FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
3 February 2009
'Police and CRPF men stood idle when churches were burned and the nun was raped'.
- Archbishop Raphael Cheenath, India
As a united coalition, Indian American Christians from all denominations joined together to condemn the continuing violence against Christians in many parts of India, especially in Orissa. The occasion was the visit of Most Rev. Raphael Cheenath, Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar and the head of the Catholic Church in the state of Orissa, India. Various church groups formed a coalition called 'India Peace Initiative' for the reception and also to work together in the coming days to show the unity and solidarity of Christians from India in the US to those affected by anti-Christian violence perpetrated by an increasing number of radical Hindu organizations in India. They stressed that this violence continues and remains unchecked by the state government. Forced conversion of Christians to Hinduism goes unstopped by the state government of Orissa. Website of the India Peace Initiative coalition is http://www.IndiaPeaceInitiative.org
Asked what prompted the assembling of this coalition, one of the organizers mentioned that the some Indian organizations like USINPAC, NFIA, and GOPIO who falsely claim to represent all Indians, do not speak in defending the rights of Christian minorities in the face of increasing onslaught by the Hindutva extremists. 'Their silence is deafening. We have come together to speak in unison and get our word across to the political establishment and to the American community at large about the growing injustice done to a hapless minority as in the case of Orissa.'
The reception was held at the American Martyrs Catholic Church in Queens, New York, which was attended by senior representatives from all churches including Bishop George Ninan of the CSI Church. The Archbishop had earlier visited Washington, DC and met with church leaders and federal officials to brief them about the continuing atrocities against Christians and their institutions in India. The meeting also passed a resolution asking the Indian and US governments to ensure the safety of the minorities and 'treat terrorism against all minorities at an equal footing with that of international terrorism and human right violations'. The resolution also called upon the Indian government to protect the lives and properties of Christians in India and to provide immediate relief and adequate compensation to the victims.'
New York State Senator Frank Padavan, who attended the public meeting, noted that it was a sad occasion, similar to India's partition when many were killed and displaced. But that is history now, he noted. The world is troubled by the attacks against Christians. Gandhi's idea of peace is the solution. He prayed that such attacks will never happen again and all will return to sanity.
New York State Assemblyman Mark Weprin said violence or discrimination based on religion, skin color, sex, etc., are not acceptable. "At the kindergarten the children live in harmony with others. When did they learn to hate others," he wondered. He said all people are God's children and he opposed all forms of hate.
The meeting began with a Mass celebrated by the Archbishop and priests from several churches in the NY tri-state area. Most Rev. Cheenath commended the Christian community for coming together to protest the attacks in India. "It is high time that we work together as a united Christian body." The Archbishop also recounted the horrific events in Orissa. He said the basic reason for all this lies in the determination of Hindu fundamentalist groups to make India a Hindu-only Nation. In such a state, Christians and all minorities will be only subservient to the majority Hindu community. With this aim they spread hatred against the minorities and many people believe in such hate-filled propaganda.
The excuse cited for the attack on Christians in Kandhamal district was the murder of Swami Laxmananada Saraswati. The Maoists had warned the Swami thrice earlier to stop the hate campaign propagated by the Swami. This is historically correct. The Swami had complained about this to the police. Yet, when he was murdered there were no policemen to protect him.
The next two days, the officials and media confirmed that the attack was committed by the Maoists. But on the third day, things changed. The letters left behind by the Maoists disappeared and the blame was put on the Christians. Around thousand people marched to small villages and attacked Christians and their institutions. "The attacks were well planned. It was not the fury of a mob at the murder of the Swami. The brutality of the attacks too shows this. They were not mere attacks but diabolic in its brutality. Why was there such widespread brutality?" he asked.
A retired high police official was among those spreading lies. "One allegation was that I ordered the murder of the Swami and a meeting was held at the Veticola parish for this. They even published the minutes of the meeting. When we contacted the persons who were alleged to have attended the meeting, they did not know anything about such a meeting." Only after the court intervened, the retired official stopped his propaganda. There have been a number of death threats against the Archbishop. The Archbishop said his official residence was attacked when the problems began. He was not there as he had gone to attend the death anniversary of his brother. He said police and the CRPF men stood spectators when the mob attacked the people and set on fire the Christian institutions. When one church was being burned, 22 policemen were simply watching it happen. When the nun, who was raped was being paraded half naked, 12 policemen were at the scene. She ran to them for help and stood in the middle of the policemen. But the mob pulled her away from them and abused her. Just like in Gujarat, the excuse for the police was that they had "no orders" to protect the Christians. Though there was curfew order 144 to prevent people gathering together, the Hindutva groups took out a large procession with the Swami's body and attacked all the Christian institutions on their way. They were planning for a statewide procession with the mud taken from the grave of the Swami. Fearing more violence, the Archbishop said he approached the Supreme Court as it was the only remedy available since the State Government of Orissa was totally non-responsive to his repeated requests to protect the Christian community.
Currently people in the refugee camps are not going back fearing for their lives and the forced conversion to Hinduism by Hindutva organizations. Moreover, their homes and property in their villages have been destroyed.
Bishop Ninan said the persecution is an opportunity given to the Christians to become true Christians. Instead of resisting the attacks, Christians should show the other cheek as the master taught and show the Christian spirit, he said. Very Rev. Fr. David Cheruthottil of the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church said, "As Indian Christians we have coexisted peacefully with Hindus in India since 52AD and contributed much to India's progress. We are united in our faith in Christ and He gives us the strength to love our enemies and profess and practice that faith in the face of evil and violence." Rev. Fr. John Thomas, Diocesan Secretary of the Indian Orthodox Church expressed support and solidarity with the persecuted Christians in India, and asked for the Government of India to protect all its citizens regardless of religion.
"Organizations like RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal which spearheaded the attacks on Christians work freely in the US also," said George Abraham, in his welcome speech. They even try to intimidate the Indian-American media against publishing items or advertisements against them. Their propaganda that conversion is the cause of the attacks masks the true intention of these fundamentalists which is to create a Hindu nation and continue subjugation of the lower castes and Dalits to practice a form of apartheid, he noted. The attacks are not a law and order problem, but the attackers want to bring back the days of unsociability and caste system, Rev. Nehemiah Thompson, Organizer of UN rally in protest of Orissa incidents said.
Attorney Stanley Kalathara, Rev. Fr. Jose Kandathikudy, Abraham Mammen, Rev. Wilson Jose, Michelle D'Sousa, KJ Gregory, Fr Jose Nedumakkal, Sabu Lukose, Joseph Barnard, Alex Vilanilam, Mathew M. Abraham, Victor Joseph, Thomas T. Oommen and Rev. Bernard Malik spoke. Mary Philip and Abraham Thomas were the MCs and Innocent Ulahannan proposed the vote of thanks