had opposed glorifying Narkasur, a demon, during Diwali. Festival organizers conduct statewide contests for the most evil-looking effigy of the demon.

The charge sheet does not directly name Sanatan Sanstha, but states the conspiracy was hatched at one of its centers.

Sanatan Sanstha has shown "extreme interest" in Hindu religious matters and organized martial arts training in Goa's northern region, where Hindus are a majority, the charges state.

Goa Chief Minister Digambar Kamat said his government would study the charge sheet before deciding to ban the Hindu outfit.

Virendra Marathe, a Sanatan Sanstha official, said his organization has denied involvement in the blasts. However, the police have confiscated the center's documents and computer hard disks as part of their investigations.
 
   
   
  Indonesia: Facebook no substitute for friends’ face time
  JAKARTA, MAY 17 (UCAN) -- The bishop of Bandung has reminded Catholics of the importance of face-to-face communication even as they use social networking sites such as Facebook.

"We must use [Facebook] carefully, in accordance with our conscience" while also building up "relationships with others," Bishop Johannes Pujasumarta of Bandung said in a Catholic TV program broadcast on May 16.

The program, called New Media for Word Service, was produced by Yogyakarta catechetical center to mark the 44th World Communications Day.

Bishop Pujasumarta, who is also the secretary general of the Indonesian Bishops' Conference, said the Internet has put him in touch with thousands of Catholics who reads his messages on his Facebook site.

The prelate, who is also a member of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said the number of people reading his notes has increased so much over just six months that he had to create a second Facebook account.

"I would say my 'congregation' on Facebook numbers about 10,000," the bishop said, adding that many readers are young people.

Jesuit Father Joannes Hartono Budi of St. Paul major Seminary of Yogyakarta, who was also featured in the recent TV broadcast, emphasized that parents and teachers should help young people use such media wisely.

He noted that social change comes about not only through institutions, but also through small communities linked through social networking sites.

According to Facebook statistics, Indonesians make up the third largest group of Facebook users, with about 24.5 million registered users, after the US and UK.
 
   
   
  Jesuit fights to rebuild lives of dam victims
  AHMEDABAD, MAY 17 (UCAN) -- A Jesuit activist and NGOs have asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to help rehabilitate people displaced by two dams before even more areas are submerged.

Father Cedric Prakash and others told Singh that increasing the height of the dams in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat states would displace more families.

The priest directs a human rights center, Prashant or tranquility, in Ahmedabad, Gujarat's commercial capital.

Their May 7 letter said 80 percent of the Maheshwar dam in Madhya Pradesh has been completed but barely five percent of 70,000 people displaced were rehabilitated.

In the case of Sardar Sarovar dam in Gujarat, most of the 30,000 displaced have not been rehabilitated.

The letter said Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan has reportedly requested Singh to lift the suspension of construction work "based on his personal guarantee that rehabilitation will be done."

Gujarat Chief Minster Narendra Modi has requested for help in raising the heights of Sardar Sarovar to 138.6 meters despite his government's inability to use "waters available at 121.91 meters' height," the letter said.

The letter also reminded Singh of his promise in 2006 to rehabilitate within three months all displaced by the Sardar Sarovar project. "But it remains unfulfilled even in 2010," the activists said.

If further construction on dams "proceed based on unfulfilled promises and political expediency, there is little hope of resettlement of the poor sacrificed at the altar of poor planning," the letter said.

Such a move would also mean "corrupt governance" not being held "accountable to the laws of the nation and the unassailable values of human and fundamental rights," it added.
 
   
   
  Scores hurt in protest against Korean project
  BHUBANESWAR, MAY 17 (UCAN) -- More than a hundred tribal people were hurt on May 15 after police tried to break up a protest against a Korean steel giant in Orissa, eastern India.

The protest was aimed at the Pohang Iron and Steel Company (POSCO), which plans to set up a plant in Orissa's Jagatsinghpur district to produce integrated steel. The project would also include a power station and a port.

More than 300 tribal villagers had been staging a sit-in at the site of the proposed plant in Balithutha since Jan. 26, saying it would displace thousands of people. Their supporters include Church leaders such as Bishop John Barwa of Rourkela.

On May 15, the police fired rubber bullets and teargas at the protesters in a bid to disperse them.

Suryashankar Das, who has made several documentaries on the issue, told UCA News on May 16 that the police action was unprovoked. He also accused police of torching several shops and houses.

Abhaya Sahu, who heads a forum opposing the POSCO plant, said the "brutal" suppression of the people's protest undermines Indian democracy and would make a large section of the poor more desperate .

He said the protest began five years ago, and had always been peaceful. "We have set an example for the country on how to carry out a democratic struggle solely based on the peaceful actions of ordinary people," Sahu told UCA News.

He said the tribal people will now not "allow land acquisition at any cost. We are prepared to lay down our lives."

Meanwhile, a group of intellectuals condemned the police action and labeled the Korean project as "nothing less than a robbery of the country's natural resources by a multinational."

The group also agreed with villagers that the project would destroy their farmlands, fishponds and deprive them of their livelihoods.
 
   
   
  Don't leave us out from census, Gujjars write to PM
  From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, MAY 16 -- A day after census enumeration started in the state of Jammu and Kashmir on May 15, Gujjars on Sunday demanded their inclusion in the process.

They have appealed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to intervene in the matter and ensure that Gujjars and Bakerwals aren't discriminated in the process.

In a letter addressed to the Prime Minister and sent through the Tribal Research and Cultural Foundation (TRCF), the community members demanded a correct enumeration of their tribe under "shelterless category."

The Gujjars stressed upon the Centre and the state to jointly launch an exclusive programme to conduct a special census of lakhs of nomadic and shelterless Gujjars and Bakerwals of the state, who are currently under seasonal migration along with their livestock in the upper reaches of northwestern Himalaya.

Providing details about the letter, Dr Javaid Rahi, Secretary of the Foundation says, "We demand a special census of around 6 to 8 lakh nomadic and shelterless Gujjars and Bakerwals, who are presently under seasonal migration along with their livestock through seven major routes towards the upper reaches of Pir Panchal, Shavalik and Trikuta Hills of the Himalayas".

Dr. Rahi said the Registrar General of India (RGI) should hold exclusive mapping to list the movement of nomads in the Himalayan region of the state and to introduce a new column --"nomadic or shelterless category" in registration forms of census. "This will help enumerators to accommodate a big chunk of tribal population during the process, who are otherwise feared to be left out of the census".

The letter further reads that in 2000, the census report "left us un-enumerated and lakhs of nomadic Gujjars who were on the upper reaches at that point of time, in connection with annual migration had been left out. This time we request the Prime Minister's office to intervene and direct RGI to re-schedule dates of census in the state or to conduct a special survey of nomads".

The letter added as "house-listing and housing census and canvassing of household schedule of National Population Register (NPR) is under-way and would be completed by June. During this period a big chunk of Gujjars will be in the upper reaches, so a special and exclusive programme of holding census should be formulated at the earliest".

He asked the community members who are settled or belong to agriculture class to co-operate with census officials and get themselves enumerated as ST community with Gojri as their mother-tongue.

The first phase of census 2011 would commence from 15 May to 30 June in accessible areas and from 16 July to 30 August in other areas of the state.
 
   
   
  J&K Bank registers growth in all sectors, says chairman
  From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, MAY 16 -- The Jammu and Kashmir bank is a leading bank not only in the state, but throughout the country and has a good network in foreign countries, said Dr Haseeb A Drabu, chairman and chief executive of the bank.

The chairman, while addressing a press conference on May 16 at Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre (SKICC) said that the bank has won laurels throughout the country for its best performance. He said it was the state's strongest bank with a steady growth rate.

The bank has registered a net profit of Rs. 512.38 crore, up by 25 per cent from Rs. 409.84 crore recorded during the previous financial year driven by 70 per cent rise in fee-based income up to the last financial year.

He said that the net profit for the quarter ended March this year increased by 53 per cent and stood at Rs.120.04 crore, compared to Rs. 78.68 crore during the same period last year. Drabu said that due to softening of interest rates during the year-end, the yield on advances came down by 88 basis points to 10.65 per cent, which was more than compensated by a decline of 98 basis points in the cost of deposits from 6.22 per cent to 5.24 per cent.

The chairman further said that the bank has considerably improved its free-based income during the current financial year by 70 per cent from RS.425 crore to Rs.416 crore, the major contributor being treasury and trading income. He said that the operating profit for this year up to March increased by 24 per cent. He added the operating income for the current year was Rs 1536 crore as against Rs 1245 crore for the last fiscal registering an increase of 23 per cent.

Dr. Drabu said that the total balance sheet size of the bank as on March this year increased to Rs 42547 crore by 13 per cent from Rs 37693 crore, a year ago. "The total business turnover moved to Rs 60294 crore increasing by 12 per cent from the previous year's Rs. 53935 crore. The loan book as on March 31 this year stood at Rs. 23057 crore up to 10 per cent from last year's Rs. 20930 core, while the bank's deposit base at the same date stood at Rs 37237 crore up to 13 per cent from Rs 33004 crore as on March ending last year".

In response to a question, he said that the bank has targeted its business to Rs. one lakh crore by 2012 and the profit worth Rs. 1,000 crores. He added that the newly created Common Service Centers known as Khidmat Centers shall be utilized to provide basic banking facilities to the masses.

Dr. Drabu said that over the last few years the bank has touched newer heights and has introduced insurance, healthcare, financial patronage to under privileged members of the society and loans for almost all commercial, agricultural, educational and personal needs. He said that there are no hurdles in getting loans from the bank. However, one has to fulfill all required obligations.
 
   
   
  Making sense of Mayawati: Newsanalysis by Raja Jaikrishan
  HAVING purged the BSP of 500 members with criminal past on May Day, party chief Mayawati had promised to stem more rot on May 13, the third anniversary of her rule in Uttar Pradesh. Instead, she launched a tirade against the Centre at a Press conference in Lucknow on that day.

Mayawati's anti-Centre rant comes just a fortnight after the Central Bureau of Investigation informed the Supreme Court that it would consider her plea for dropping the disproportionate assets case against her.

The case is about the assets she acquired during the 1995-2003 period. Then her declared income was a paltry Rs 88.70 lakh! Now it is over Rs 80 crore!

It is widely believed that she got a reprieve from the CBI in lieu of her party, having 21MPs, voting with the Treasury Benches on the combined Opposition cut motion on price hike. She also got an assurance for an airport at Greater Noida.

"Had the Centre provided the state's full share of Rs 17,000 crore timely, the results of these programmes would have been better," she said adding that this had hampered the development works and resulted in additional burden on the government due to rising prices.

The chief minister rued that her demand for a special development package of Rs 80,000 crore had been turned down by the Central Government.

Mayawati, who has been asking the Centre to bear the full expenditure incurred in the implementation of schemes under the Right to Education Act, said the Central Government should bear the entire expense of the schemes launched by it under the central and concurrent list.

Mayawati took the opportunity to slam the Opposition parties for making a hue and cry about the expenditure incurred on the construction of parks and memorials named after great men born in different castes, including Dalit icons like Chatrapati Sahuji Maharaj and B R Ambedkar.

Spending Rs 6000 crore on these memorials shows how much she values the long and arduous struggle of Dalit leaders. The Supreme Court has stalled work on one such park in Noida on the ground that many trees were axed.

