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Sunday, February 26, 2017
India: Report from Orissa - a state in paralysis
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¬†On January 28th 2008, I was in Bhubaneswar, on the invitation of Most Rev Raphael Cheenath svd, the Archbishop of Cuttack, Bhubaneswar, to speak / participate on a Strategic Planning Meeting entitled "Christian Minorities in Orissa under Attack", which was convened by him at the Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar. In the context of the meeting and my subsequent interactions with several, even on the next day, I think it is necessary to put down some of my reflections and observations on what is happening in Orissa and also some suggestions, to immediately address the situation. The parallels between Gujarat and Orissa are unbelievably similar. The connection between the two States, especially since the late nineties, has always been there. It is a known fact that some of the rabble rousers in the tribal dominated areas of Gujarat have had their orientation and training in Orissa. The "modus operandi" of the Sangh Parivar is evidently clear. There is meticulous planning involved. They use lies and half truths to instigate the mobs; the mobs attack Christian Churches, institutions, houses....the people flee, they are terrorized; the Managers, Parish Priests, Superiors in charge of the institutions move away fearing death. Through official Government channels, relief is not allowed. The Sangh Parivar clearly show that the Church has "abandoned" her people, the Priests have "run away", there is no relief coming and then of course, there is a "ghar vapasi" programme! The media is compromised; the reports in the local press are mainly anti-Christian, there is very little coverage in the national / international print / electronic media. Most outsiders think everything is all right. The Collector of Kandhamal issues an order dated 11th January 2008, literally preventing the Christians from providing relief to the affected people. This order was challenged by the Archbishop of Bhubaneswar in a Writ Petition No. 1257/2008 . This Writ Petition was apparently deposed on 28th January 2008 but the written Court Order is still awaited. The State of Orissa shows an apparent air of being ineffective, but the reality is that the State is in criminal complicity with the right-wing Hindu elements ≠ in spite of sweet talk by the CM. Whilst Orissa definitely has a huge number of NGOs, there seems to be hardly any desire, collaboration and commitment to respond to the attack on the Christians. Civil society also seems to have abdicated its role and responsibility. Whilst there has been some token protests in Bhubaneswar, it was mainly because of the presence and organizational capabilities of those who have come from outside the State. There have been some reports and some appeals which have come from Orissa but what is seriously lacking is an in depth study / analysis of the situation, preferably done by a team of eminent citizens from outside the State. The Church too seems to be in a state of "paralysis". There definitely have been several gestures of response, but what is lacking is a coordinated and articulated stand which would simultaneously address the humanitarian (relief), justice (legal) and Constitutional (against communalism), media (communications) dimensions of the reality. Besides, in keeping with the terrorist / fascist designs of the Sangh Parivar, several key Church personnel are not present in the affected areas. Major Donor Agencies like the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and Caritas India are ready to provide financial assistance to the victims but these sources remain virtually untapped. Some of the above may seem judgmental but I have drawn these conclusions after in depth interactions I have had with several concerned people; however, I stand to be corrected if I am wrong. In view of the above, I would like to make the following suggestions (these are not in order of priority but all need to be addressed immediately and perhaps, simultaneously): a) All Parish Priests / Vicars / Sr Superiors should go back to their places of work immediately. Stay in a tent, in a thatched hut, whatever....The presences of these key-personnel will bring back the confidence to the people. b) Start mobilizing relief immediately. Take a convoy of relief materials. The Collector has no business to issue such an order. Provide relief, even if it means "courting arrest". c) Appoint an effective coordinating mechanism with key-people based in Bhubaneswar. This team should facilitate relief, legal aid, communications, etc. Separate teams / cells must be appointed for each dimension of involvement. d) Get the women involved. They have suffered a lot during the attacks. I was very dismayed when there was not a single Religious Sister (or for that matter, a women victim) present at the meeting. e) Internationalize the issue. The WORLD MUST KNOW what is happening in Orissa. Let there be short communications sent out from the Media Office of the Church in Bhubaneswar every day. Our Centre (PRASHANT, in Ahmedabad) will be ready to flash it to the world media. f) Bring together and backup with resources, an "Independent Citizens Tribunal" consisting of eminent non-Christian citizens. They should begin work as soon as possible. (This, and other suggestions were already made at the Consultation organized by the CBCI Commission of Justice and Peace in Delhi on January 18th 2008.) g) Be in touch with the local media, provide them with facts and figures on a daily basis. We need to give them our side of the story. h) Sign and get others to sign the Petition Online: i) Demand from the Central Government, immediate intervention in Orissa. Their silence is deafening in spite of high-level delegations to the President, PM, etc. j) Popularize "Communalism in Orissa" - the Report of the Indian Peoples Tribunal on Environment and Human Rights, of September 2006. (I had already insisted that CRS Orissa buys copies of this and sends it to all their Partners in Orissa more than a year ago.). We may be already too late to effectively respond to the situation in Orissa. Let not future generations condemn us for allowing the secular character of our country to be destroyed. We have to act now...! Fr Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of "Prashant", the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace) "PRASHANT" For more information see:
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