Indian riots threaten Sense work

Deafblind charity Sense International is considering pulling its staff out of the Indian state of Gujurat because of growing fears for their safety.

The organisation was voted International Charity of the Year in 2000 for its India programme, which is based in the Gujurat capital of Ahmedabad.

But its work there has been suspended following the wave of religious rioting that has claimed hundreds of lives in the region.

Sense's India director Akhil Paul has been forced to move house while the charity's deputy director went missing for two days before being found unharmed.

Other members of the British charity's all-Indian staff cannot get to the organisation's head office because the state government has imposed a 24-hour curfew in parts of the city. Many staff are under huge pressure to leave the area.

The charity had been trying to rebuild its programmes in the state following an earthquake in 2001, but the continuing bloodshed has caused this to stall.

"It has stopped all our work and put a hold on everything,

said Sense director Richard Hawkes.

The charity is considering relocating its programme to another Indian state if the violence continues. The rioting has subsided but is expected to flare up again if approval is given for the building of a Muslim temple in Ahmedabad on 15 March.

"If the situation continues to endanger the safety of our staff, we will have to look at relocation,

said Hawkes.

He added that even if personnel are forced out of the region, Sense would continue its projects through partner organisations.

Oxfam India, which also operates in Gujurat, said that its work had been suspended and staff were keeping a low profile. The charity, however, has no immediate plan to pull out of the area.

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