India (MNN) — Strikes and protests are bringing life to a standstill in Andhra Pradesh as a 50-year-old conflict over the creation of a new state, Telangana, is again being discussed in New Delhi, the nation's capital.
Advocates of the new state, including the Maoist parties who hope to gain some power in the breakup of Andhra Pradesh, are using everything from hunger strikes to mass demonstrations to press their demands.
Daniel Punnose of Gospel for Asia, speaking from India, describes why this is being discussed. "It has to do with the Telugu-speaking people being given their own area where they can govern themselves."
While Gospel for Asia leaders say the creation of a Telangana state would not necessarily create any problems for the ministry there, the current unrest by protesters has resulted in the cancellation of dozens of trains and the disruption of major bus lines. Both are vital to everyday life in India and are making it difficult for ministry and outreach to continue on a normal basis.
Punnose says these protests have affected their work. "When you have strikes here, it's not just people protesting on the roads: they block roads, they block railways, and they stop anything possible from moving."
That prevents Christians from moving from place to place to share the Gospel and prevents them from humanitarian work. Punnose says it also means danger. "It does cause a lot of fear. You can't go on the roads. Your vehicles will be burned, or stones will be thrown at it or you could be beaten."
People are suffering from things like a lack of medicine and even food as the transportation system is disrupted.
GFA continues to operate their Bridge of Hope centers for Dalit (untouchable) children in Andhra Pradesh. Punnose says $28 a month goes a long way. "You're helping them get a hot meal each day, medical check-ups, school uniforms and books–being able to really educate them after school and being able to send them to school." The Gospel is also shared at these centers.
Negotiations over dividing the state go back to the earliest days of Indian independence. Andhra Pradesh and the newly-proposed state are Telugu-speaking areas, but the people of the Telangana region have historically favored a separate state, agreeing to be a part of Andhra Pradesh only after promises of political and economic development were given in the 1950s.
The region in question is governed by the local Communist Party. The people who live there have always protested that the promises made to them have not been kept. They are adamant that a separate state is the only answer to their grievances.
Gospel for Asia supports some 1,400 national workers in Andhra Pradesh who are involved in a wide variety of ministries. This state is India's fourth-largest (106,204 square miles) with the fifth-largest population (76.2 million in 2001). The proposed new state, Telangana, would have about 35 million people and occupy the landlocked and underdeveloped north-central part of Andhra, including its capital, Hyderabad.
GFA workers in Andhra Pradesh request prayer that the Lord will prevent the situation from spiraling into the kind of violence they saw in 1969 and that lives would be spared. They also request prayer for the state and national leaders to make the right decision regarding the re-drawing of state lines.