Archbishop Barwa: SCI’s acquittal of 3,700 involved in the Kandhamal massacres is an injustice
In 2008, Hindu extremists killed more than a hundred Christians because of the murder of a Hindu cleric by Maoists but blamed on Christians. Out of approximately 6,600 arrests, only 79 ended in a conviction. In 2020-2021 the local Church will host the Plenary Assembly of the Latin Synod so that it “will take the bishops to the places of the massacres.” For the archbishop, “it will be a moment of blessing for our people, to strengthen faith and courage.”
New Delhi (AsiaNews) – The Supreme Court of India (SCI) has acquitted more than 3,700 accused of "sectarian violence" in connection with deadly anti-Christian attacks that occurred in the Kandhamal district, Odisha (Orissa) in 2008.
Speaking to AsiaNews, Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar said that he felt “great sadness” that “no justice was done. We always hoped and prayed for justice, so that the criminals could be punished and those who suffered receive compensation.”
The prelate replaced Mgr Raphael Cheenath who was the local bishop at the time, and is carrying the torch for the Christians victimised by the violence of Hindu extremists
Anti-Christian violence broke out following the murder of Lakshmanananda Saraswati, a Hindu religious leader. Although Maoists claimed responsibility for the crime, Christians were blamed.
“We are deeply disappointed,” said the archbishop. “We had asked the judges to evaluate the cases with the utmost attention to avoid what occurred: the acquittal of the accused. We are very sad. We will present petitions again to have justice.”
The decision by India’s court was made public last Saturday, along with the findings of the local state government investigation into one of the darkest episodes in Indian history.
At least 6,594 people were arrested or surrendered to the authorities in connection with the attacks. Odisha’s Home Department recorded 827 episodes of religious violence in the Kandhamal district and 512 cases.
Proceedings were cancelled in 342 cases and 79 ended with the conviction of the accused. Some 263 trials ended in acquittal; another 170 are still pending.
The state government also submitted 315 admitted cases to the court based on victims’ reports.
Archbishop Barwa asked the Supreme Court to order the local authorities to set up a Special Investigation Team for those cases in which a crime was committed but the victim could not identify the perpetrator.
Church figures present a tragic portrait of what happened to Christians in Kandhamal: 120 dead, almost 56,000 refugees, 8,000 houses torched or looted in 415 villages, 300 churches torn down, 40 women raped (including Sr Meena Barwa, the archbishop’s own niece), and 12,000 children displaced and forced to stop to go to school.
“I will never give up fighting for my people until the last Christian has had justice,” the prelate said. “I pray for and thank all those who help us and who keep the focus on us.”
Efforts by the local Church include the release on bail of the seven Christians accused of the killing the Hindu cleric, who were freed after 11 years.
For now, “I have not yet had the opportunity of meeting them because every time I go to Kandhamal I have a very busy schedule. The next chance will be in February, and we have already set up a meeting with the families.”
“Anyway, I am in contact with them and I know they are fine. I am very happy for them and at the same time sad: How could they have spent so many years in prison?”
“In 2020-2021,” Mgr Barwa said, “the Church in Odisha will host the Plenary Assembly of the Latin Synod of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India[*]. I hope and pray that it will be a time of blessing for all of us.
“It will be a great occasion because we will take the bishops to the places of the massacres. I am sure it will be a moment of blessing for our people, to strengthen faith and courage.” (A.C.F.)
[*] The other two are the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara.