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Christian priest persecuted in Kashmir

New Delhi:  A fervent call has been made to the leaders concerned to revoke the order of expulsion of Fr Jim Borst,  who continues to render a yeomen’s service to the people of the valley, majority of whom being Muslims and providing employment to scores of unemployed youth, 99.9 per cent of them Muslim. The Catholic Christians look to him as their spiritual guide par excellence.

Fr Jim Borst, the only Mill Hill Missionary serving in the Kashmir Valley has been served a notice by the Foreigners Registration Officer, Kashmir to quit India by July 2010.  Fr Jim has been serving the faithful in the state since September 1963.
It is not only disturbing but also consternating that the Government which is tooth and nail opposed to the Hindutva and other fundamentalist elements has succumbed to the pressure of some fundamentalist groups to show the venerable and highly adored Catholic missionary the way out, lending support to the theories built by those in the opposition that there is a yawning gap between the theory and the practice of the government run by the coalition of the Indian National Congress Party and the Regional National Conference Party supported by certain independents.

That, there has been a systematic campaign not only of calumny but also terror against him as the terrorists have attacked his education institution Good Shepherd School, Pulwama on two occasions in a row in 2003. It is only too well known that a section of the Muslim intelligentsia who is also running many schools in the same vicinity where the Catholic Missionary has been running his school, have been campaigning against Good Shepherd School.

Its underlying grudge is that the schools run by that group of intelligentsia are not in a position to compete with the school run by the Mill Hill Missionary. Since there would be no purchasers of that grudge, it has been giving currency to the idea since 2003 that Good Shepherd School was carrying out conversions of the local population in the name of providing education.

On the face of it, this appears to be ridiculous allegation. The Mill Hill Missionaries have been pioneers in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in the field of arranging education and health care facilities since 1891-92 and there is no trace of evidence yet to confirm that the percentage population of Christians has grown to more than what it was a century earlier.

On the reverse of it the population of Christians has declined, as the number of Christians in the Kashmir valley consisted of non-Kashmiri speaking people who had come to Kashmir for employment or business purposes.

Such families have either moved out of the valley or are in this process for their children wanted to settle in their own environs. The number of Catholic Christians in the valley is hardly 12 – all of the Punjabi origin.

That, prima facie any such charge that he is changing religion of the people is an insult to thousands of families in the valley, especially that remain faithful Muslims and pride themselves over their association with Fr Jim Borst who has been their Principal at St Joseph’s School, Baramulla started by the Mill Hill Missionaries in 1905 and Burn Hall School, Srinagar started by the same missionaries in 1954.

In any event it makes little sense that the missionary or for that matter any section of population should be bullied into submission and made to shut his establishments involving about 1000 students.

That, one has seen the damage this approach has done to the secular ethos of the Kashmiri society, in the wake of hounding out of 300,000 Kashmiri Pandits, which include Six Catholic families as well.

Therefore one should take a balanced view of the role and performance of the Missionary and his establishment. No useful purpose, however, will be served if he is targeted, as it seems to be the case. In fact, this will be counter-productive approach, and will harm the fairly high standard of education maintained by the schools under his care both at Pulwama and at Shivpora.

It cannot be ignored that the rabid fundamentalist Muslim clergy failed to build an alternative educational school at Pulwama and Shivpora, which is equally credible if not better. These critics will also do well to dispel all doubts that they are working in tandem with a section of the terrorists— the Good Shepherd School has been subjected to violent attacks twice in a row in 2003 as said before.

That, it is a stark truth that right from Dr Farooq Abdullah to Mirwaiz Umer Farooq and the present Chief Minister Omar Abdullah all are the products of the schools started by the missionaries both the Catholic and Protestant. Therefore, every leader professing the Muslim Faith should, therefore fully ascertain his facts and ensure that there is no witch-hunting.

Or else the danger is that the cause of liberal education, of which, they themselves are the beneficiaries would irreparably suffer. As a Kashmiri to the hilt and a Catholic Christian, I feel terribly dismayed and dejected that an example of intolerance should be generated in Pulwama – the land of Lalashweri, Habba Khatoon, and Mahjoor who all along taught the lesson of tolerance, universal brotherhood and religious harmony.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee recited the poem of Mahjoor on tolerance during his visit of the valley, some years ago. That, given this background, every one shares the anger and anguish of the Catholic Christian Community expressed through their organisations, over the treatment meted out to Father Jim Borst. It is quite justified, in terming the Government action as highly motivated, anti-Christian and a gross violation of Human Rights.

That a secular state works on the premise of guarding the interest of the minorities and Jammu and Kashmir where the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi had seen the ray of hope, when all the country was burning in communal frenzy cannot be allowed to become an exception.

That, we need to point out that hardly three months ago the reverend priest was allowed Residential Permit up to 2014. It is a sad commentary on things as to how the government changed its mind and ordered his expulsion.It definitely smacks of conspiracy against a spiritual person of Fr Jim Borst’s stature who is not only revered by the Christian community of the state but also the Muslim populace of the Kashmir valley, which anybody can vouch.

(SOurce: News from Aicc leader)

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