India: The shaken earth of Gujarat

On January 26 a violent earthquake in the north-western Indian state of Gujarat caused up to 100,000 deaths and enormous destruction. UNICEF estimates 2.5 million children have been affected. Young Jesuit students volunteering in the hardest-hit area spent their days ?visiting villages to attend to the victims and consoling the afflicted.? Now the priorities include restoring water and electricity, disposing of the bodies and preventing epidemics, and reopening the schools. The sheer weight of physical and human need is compounded by a right-wing political regime and the charged atmosphere between caste and religious groups. These acute cultural aftershocks are the greatest challenge for Society-sponsored NGOs. In the capital Ahmedabad, an umbrella organisation of over twenty-five NGOs includes the St. Xavier Social Service Society (SXSSS) directed by Cedric Prakash SJ. He seeks to prevent aid from being monopolised, diverted or blocked from reaching groups who are usually marginalised, such as poor Hindus, Moslems, Dalits and tribals (indigenous). Fr. Prakash himself was roughed up at a hospital in Ahmedabad while distributing relief. Jimmy Dabhi SJ co-ordinates the Citizens? Initiative, a coalition working in about fifty villages in the Bhachau region to reach those who live ?far off the road.? Their struggle is to uphold the traditional Indian spirit of tolerance and even-handedness in assistance, compensation for losses, and reconstruction. [HL10201]