Current Issue
September, 2019
Volume 45, Number 3
7 June 2019
Anto Akkara, Catholic News Service

A widow stands amid the rubble of her destroyed home in Mudulisahi, India, on 22 May 2019, in the aftermath of Cyclone Fani. (photo: CNS/Anto Akkara)

Sabi Swati, stood on the ruins of her brick house, which had been ravaged by powerful cyclone Fani in early May, asking, “What will I do?”

“I am awaiting support to repair my house. I cannot stay in the palm-shed I am living in now when the monsoon comes (in mid-June),” Swati told Catholic News Service.

Nearby, Catholic Relief Service workers conducted a survey of damaged properties and the needs of hundreds of people who were evacuated from the remote village in Odisha state and returned home to find massive destruction.

Swati was not alone in her bewilderment. Dozens of people continued to wonder about their future a month after the storm as aid relief agencies worked to distribute emergency assistance and hygiene supplies.

Nearly all of the 120-plus houses in Mudulisahi suffered extensive damage from the storm that packed winds of 160 miles per hour when it walloped coastal and inland areas of eastern Odisha state on 3 May. Authorities said 70 people died and more than 500,000 families were affected by the cyclone.

Rows of roofless and severely damaged houses surrounded by stumps of headless and twisted coconut trees bear witness to Fani’s devastation throughout the region. Even a concrete roof in the village of Purushottam Ballabha, where CRS had distributed relief supplies, had sustained severe damage.

Because of timely and precise forecasts, the government was able to evacuate nearly 1.5 million people to inland communities ahead of the storm, Bhishnupada Sethi, special relief commissioner of Odisha, said, acknowledging that the swift action likely saved dozens if not hundreds of lives.

Sethi said the storm caused more than $1.7 billion in damage as assessments continued at the end of May.

“Over two lakh (US$200,000) families have been severely affected with their roofs blown away,” Sethi told CNS on 3 June.

“Along with restoring electricity and other amenities, our immediate target is to reach assistance to these families before the monsoon breaks in (mid-June),” Sethi said.

“We are reaching relief and cash assistance to over 100,000 families. Many (international) relief organizations are carrying out making meaningful relief and rehabilitation work. The government is working in coordination with them,” he added.

In Benpanjuri village, Caritas India workers met Sapura Bibi, whose home was roofless with the sun blazing into its interior. Bibi posed the same question heard countless times since the storm: “How can I live in this house?”

“Luckily, I had taken shelter with my children in the (government) cyclone shelter. Prone to cyclones frequently due to its curved coastline in the Bat of Bengal, Odisha has built thousands of cyclone shelters,” she said.

Anjan Bag, technical manager for humanitarian response with Caritas India, said the evacuation saved lives because Fani was more powerful and destructive than a super cyclone in 1999 that left more than 10,000 dead.

“The country realized the massive devastation only later. When I rushed to Odisha, there was neither electricity nor water. We had to sleep in the open under mosquito nets to coordinate the relief work,” Bag told CNS 6 June.

As of 3 June, Caritas India had distributed emergency shelter material to 5,537 households in 88 villages in addition to food supplies to more than 1,000 families, he said.

While the Caritas network has already donated nearly $255,000, Bag said, several other agencies have come forward to support a planned housing rehabilitation program. Homeowners will be trained in home reconstruction as well as small-business development.

Tags: India

1 February 2018
Anto Akkara, Catholic News Service

Cardinal Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, major archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, speaks during a 1 February news conference in Bangalore, India. Cardinal Thottunkal, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, called for upholding constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion in response to a government official’s push to separate people because of their faith. (photo: CNS/Anto Akkara)

The president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India called for upholding constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion in response to a government official’s push to separate people because of their faith.

“The country is facing different challenges, like making sure the constitution is really kept (observed) in the life of the citizens. Constitutional guarantees should not be blocked from any corner,” said Cardinal Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, major archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.

Speaking during a news conference on 1 February ahead of the biennial assembly of the bishops’ conference, Cardinal Thottunkal said Dalit Christians were being denied the same rights as Hindus and other Dalits.

“Religion should not be used to deny equal rights,” he added.

Dalit means “trampled upon” or “broken open” in Sanskrit and denotes people formerly known as untouchables in India’s multitiered caste system. The government introduced free education and a quota in government jobs for Hindu Dalits in 1956 to improve their social status. While the same statutory rights were later extended to Buddhist and Sikh Dalits, the demand for equal rights for Christian Dalits has been rejected by successive governments.

“People in responsible positions should not sideline the sacredness of the constitution,” Cardinal Thottunkal said when asked about a federal official who urged that the constitution be amended to have people identify by religion.

Cardinal Thottunkal also cited a pre-Christmas attack on Catholic carol singers in the Diocese of Satna and threats against a Catholic college in Vidisha in the Diocese of Sagar as examples of violations of the constitution's freedom of religion principles.

Similarly, he criticized earlier controversial decisions of the Modi government to observe Good Governance Day on Christmas and Digital India Day on Good Friday 2017.

“Any other date could have been fixed to launch such programs,” the cardinal said. “Why should you hurt the feelings of a community?”

18 July 2017
Anto Akkara, Catholic News Service

In this image from 2016, stray cows sit in the middle of the road in Bangalore, India. This past Sunday, the Catholic church in India criticized growing intolerance and mob violence targeting religious minorities over cow protection. (photo: CNS/Jagadeesh Nv, EPA)

The Catholic church in India criticized growing intolerance and mob violence targeting religious minorities over cow protection.

“The vast majority of the people of India of all communities (have) been shocked at the lynching in various states on the pretext of protecting cows,” said a statement issued by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India after a 16 July meeting in New Delhi. About 40 religious leaders — Christians along with Baha’i, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh — attended the meeting.

The statement asked the government “to end (the) impunity ... at the root of the atmosphere of fear that stalks the land today.”

Some Hindus worship the cow as a goddess and oppose slaughter of cows, with some states even running care centers for cows.

The bishops’ statement said lynchings over cows threatened “the constitution and the democratic fabric of the country.”

In a June report, The Times of India said that since 2014, when the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party came to power, vigilantes had killed at least 32 Muslims. It said that in most of these attacks, the premise had been allegations of cow slaughter, smuggling, eating or even possessing beef.

Mobs have killed meat and cattle traders in the name of protecting the sacred cow.

“We are going through difficult times. What we see on the TV (lynching) is frightening,” Auxiliary Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas of Ranchi, secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, told Catholic News Service 18 July.

“Hatred is being spread, and attempts are being made to divide the people. We want to create harmony by bringing people of all faiths together,” he said.

The statement urged religious leaders “to assert the inherent unity of the people (to) restore public confidence and remove the mutual growing suspicion.”

At the end of the assembly of the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council 8 June, Archbishop Maria Soosa Pakiam of Trivandrum criticized the federal government’s move to curb cattle trade in states like Kerala, where beef eating has no cultural inhibition, even among majority Hindus.

“We will never accept a dictum on what we should eat or do,” Archbishop Soosa Pakiam said.