The Chief Minister said only one per cent of the state budget had been spent on these memorials whereas the opposition has been trying to misguide the people by making false propaganda on this count.

"The BSP government has started welfare schemes in the name of Dalit leaders," she said. The reason for preferring memorials to Dalit welfare schemes seems to be corruption. Some palms might get greased but the memorials will be there for generations to see. Moreover, these projects have given work and pride to hundreds of Dalit laborers, argue BSP supporters.

Last year, Public Works Department engineer Manoj Kumar Gupta was lynched to death in Auraiya by a BSP MLA for not fulfilling the demand for contribution to Mayawati's birthday fund. Embarrassed, she declared no collection of funds in future for her birthdays.

This year, on the 25th birthday of her party and the 76th of her mentor Kanshi Ram, a mega rally, costing over Rs 200 crore, was held in Lucknow. It was in this rally she got the garland of currency notes of Rs 1000 denomination, valued between Rs. 10 and 20 crore. Just the day after Mayawati cocked a snook at her detractors by accepting another currency garland from her party workers, this time of Rs 18 lakh.

During these years there was no Kandhamal in UP. This has earned her the gratitude of Christians. But the Muslims were not that lucky. While the BSP mega rally was being held Bareiley was reeling under curfew following communal clashes there.

After the losing to the Congress in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, Mayawati's efforts to reclaim Dalit vote paid off .The BSP swept the by-elections in November 2009. And 48 hours before her birthday, her party made a clean sweep in the Legislative Council elections as well.
 
   
   
  Suspected Hindu extremists attack Church in Karnataka
  A CATHOLIC church in Karnataka has been attacked and its statues damaged, a Church official has said.

Catholics in Honnavar, a costal town in Uttara Kannada district, found the windows of their parish church's grotto broken and several statues damaged on the morning of May 12.

"It follows a clear pattern of anti-Christian" incidents this state has witnessed since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party government came to power, said Father Adolf Washington, the Bangalore archdiocesan spokesperson.

Father Washington said Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore has spoken to Bishop Dereck Fernandes of Karwar, whose diocese covers the attacked parish, regarding the Church's response. He said the parish priest has already filed a police complaint.

Media reports quoted police officials saying that they suspected several Hindu activists of being involved in the attack.

Reports said Honnavar has experienced some tension after Hindus mounted a public protest against a Christian man marrying a Hindu woman in the town.

Police said investigations have begun and the vandals would be arrested soon. They added that security has been beefed up in all religious places in the town.

Source: Suspected Hindu extremists attack Church in Karnataka (UCAN)
 
   
   
  Mother Teresa's centenary plans finalized
  CATHOLICS in Kolkata, where Blessed Teresa based her life and work, are taking a series of initiatives to observe her birth centenary and pray specially for her speedy canonization.

Celebrations will take place between 17 August and 13 September. The most important event will be the novena for the canonization of the Blessed, which will be recited in every parish in the diocese during the centennial period, AsiaNews reported.

Blessed Teresa, popularly called Mother Teresa was born August 26, 1910. She founded the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata (in 1950 to work for the the poor, sick, orphaned, and dying, while guiding the Missionaries of Charity's expansion, first throughout India and then in other countries. She died on Sept. 5, 1997, at the age of 87.

The Catholic Association is organizing the centenary events in cooperation with the Archdiocese of Kolkata and the Missionaries of Charity congregation which the world renowned nun founded some six decades ago.

On 26 August, Cardinal Telesphore Toppo will celebrate Mass in the MC motherhouse. On the same day, a film festival and an exhibit of paintings dedicated to the life of the Blessed will open.

A symposium on her life is also in the work. Navin Chawla and Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, postulator of her canonization will speak at the event.

The archdiocese has proclaimed her death anniversary on Sept. 5, her birth in heaven, a day of celebration. The program will end with a Mass in the courtyard of Saint Francis Xavier College.

The organizing committee includes Archbishop Lucas Sirkar of Culcutta, Mother Prema, superior of the Missionaries of Charity, her senior council members, three Jesuits, three Salesians and few diocesan priests and ten lay people.

India: Kolkata celebrating Mother Teresa’s centennial (AsiaNews/Spero News)
 
   
   
  Gujaratis slam Hindu party's police protest
  AHMEDABAD, MAY 13 (UCAN) -- Christian leaders in Gujarat have spoken out against protests by a right-wing Hindu party against a federal investigation into the alleged killing of two Muslims by state police.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) launched a nation-wide protest on May 12 against what it called the "misuse" of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) by the federal government.

The BJP "leaders are unable to see what is right and what is wrong," said Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash, who runs a human rights center in Ahmedabad, the commercial capital of this western Indian state.

The federal agency is investigating the November 2005 death of Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife Kausar Bi while in police custody.

The investigation has already seen the arrest of 19 policemen including a senior officer accused of killing Sheikh. The CBI is continuing the probe under a Jan. 12, 2010 Supreme Court order to investigate all aspects of the case, including the possibility of a larger conspiracy.

The BJP, which rules Gujarat, initiated the protest after investigators on April 28 arrested a senior police official, who has reportedly close links to a minister.

The BJP leaders "through their agitation are trying to justify the killings of Sheikh and his wife" but all are equal under the law and justice should take its course," Father Prakash said.

Father Stanny Jebamalai, who works among tribal people, said it is extremely ridiculous that a ruling party is protesting against a probe into policemen, who indulged in "killing just for their own fun."

Father Xavier Manjooran of the Rajpipla Social Service Society said the protest aimed to "exert pressure" to halt investigations and "to prevent the truth being revealed."

The protest shows BJP hypocrisy about "implementing the rule of law," he said.
 
   
   
  Forget people's needs at your peril, priest warns
  BHOPAL, MAY 12 (UCAN) -- Indian churches may become as deserted as those in the West if Christian leaders fail to attend to the spiritual needs of people, says a priest who returned from a leadership program in the United States.

Father Anand Muttungal of Bhopal archdiocese in central India says Christian leaders should spend more time on people's social and spiritual needs rather than on institutions.

Father Muttungal, also the spokesperson of the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh state, was speaking to journalists May 12 after his return from a three-week long US government-initiated leadership exchange program.

The priest was among three Indians in the program that ended May 7.

The Church in India should focus on serving people by "joining in their joys and sorrows" and not only on Church institutions, he said.

He told UCA News that many churches in the US are deserted.

The "non-participation" of the Church in the lives of people has "dented the image of the Church."

"People gradually moved away. And they are practicing the faith in their own way," he said.

He added that this phenomenon could also "creep into our system," although the Church in India has a remarkable presence in social work, education and health care and is helping millions of Indians.

He said there is a danger of priests and nuns getting so involved in their institutions that they have little time to interact with people.

The focus on people and spirituality will also help the Church in India withstand the extremist attacks it now faces, he said. "Unless we develop a strong spiritual base, we cannot confront such attacks."

The priest said the leadership exchange program helped him better analyze and understand the needs of the Church in India. It made him realize that "strong spirituality is the basis of a strong Church."
 
   
   
  Priest accused of church-demolition plans
  KOCHI, MAY 12 (UCAN) -- A row over a historic church in Kerala has worsened with a Catholic accusing the parish priest of conspiring to demolish a church the layman's family built 151 years ago.

Priests of St. Raphael Church in Ezhupunna in Ernakulam-Angamaly diocese have denied the allegation saying the members of the Parayil Tharakan family are on a "misinformation" campaign to protect their interests.

Avira Tharakan, a senior member of the family, told UCA News May 11 the priests have abandoned the church and neglected its maintenance so that it is now in danger of collapse. "They are now conspiring to demolish the church" to build a new one, he said.
The parish stopped using the building some 20 months ago after parts of its ceiling fell. Some parishioners want a new building, assistant priest Father Stenny Kunnekkadan told UCA News.

Parish priest Father Basil Punchaputhssery is in hospital after Tharakan's younger brother Thomas allegedly beat him on May 6 during a heated argument on the upkeep of the building. The incident led some parishioners to block a national highway, forcing police to post armed guards there.

Tharakan said the attack and the tension were "fabricated" and part of "a conspiracy" to help the parish demolish the building his family built in 1859.

Father Kunnekkadan rejects the allegation, saying the parish priest was still in hospital.

He said that during the six-year long row, the parish has given an undertaking to the archeological department and to the court to protect the church.

He added that the church is too small to accommodate parishioners and is dangerous especially during rainy seasons. "We are only seeking to pray in a safe building," he said.

The parish has begun preparations for a new church near the old one.
 
   
   
  Pope issues his most direct words to date on abuse
  By RACHEL DONADIO
www.nytimes.com

LISBON -- In his most direct condemnation of the sexual abuse crisis that has swept the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday said that the "sins inside the church" posed the greatest threat to the church, adding that "forgiveness does not substitute justice."

"The attacks on the pope and the church come not only from outside the church, but the suffering of the church comes from inside the church, from sin that exists inside the church," Benedict told reporters aboard his plane en route to Portugal, speaking about the abuse crisis.

"This we have always known, but today we see it in a really terrifying way, that the greatest persecution of the church does not come from the enemies outside but is born from the sin in the church," he added. "The church has a profound need to relearn penance, to accept purification, to learn on the one hand forgiveness but also the necessity of justice. And forgiveness does not substitute justice."

In placing the blame for sex abuse directly on the church, Benedict appeared to distance himself from other church officials who in recent weeks have criticized the news media for reporting on the sex abuse crisis, which they called attacks on the church.

In recent months, the sex abuse crisis has revealed an ancient institution wrestling with modernity and has brought to light an internal culture clash between traditionalists who have valued protecting priests and bishops above all else, and others who seek more transparency.

The crisis has also raised questions about how Benedict handled sex abuse as prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and as bishop in Munich in 1980 when a pedophile priest was moved to his diocese for treatment.

A traditionalist but also a strong voice within the church calling for purification, Benedict met privately with victims of sex abuse on a brief trip to Malta last month, his third such meeting. In March, he issued a strong letter to Irish Catholics reeling from reports of systemic sex abuse in Catholic institutions. And last week the Vatican took control of the Legionaries of Christ, a powerful religious order whose founder was founded to have abused seminarians and fathered several children.

But the pope's off-the-cuff remarks on Tuesday were his most direct since the crisis hit the church in Europe earlier this year.

On the plane, Benedict told reporters that the church had to relearn "conversion, prayer, penance."

The pope landed in Lisbon on Tuesday for a four-day trip to Portugal aimed at underscoring several themes of his papacy: the threat posed by secularism in Europe, the dialectic between faith and reason and the role of ethics in economics.

Portugal has been hit hard by the financial crisis, and markets are jittery about its prospects of getting its debt and deficit under control. En route to Lisbon, Benedict told reporters that the financial crisis and the threat to the euro were an opportunity to reintroduce a "moral dimension" to economics, a theme he raised in his encyclical "Caritas in Veritate," which appeared last year.

"The events of the last two or three years have demonstrated that the ethical dimension must enter into economic activity," Benedict said. "Now is the time to see that ethics is not something external but internal to economic rationality and pragmatism."

In Portugal, Benedict is also expected to underscore the church’s stance on social issues. A largely Catholic country, Portugal legalized abortion in 2008, and its Parliament, which has a Socialist majority, approved a same-sex marriage bill earlier this year, which the president has not yet signed into law.

On the plane, Benedict said that Portugal, with its Catholic roots, post-colonial heritage and multicultural present, represented a place where faith and secularism were not mutually exclusive. Later on Tuesday, Benedict was expected to celebrate an open-air Mass in Lisbon.

