Good meeting between Christian leaders and Orissa chief minister
by Nirmala Carvalho
Mgr Cheenath, archbishop of Bhubaneshwar, led a delegation of Christian leaders for talks with Chief Minister Patnaik. In a memorandum handed to the State’s top official they call on the authorities to respond to the needs of Christians, many of whom are still in refugee camps and threatened by Hindu extremists.
Bhubaneshwar (AsiaNews) – A delegation of Christian leaders from Orissa met the State’s Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to discuss the situation of their respective communities, in particular the suffering and threats many of their members are still enduring, especially in Kandhamal District.

Mgr Raphael Cheenath, archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar, led the delegation which included other Orissa Catholic bishops, the leaders of other Christian denominations and Asit Mohanty, regional coordinator of the Global Council of Indian Christians.

Mohanty told AsiaNews that during the one and half hour meeting the delegation presented Chief Minister Patnaik a memorandum describing the problems Christians have experienced in the state since Hindu-led pogroms in August 2008.

At present 3,000 of those affected by last year’s violence are still languishing in government-run refugee camps whilst some 900 families are still unable to go home because of persistent threats from extremists.

In their plea Christian leaders called on the chief minister to prosecute the perpetrators of the violence, make sure that victims are compensated for their losses and that their homes and places of worship are rebuilt as the State has already pledged.

They also expressed the concern of Christian communities vis-à-vis the fundamentalist campaign pursued by Maoist leader Laxmi Baba in Mahindragiri and Ganjam Districts.

The delegation also expressed hope that their memorandum may be the basis for action by the chief minister and the federal home ministry to solve problems Christians still face in the State, especially when it comes red tape, a situation that has left thousands of people at the mercy of fundamentalists.

During the meeting talks also touched the success of the chief minister’s party, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), in India’s recent elections. In fact Patnaik led his party to victory breaking the historic alliance with the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He was thus able to succeed himself as chief minister whilst sending 15 seats to the Lok Sabha, the lower house in India’s parliament.

For the Christian delegation, the success of the BJD, which also cost votes to Congress Party, was a sign that Indian society is still oriented towards secularism and democracy.

Mohanty said Patnaik cordially responded to all the requests put forward by the delegation, and the reassured them that they had the support of the State administration.

The chief minister noted that he had given the green light for the reconstruction of the homes destroyed in last year’s pogroms.

But he also asked Christian leaders to monitor the situation of non-Christian victims of the violence. 

Patnaik pledged that conditions for the 3,000 refugees still in camps would be improved and be more dignified.

However, the refugees’ future is still hanging in the balance because their identity papers were destroyed in the violence and their properties were either stolen or destroyed by fire.

For his part the chief minister said that the State’s administrative offices would re-issued papers so that children can attend school and take exams.