01/10/2008, 00.00
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Anti-Christian violence like “man-made tsunami,” says Cardinal Toppo

by Nirmala Carvalho
The chairman of the Indian Bishops’ Conference visits an area in the state of Orissa where Hindu fundamentalists went on a rampage in late December. Local authorities tried however to prevent him from talking to victims. During his meeting with Prime Minister Singh he slammed the attacks. Two weeks after the event, the National Commission on Minorities sends a delegation to look at the tormented district of Kandhamal.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – A “man-made tsunami” seems to have swept over the Christian community of the north-eastern Indian state of Orissa, said the chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, Card Telesphore Toppo, after he visited Bubhaneshwar, an area touched by a wave of anti-Christian violence led by the Hindu fundamentalist group Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP).

Over Christmas holidays, more precisely from 24 to 27 December, Hindu extremists attacked properties owned by Christians, Dalits and Tribals. After their rampage they left on their trail six people dead. They attacked, destroyed or set on fire 70 churches and other religious facilities. Some 600 homes suffered damages or were destroyed. Altogether about 5,000 people were negatively impacted.

Card Telesphore Toppo, who was a guest of Archbishop Raphael Cheenath from 2 to 4 January, was prevented from visiting victims in their homes by local authorities.  He was never the less able to talk to some of them at the Bishop’s residence and was able to visit some of the affected areas where “people are still under shock, living in great fear and anxiety.”

The cardinal later met Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and brought him up-to-date as to the situation in the state. In a letter he gave the prime minister, the prelate called the series of “unwarranted attacks” against Christians in Kandhamal district “truly tragic,” acts that were undoubtedly premeditated and carried out by sectarian forces.

Last Monday the cardinal issued another letter, this one to Catholic dioceses and institutions urging them to offer the affected areas material and economic assistance and help them rebuild.

Following charges by local human rights groups that the authorities’ response was inadequate and apathetic, the National Commission on Minorities sent a delegation to Kandhamal district.

The two-member team arrived in the area last Monday, ten days after the incidents, with the task of ascertaining the causes of the violence and suggesting steps in favour of the victims.

The delegation is also set to meet Orissa’s chief minister before handing in its report to the Commission.

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