On Wednesday, he is expected to travel to the pilgrim shrine of Fátima on the tenth anniversary of the beatification of two of the three shepherd children who say they saw a vision of the Virgin Mary there in 1917. John Paul II credited the Virgin of Fátima with saving him from an assassination attempt in 1981 on the anniversary of the apparition.

Tradition has it that the Virgin revealed three secrets to the Portuguese peasants, which the Vatican acknowledged in 1930. The first was a vision of hell, which some interpreted to predict the end of World War I and the start of World War II. The second told of the rise and fall of Communism and included an appeal for the conversion of Russia, which gave Fátima an anti-Communist allure during the cold war.

In 2000, Benedict, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, oversaw the Vatican's revealing the famous third secret of Fátima after years in which its mystique had developed a feverish cult status for some Catholics.

Disclosing the secret in 2000, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, then the Vatican secretary of state and now the dean of the College of Cardinals, said that the third vision was of a "bishop clothed in white," the pope, who makes his way through a field of martyrs, which the Vatican interpreted as prefiguring the assassination attempt on John Paul by the Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca.

In his comments on Tuesday on the sex abuse crisis, Benedict said that the message of the Madonna of Fátima could be extended not only to the "suffering" of John Paul, and therefore of popes, but also to the suffering of the entire Catholic Church.

Presenting the third secret in 2000, the future pope said the images of Fátima were not to be taken literally, but rather "synthesize and compress against a single background facts which extend through time." He added then that the apparitions at Fátima had a central message: "Penance, penance, penance."
 
   
   
  Steps to promote quality silkworm production underway in J&K
  From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, MAY 11 -- To harness the silkworm seed potential in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the government is contemplating a series of measures to produce disease-free silkworm seeds locally.

This was decided at a high-level meeting chaired by Minister of Agriculture, Ghulam Hassan Mir, on Monday. He said the state has great potential to produce world-class silkworm seed.

The minister directed the director, sericulture, Dr. M.A. Khan, to submit a comprehensive project report for modernization of these grainages so that necessary action could be taken to upgrade its infrastructure on modern lines to boost this sector. The director was asked to provide specialized training to the staff at Bangalore.

Stressing the need for greater coordination among the stakeholders, the minister asked scientists of Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology - Kashmir (SKAUST-K), director, sericulture, and director, Centre Silk Board to work with greater coordination to achieve the desired targets.

Mir said that these efforts would certainly boost quality seed production in the state and assured them that the government would provide every assistance to revive this industry. He said that government is committed to bring back the past glory of silk industry for which it was known across the globe. He added that steps are being taken in this direction by the department.

Referring to the deliberation with Union Minister of Textiles, the minister said that they are very much proactive for up-gradation of the organization. "It is our responsibility to work in this direction", said the minister.

The minister appreciated the efforts of the department for looking after the interests of the industry during the two-decade long conflict in the state and asked them to work with dedication and zeal to expand its area of network across the state.
 
   
   
  Scott Rush circumcised in "secret" in Bali prison
  ONE of the Bali Nine death row prisoners, Scott Rush, has been circumcised in a secret jail ceremony in Bali and has told authorities he is learning about Islam, the Herald Sun reports.

The Sydney Morning Herald said Rush, a Catholic, replied "No comment" to questions whether he had converted to Islam. The report said he has been given the name Suleiman and has been spending a lot of time in the past two weeks with a small group of Muslim prisoners.

Rush's parents are staunchly religious Catholics, said the Herald Sun.

Authorities at Kerobokan Jail confirmed that Rush had undergone a circumcision on Friday in the jail's Muslim prayer area, the report added.

The jail's head of education and rehabilitation, Anang, said that Rush had told him he was still learning about Islam.

"His answers were complicated," Anang said about his discussion with Rush, whom he has told to provide him with more answers today.

And the jail's doctor, Agung Hartawan, who was only aware of the circumcision on the weekend, said luckily it was a good job and not bleeding too much.

Dr Hartawan said he had asked Rush if he converted to Islam and that he said: "I want to learn Islam".

Rush is one of three members of the Bali Nine on death row for their role in the heroin trafficking gang. He is due to lodge his final appeal very soon.
(Courtesy: www.cathnews.com)
 
   
   
  Feelings mixed over using caste in census
  NEW DELHI, MAY 11 (UCAN) -- Some Christian leaders in India have welcomed a government decision to include caste in the national census, saying it will help poor people enjoy state benefits.

The federal government began the once-in-10-years exercise April 1. Billed as the world's largest census, it aims to list the income, employment and educational details of some 1.2 billion Indians.

On May 7, the last day of parliament's Budget Session, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee proposed incorporating castes in the ongoing census and obtained agreement from all political parties.

"We welcome the decision. It is important to have the actual number of people belonging to a particular caste in an area," said Father Babu Joseph, spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India.

The census, first conducted in 1881, collected caste data until 1931. This data collection was dropped because of plans to outlaw caste discrimination, reports said.

"Caste divides society and it is not desirable for a modern and democratic society," Father Joseph said, adding that since caste remains a social reality, it is important to have the "actual picture of people belonging to a particular caste."

However, such data should be used for "our long term aim of removing caste" from society, he said.

Catholic lay leader John Dayal said enumerating the caste and economic status of Christians and Muslims will help show how dalit (former "untouchables") suffer social and economic poverty.

Government benefits meant for these people are denied to dalit Christians and Muslims on the grounds that their religions do not practice the caste system.

Dayal said the census will show "the full strength of those kept out of the development process" and will help allocate more resources for deprived communities, especially for their women and youth.

Christian leaders say some Christians of dalit origin officially list themselves as Hindus as they fear that revealing their religion would make them ineligible for statutory benefits their families now enjoy.

Dayal, a member of the National Integration Council, said people hide their religious identities because of fear. If their "rights are granted, as demanded, they will never hide their identity, he said.
 
   
   
  Malayasia: Police warn against politicizing 'Allah' issue
  KUALA LUMPUR, MAY 11 (UCAN) -- The outcome of a by-election in Sarawak is being closely watched after a court fixed a date to hear an application by an Evangelical church of its constitutional right to use the word "Allah."

The Sarawak-based Evangelical Church of Borneo asserts that it has the right to use the Arabic word for "God" in its religious publications and practices.

The high court has fixed June 24 as the date on which to hear the case.

Now, eyes are on the outcome of a by-election in the state as more than 50 percent of the voters of the Sibu parliamentary seat are Christians.

The seat fell vacant when the ruling government's Member of Parliament died, prompting a by-election which will be held on May 16. The seat is being contested by the National Front's Sarawak United People's Party (SUPP), which is fielding Robert Lau Hui Yew. The opposition Democratic Action Party's (DAP) candidate is Wong Ho Leng.

The DAP has latched on the Allah issue, urging Christians to vote for the party to show their displeasure over the government's ban on non-Muslims using the word "Allah" in print.

Police then immediately banned all political parties from bringing up the issue, vowing to take action under the Sedition Act or the Internal Security Act which allow for detention without trial for up to two years.

'A sensitive issue'

"This is a sensitive issue and we advise all parties to stop using it once and for all," Huzir Mohammed, Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police for Sarawak said at a press conference.

Dismissing the issue, the chief minister of the state, Abdul Taib Mahmud told a May 8 press conference, "Christians have been using the term for the last 100 years, so why should it be an issue?"

SUPP's Robert Lau told the Malaysian Insider that national issues such as the ban on the use of the word Allah should not be used as an election issue, adding that the election campaign should only highlight local issues.

This earned him a stinging rebuke from DAP's national vice chairman, Chong Chieng Jen.

In a media statement, Chong said that a Member of Parliament "has to be concerned with the nation's political and economic development in order to defend the welfare and constitutional rights of the people."

However, Lau told the Malaysian Insider that "religion is divinity, politics is humanity."

He added, "Religion is a personal relationship between yourself and God, let us not politicize that."
 
   
   
  Hindus join thousands grieving for German nun
  PATTUVAM, MAY 11 (UCAN) -- Some 20,000 people, hundreds of them Hindus, joined the funeral services of a German missioner nun, who worked for orphans in Kerala, southern India.

Sister Willigard Kultz, known as the "mother of orphans," was buried May 9 in Kannur district. The 79-year-old nun died of cancer.

"Truly she was the mother of orphans. She dramatically changed the lives of poor people around her," said Father Devassy Earathara, vicar general of Kannur diocese.

Sister Kultz once headed her Deena Sevan Sabha (servants of the poor) congregation, based in the diocese's Pattuvam parish.

Bishop Varghese Chakkalakal of Kannur led the funeral ceremonies. The nun's body, following her last wish, was buried in a cemetery where hundreds of orphan children are buried.

"She was amma [mother] to everybody," Sita Koyileri, a Hindu woman, who lives near the convent, where the late nun stayed for 13 years, told UCA News. "She was full of love and compassion. She loved us like her own children."

Sister Kultz managed the congregation after its founder Mother Petra's death in 1975, according to Sister Barthalomia, the late nun's companion.

Sister Barthalomia told UCA News that the late nun was born May 26, 1931, in Germany, where she joined a Franciscan convent in 1952, aiming to be a missioner in Africa. While serving as a nurse in a hospital in Germany, she met Mother Petra, which led her to join the Kerala-based congregation in 1975.

She was instrumental in starting several homes for orphans, the elderly, people with leprosy, and mentally and physically disabled people.

Jose Thankappan, who left his Hindu faith to became a Catholic, said "everyone here" sought the nun's "advice, prayers, consolation and help. She made tremendous contributions toward building the Church in Kannur along with other great missioners. We owe them greatly."

As an expression of love, groups of people raised banners and boards on public roads bidding her farewell.

"We loved her so much because she cared for us so much," said Sunil Mekkat, driver of a three-wheeled auto-rickshaw.
 
   
   
  Court easing of quotas helps Church schools
  JABALPUR, MAY 10 (UCAN) -- Church leaders in Madhya Pradesh have hailed a state court asking religious minority-run institutions to allow other students to take places reserved previously for minority students.

"This is a move in the right direction. It will have a far reaching impact on the functioning of the minority professional education institutes in the state in the future," said Bishop Gerald Almeida of Jabalpur.

A state education policy reserved 50 per cent of seats in a minority-run professional institution to students from that community.

In states such as Madhya Pradesh, where Christians form less than one per cent of the population, this would mean several Christian institutions operating with little over half of its capacity.

The Madhya Pradesh High Court on May 6 asked the state to change the regulation and said that if seats are vacant in the "minority" category they should be offered to students on the wait list from the "general" category.

The court order came after Victoria College, a Muslim-minority institution, challenged the state government's policy of not allowing other students to take up the vacant minority seats.

Bishop Almeida said the order would widen the scope of Church institutions to give maximum benefit to Christians as well as other sections of society.

He said the state's education policy discouraged Christians from registering themselves as minority institutions as they would then be forced to manage them with half empty seats.

Christians can now "fearlessly register" their professional educational institutions as minority institutions, he said.

The order will help the Church admit poor students to the vacant reserved quota of seats, Church officials said.

The order would help us "do a great job in providing higher professional education," said Father Valan Arsu, vice-principal of the Church-run St. Aloysius College.
 
