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In the Midst of Conflict in North East India

Being peacemakers in the midst of tribal tension is one of hundreds of ways in which Medical Mission Sisters and our Associates around the world try to be a healing presence to others today.

Violence along the Meghalaya-Assam Border in North East India sprung up at the end of December and has continued into 2011. The residents of the Garo Hills were blocked in their travels home for the holidays by the Rabha people, who had called for a strike. In early January, the tension escalated and inter-tribal clashes began. Many people were injured or killed, and 50,000 were left homeless.

Homeless families sought refuge in 26 relief camps. Our Sisters in the area explain, “Both groups suffered extensively, and many who returned to their villages were moved to tears on seeing entire homes and villages totally destroyed. Their homes no longer stood, their vegetable gardens were destroyed, and their cattle were taken away. Even barns which stored the rice crop for the whole year had been burned down.”

Sister Anita Sangma was working at the Mendipathar Multipupose Cooperative Society on January 3rd when a big crowd, mostly youth, came running with weapons to attack the Rabhas. “Immediately all the shops were closed and the neighbors, especially women and children, ran to the Cooperative for safety…they prayed the rosary and remained inside…we heard the sounds of shooting, fire engines and ambulances throughout.”

The following day, over 5,000 Rabhas were brought to the Mendipathar College compound, near our Sisters’ house, under police protection. Many were frightened because they were in a Garo area, and escaped into the forest. “This reminded us of the Exodus experience,” our Sisters said.

Sister Bridget Kaniampadickal shares, “In this crisis situation, we were able to support and strengthen both groups by visiting the relief camps, listening to the people’s cry and by our prayer. I also had the responsibility of protecting the Garo students who were with us, since all other community members were away…prayer gave us strength and courage.”

The government is now helping the people to rebuild, and both the government and Church are involved in peace-making activities between the two groups. As Sister Bridget says, “May the Prince of Peace bring peace to all people, hope and light to the brokenhearted, and guide them to build a world where all can live in harmony and love.”

March 15, 2011