Thursday, April 02, 2009

Orissa effect: City Christians demand rights

KOLKATA: Rarely have they been fiercely vocal about their demands or pressed hard for implementation of projects that would benefit them. But the Kandhamal riots changed all that. For the city's fast-shrinking Christian community, the attacks on missionaries in Orissa served as a wake-up call. Shaken by the atrocities and the politicians' "lack of concern" for their security, they have come together to form People for People a platform of like-minded people including Muslims. They have come up with a charter of demands that will be distributed across the city and to candidates in the run up to the polls.
"For the first time, we have come together and raised a few demands. Even though we don't believe that our security is at threat in Kolkata, there is a need to change the way candidates look at us. Issues like our education, employment and security have never been given due importance. We are going to approach parties and candidates with our list of demands. So long, election issues have been dictated by parties. But now we are going to tell them what we need," said Sunil Lucas, general secretary of People for People.
The charter has demanded the withdrawal of all anti-conversion laws and banning of re-conversion. Quick compensation for victims of communal violence and punishment for remarks against communities have also been demanded. Parties have also been asked to ensure security for all communities and implement the Sachar Committee report for uplift of Muslims.
"Our demands are not entirely community-specific. But we have become more conscious of the need to raise our voice after Kandhamal," said Sister Vianny, vice-president of the organization. She pointed out that Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI), too, has come up with a similar manifesto.
To begin with, People for People will distribute their "manifesto" in the form of leaflets. Later, candidates will be approached in their constituencies and asked to address the issues that are relevant in their areas. "It could be sanitation, schools or water supply in some areas and measures against trafficking in others. The problem of child labour, for instance, is a big one in Kolkata and it has never been addressed properly. We will press for it," added Lucas.
Candidates will be called for a panel discussion and asked about their views on the manifesto. "They might find it a little awkward to be asked to address issues. But it's time we made ourselves heard. Minorities have never felt insecure in Bengal but we felt we should speak out for all communities, not just us. We will benefit if the major issues are addressed," said Lucas.

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