   
   
  School suspends principal over headscarf row
 
KOCHI, MAY 10 (UCAN) -- A school managed by a Protestant Church in Kerala state, southern India, has suspended its principal after she dismissed a Muslim girl for wearing a headscarf to school.

Mary Jessinta, principal of the coeducational Believers' Church English Medium School in Alappuzha district, was suspended May 7 for issuing a compulsory transfer certificate to a 10th-grade student, Nazeer Nebala, Church secretary Reverend Williams told UCA News.

The Church acted following protests from Muslims in the district. The principal issued the certificate April 26 on the grounds that the school does not allow headscarves.

Muslim organizations then continued their protests demanding the dismissal of the principal. They say Jessinta should not be allowed to work in any school the church runs.

P.M. Nazeer, the expelled student's father, told UCA News that his daughter was discriminated against because she was a Muslim. He said it is a rights violation and a crime. "If the management fails to dismiss the principal, I will file a criminal complaint against her," he said.

Although the school promised to take back the student, her father refused the offer. "I don't want to send her to the same school. I will find another school. I fear that the environment is harmful," he said.

He said his daughter was not allowed to participate in cultural competitions when she rejected the principal's order not to wear her headscarf.

However, the church has denied the allegations. "When we came to know about the incident, we conducted an inquiry and suspended the principal pending further investigations," Reverend Williams told UCA News.

He said the church runs several schools across the state and none of them discriminate against students because of their faith. "Several students wear the headscarf in our institutions," he said.

District collector P. Venugopal, the highest government official here, told UCA News that the principal's action "had no justification."

Venugopal, who initiated a talk between the two parties, said the school management realized their mistake and promised not to repeat it.

Meanwhile, reports said the state education department initiated moves to de-list the school for discriminating against students on religious grounds.
 
   
   
  Accused priests angry at legal limbo
  SOMEWHERE in the Vatican, there is a thick file with Fr James Selvaraj's name on it. It's been there since 2006.

A native of southern India, Selvaraj was a guest priest in New Jersey when he was accused of endangering the welfare of a child in late 2005. Shortly thereafter, he was removed from ministry.

Within three months, a grand jury declined to indict the priest, citing insufficient evidence. New Jersey's attorney general expunged the charge from Selvaraj's record.

But more than four years after secular authorities exonerated Selvaraj, the local bishop and the Vatican have refused to restore his salary, priestly duties, or -- most importantly, Selvaraj says -- his reputation.

"I am really angry, really furious," said Selvaraj, a slight 50-year-old with a friendly demeanour. "This is what happens to an innocent priest?"

The Catholic church has been castigated in recent months for moving slowly to remove abusers from the priesthood.

Pope Benedict XVI himself, while he was a cardinal in charge of a Vatican office that handled abusive clergy, stalled for years before moving to defrock serial child molesters in the US, according to documents recently made public.

But the Vatican moves just as slowly, if not slower, to return innocent clergy to ministry, according to priests and canon lawyers. Meanwhile, priests like Selvaraj live for years in a state of limbo, evicted from parishes and rectories, prohibited from presenting himself as a priest or administering sacraments, and branded all but guilty in the public eye.

As many as 300 American priests claim innocence and are waiting for the Vatican to restore them to duty, according to Fr. Michael Sullivan, a Minnesota priest and member of Justice for Priests and Deacons, an independent group of canon lawyers who defend Catholic clergy. (Courtesy: www.cathnews.com)

FULL STORY Accused Catholic priests left in legal limbo (NCR Online)
 
   
   
  Evangelist murdered in Bihar
  A LEADER of a Christian evangelist sect says he does not blame anyone for the murder of a companion in Bihar.

"My only prayer now is that the Lord may forgive those who killed Ravi Murmu and that they may confess their sins," Yunus Mandal, who heads the Bethel Assembly in Jamalpur town, told UCA News on May 7.

Murmu's mutilated body was found at a deserted area in Jamalpur on May 2 and police are yet to charge anyone with the crime.

Mandal said he would not blame anyone for the murder because "I am a Christian."

He said Murmu, 28, had gone with 10 other Church members to Laxmanpur, a nearby town, to show "Dayasagar" (ocean of mercy), a film on Jesus. This was part of a gospel outreach program, Mandal explained.

He said Murmu was the last person to leave Laxmanpur on his motorcycle. Next morning, his body was found with hands cut into two and neck severed.

However, his personal belongings were untouched.

Murmu was given "a Christian burial" on May 3, Mandal added. Murmu is survived by his wife and 8-year-old daughter.

R. K. Singh, who heads a smaller faction of the sect, told UCA News on May 7 that their Church had split three years ago because of personal problems between him and Mandal. The two groups have no rivalry, but do not do worship together or maintain contacts, he added.

Set up in 1978, the Bethel Assembly is a local unit of the Brethren Assembly in India. Jamalpur has 18 Bethel Assembly families.

Source: Evangelist murdered in eastern India (UCAN)
 
   
   
  Jacobite priest accused of murdering Christian
  THE feud between two factions of a Kerala-based Orthodox Church took a new turn after the Central Bureau of Investigation charged a priest the prime accused in the murder of an office-bearer of a rival church faction.

Father Varghese Thekkekara of a Jacobite Syrian Church in Ernakulam is accused of conspiring to murder T. M .Varghese alias Malankara Varghese, a timber merchant in 2002.

The member of Malankara Orthodox Church's managing committee was hacked to death by a gang in a public road near Perumbavoor.

Though the murder was initially described as a result of business rivalry, his relatives suspected involvement of a rival Church faction.

The case became intense on Sunday with Varghese's widow announcing her decision to seek CBI help to unravel the conspiracy saying "higher ups" in the Church may be involved in her husband's murder.

"I am considering approaching the court to request the CBI to thoroughly probe the case because this cannot be just a conspiracy of one priest," Saramma Varghese, wife of Malankara Orthodox Church priest Malankara Varghese found dead in December 2002, told a TV channel here.

"This (murder) could not have taken place without the help of higher ups, may be even a bishop. So far, we are happy with the CBI probe but we want the entire conspiracy to come out," she said.

Thekekara, manager of the Angamali diocese of the Syrian Jacobite church, was Friday named the first accused in the murder. The priest is absconding.

A five-year probe by the state police's crime branch yielded nothing conclusive till CBI took over the probe in September 2007.
Breakthrough came last month, when the CBI arrested Joy Varghese who confessed to have hired criminals to commit the murder for a large sum of money.

The century-old feud between the two churches has always been a bother for successive governments in the state and on several occasions, rivalry between the followers have ended in brawls.

Incidentally, the two churches have the support of the top Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) politicians.
While leader of opposition Oommen Chandy belongs to the Orthodox faction, UDF convenor P.P. Thankachen and Kerala Congress (Jacob) chief T.M. Jacob belong to the Jacobite faction.

Source: Bigger conspiracy in killing, says murdered priest's widow (IANS/thaindian.com)
 
   
   
  PC's charm, alarm: News-Analysis by Raja Jaikrishan
  AFTER prescribing a two-pronged cure of development and security for the Maoist upsurge, Home Minster P. Chidambaram used his lawyer's wit and flourish to answer questions of JNU students late Wednesday.

Dressed in blue shirt and khaki trousers, he sounded earnest in solving the problem leading to trouble in the country's heart. If Naxals abjured violence, "Give me 72 hours and I will tell you (Naxals) the time and venue for talks. Be it security, development, government structure and MoUs on mining, everything can be discussed. I will ask the Prime Minister to suspend all MoUs related to mining till the talks go on", he said.

While he was speaking at the function organized by the Congress student wing NSUI, a section of the students protested outside the auditorium. He asked a plainclothes policewoman not to push Vibha, an Economics PhD scholar. He took her questions and invited her over tea for further discussion on Anil Aggarwal's Vedanta.

Next day, the students and others concerned over the violence felt cheated on learning about his ministry's statement warning sympathizers of the Maoists /Naxalites of action under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. The overnight bar on inquiry and dialogue into the causes underlying Maoist/Naxalite programmes shows the split between lawyer and minister in Mr Chidambaram.

Civil society groups and individuals have reacted sharply to the Home Ministry's statement.

Suhas Chakma, director, Asian Centre for Human Rights, said on the one hand the home minister takes support of the DMK and allies, some of whom are known supporters of the LTTE (a banned organization in India)and on the other he holds out threats to civil society.

Harsh Dobhal, editor, Combat Law, said: "How do you define sympathy (for Maoists)? The government in its own report says deprivation is the main cause of Naxalism. The civil society groups sympathize with the concerns of poor, they care for such people (as do the ultras). Basically, it is a witch-hunt by the government. In the name of fighting terror, the government can catch people and put them in jail and say that they are Maoists sympathizers."

Mahipal Singh, secretary, People's Union for Civil Liberties, said: Holding a political view and political ideology was no crime, even if it was the Maoist ideology. "If someone holds a gun and shoots people like the Maoists do that is a crime and the state can take action."

He also criticized the MHA's reference to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in taking punitive action against those collaborating with the Maoists. He said it was precisely for this reason that the PUCL was opposed to the draconian law. "Collaboration is a matter of interpretation. Collaboration as in helping the activities that are illegal, like supplying arms and ammunition and giving shelter to armed people, can be punishable but not sharing a meal or sheltering someone without being aware of that person's illegal activities."

PUDR activist Gautam Navlakha said: "Instead of exploring more sensible and imaginative policies to deal with the Maoists and the tribals who live in the same zones where huge mining deals have been signed, the government is taking recourse to authoritarian and dictatorial measures".

Delhi University Prof. G.N. Saibaba, said the MHA directive directly violated the right to freedom of expression.
 
   
   
  For this mother, it is a perennial search for her son
  From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, MAY 8 -- As the world observes Mothers' day on Sunday, Bhakti Begum along with her family resides in border district Kupwara amidst fear and pain. This mothers' day too will pass like any other normal day with no hope of relief.

Bhakti's son, Manzoor Ahmad Wani, has been missing for the last eight years. She faces a grave threat to her life.

A resident of Tragpora-Rafiabad, Bhaktis' son went missing on December 22, 2001.

Recollecting the incident, Bhakti says that she together with her son accompanied her daughter-in-law to hospital as she was unwell. The bus they were traveling was allegedly stopped by two Special Operation Groups (SOG) personnel locally known as ikhwanis.

She further alleged that they were told that Major Bhattacharya is looking for Wani. "He was beaten and taken inside the nearby camp. We were asked to leave. When I resisted, they hit me with an empty wine bottle on my left arm and I received 16 stitches. Blood was oozing out of my wound, as I waited there for a long time pleading with them to release my son."

She added, "the next morning I took my neighbour along but that, too, did not work. Later, one of the SOG personnel approached us. I offered him 'kehwaa' (tea) and pleaded with him to return my son.

He threatened me with dire consequences, if I approached the court.

After a couple of days, Bhakti lodged a First Information Report (FIR number 126/2002 U/S 346 Ranbir Penal Code). "A local youth had filed an FIR on my behalf. Qayoom showed me a photograph of my son while sitting next to army personnel in a camp."

She added "this gave me hope that he is around and I tried all my best to trace him, but they were all in vain."

Wani lived with his father-in-law (ghar jamayee) after his marriage. "The marriage had been performed just a few days before the incident occurred," she said. His eight-year-old son, Ovais Manzoor now lives with his grandparents. His wife has remarried.

Bhakti fought the case for four years in the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC). An amount of Rs 2,50,000 and a job under SRO-43 was sanctioned in her favour. But the job was never actually offered to them.

