The Catholic bishops of India have appealed for peace in the northeastern state of Assam, where violent ethnic clashes between predominantly Catholic tribals and Muslim settlers have displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
In a late July statement, Archbishop Albert D’Souza, the secretary general of the Indian bishops’ conference, said the conference is “deeply pained” at the violence and “strongly requests” that the communities involved “explore ways and means of living in love and brotherhood.”
“The Church, while expressing heartfelt condolences to the families of the deceased, assure(s) solidarity with those displaced and suffering due to the clashes,” Archbishop D’Souza said.
Bishop Thomas Pulloppillil of Bongaigaon called for an end to violence in his region, telling Vatican Radio “we should sit together to discuss ways and means to restore peace.”
The Catholic Church and the Diocese of Bongaigaon are seeking to restore peace in cooperation with the state government and like-minded NGOs.
Assam lies between Bangladesh and Bhutan on the southern slopes of the Himalayas.
The violence began with the killings of four young men from the Bodo tribe, Vatican Radio reports. Several Muslims were killed in retaliation, causing violence to spiral.
Many of the Muslim dead are Bengali migrants from Bangladesh or their descendants.
The ethnic clashes have killed at least 53 people and displaced more than 400,000 since July 20, Catholic Relief Services reports. The state government has set up about 278 refugee camps, where health and sanitation needs are a priority in the monsoon season.
Refugees from the Bodo people are in 76 camps while 199 camps are housing the migrant Muslims, the Indian Express reports.
Catholic Relief Services’ partners Caritas India and Bongaigaon Gana Seva Society have responded to refugees’ needs. Bishop Pulloppillil has organized medical teams that have visited 42 camps.
The Catholic agencies’ relief efforts will likely focus on providing medicine and mosquito nets to prevent the spread of malaria.
Bishop Pulloppillil said July 25 that Christian leaders are locating Muslim leaders to engage in dialogue and attempt to find a peaceful resolution to the violence.
“This violence is affecting both communities, the Bodo and Muslim community,” he said. “We are making every effort to facilitate talks between them.