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    » 11/11/2008, 00.00

    INDIA

    Orissa bishops call on government to rebuild churches by Christmas

    Nirmala Carvalho

    The request is made in a letter addressed to the state’s chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, to help things get back to normal. However, violence and forced re-conversion to Hinduism are still taking place in the state, generating fear and terror. The bishops call on the central government to continue the deployment of special forces in the state until after the upcoming election which is scheduled for 9 April next year.
    Bhubaneshwar (AsiaNews) – The bishops of three Orissa dioceses have sent a letter to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik in which they denounce the pervasive reign of terror that hangs over Christians who have been attacked by radical Hindu groups for months. In order to stop the Christian exodus from the state—many Christians have moved to neighbouring states—the bishops urge the authorities to act quickly to rebuild churches before Christmas.

    In fact and this despite government reassurances that things have calmed down, local clergymen are reporting that members of their congregations are still unable to go back home for fear of death or re-conversion to Hinduism. They point out that aid pledged by the authorities for the reconstruction of villages and churches has not yet arrived and that Christians are still scared to harvest their fields and so are bound to lose their livelihood.

    Mgr Thomas Thiruthalil, chairman of the Orissa Bishops’ Regional Council, met Naveen Patnaik yesterday. He was accompanied by Mgr Raphael Cheenath, archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, Mgr Sarat Nayak of Berhampur and other Christian leaders, including Asit Mohanty, of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC).

    Speaking to AsiaNews, Monsignor Thiruthalil, who is bishop of Balasore, said that during the meeting the “chief minister was cordial and responded positively to us,” assuring “us of [his] cooperation to work together to establish normalcy in Kandhamal,” the area hardest-hit by Hindu attacks.

    “The situation [in Orissa] is precarious,” the bishop explained. “People are afraid and the fear of violence looms large; moreover, people are terrified of forced conversion to Hinduism [. . .]. Our priests are slowly returning to their parishes (or what is left of them), but they too are stalked by fear. They are prime targets for elimination or re-conversion by Hindu fundamentalists and their parents and families have often been compelled to return to Hinduism, forced to shave their heads and drink water mixed with cow dung and urine and perform Hindu chants. Even if people take comfort in the presence of their priest, they are still traumatised by their experience and by the suffering they have had to endure.”

    In order to rebuild a sense of normalcy, the bishops have called on the Orissa state government to rebuild the 180 or so churches that were destroyed, ideally before Christmas this year.

    Bishop Thiruthalil explained that until recently Christians and Hindus lived in peace with one another in Kandhamal district.

    “Kandhamal was a place of religious tolerance and mutual cooperation. People helped each other working in the fields, sowing and harvesting crops; Hindus and Christians even celebrated religious festivals together. Regrettably, fundamentalists sowed hatred and suspicion in the minds of Hindus who then turned against the Christians.”

    In their letter the bishops said that hatred against Christians is motivated by religion and that any explanation based on “social” factors is false. Arguments like this have been advanced by some people in the state who claim that anti-Christian persecution is due to Christians enriching themselves in the face of an increasingly poor Tribal population. For them this is patently untrue. In fact poor Tribals have been killed in the pogrom as much as anyone else simply because they were Christian. The purpose of the violence was to stop conversions to Christianity.

    What is more local clergymen suspect that the attacks were politically motivated, carried out to boost Hindu nationalism (at the expense of Christians) and bolster opposition parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as they prepare themselves for the next election scheduled to take place on 9 April 2009.

    For this reason the bishops want the army’s special forces sent in by the central government to stay in Orissa at least until after the elections.

    In their letter to the chief minister, the bishops also slam the collusion between fundamentalists and local police forces who more often than not have refused to register complaints filed by Christians.

     

    Here is the bishops’ letter:

     

    Shri Naveen Patnaik

    Hon’ble Chief Minister

    Government of Orissa

    Bhubaneswar, Orissa.

    Date: 10 November 2008.

     

    Respected Sir,

    First of all we want to convey to you our sincere thanks and appreciation for giving us this appointment to meet you.

    Further we want to place before you the following points for your kind consideration and necessary action on an emergency basis.

    1. The Exodus of Christians from Kandhamal District: There is considerable reduction of refugees in Relief Camps (from 24,000 to 11,000). The claim that those who leave the relief camps are going back to their own villages and settling down in their homes is not true. Most of them have migrated to relief camps in Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Jhanla, Berhampur and also settled down in rented houses and in the homes of relations, friends, acquaintances etc. It is estimated that 10,000 to 15,000 Christians of Kandhamal district are living outside the district.

    A large number of Christians of Kandhamal district have gone to Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Gujarat etc. People in the relief camps of the costal belts, Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Berhampur etc. want to return to their villages, but are afraid because of the reasons: (a) they may be attacked on the way or in their own villages; (b) they are forced to become Hindus under pain of death or loss of properties. They are told to become Hindus or leave the village, the district or even India; (c) many are unwilling to return because the criminals are still at large and moving about with swords, guns, weapons etc. as in Kothingia/Tiangia of Raikia block and Sarangodo block. The Christians who have returned to their own villages and homes are forcibly converted to Hinduism; they are forced to accept Hindu Samskaras under oath and under pain of divine punishment. Their movements and meeting with people are restricted by the fanatics for instance in Padangi, Sankarakhol.