The family has been threatened, time and again. Finally, security (three SPOs) was provided to them.

Despite security cover the family is being harassed. "On January 16 and March 8 this year our family was attacked and when one of the security personnel posted at our home retaliated, he was transferred the next day."

Threat to life and fear is evident in all the members of family. They live in a three-room house that is in a bad condition. "We went in financial crisis after his disappearance as there is threat to our lives and we aren't able to earn a decent living due to that fear," says Manzoor's brother.

The family lives in constant fear and Manzoor's brother sold the bus that was the main source of income for the family. "I could no longer afford it as it was running in loss. But we will keep up the fight to find the whereabouts of our brother."

The family mostly depends on the offerings and donations that devotees offer to the nearby shrine.

They are being continuously harassed by the SOGs whom they allege to be involved in making their son disappear. Bhakti joined the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), three years back. She demands the arrest of the persons who threaten the family. She has also been to Geneva together with Parveena Ahangar, president APDP, as part of their struggle to make their stories known at the international level.
 
   
   
  New atheism corrodes culture, says the other Hitchens
  By Ed West
Courtesy: Catholic Herald

Peter Hitchens: 'Look at any British bookshelf and look for the religious books ­ and they're not there'

At the age of 15 Peter Hitchens burned his Bible, leaving the Holy Book a "disagreeable, half-charred mess" and the teenager with a sense of anti-climax. It was his "year zero", and he went on to develop, throughout his late teens and 20s, the typical "enlightened English person's scorn for faith", a feeling he characterises by Virginia Woolf's words upon hearing that T S Eliot had become a Christian: "He may be called dead to us from this day forward."

Christianity was one of the "nursery myths" that the progressive post-war generation had put behind them as they built a glorious new future and overturned the old order.

They were very successful: today the post-war cultural revolution is complete, but Hitchens is its most notable critic. It would be wrong to call him a "born-again Christian", for he's far too English for that. Neither did Hitchens have a Damascene moment as such; rather, in his early 30s he began to feel drawn back, despite the social disapproval. But it was while gazing at Rogier van der Weyden's Last Judgment, a 500-year-old painting that shows in graphic detail the torment of sinners in hell, which he saw while on a cycling holiday in Burgundy, that he realised he was a Christian again.

In fact, Hitchens, a former Left-wing student activist and member of the Labour Party, would become not only a Christian but a leading conservative journalist, writing for the Mail on Sunday and authoring such bestselling books as The Abolition of Britain and A Brief History of Crime.

This is in stark contrast to his brother who is, of course, Christopher Hitchens, author of God is not Great, and co-patriarch of the New Atheists movement, along with Richard Dawkins. There is a soap-opera element to the Hitchens brothers that almost detracts from the writing of either, so I only mention this oft-mentioned feud because it is vital to the story of this book. They were always argumentative as boys, so much so that their poor father had to make them sign a peace treaty when Christopher was 11 and Peter nine. The brothers fell out as adults and barely spoke for decades, but are now on good terms. As Peter says: "I am 58. He is 60. We do not necessarily have time for another brothers' war."

They even exchanged manuscripts two months ago, Christopher sending his memoirs, Hitch-22, Peter his new book The Rage Against God.

The book came about directly after the brothers took part in a public debate on religion, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Peter was having lunch the next day -- "I love Middle American cities so I stuck around" -- and the publishers asked him to write it.

Peter has suffered slightly because, despite being pro-American, he opposed the Iraq war; while Christopher, the cultural revolutionary Leftist, has perversely become popular with many on the American Right as a result of his support for the invasion. Christopher supported the invasion on the Left-wing principle that liberal democracy could be spread by force; Peter opposed it on the pragmatic conservative grounds that it would be a bloodbath with little prospect of a democratic Iraq. Most people in Britain might agree that the younger Hitchens was right, but it has not helped his cause in the United States, where the man he calls "Anthony Blair" is still extremely popular.

"It"s not a work of apologetics," he makes clear. "I'm not a theologian, I'm not even particularly well-versed. The only way I can argue is autobiographically, and it is the most difficult to write of all the books I've done."

He recounts his upbringing, the son of a naval officer, in a rather gloomy country beginning its decline after the Second World War. Throughout the book he argues, with great calmness and filial love, against his brother's belief that "religion poisons everything". He's not trying to save his brother's soul, as such, as he knows such an appeal would only fill Christopher with contempt.

His book is beautifully honest and thought-provoking, and perhaps, as always with Hitchens, finest when describing the former Soviet Union, a place he witnessed as a Moscow correspondent during the 1980s when it was in a sense at its worst, no longer even held together by fear. He recalls a grim world where children were raised by the state and where men would drink themselves into a stupor in grim, dirty dives, sitting in silence while they drowned out the nightmare of Bolshevism. The ideology had destroyed all sense of social obligation, so much so that people actually felt threatened when he merely showed the smallest politeness in opening a door.

The West greeted Boris Yeltsin's triumph in August 1991 with euphoria, yet even two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian society has not recovered. The population is rapidly shrinking as abortion kills the young and drink the middle-aged; its social solidarity is in tatters, with the super-rich showing off their grotesque wealth and leaving the poor to rot. Some churches have been restored but they are empty, and the sad truth is that, once official atheism has mocked and persecuted Christianity out of existence, there is no way back. The Bolsheviks' mission of creating a godless society has worked -- with appalling consequences.

One realises, on reading Hitchens's book, how strongly the New Atheism movement mirrors that of the Bolsheviks a century before, including their assertion that teaching religion is "child abuse". "Of course," he says: "It's Bolshevism for the Home Counties."

And while Communism failed economically, culturally it has succeeded, even more so in the West, the subject of his last book, The Broken Compass.

Marxism has only truly taken root in the past couple of decades because, as Antonio Gramsci understood, Communism would never work in civilised Christian Europe, where the churches held sway over people's hearts and minds. Now "the whole of Europe is a wasteland as far as Christianity is concerned". No wonder that the new establishment hates Christianity so much, and does all it can to undermine it. The abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, although horrific, he says, have been used as an excuse to attack that grand institution.

I ask him whether, being a morally conservative Christian, his natural home is the Catholic Church. He's horrified by the idea. "I'm English in a very fundamental way. I can recite Tennyson's 'The Revenge: A Ballad of the Fleet'," he says. Protestantism is "in my entire make-up", he adds. He's not even opposed to the ordination of women: "For me, was never about men versus women, it was always about the way it was done."

If Hitchens's diagnosis is correct, and we are heading towards some sort of Marxist cultural suicide, what is the cure? Can conservatives, who lost the culture war, win a cultural insurgency, especially with a de-Christianised generation who have been raised by Fabians to recite post-1968 mantras about equality, diversity and sexuality?

"You start with the generation which has gone through the divorce culture and saw what happened," he says. "Social and moral conservatism largely exists among people who used to vote Labour. There are still a majority of people who would prefer social and moral conservatism, national independence, rigour in education, punishment for criminals."

The clock, as he's fond of telling his opponents, can easily be put back.

"Go to Warsaw and see how it was rebuilt after the War, stone by stone. They rebuilt their city as an act of cultural resistance."

"It can be done. All over East Germany new grammar schools arose when the wall fell. Putting the clock back is probably the wrong way of looking at it. Maybe say you go back to where you took the wrong turning. The crucial moment is the First World War, where everything went wrong."

Even so, it will take some time. "The 19th century moralisation was the fruit of the Wesleyan movement. If we began the moralisation now it might be our great-grandchildren who benefit.

"Easy divorce, the European project, the welfare state as currently constituted, they have all failed. All it requires doing is getting rid of those Fabians whose task it is to accommodate the Conservative party to what the Left has done."

The Conservative Party is, for him, the main obstacle. Hitchens actually has two books out at the moment. The second, The Cameron Delusion, is a reissue of The Broken Compass, with an added chapter about the Conservative Party.

He does not dislike Cameron -- he thinks he's a nice person who doesn't believe in anything. He genuinely does not like Gordon Brown, and the feeling is apparently mutual, "but the vindictive personal attacks on him are absurd. No one can be that bad."

His next book will be about his travels abroad, with the working title of Short Breaks in Mordor. Fans seem to like it best when he's in dark, unpleasant places, although he also enjoys these trips. "The idea of spending three weeks on a beach is pretty close to hell on wheels."

So will his brother have a deathbed conversion? "No," he replies, but: "When I go into bookshops they're crammed with the works of Dawkins raging away at those stupid people who believe in God. The shelves groan with them. Look at any British bookshelf and look for the religious books ­ and they're not there. Who are these people arguing with?

"Who is Dawkins's main opponent? Himself. Who is my brother's main opponent? Himself. The fact that he is interested suggests to me he is at least open to the possibility."

The Rage Against God: Why Faith is the Foundation of Civilisation is published by Continuum, priced £16.99
 
   
   
  Parish tense after priest beaten in church row
  KOCHI, MAY 7 (UCAN) -- A parish in Kerala, southern India, is tense after a Catholic layman beat a priest, putting him in hospital, in a row over maintenance of the church.

Parishioners blocked a national highway on May 6 demanding action against the priest's attacker. Police have deployed armed guards in Ezhupunna, a village in Alleppey district.

Father Basil Punchaputhssery, parish priest of Ezhupunna's St. Raphael Church, was admitted to hospital in Kochi, the state's commercial capital.

The parish belongs to Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese.

A police official told UCA News on May 7 that they have registered a case against two parishioners for attacking the priest.

According to the police, Lalan Tharakan and his son Thomas wanted the priest to cut a tree growing atop the church building. The son beat the priest after a heated argument.

The church, built by the Tharakan family in 1859, was closed 20 months ago after it was found to be in a dilapidated condition. Now, Mass is conducted in a nearby makeshift tent.

The Tharakan family had earlier filed a petition in court against constructing a new church. The court is yet to decide on the matter.

Father Paul Thelakat, the archdiocesan spokesperson, described the incident as "unfortunate and of criminal nature." He told UCA News May 7 that most parishioners want to rebuild the church.

The parish priest says the father-son duo attacked him unprovoked when he explained to them that the tree could not be cut since the Archeological Survey of India which is looking after the church had banned its renovation.

Thomas told UCA News he only intervened when the priest tried to push his father out of the room. "The parish priest abused my father and me," he added.

He also pointed out the priest and his assistant are living in the "unsafe" building.
 
   
   
  Faithful rally to call for end of Maoist strike
  KATHMANDU, MAY 7 (UCAN) -- Christians and those from other faiths have conducted special prayers and a peace rally to counter the nationwide Maoist-called general strike that is set to enter its second week.

Representatives of the Inter-Religious Council Nepal staged the peace rally May 7 at the centrally located Bir Hospital in Kathmandu. Organizers had appealed to Maoists not to prevent people from attending the rally.

Father Silas Bogati, acting parish priest of Assumption Church, who walked five kilometers to the rally told UCA News, "The Maoists attacked the rally and there is stone throwing going on right now." In other parts of Kathmandu, Maoist supporters with sticks also attacked and injured people returning home from the hour-long rally.

Maoists, using loudspeakers, said they acted aggressively after those taking part in the peace rally chanted slogans denouncing Maoist leaders and youths.

Speaking at the rally, Buddhist monk Bhikku Tapassi Dhamma, president of Nepal Charumati Buddhist Mission, said, "All religions should do something to incite real nationalism among young people in Nepal as they are being misguided by politics."

