José Ignacio García, SJ
We frequently witness violent events, the media bring them to our living rooms or straight to our computers. As these events unfold, we also easily lose memory of when the last car bomb was that we saw on TV, or when the last attack on people leaving a worship place happened, or when the latest assault on women occurred.
What makes the difference between a violent act from another? Is it the number of victims that makes the difference? Probably, but we must recognize that this data is becoming increasingly diffused: a few or several dozen victims seem not to make a significant difference in the media. Is it the intention of the perpetrators? This really is much more complex because in the end, who is behind the violence? Who wins and who really loses?
We know that violent actions are exploited and the prime suspect does not have to be the one ultimately responsible. It is true that the origin of the victims themselves can make a difference, at least in the way media deals with it, because if there are Westerners involved, then it is likely that the event will appear in the first pages, and if the victims are non-Westerners – and if they are local and poor people- then they can be happy if they get a brief notice in local newspapers.
What really makes the difference in situations of violence is to suffer it – or to cause it, obviously. Or, another possibility is if one knows very well any one of the victims. This is the case for us here at Ecojesuit. Last 18 August, Fr. David Solomon, SJ and his companion Fr. Michael Panimegam, SJ, both from Dumka-Raiganj Province, and Sister Sahaya and another member of the Congregation of the Immaculate Conception were attacked, insulted, and beaten by about 150 people in Karon in Jharkhand, India. Fr. Solomon is well known to us as he has been, for three years, the Coordinator of GIAN-Governance of Natural and Mineral Resources. Fr. Solomon works at the Johar Human Resources Development Centre in Karon, Dumka, Jharkhand.
He himself describes what happened: “It was a transforming experience personally for me, though I was badly beaten up with a strong firewood and kicked by shoe-wearing youngsters and an angry young girl. The untimely death of a boy in the hostel 18 days prior to the attack was the excuse for this vandalisaton and violence. The grief and emotions had been taken advantage for the mobilisation of the mob by fundamentalist forces.”
The child staying at the hostel of the Mission run by the Sisters suffered intense pain, rushed to the local hospital, where he unfortunately died. Nuns and priests brought the body to his native village at Chittaranjan in West Bengal. Family and friends were very angry and held the Sisters, although they finally let them go. In order to calm down the situation, a new meeting was arranged at the Mission. The family came with another 150 people. Then violence erupted, nuns and priests were badly beaten, and furniture and facilities of the Mission destroyed. Police did not show up until much later when the situation worsened.
To Fr. Solomon, this is not only a case of anger and distress from a family but one more case of political manipulation of poor people going through a painful moment. As Fr. Solomon explained: “Our aim is to educate the tribal community; there are no Christians over that place and neither do we directly evangelise them.”
Certainly this is not the only case in India as other religious communities, such as Muslims, are also suffering the pressure and violence of fundamentalist forces that are in strong alliance with some political parties. The recent murder of a young Muslim in Kawaal village and the riots that came after is one example of the political interconnections.
Again, this is not a unique experience. All over the world, religion is used for political and economic interests. And as Fr. Solomon says: “The poor are only foot soldiers.” In the middle of this darkness and bitterness, the light of reconciliation is very much needed: “Anyway, it is indeed a frightening experience to the sisters. The police officer has been suspended and I have taken the help of some politicians and toured the places meeting some leaders. Hopefully the situation will come to normal. Pray for us.”
There is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” violence, as there is no “more” or “less” innocent victims. Our friend David Solomon, his companion, and the sisters have not suffered more than many other people in India or elsewhere, because of fundamentalism and political manipulation.
But the difference, small but meaningful to us, is that they are our friends and we know them. We have shared efforts and energy promoting a better governance of natural resources, precisely in favour of the most deprived people. We want to express today our solidarity with David Solomon and companions, and through them, to all the victims of violence in India.