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Anger at continuation of Orissa violence

by Pat Ashworth

THE All-India Christian Council (AICC) has issued the state government with 14 demands in a hard-hitting response to the violence against Christians in Orissa (News, 24 October).

The AICC has just ended a three-day convention, Countering Fascist Forces: Defending the idea of India, attended by 1000 religious and secular delegates. It describes the “rise of communal fascism” as a threat to the long-term survival of India as “a unified nation of diverse religious, linguistic, and ethnic groups.”

It calls for the resignation of the Home Minister and the dismissal of the National Security Adviser, and for the prosecution of all members of political parties who have links with Hindutva terrorist organi­sations.

The Indian state is allowing terrorist groups claiming respon­sibility for violence against Christians to go scot-free, while cracking down on soft targets such as human-rights and social activists, says the AICC, which continues to carry out relief work for victims of the violence.

A fact-finding team from the Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF) reported that people in the camps to which many fled were surviving on the bare minimum: “There are no less than 3000 people staying in filthy conditions.”

The anger against the alleged connivance of the police was fuelled by the testimony last week of a Roman Catholic nun, Sr Meena Lalita Barwa, who was raped during an outbreak of violence in Kandamar district (News, 29 August).

The Supreme Court of India has refused to refer her case to the CBI. At a press conference in Delhi, Sr Meena demanded that the national police take over investigation of the rape. She and Fr Chellan, an RC priest, were dragged from the Sivyajyoti Pastoral Centre by a mob of 50 men.

After a second attempted rape, she hid as the mob bayed, “at least 100 people should rape her”. She and Fr Chellan were then paraded half-naked, while police stood by.

The Indian journalist Seema Mustafa, former political editor of The Asian Age, wrote: “For days and weeks the Navin Patnaik government stood by and did nothing to protect the poorest of the poor as they were killed and turned out of their houses, just because they were Christians and refused to give up their faith.

“The attackers speak of conversion, but there has been no forcible conversion, only conversion under Article 25 of the Indian Constitution that gives every single religion in this country the right to preach and propagate. The force was being used then, and is being used now, to beat Christians into renouncing their religion and embracing the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and RSS version of Hinduism.”

Another RC priest, Fr Bernard, was attacked and brutally beaten in Kandahal during the violence in August. He was in hospital after the attack, and died on Tuesday.

The diocese of Derby has a 31-year link with the Church of North India (CNI), and the Bishop, Dr Alastair Redfern, has called for a day of prayer on Sunday for the situation in Orissa. The Bishop of Repton, the Rt Revd Humphrey Southern, attended the CNI’s General Synod last week, and the Revd Christopher Harrison, chairman of Derbyshire Churches’ North India Partnership, has also recently returned from a visit to India.

Mr Harrison said on Tuesday that what had taken place was “horrendous violence”. He suggested that the growing numbers and increasing prosperity of Christians in the area had created resentment in other communities.

“The Church is very appreciative of any Western exposure that can be given to this. It all puts pressure on the government, which does not want India to be seen as a place where religious cleansing can take place,” he said. “The more international feeling there is about it, the more the government will be entitled to take it very seriously.”

The Bishop of Phulbani, the Rt Revd Bijay Nayak, has sent urgent messages describing the situation. He was one of the few bishops selected to meet the Queen on the Lambeth Conference’s London day.

The Bishop of Amritsar, the Rt Revd Pradeep Samantaroy, has been involved in co-ordinating the CNI response. He described the devastation he witnessed on a team visit to Barakhama as having “numbed our senses.”

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