Leaders of various faiths -- especially the Jain and Bahai representatives -- expressed concern at Maoists forcibly occupying their places of worship to use as lodgings in Kathmandu.

Pastor Kali Bahadur Rokkaya, who is also a member of the National Human Rights Commission, called for timely action by religious leaders to help solve the current crisis.

Damodar Gautam, president of the Nepal wing of the Hindu Federation and Nazrul Hussein, president of the Nepal Muslim Society expressed concern at the ongoing skirmishes between youths supporting Hinduism and Maoist supporters in the southern towns of Birgunj, Bhairahawa and Biratnagar. Police fired tear gas and imposed a curfew May 6 to quell clashes as men, described as Hindu vigilantes, attacked Maoist protesters while they constructed podiums and eateries.

At the end of the rally, the interreligious leaders issued a press release saying "citizens are shivering in fear" over the prospect of a civil war.

The interreligious leaders have also tried to broker a peace deal between top political leaders -- Maoist party chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Congress party acting president Sushil Koirala and United Marxist Leninist leader Jhala Nath Khanal.

A day earlier, on May 6, Christians issued a joint statement on behalf of the National Council of Churches Nepal, National Churches Federation Nepal and the Catholic Church of Nepal stating their deep concern and urging political parties for a timely solution.

Life in Kathmandu and most of the country has come to a standstill with schools, banks and businesses closed, and street traffic almost non-existent since the start of the general strike on May 2.

Tension continues to simmer in Kathmandu where merchants are resisting the shutdown enforced by Maoist supporters. Nepal is losing 3 billion rupees (US $40 million) daily due to the strike.

However, daily Mass continues to be held in the morning in a "private" way at Assumption Church for the very few parishioners who walk there.

The Maoists have a list of demands, including the resignation of the prime minister. The Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) is demanding that the ruling coalition be replaced by a new Maoist-led national unity government.
 
   
   
  Kashmiri doctor tops in civil services exam
  From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, MAY 6 -- A Kashmiri doctor has topped the prestigious Indian civil services examinations, 2009, in his maiden attempt.

Shah Faesal (27), a resident of border district Kupwara and a medical graduate from Government Medical College (GMC), Srinagar, topped the list of 875 candidates declared successful for three-tier civil services examinations today.

The news of his achievement was received with great jubilation in Faesal's native village Sogam in Lolab valley, 120 kms from here.

Faesal's mother, Mubeena Akther, a teacher in government school, ensured that her three children were able to continue their education after their father Ghulam Rasool Shah, also a teacher, was killed by militants in Kupwara in 2001. After this tragedy, the family shifted to uptown city area, here.

Born in 1983, Faesal did his schooling till 10th standard in a village government school. Later, he topped MBBS examination from Jhelum Valley Medical College, here, where he also served as an intern.

He moved to Jamia Milia Islamia, Delhi's third university, for coaching after passing the preliminary civil service examination. "It is a dream come true and a proud moment for my family. My father was a great inspiration. He was a great teacher," said Faesal.

According to Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), a total of 4,09,110 candidates applied for civil services examination in 2009. As many as 1,93,091 candidates appeared for the preliminary examination and 12,026 candidates qualified for the main examination. From that 2432 were short-listed for personality test conducted in March and April.

Out of the total of 875 candidates, 680 male and 195 female have been recommended for appointment to the prestigious Indian Administrative Service, Indian Foreign Service, Indian Police Service and other central services, as reported by Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). The top 25 candidates comprise 15 males and 10 females, it said.

Prakash Rajpurohit, B.Tech from Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, has bagged the second position while Iva Sahay from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) has secured the third position. Sahay is the topper among female candidates.
 
   
   
  Church hails curbs on truth drug grillings
  THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, MAY 6 (UCAN) — A Church official in Kerala has welcomed the Supreme Court banning crime investigators using drugs to interrogate suspects without their consent.

Church activists had deplored such investigation in 2008 when police used narco-analysis on two priests and a nun accused of murdering a nun.

The court on May 5 ruled that narco-analysis, polygraph and brain mapping without consent are "unwarranted intrusion into the personal liberty of the accused" and that such methods are unconstitutional.

The constitution says none should be compelled to witness against oneself and protects an individual's choice to be silent and that drug-induced tests violates this principle. The ruling came following a batch of petitions to the court. The Church was not party to the petitions.

However, the ruling has "upheld human values and saved the innocent," said Father Paul Thelakat, spokesperson of the Syro-Malabar Church.

India's top investigation agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation, arrested Fathers Thomas Kottoor, 63, Jose Poothrukayil, 58, and Sister Sephi, 48, in 2008 on the basis of a narco-analysis test.

The investigation said the three admitted to murdering Sister Abhaya inside a convent in Kerala more than 18 years ago. They were later released on bail.

Father Thelakat said most civilized nations consider narco-analysis unscientific and unlawful. He said most often the suspects are made to "mutter unclear syllables from semi-conscious situation" and investigators interpret these in their favor.

Narco-analysis involves the intravenous administration of a seductive drug to speak without inhibition.

He said the Church is "relieved" that this "inhuman method" would not be accepted anymore in courts.

The Church has always said the suspects in the Sister Abhaya case are innocent. When the investigation failed to reach a conclusion, "it resorted to injecting dangerous chemicals" into the accused, he said.

Father Poothrukayil told UCA News on May 6 that the CBI conducted the test on him without his consent. "The court ruling will stop the character assassination of people falsely framed in the case," he said.

Right activists such as Retired Justice K.T. Thomas said using drugs without consent amounts to third degree measures. It also creates health issues and therefore is a rights violation, he said.
 
   
   
  Church leaders deny forcing minister out
  THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, MAY 6 (UCAN) -- Church leaders in Kerala have denied that they had forced a Catholic minister to quit the state's Marxist-led coalition government.

Two factions of the Kerala Congress, a regional party with a strong Christian-base and led by two Catholic politicians, in early May decided to merge.

The faction led by P.J. Joseph was with the Marxist-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) for the past 25 years whereas the other faction led by K.M. Mani belonged to the United Democratic Front.

Some Joseph loyalists, who opposed the merger, and a Marxist leader alleged some Catholic bishops in the state had played an active role in bringing the two factions together.

Pinarayi Vijayan, general secretary of the Marxist party's state unit, asked the Church leaders to stop engineering political mergers and restrict their activities to religious affairs.

"Many Church leaders stooped down to become power brokers. It's not fair on their part," Vijayan told UCA News on May 6. The Marxist leader said he would oppose religious leaders "meddling in politics for their selfish goals."

However, Father Paul Thelakat, spokesperson of the Syro-Malabar Church, told UCA News the Church had no role in the merger. "It may be true some bishops might have advised the leaders for unity as the Church used to do earlier also," he said.

According to him, Church leaders in Kerala do not consider the Kerala Congress as a Christian party.

Joseph said he quit the LDF because of its anti-minority educational policies. The Church leaders in the state had opposed the government attempts to interfere with their educational institutions and introduce atheism through school textbooks.
 
   
   
  Asia's biggest statue of Christ unveiled in Arunachal Pradesh
  Staff Correspondent

DIBRUGARH, May 5 -- Asia's biggest statue of Jesus Christ was unveiled in Miao in Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh along with the opening of the first Cathedral in the State on Sunday.

The biggest statue of Jesus Christ in Asia, as claimed by Bishop P K George of Miao was unveiled by State's Finance Minister Setong Sena. The white coloured mighty fibre statue made in Kolkata is over 12 metres in height. The statue stands in front of the Cathedral located on a picturesque hill top in the Upper Colony area of Miao.

The religious dedication ceremony of the Cathedral was led by Cardinal Telesphore P Toppo.

Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati, Archbishop Domnic Jala of Shillong, Bishop Joseph Aind of Dibrugarh, local Bishop P K George, Bishop Victor Lyngdoh of Nongstoin took part in the ceremony, besides 60 other priests.

During the ceremony, the newly erected two-storeyed Cathedral was blessed by Cardinal Toppo.

About twelve thousand people from different parts of Arunachal Pradesh, besides Christians from the neighbouring States thronged to take part in the opening ceremony. (Courtesy: The Assam Tribune)
 
   
   
  SHG helps tackle poverty in Kashmir village
  From Afsana Bhat

INDERKOTE-SUMBAL, MAY 5 -- To strengthen women living below the poverty line (BPL) in Bandipora and Baramulla districts, self-help groups have initiated income-generating activities.

Karvaan-e-Zanab Self Help Group (SHG) in Inderkote-Sumbal, 35 kilometres from the city-centre, is one such example. To fight poverty, members of this SHG, under the aegis of the Indo Global Social Service Society (IGSSS) and funded by the European Union and Welthungerhilfe (WHH), opened a provision store in the village. This is one of two groups in district Bandipora that has received no grant, loan or subsidy from the government.

As the nearest shop was a kilometre away, the SHG, which was formed five years ago, decided to open one. Of the total 13 group members, nine opted to work in the store; the rest reared sheep.

Soon, the group divided the proceeds among its nine members, and the shop was handed over to the treasurer, Hadeesa, and another member, Fatima. They worked jointly, until Hadeesa withdrew to set up her own micro dairy unit a few months ago.

The members discuss everything before taking any decision. This has instilled in the women a sense of collectiveness. The group initially faced severe criticism, as people said they were wasting their time. Today, women yearn to join them.

The villagers now consider Karvaan-e-Zanab Self Help Group as the backbone of their village. Eight of the group's members are engaged in individual income generation programmes (IGP). They offer loans to members as well as non-members. Group members are charged interest of three per cent, while non-members pay double.

The group has also been involved in social work. They recently offered an interest-free loan of Rs 5,000 to a needy person in the village. They also offered a loan of Rs 15,000 to a local contractor.

Hareefa, one of the members, took a health loan for one of her relatives. Basharat availed it for house construction; Mariyama took it to help her brother set up a medicine shop and Khateeja Bano took a loan to help her son find a job.

The group is entirely dependent on personal contributions. Each member puts in between Rs 10 to Rs 100 every month. The group received assistance of Rs 3,500 from IGSSS after a year of their formation.

"On December 2, 2005 we submitted a file to the Municipal Committee seeking financial support. A year and a half later, when nothing happened, we asked them to return our file. We then approached the Deputy Commissioner of Bandipora, who put our case before the Assistant Project Officer and the DRDO. We were then told that as the village was categorised as an urban area, we couldn't avail of any loan," the group members said.

However, they were later asked for certain documents, including unemployment certificates and below poverty line and income certificates. "As only one SHG could get financial assistance, the two groups in the village merged into one. We are now waiting for the assistance."

Ali Mohammad, senior local organizer, said an audit showed that the SHG has saved Rs 60,000 without any grant or loan. "Since the group has not received any monetary help from the government, no other SHG has come about in the village."
 
   
   
  Indian bishops' code on sex abuse expected in June
  THE Indian bishops' guidelines to deal with priests abusing children would be ready next month, a Church official has said.

"We have already prepared a draft. We hope to finalize it by the end of June," Father Babu Joseph, spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) told UCA News on May 3.

The draft was the main topic when the CBCI Standing Committee, the apex body of the conference, met for their biannual meeting in Bangalore.

The April 25-28 meeting prepared the draft code that suggests reporting of sex abuse to police and defrocking those found guilty.

