Says Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s statement is an attempt to appease the majority
State government trying its best to cover up violence: Archbishop
“No conversion is valid unless it is free”
Bhubaneswar: “Simply out of control,” is how Raphael Cheenath, Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, described the situation in Kandhamal, the district in central Orissa that has seen sustained violence against Christians by Sangh Parivar groups since December 2007.
“I see an attempt to appease the majority, because of the coming elections, in the statement given by the Chief Minister, Mr. Naveen Patnaik, when he went to Phulbani [the district headquarters of Kandhamal] yesterday [on Saturday],” he told The Hindu in an interview in Bhubaneswar at the Archbishop’s House. “There was not one word in his statement about the 40,000 persons displaced and in relief camps, not one word about the 4,200 homes destroyed, and not one word about the 45 persons — including a pastor who was cut to pieces just a few days ago in front of his wife — who have been murdered. Why did he go?”
A tired and anguished Archbishop severely indicted the State and Central governments of insensitivity and inaction in respect of the violence and injustice perpetrated against the Dalit Christians of Kandhamal.
“My impression is that the State government is trying its best to cover up the violence by giving the impression that the normalcy has been restored, and that there is no need for further action.” The Supreme Court, he said, in response to a petition filed before it on September 8 seeking protection from the relentless violence against Christians, had given the State government four weeks to respond. The Archbishop said the Sangh Parivar had used this period to “systematically destroy one village after another.”
The excuse of the State government that marauding mobs often outnumbered the police force present at the spot, he said, was unacceptable. “Why did they allow the numbers to swell in the first place?” “We know that in cases of attack and even rape the police just stood by and took no action. What is left to destroy now?”
The Archbishop said he had met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh three times, President Pratibha Patel twice, Home Minister Shivraj Patil twice and Congress president Sonia Gandhi once over the situation in Kandhamal. The Prime Minister, he said, called it a “national shame” and promised help, but there had not been any real change in the situation as Dalits continue to live in relief camps and were too frightened to return to their villages.
According to the Archbishop, the Sangh Parivar has “issued a fatwa” that by September 30, residents must return to their villages to be re-converted to Hinduism. “I am issuing a letter that will be distributed to Christians telling them not to worry and to be firm. No conversion is valid unless it is free. A document signed under duress is not valid under law.”
He is also planning to call a meeting of Bishops and heads of religious groups to organise a rally in Bhubaneswar protesting the grave violence and injustice against Christians in Kandhamal.