    2. Acts of injustices against Christians.

    a) Christians are chased away from their homes and villages.

    b) Even though the State Govt. had promised to allot land to the landless (after the last attack) it has not yet been done. Many do not get money for the gutted down houses or damaged houses because the administration applies rules absolutely and strictly to the Christians in such a way that the landless will not get allotment of land or they even loose what they have.

    c) A man was not allowed to be buried in the village as he did not become a Hindu in village Sarthaguda of Tikabali block.

    d) Christians are not allowed to harvest the paddy from their own fields in many Gram Panchayats if they do not become Hindus.

    3. Looting of houses, Churches and Religious Houses: As the people had fled out of threat and fear criminals are looting the homes, churches, religious houses, institutions and destroying/burning whatever is left over.

    4. Non Acceptance of FIRs*: FIRs are not accepted in Daringabadi and Sarangoda Police Stations.

    5. Attack on Christians is not an Ethnic Conflict: Hindu Fundamentalist groups have been trying to name the communal violence as an Ethnic Conflict between the Tribals and the Pano Christians. A cursory look at facts reveals that this conflict is a calculated and pre-planned master plan to wipe out Christianity from Kandhamal district, Orissa, in order to realize the hidden agenda of Sangh Parivar of establishing a Hindu Nation. Therefore to keep the hidden agenda a secret they have tried to manipulate the facts:

    - That the victims of attack were Christians

    - That not only Panos but Christian Tribals also were killed, their homes and properties burned, destroyed and looted (list attached).

    6. Fast Tract Court (FTC): We are happy that the state government. has decided to establish FTC at Kandhamal for expeditious trial of cases relating to communal violence. Looking at the geographical area it is suggested that the said Fast Tract Court may be set up at G. Udayagiri as it is centrally located to all the villages that have been affected by violence. Further it is requested that the Judge of the FTC should be from any other religion other than from Christian or Hindu Religion.

    7. Request the presence of Central Forces in Kandhamal Dist: The hate campaign beginning from 23rd August 2008 has been targeted to polarize religious groups and will affect peace process during restoration stages till the Parliament and Assembly Elections in Orissa are over. The Christian victims now in relief camps and those who have taken distress departure from Kandhamal are afraid of further attacks as the State Police are few and who even can not defend themselves and their outposts. Hence we request that the presence of Central Forces be extended till the Parliament and Assembly Elections in Orissa are over.

    8. Churches be built/repaired by 1st week of December 2008: This will allow Christmas spiritual preparations to begin and spiritual traditions to be observed. This will also help confidence building among the congregations and bury the past quietly as they approach Christmas 2008.

     

    Thanking You

    Yours faithfully

     

    Dr. Raphael Cheenath, Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar

    Dr. T. Thiruthalil, Bishop of Balasore

    Dr. Sarat Nayak, Bishop of Berhampur

     

     

    Thanking You.

    Yours faithfully,

     

    Dr. Raphael Cheenath, Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar

    Dr. T. Thiruthalil, Bishop of Balasore

    Dr. Sarat Nayak, Bishop of Berhampur

     

    * In India a First Information Report or FIR is the information formally recorded by the police officer on duty when someone reports a cognizable offence.

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    See also

    31/10/2008 INDIA
    Father Bernard’s funeral in Orissa, Christ’s triumph over death
    Three bishops, more than 150 priests and 3,000 faithful take part in the funeral liturgy for the priest who died from injuries inflicted upon him by Hindu fundamentalists. Police and security staff patrolled the area around the church against possible attacks. Father Bernard has forgiven his persecutors.

    12/05/2009 INDIA
    Orissa government cuts death toll from anti-Christian pogrom
    The authorities reject the list of dead submitted by the diocese of Bhubaneshwar. The president of the Global Council of Indian Christians says the government is reducing the number relying “false justifications” in an attempt “to cut compensation to the victims.” In Kandhamal tensions remain high as Hindu extremists try to storm a refugee camp at night.

    16/04/2009 INDIA
    What Indian Christians can hope from these elections
    Voting, which began today, is scheduled to last a month. For Christians two factors are a potential sign of change: the end of the alliance between the BJP and Orissa’s Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and his party, and the election of a new leader to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS or National Volunteers' Organisation).

    20/11/2008 INDIA
    Orissa authorities admit more anti-Christian attacks possible
    Chief Minister acknowledges that not every block in state has been pacified despite the authorities’ best efforts. Farmers’ flight into the forest has jeopardized this year’s harvest. Christian leaders prepare memorandum, laying out necessary emergency steps, for Union cabinet’s consideration.

    16/10/2008 INDIA
    Sangh Parivar wants to remove every Christian trace in Orissa
    Christians are not allowed to pray even in government-run refugee camps. The ground on which homes and churches once stood are taken over and “cleansed” of every trace of violence. Hindus tell raped nun to marry her rapist. The hue and cry is still on for Christians.



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