Bishop of Orissa: Three years on from pogroms, Christians still living in fear

» 08/18/2011 16:57
INDIA

by Nirmala Carvalho
The retired archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, Raphael Cheenath, laments the lack of justice, the absence of the state and the climate of intimidation against Christians. The Hindu violence has led to the destruction of 300 churches, the burning of more than 5600 homes and the flight of over 56 thousand Christians.

Bhubaneshwar (AsiaNews) – Three years ago in the district of Kandhamal, Orissa, Christians were victims of unprecedented violence by Hindu radicals. The situation is far from being normal, as explained by Msgr. Raphael Cheenath, then archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar. And as you can see as much from the episode in a villiage in Betticola, from which Christians were forced to flee. The Betticola parish and the Catholic church were destroyed. The Christians, after being moved to five refugee camps received permission from the radical Hindu Sangh Parivar to return to Betticola, but as Hindus, that is converted. And the state administration, which should have rebuilt the church and parish, claims to have given the refugees everything they asked for.

“Religious freedom is still lacking in Kandhamal, the reign of terror, although limited, continues”, says the Archbishop Emeritus of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar, Orissa Rapahel Cheenath, three years after the bloody pogroms against Christians unjustly accused of the murder of a radical Hindu leader. On August 23, 2008 about 30 armed men entered the Ashram Jalespta, in Kandhamal, and shot dead swami Laxamanananda Saraswati and four of his followers. The funeral procession of Swami Laksamandanda took place in two days, over 250 miles, stopping at churches and Christian homes. The Hindu violence led to the destruction of 300 churches, the burning of more than 5600 homes and the flight of over 56 thousand Christians. A nun and two other women were raped and many molested. This despite the fact that the perpetrators of the crime were not Christians, but the Maoists. “(11/05/2011 24:51 Orissa pogroms: police clear Christians from the death of Hindu religious leader).

Raphael Cheenath is no longer the archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar, but the situation in his eyes is still very serious. “Religious freedom is still lacking in Kandhamal, the reign of terror continues, even if limited, refunds are greatly inadequate, or negligible, and our people do not have justice. There are numerous attempts to criminalize the victims and unfortunately there are fears of a return to violence. Our people have experienced the inability of the Administration to protect those under threat of destruction. Fear and intimidation continue, and justice is still a distant reality. ”

Archbishop Cheenath describes the current situation: “While 25 thousand people have returned to their homes and have physically relocated, their trauma is still alive and their wounds are not healed yet. And sporadic incidents, and violence against our people increases their vulnerability, and fear. In ten villages people can not return to their homes and there is hostility, and fear is a constant companion. ” He continues: “As long as the Christians of Kandhamal are not compensated as they deserve, as long as the churches and other buildings are not be rebuilt and the guilty punished, there will be no justice.”

A few days ago, the Supreme Court of India has asked the Orissa government to explain what the Church defines as poor management of relief efforts and rehabilitation for victims of violence in Kandhamal. “You have many things to explain,” the court of court of three judges headed by Justice SH Kapadia head said, after hearing the testimony of Archbishop Cheenath. The Orissa government has two weeks to respond. In its petition, Archbishop Cheenath listed 17 cases of inadequate compensation for the victims of arbitrary violence dating to December 2007 and August 2008. The petition also refers to an investigation by the Commission for Justice, Peace and Development, which revealed that 246 families were not considered worthy of compensation. It also highlights other negative factors: lack of medical care, the negative impact of the situation on the education of poor children and care for widows.

“The the slow pace of justice in the case of Sr. Meena, raped during the pogroms, is a cause of frustration. Moreover the high number of people released from prison, and the few found guilty shows that there is no justice for our people. With impunity so widespread there will be no reconciliation, no peace. The attackers remain free and move with impunity, while the victims are further persecuted by the very institutions that should protect them “, warns Bishop. Cheenath. The archbishop recalled some positive notes: that the Catholic Church has completed the reconstruction of more than three thousand houses, and that another four thousand will be completed by the year’s end. “But the problem is far from being solved.” Even Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) laments the lack of defence of the Christians in Kandhamal, and calls for an investigation against the district authorities, accusing them of involvement in the crimes committed against Christians.

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