» 09/14/2010, 00.00
Orissa bishop slams forced conversion of Catholics to Hinduism
Cases have been reported in more than ten villages in Kandhamal District. In talks with the state’s chief minister, Mgr Raphael Cheenath, archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, calls for a greater effort to fight discrimination. “The state describes itself as secular; hence, it should not condone such violence,” he said.
Bhubaneswar (AsiaNews) – Catholics continue to be forced to convert to Hinduism in Orissa, said Mgr continue in Orissa Raphael Cheenath, archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar who held talks today with Naveen Pattnaik, the state’s chief minister.
During the meeting, the prelate told his interlocutor that in more than ten villages Christians have been forced to convert in order to keep their homes. In another 27 villages, refugees are still forced to live in makeshift shelters. These facts “violate the law on religious freedom that the State of Orissa has pledged to uphold with vigour,” he said. “The state describes itself as secular; hence, it should not condone such violence.”
The archbishop went on to say that, refugees have a right to return to their native villages and that local authorities have an obligation to guarantee them adequate security.
During his talks with the chief minister, Mgr Cheenath also slammed the inadequate compensation victims received to rebuild their damaged or destroyed home. He also lamented that many Christians have been unable to regain possession of their own land.
So far, local authorities have released funds for 4,000 damaged buildings. According to the Church and a number of NGOs, some 7,000 homes are still waiting to be rebuilt.
In reacting to the charges, Chief Minister Pattnaik promised to look into the archbishop’s allegations, insisting that Christians should not be afraid of threats or discrimination.
He also said that he was willing to review the issue of compensation and the number of homes in need of rebuilding. He also tried to reassure the Catholic religious leader that the government has the population’s wellbeing at heart and that both sides can work together in transparency.
Between December 2007 and August 2008, Hindu extremists killed 93 people in Kandhamal District. They pillaged and set fire to 6,500 homes and destroyed more than 350 churches and 45 schools. Some 50,000 people fled into the forest, eventually finding refuge in camps set up by the authorities.
In September 2009, the government shut down these camps in order to show that it had matters under control.
However, after returning to their home villages hundreds of families were forced back into the forest because they were ostracised by Hindu villagers.
Meanwhile, most of the perpetrators of the crimes are still at liberty. Likewise, threats and discrimination have silenced witnesses scheduled to testify before a Kandhamal court.
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On the International Day of Peace, people from different religious backgrounds took part joint activities in Kandhamal to promote interfaith dialogue between Christians and Hindus two years after anti-Christian pogroms broke out. “Efforts are being made to remove fear and suspiciousness among the people,” the archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar said.
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The situation is calm in Kandhamal, the Orissa district most affected by Hindu violence. Tight security measures and the timely provision of identity papers allow Christians in refugee camps to cast their ballot. However, another 51,000 displaced Christians who are not in such camps have not been able to vote. Bhubaneswar bishop is “satisfied by the election process”, but stresses that ‘in the villages BJP supporters have threatened to expel Christians if they do not vote for their party.”
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