03/17/2010, 00.00
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Orissa: US support for victims of anti-Christian pogrom

by Nirmala Carvalho
A joint Catholic-Protestant delegation from the United States visits Kandhamal District, scene of anti-Christian violence in the summer of 2008. Cardinal Gracias insists, “We do not seek revenge, but we need justice.”
Delhi (AsiaNews) – Indian Christians “do not seek revenge, not even when they are victims of persecution, like in Orissa,” said Card Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Mumbai, as he addressed members of a fact-finding mission by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the main US Protestant denominations, currently visiting Kandhamal District, scene of anti-Christian violence in the summer of 2008.

The attacks against Christians struck indiscriminately, both clergy and lay people. Whipped into frenzy by false accusations of proselytising, the attackers destroyed homes, churches and schools run by local Christians, forced by their Hindu neighbours to abandon their property and land to find refuge elsewhere.

During the violent incidents, some 5,357 homes were destroyed and 75 people lost their life, all because of their religion or ethnicity. More than 50,000 people were forced to flee, refugees in their own homeland.

After the attacks, survivors filed 3,232 complaints at a number of police stations across the district. Of these, 832 were accepted, but only 89 ended in convictions with light sentences. In 251 cases, the accused were released right away.

Sajan George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, led the members of the US delegation—PD John, John Hutchison, Erin Weston, Valerie Payne and Virginia Farris—during their visit.

Mr George, whose organisation provides legal and practical assistance to victims of religious discrimination, showed the delegation the damage caused by the violence in places like G. Udayagiri, Nilungia, Bakinga, Raikia, Pirigad and Nuagam.

“We were able to meet several villagers where they have resettled into new areas, or resettled back in their old locations in Kandhamal district,” Virginia Farris told AsiaNews. “We were able to hear stories of what had happed to them and also look at some of the houses,” she added. Ms Farris is foreign policy adviser to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, .

Delegation members also met with the US Ambassador to India and local Catholic and Protestant religious leaders.

Speaking to his guests, Card Gracias said, “We do not seek revenge, but we need justice. [. . .] Such acts cannot be done without impunity; no one should get away. It is the duty of the administration to investigate and bring them [the culprits] to justice.” Without a doubt, “justice is essential for sustainable peace.”

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