At present, security forces are on high alert in the Indian states of Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh after Maoists called a bandh or general strike yesterday against an offensive launched by the central government in October 2009.
Last Monday, a rebel commando blew a bus killing more than 40 passengers, including civilians and special operations officers. The government has responded by announcing its intention to employ the air force against the People's Liberation Guerrilla Army, the Maoists’ military force. This conflict has been going on for over 40 years and has been particularly negative for the local population caught between Maoist insurgents and landowners who are seizing their land for their own use.
For this reason, the only hope many locals have is vested in the witness of people like Fr Thomas, who gave his life for the poor. “Passion for human dignity guided his ministry,”
Fr Jose said. “He worked ceaselessly to develop a network of night schools around Hazaribag. This gave people an opportunity to share their concerns; a whole range of social issues and needs came to the fore this way. A T became involved in every aspect of people’s lives. He felt himself called to be on the side of the poor, the victims of injustice in whatever form. He sought dialogue and initiated methods to help the poorest of the poor, people like bonded labourers held in the crippling clutches of landlords and money lenders.”
One example that illustrates who Fr Thomas was is that of Azad Nagar (Freedom Town) village, in Hazaribagh district. A group of 25 families from the Bhuyian, a Dalit sub-caste, live there, working in slave-like conditions. With the help of Fr Thomas, they were able to buy their own land and build proper homes, escaping from enslavement. “Fr Thomas was a victim of Maoist violence. However, his death has enriched the Jesuit mission in Hazaribagh district,” Fr Jose said. "Indeed, local Dalits, including the poorest of the poor, can live in dignity and get an education. The assistance provided by the mission has helped them become self-sufficient. “They now can hope in a brighter future for their own children. More importantly, A T Thomas is still loved and cherished by those whom he selflessly served,” the Jesuit clergyman said. Every year in fact, thousands of Dalits and Tribals come from around the district to visit his tomb and the place where he made the ultimate sacrifice“ He lived for the poorest of the poor even facing threats of violence, violence that eventually led to his martyrdom, confirming that he based his mission on Christ Crucified,” said Jesuit Father M K Jose as he spoke about Fr Anchanikal T. Thomas, a fellow Jesuit who was killed on 25 October 1997 as he inquired about why some people were being abused in the village of Sirka (Jharkhand).
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