01/11/2008, 00.00
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Upper castes behind anti-Christian violence in Orissa

by Nirmala Carvalho
The executive secretary of the Church’s Commission on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes argues that the upper castes are using a religious pretext to advance their political goals, namely keeping the marginalised in ignorance and poverty so as to continue to exploit them.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The series of violent actions against Christians in the Indian state of Orissa were orchestrated by upper caste Hindus who want to stop the Church from helping Dalits develop, this according to Fr Cosmon Arockiaraj, executive secretary of the Commission on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India who spoke to AsiaNews about the matter.

From December 24 to 27, groups of extremists with links to the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) attacked properties owned by Christians. At the end of the rampage six people were dead, about 70 churches and other religious buildings were attacked, destroyed or set on fire and some 600 homes had suffered damages or were destroyed, affecting some 5,000 people.

The clergyman pointed out that most of the properties involved belonged to Dalits and Tribals in “Phulbani and Kandhamal, areas largely inhabited by lower caste residents rather than areas in big cities like Cuttack and Bhubaneswar, home to prestigious Christian schools.”

For Fr Arockiaraj, “those who monopolise business in the state don’t want to see Dalits and Tribals become literate and develop economically because they might break out of their ignorance and poverty and would thus be less easily exploited” by the upper castes.

By contrast, the Church “treats these people with dignity, offering the marginalised an education and professional training through its rural schools and hostels,” thus providing them with some hope in a better future and greater knowledge of their rights.

“The purpose of this wave of aggression,” said the priest, “was clearly political but the choice fell on Christmas so as to make it look as religion was involved in order to justify the excessive use of violence against the community.”

VHP activists launched their attacks against Christian targets ostensibly to stop conversions to Christianity. Charges against Churches for proselytising are commonplace. But for Fr Arockiaraj the issue of forced conversions is just “propaganda” by upper caste Hindus to fuel sectarian hatred in the population.

“Contrary to what Hindu extremists might claim, the Christian community has proportionately declined in India in the last decades, from 2.6 per cent in 1971 to 2.3 per cent in 2001.”

In a final appeal Fr Arockiaraj calls on the international community to fight against these forces in Indian society because they want to deny Dalits and Tribals equal rights. For this reason it should pay greater attention as to how foreign aid is spent in the country. “Some money from donor countries is being used to perpetuate the domination by upper castes who are imbued with Hindu nationalist ideology.”

The clergyman is also appealing to the Indian Church, saying that whilst “Catholic schools should be open to everyone irrespective of caste or creed, it is more urgent to focus our mission on the poor and the marginalised for whom Jesus came into this world.”

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