10/22/2008, 00.00
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Bishop of Orissa: "I have no faith" in the justice of the state

by Nirmala Carvalho
The commissions of inquiry tend to protect those responsible for the attacks, and are not guaranteeing security for witnesses and victims. Today, fundamentalist groups tried to burn a church in Madhya Pradesh. Four seminarians have been beaten and denounced to the police for "forced conversions."

Bhubaneshwar (AsiaNews) - Archbishop Raphael Cheenath blasts as unreliable the commissions of inquiry set up by the government of Orissa to investigate the violence against Christians by Hindu extremists. In a statement made public today, he says that he "has no faith" in the two judges chosen by the government, suspected of "covering up the misdeeds of the state government and its police force whose actions have been truly shameful." The statement of the archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar - the diocese in Orissa where most of the violence against Christians emerged, and has continued for more than a month - comes just a few hours after the state government - long accused of colluding with the Hindu extremists - refused to pay for the rebuilding of churches destroyed by the fundamentalists. Meanwhile, fresh violence is being recorded: this morning, a Catholic church in Tikamgarh (diocese of Satna, Madhya Pradesh) was in danger of being burned down. Last October 19, in Karnataka, four seminarians were beaten by members of the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad), who accused them of "proselytism and forced conversions."

Archbishop Cheenath accuses the state of Orissa of choosing the members of the commission, headed by Judge Mohapatra, without consulting the community that has been the victim of the violence. He says that an "independent" and "strong-willed" judge is needed, one capable of revealing the responsibilities of state officials in the violence underway.

Instead, Judge Mohapatra is already demonstrating his "insensitivity to the suffering of the victims." The bishop points out, in fact, that although the commission was created more than a month after the violence, the judge now wants to speed up the collection of witness testimony from the Christians. He has set a deadline of November 15 for all of these to be presented. The prelate emphasizes that the violence "is still underway," that many Christians are still "hiding in the forests," not knowing even "where their next meal is coming from." This means they do not have the time and tranquility necessary to present their charges. The attitude of Judge Mohapatra has prompted the bishop to say that "I have no faith" in the commission.

Archbishop Cheenath recalls that the commission set up to investigate the violence in December of 2007 (also in Orissa, and in the district of Kandhamal), headed by Judge Panigrahi, had the same defects. Then as now, there were no security guarantees for the victims and witnesses, with the danger that they might be killed by fundamentalists.

The bishop affirms that he respects Hinduism, "a religion of peace, nonviolence and tolerance." For this reason, he says, "those who attacked Christians in the name of religion are profoundly anti-Hindu and also anti-national. They seek to divide and thus weaken our wonderful nation of kind hearted and generous people.

"This is why I am so utterly distressed that our national leadership does not appear to be capable of acting bravely and decisively with compassion and clarity to challenge these fascist forces that have divided the nation and committed so many horrendous crimes again and again. What is at stake in the communal attacks in Orissa is not just the future of the Christian community and its security and safety, but the future of our democratic nation itself."

In confirmation of the extensive political prejudice against Christians [Orissa is governed by nationalist Hindu parties], last August 20, defying a promise made by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and confirmed by the supreme court, the government of Orissa said that it will not grant aid for the reconstruction of destroyed churches, because "giving compensation to religious institutions is against the secular policy of the state." In this, the government is following the wishes of fundamentalist groups that have promised not to allow the rebuilding of any of the churches destroyed in the violence of recent days.

Meanwhile, the attacks on Christians continue. This morning, fundamentalist groups tried to burn the "Little Flower" church in Tikamgarh, in Madhya Pradesh. Diocesan spokesman Fr. Anand Muttungal tells AsiaNews that "the Christian minority is in panic."

On Sunday, October 19, in Gonikopa (district of Kodagu, Karnataka), four seminarians of the Indian Missionary Society were attacked by a crowd belonging to the extremist group Vishwa Hindu Parishad. The seminarians were visiting families of coffee plantation workers, as they do each weekend. Accused of "forced conversions," they were beaten and taken to the police station. Only the intervention of the bishop, Thomas Antony Vazhapilly, was able to secure their release, after many hours.

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