Father Joseph said the program was a "routine meeting" of the CBCI that took up matters of administration and policies, including the draft code.

The Divine Word priest says the draft code addresses all forms of child abuse such as child marriage, child labor, discrimination of the girl child.

"We have prepared a comprehensive policy on child abuse," he said, adding the guidelines focus on "wholesome safety of children in and outside our institutions."

The CBCI move came as cases of alleged child sexual abuse against Indian Catholic priests abroad had come to light in the recent past.

"While the general consensus at the conference was to report any suspected case of child sex abuse to the police, measures like defrocking and expulsion will be thought of only if the accused is convicted by a court," Father Joseph explained.

Father Joseph said the policy also includes provisions for reform and rehabilitation of those found guilty of sex abuse. He said the policy will be finalized in India, while a copy of the draft will be sent to the Vatican for information.

Source: Indian bishops' code on sex abuse expected in June (UCAN)
 
   
   
  Ecumenical agency provides essential medicines to rural poor
  CHENNAI, MAY 5 (UCAN) -- A Christian pharmaceutical venture has earned the goodwill of health-care workers in India for producing low cost essential medicines for the past 22 years.

"Our vision is to manufacture essential drugs of high quality at low cost and make them available at affordable prices to the poor," Moses Manohar, director of the Comprehensive Medical Services India (CMSI), told UCA News.

Such a mission, he added, has great significance since private pharmaceutical firms produce and sell such medicines at exorbitant prices in India.

He claimed that the CMSI strives not to compromise on quality and that the raw materials and finished products go through high degrees of quality control tests.

The CMSI factory near Chennai in southern India produces 60 medicines the World Health Organization and the Indian government have classified as essential.

Produced in strips, blisters, multi-packs, sachets and bottles, the Christian firm distributes the medicines mostly through a network of more than 2,000 hospitals managed by Buddhists, Christians, Hindus and Muslims in various parts of the country.

Even government and private health-care institutions distribute the CMSI medicines, Manohar said.

Manohar, who also directs the Chennai-based Inter-Church Service Association, said their target group is "the poor who cannot afford expensive medicines."

The association started the pharmaceutical firm in 1988 as a public charitable trust in response to exorbitant medicine prices and the prevalence of fake medicines in the market, he explained.

J. Monlan, a Buddhist monk and a CMSI customer, wants the Christian firm to produce more essential medicines to help the rural poor.

While G.M. Jeyabalan, a doctor working in a leprosy hospital, finds the CMSI medicines affordable and effective, A.S. Samraj, a hospital administrator, is happy with the Christian firm's "prompt" supply of medicines.

A 14-member board of director oversees the work of the CMSI, which is part of the Nairobi-based Ecumenical Pharmaceutical Network, comprising Christian health associations and hospitals, non-profit medicine supply organizations and ecumenical agencies from 31 countries.
 
   
   
  Church merger aims to help Indian Christians
  NEW DELHI, MAY 5 (UCAN) -- A historic merger of Reformed Churches scheduled for next month in the United States will help unite major non-Catholic churches in India, says the official leading the merger.

The World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) and Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC) will merge in June in Michigan to form the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC).

WARC general secretary Reverend Setri Nyomi, who was in India last week for the biennial meeting of the Presbyterian Church in India, told UCA News that the merger constitutes "a refreshing attempt to reverse fragmentation" within the Church.

Six Indian churches -- the Church of South India, Church of North India, Presbyterian Church of India, Evangelical Church of Maraland, The Church of Christ and Reformed Presbyterian Church in North East India -- will be a part of the alliance.

The WARC includes congregational, Presbyterian, Reformed and United Churches. Reverend Nyomi, who hails from Ghana, is the first non-European to head the alliance and has done so since 2000.

Reverend Nyomi said the merger will showcase global-level Christian unity. It will also strengthen the unity of Churches in India, he said.

Moreover, the Presbyterian Church of India is a member of both the merging organizations. Instead of belonging to two, it will now belong to the one merged new alliance.

The WCRC would be "the one voice of the united churches" against "any evil" in the world, he said.

The alliance would be helpful to its partners in India because "in a communion, when one suffers, the other also suffers." If Indian Christians suffer, it should affect Christians in other parts of the world, he said.

"The Churches in India should be able to say that we are not alone. We have brothers and sisters in other parts of the world," the Presbyterian theologian said.

He said the alliance will make Christianity easy for outsiders to understand. "The union represents unity in diversity, which is a healthy sign," he said during a lecture in New Delhi.

"Christ prayed that his followers be one and we take that prayer very seriously," he said adding the decision to merge was taken in 2006 when the two groups concluded the need to go beyond collaboration.
 
   
   
  Probe demand as Hindu 'link' hinted in blasts
  HYDERABAD, MAY 5 (UCAN) -- A Church official has joined Muslim groups to demand a fresh probe after India's top investigation agency hinted at Hindu hardliner involvement in bomb blasts in Hyderabad and Ajmer.

Police had arrested and tortured several Muslim youths in connection with the blasts that occurred in the two cities five months apart in 2007.

On May 3, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) confirmed that the two attacks were linked.

This revelation came a week after the Anti Terrorism Squad arrested two people allegedly linked to Hindu groups in connection with the Oct. 12, 2007 blasts at Ajmer, a Muslim pilgrim center in northwestern Rajasthan state.

The bomb explosions in Hyderabad, capital of the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, occurred five months previously.

CBI director Ashwini Kumar told The Indian Express on May 3 that his agency has found links between the two attacks as those responsible had used similar mobile phone timer devices for the bombs and the same identity for obtaining cell phone cards.

The links were confirmed after police questioned the two suspects.

"There have always been Hindu terror groups operating in Hyderabad," says Father Antoniraj Thumma, executive secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Federation of Churches, an ecumenical forum.

The Catholic priest told UCA News on May 5 that Hindu hardliners were involved in stoking sectarian hatred when Hyderabad recently experienced violent unrest.

"However, when it comes to arresting troublemakers, police always pick up Muslim youths just to show that the cases are progressing," Father Thumma alleged.

On May 3, Muslim religious groups in Hyderabad demanded the CBI conduct a fresh probe into the 2007 bomb blasts in the city.

Akharuddin Owaisi, leader of a Muslim group, said the arrests of the two Hindus were only the "tip of the iceberg." He alleged that Hindu extremist organizations have a "national network that is out to destroy" the very fabric of India's secularism.

Ahmed Mustafa, program officer of the Confederation of Voluntary Associations, says that nobody accused Hindu hardliners for these "terrorist attacks" although there were indications to this effect.

"Terrorists do not have any particular religion. They can come from any religion," the Muslim social worker told UCA News.

He claimed no investigation team can conclusively prove involvement of a particular group in terrorism.

"Pointing fingers at other religions and blaming them for terrorism will not help end this menace," he added.
 
   
   
  Noah's Ark 'discovery' team may have been hoaxed
  A former member of the archaeological team that claims to have discovered Noah's Ark on Turkey's Mt Ararat says the team may have been hoaxed.

A Chinese-Turkish team from Noah's Ark Ministries International held a press conference April 25 in Hong Kong to present their findings and say they were "99 percent sure" that pieces of wood found at above 12,000-feet elevation and dated as 4,800 years old were from the biblical Noah's ark, the Christian Science Monitor reports.

Dr Randall Price, who is director of the Center for Judaic Studies at the conservative Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., was the archaeologist on the Chinese-led team in 2008 when this alleged discovery was first made. He says he has "difficulties with a number of issues related to the evidence at hand."

Price declined to elaborate.

However, a leaked email from Price -- which he confirms that he wrote -- shows that he has reason to believe that a group of local Kurdish men trucked wood up to the mountain and staged an elaborate hoax for the Chinese team.

A group of Kurdish workers "are said to have planted large wood beams taken from an old structure in the Black Sea area at the Mt Ararat site... During the summer of 2009 more wood was planted inside a cave at the site.

"The Chinese team went in the late summer of 2009 (I was there at the time and knew about the hoax) and was shown the cave with the wood and made their film," Price writes in the email.
 
   
   
  Education law raises minority rights concern
  NEW DELHI, MAY 4 (UCAN) -- The Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) is concerned about certain sections in a new law that seeks free and compulsory education for children up to the age of 14.

"We appreciate the (federal) government's efforts to spread universal education for all by passing the Right to Education Act. But some sections in it violate the constitutional rights of minority communities," Bishop Joshua Mar Ignathios of Mavelikara, chairperson of the CBCI commission for education, told a press conference in New Delhi on May 3.

The law, which states that no child should be held back, expelled or required to pass a board examination until the completion of elementary education, came into force in India in April.

With it, India became one of 135 countries to make education a fundamental right of every child.

Bishop Ignathios says sections 21 and 22 of the act take away the minority groups' right to administer their educational institutions.

The Indian Constitution allows religious and linguistic minorities the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.

However, the new law suggests imposing a government-appointed committee on schools apart from its management board.

"We don't see any rationale in the government appointing another management committee on schools," Bishop Ignathios said. If applied, the sections will turn many good institutions into government institutions, the prelate warned.

Bishop Ignathios said the Church is holding talks with the federal government in a bid to amend the two sections.

"We are approaching the government through lobbying and discussions. We will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other concerned ministers," he added.

Bishop Ignathios also said that if the government does not amend the sections, the Church will approach the court.
 
   
   
  Mission congress a boost for tribal Catholics
  INDORE, MAY 4 (UCAN) -- Tribal Catholics in a central Indian diocese say a mission congress has helped strengthen their faith in a hostile environment.

"The Prabhu Yesu Mahotsav (grand festival of Lord Jesus) has made us proud to be Christian," Kishore Khadia, a tribal Catholic told UCA News on May 3, a day after attending Jhabua diocese's mission congress.

Khadia said the program "really invigorated our faith in Jesus Christ and emboldened us to face problems that still stare at us." Christians in Jhabua had faced several incidents of sectarian violence in the past, especially after the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian people's party) came to power seven years ago, he pointed out.

About 8,500 Christians, mostly Catholics, attended the three-day program held at the Catholic Church compound in Thandla, a major parish in the tribal-dominated diocese in Madhya Pradesh state.

Bishop Devprasad Ganawa of Jhabua told UCA News that the mission congress aimed to deepen people's faith as well as educate them about their rights and duties in spreading Christ's message. Bishop Ganawa, the diocese's first local prelate, said the program gave people an opportunity to witness their faith in public amid threats and intimidation.

Father Raju Mathew, diocesan director of the Proclamation Commission, noted large number of people braved the summer's "scorching heat" to attend the congress. Several people from other faiths also attended, he said.

Vijay Bhuria, another Catholic participant, said the congress gave him "a new spirit" to practice and proclaim his faith fearlessly. "I am not afraid of attacks by anyone."

Philomena Jal, a tribal woman, said she found faith sharing by various people "soul nourishing."

Father P.A. Thomas, the diocesan procurator, said Christianity came to the region more than a century ago. The diocese chose Thandla as the congress venue because it was where the first Catholic parish was set up in 1896.

The diocese is spread over six districts and has approximately 31,000 Catholics. More than 85 percent of the population in these districts is Bhil tribal people.
 
   
   
  Farming should be sustainable, says VC
  From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, MAY 4 -- Emphasising on the need to make farming sustainable and remunerative, Professor Anwar Alam, Vice-Chancellor, Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKUAST-K), said that the initiative would attract youth towards entrepreneurship in agriculture and allied sectors.

The Vice-Chancellor expressed satisfaction at the work being carried out under the National Agricultural Innovation Project (NAIP). He was speaking at the inaugural session of NAIP's three-day (May 3-5) workshop-cum-Consortium Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting on 'Enhancement of Livelihood Security Through Sustainable Farming and Related Farm Enterprises in North-West Himalayas', jointly organised by Viveknanda Parvatiya Anusandhan Sansthan, Almora, and SKUAST-K.

Lauding the varsity's efforts to implement policies and programmes that have been conceived under the project, chief guest Padma Bhushan Chandi Praasad Bhatt said SKUAST-K had achieved envisaged objectives as expressed by farmers. "Farmers feel that the university's technologies are self-sustaining and strengthen their livelihood."

Professor A R Trag, Director Research of the varsity, said an increase of 30-60 per cent in field crops and manifold increase in horticulture crops was reported as a result of the supply of seeds of high-yielding varieties to farmers in three identified clusters in Kupwara.

Dr Farooq Ahmad Mattoo, principal investigator, NAIP project, while explaining activities conducted under the project, said Langate, Tangdhar and Machil in Kupwara district were three clusters covered under the project.

He added that four villages (Walraman, Zagsundri, Chackpuram and Gundchabutra) were adopted in the Langate cluster. "Out of a population of 1095, 360 households were adopted. The area has temperate climate and fruit (apple), which is the main crop here, accounts for 44 per cent of gross cultivation."

Mattoo said 500 households in five villages (Tethwal, Dringla, Gundi, Bathpora and Chitrakote) were adopted in the Tangdhar cluster. He added that four villages -- Machil, Dapal, Punchwari and Chuntwari -- were adopted in Machil. Six self-help groups and nine women groups were formed under the project.

"Under the project, the total land under cultivation is 66,230 hectare," Mattoo said, adding that the project was sanctioned in November 2007, but due to harsh winters, work began only in March 2008.

Information bulletins and pamphlets prepared by Dr Mattoo and Dr V K Kadyal on various aspects of agricultural and animal husbandry practices were also released on the occasion.

Participants from ICAR, NABARD, and consortia comprising eight centres in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand took part in the seminar.
 
   
   
  Kasab found guilty: News Analysis by Raja Jaikrishan
 
PAKISTAN-BORN Ajmal Kasab is guilty, said Special Judge M L Tahaliyani at the Arthur Road Jail special Court in Mumbai today.

"Maine tumko doshi paya hai kyun ki aapne desh ke khilaf jung kiya aur 166 logon ki jan li apne doston se milkar (I hold you guilty of waging war against the nation along with your associates and killing 166 people)," the judge told Kasab.

Wearing white Kurta, Kasab, 22, kept on peering at the high-security courtroom floor. No more giggling or screaming, he betrayed no emotions while hearing the judgment.

The judge said that the absconding accused, including Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba(LeT) commanders Hafeez Sayeed and Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, were involved in the terror attacks.

The court acquitted Faheem Ansari and Sabauddin Ahmed who were accused of helping LeT in plotting the terror attack. They put up a broad smile after being acquitted. Special Prosecutor Ujwal Nikam said: "We will challenge the acquittal".

Ansari and Sabauddin will now have to face trial in Uttar Pradesh for their alleged involvement in the December 31, 2007-January 1, 2008 terrorist strike on the CRPF Group Centre in Rampur. Eight persons, including seven CRPF personnel, were killed in the midnight attack.

Home Minister P.Chidambaram said: "The judgment is a message to Pakistan that they should not export terror to India. If they do and if the terrorists are apprehended, we will be able to bring them to justice and give them exemplary punishment."

Kasab, along with nine slain terrorists also belonging to LeT, was charged with killing 166 people, during the 60-hour-siege of Mumbai.

The iconic Taj and Trident-Oberoi luxury hotels, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) and the Jewish Centre at Nariman House bore the brunt of the devastating attack that began at the popular Leopold Cafe.
 
   
   
  Valley's HIV/AIDS patients lack proper treatment facilities
  From Afsana Bhat

SRINAGAR, MAY 3 -- The absence of Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) centres in the Leh, Ladakh and Poonch districts of Jammu and Kashmir adds to the miseries of people living with HIV/AIDS (Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome) in the state.

"A support system that provides care and treatment to people living with HIV/AIDS is denied in our state," says Amit Sharma, who heads the Jammu and Kashmir Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS. He was speaking at the concluding session of a 'The Exacerbation of Gendered Abuse in Conflict Zones', a state-level consultation and training organised by the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), Kashmir unit, here, from May 1-2.

"Many people are refused ART if they miss the prescribed date to get the medicine. They then have to buy the medicines from the market at a higher price. Hence, several patients have stopped taking the treatment," he said. He added that there were no schemes to rehabilitate widows who had been infected by their husbands.

Explaining about the ART treatment, he said, "When the CD4 count is below 200 or a person is prone to opportunistic infection, ART treatment is recommended."

"In most countries, HIV/AIDS falls under national disabilities legislation, but India has no such Act. A bill has been drafted, but is yet to be tabled in Parliament," says Tariq Ahmad, HRLN representative.

"While Rs 18,000 crore is expected to be spent on the forthcoming Commonwealth Games in India this year, a dialysis machine that costs less than Rs 1 crore is not available to the needy," he rued.

Ahmad added that people living with HIV faced discrimination at many levels -- employment, education, freedom of movement and lack of care and access to treatment. "The right to treatment, right against discrimination and right to privacy and confidentiality are the three major rights that should be guaranteed to those living with HIV."

"There is no cure for HIV; prevention is the only way. We all are at equal risk of the infection," stressed Feroz Khan, another HRLN representative.

He stated that the virus came to India in 1986. "There wasn't much awareness then. HIV positive people don't approach courts, due to the stigma attached to it." He added that such people ought not to be discriminated, their confidentiality maintained and they were to be treated as normal and equally capable individuals. He stated that Jammu and Kashmir had only two ART centres.
 
   
   
  Dalit groups spread the green message
  KOLKATA, MAY 3 (UCAN) -- A Jesuit center here has brought together Dalit cultural groups to spread the message of the need to protect the environment.

A five-day program of the Udayani (awakening) Social Action Forum (USAF) organized three Dalit groups with musical and dramatic performances.

They played in the city's schools, the main prison and St Xavier's College, Kolkata, and in the villages of Sonarpur and Raghabpur.

"If nature is destroyed, agriculture will be destroyed. And, if agriculture is destroyed, our culture will be destroyed, and that will be death of humanity," Manimaran Magizhini, 34, coordinator of the Chennai-based Budhar Kalai Kuzhu (Buddha cultural troupe) said.

His troupe brought "parai" the dalit drums, and performed an hour-long program depicting agricultural activities.

"Dalits are the most authentic people who could spread the message to save nature, because our culture is entirely dependent on natural resources," Magizhini told UCA News.

Two of his troupe members are priests of Chenglepet diocese near Chennai.

Swajan Sanskriti Mancha (own-people cultural forum), based in Baruipur, 40 kilometers south of Kolkata, performed folk songs showing how the earth makes no distinctions of caste, creed or religion.

Another cultural troupe from Matua Dalit community also performed folk and spiritual songs related to nature at a program at St Xavier's College April 30.

Research scholar on Matua community, Birat Bairagya, said the community always begins the farming season with prayers to nature, such as water, earth, and cattle. Their festival songs invite people to care for earth, Bairagya told UCA News.

Udayani director Jesuit Father Probal Gomes said the Dalit cultural exchange program was envisaged as a spiritual awakening among the Dalits, the oppressed groups outside caste system, of the south and north India, and to build bonds between them.
 
   
   
  Christians unite to stop sectarian violence
  INDORE, MAY 3 (UCAN) -- An ecumenical forum in central India plans to launch a movement to unite Christians of all denominations to check increasing attacks on their communities.

A recent spurt in violence against Christians in Madhya Pradesh state signals a major onslaught in the offing, warned Kurishinkal Joshi, president of the Madhya Pradesh Isai Mahasangh (grand assembly of Christians in Madhya Pradesh).

If all Christians do not come forward and fight against the atrocities, "the next Kandhamal will be in our state," Joshi told some 1,500 people at the meeting in Indore, the state's commercial capital, on May 2.

Kandhamal district in Orissa, eastern India, was the epicenter of anti-Christian violence in 2008. More than 90 people died and some 50,000 were made homeless in the violence unleashed by Hindu hardliners.

Joshi said his organization would launch a campaign in parishes of all denominations to unite Christians under one banner.

Bishop Chacko Thottumarickal of Indore, who attended the meeting, agreed a single organization would be "more powerful and effective" in raising a community's voice.

"The strength of the organization depends on the strength of its members," the Divine Word bishop said.

The Catholic prelate urged Christians to jointly face forces that try to suppress them.

"We pray to the same Son of God, we read the same words of Jesus and our aim is the same. Why can't we unite to fight against injustice and violence done to us?" he asked.

Church of North India Bishop Laxman Meda of Bhopal regretted that Christians were split into various groups.

"Unity is the need of the hour," he said.
 
   
   
  Christians attacked and then arrested in Karnataka
  BANGALORE, MAY 3 (UCAN) -- Police have arrested four Christians on charges of making illegal religious conversions in Karnataka, southern India after the group was attacked by radical Hindus.

The four who were arrested on May 1 were part of a 100-member group that was on "a discovery of Karnataka tour" that began on March 29, according to the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC).

The group comprising priests, nuns and youths from St. Francis Xavier Church in Bangalore, the state capital, stopped at the village of Hunsur to meet some local people.

They were attacked by around 30 members of Hindu radical groups who accused them of converting locals to Christianity.

The Church group "bore the brunt of attack and abuse in silence," GCIC president Sajan George said.

Police charged Father Robin Das Paul, the Church group leader, and two other male members who were sent to the Hunsur jail. A woman member was sent to the prison in Mysore, George told UCA News.

Media quoted the police as saying the Church group had distributed pamphlets, books and other materials among villagers and encouraged them to convert to Christianity.

The local police superintendent said the Christians also offered Rs 100,000, besides promising to educate children if the parents converted.

Police have reportedly claimed to have discovered books, CDs and other materials from the Christians. The Church group has denied the charge and said that they were only peacefully spreading the message of Jesus Christ.

The GCIS has expressed concern over the incident and pointed out that it happened in the background of the US Commission for International Religious Freedom placing India on its "watch list" for the second year in succession.

The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian people's party) has ruled the state since May 2009.

The GCIS president says his organization has "irrevocable and clinching evidence" to prove that Christians in Karnataka are living in fear since then.
 
   
   
  A treat for the workers; Sacred Heart celebrates May Day differently
  From A Correspondent

CHANDIGARH, MAY 1 -- Wasteful sarkari ads in the print media and meaningless functions were the highlights of official May Day functions in the city and the region.

However, the local Sacred Heart Convent School, which had of late been in the news for the wrong reasons, was celebrating the occasion with a difference and that too away from the arc-lights of the media.

The School management took about 30 of its manual workers for a lavish lunch (not a buffet) at a posh restaurant in Sector 35.

Appreciably, they were not left alone to have their meals. The principal, Sister Sebastiana, some sisters from the convent and a few organising teachers and students also joined them over the lunch.

Those who witnessed the programme hoped that other people would also learn a bit from this and make at least one day -- May Day -- a memorable one for the hard working labour class.
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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