India: Bishops issue joint statement on Orissa

The Catholic Bishops of Orissa along with the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, (CBCI) the apex body of the Catholic Church in India have expressed their deep anguish and pain "that even after 54 days of attacks on Christians in Kandhamal, the situation in the district and in other parts of Orissa is still tense and insecure" in a joint statement.

The bishops said that Christians are afraid to return to their villages as threats of death have forced many of them to flee in to the forest or to live in dehumanizing condition in State-run relief camps. The camps have become half-sized - not because the people have returned to their respective villages, but because they have migrated to other districts and other states in search of safety. Christians of Kandhamal have lost faith in the State Government and they feel that their fundamental right to live has been totally taken away by the constitutionally elected Government.

The animosity that is being positively engendered and spread by fundamentalist forces causes deep anxiety among all the leaders of the Catholic Church and we share in the suffering of our people who are being persecuted and have become victims of mob violence and a systematic hate campaign replete with lies. The fear that has driven thousands into the forests for shelter and safety is a living reproach to those who should provide safety and security and not leave the law and order situation to mob rule. The bishops condenmed the killing of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and the killing of more than 60 Christians the brutalization of several others and the ongoing violence on peace loving Christians.

They have demanded for a CBI inquiry into the killing of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati.

''That there be a separate CBI inquiry into the burning alive of a Hindu girl and the rape of a religious nun and the month long delay in the filing of FIRs'', they insisted in their statement. Bishops have called for "stronger and stringent action be taken against all perpetrators of these heinous crimes and just and adequate compensation be immediately given to the affected people and institutions".

Expressing their anguish for the ways in which the state police behaved during the riots, the bishops demanded that 'in the event of people taking law into their own hands, the police be instructed to act in accordance with the demands of law, with justice and without prejudice'.

This Joint Statement was issued by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India and the Regional Bishops' Council of Orissa at the conclusion of a two day consultation on the 'Violence against the Christians in Orissa' held at the CBCI Center New Delhi, on 16-17 October 2008. Others present at the Consultation included Archbishop Vincent Concessao of Delhi and Bishop Jacob Mar Barnabas of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church and the Secretaries of the CBCI Commissions. The statement was signed by by both Archbishop Stanislaus Fernandes, SJ (Secretary General of CBCI) and and Bishop Thomas Thiruthalil, CM, Chairman of the Orissa Regional Bishops' Council.

Victor Edwin SJ
Manresa House

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