11 October 2008|
Christian Council stands by Church unity, denounces effort to isolate individual groups
Coercing and terrorising a people into submission is not genuine dialogue
Press Statement, All India Christian Council
[The following is the text of the Statement issued by Dr. Joseph D'Souza, President, and Dr John Dayal, Secretary General, of the All India Christian Council on the failure of the Biju Janata Dal - Bharatiya Janata Party coalition government to stop the Ethnic Cleansing of Christians in the State of Orissa. The violence has continued for more than 45 days since it broke out on 24th August this year. ] New Delhi/ Hyderabad October 11, 2008
Our community is facing a trial by gun, sword, fire and rapine, the worst crisis it has seen in its 2,000 year old history in India, one of the earliest homelands of the faith. There is ethnic cleansing of Christians in Orissa where violence continues unabated for 45 day at the hands of bloodthirsty gangs Civil Society identifies as the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. So far 300 villages have been cleansed of all Christians, the 17,000 or so in government's refugee camps have been told they can go home only if they become Hindus. More than 4,000 houses and more than 100 churches have been burnt. Perhaps thirty thousand or more, more than half of them children are hiding in forests or are living as Internally Displaced Persons. More than 50 have been butchered, often burnt alive. A nun and an uncounted number of other women have been gang raped. Gender violence was one of the unspoken traumas of the widespread violence in Orissa in December 2007. For all practical purposes, Orissa seems not to be a part of India where the rule of law operates, and the Indian Constitution remains operative. Orissa is ruled by a coalition of the Biju Janata Dal and the Bharatiya Janata party [BJP]. The violence has spread to other States ruled by the BJP, including Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttarakhand. Other States have not remained untouched, and Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Delhi have also seen demolition of churches, the maiming or killing of priests.
A Constitutional authority as the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, and the supreme leader of his party, Mr Lal Krishna Advani could have ordered his governments in the States to act and stop the violence. He chose to remain a silent spectator for more than 40 days. When he spoke at last to condemn the rape of the Nun in Orissa, he immediately diverted attention from the heinous crime by speaking of 'forcible and fraudulent conversions' during a meeting with some Christian leaders, called at the behest of a Hindu swami from Rishikesh and some BJP Members of Parliament. The dialogue was neither religious, nor political. There is nothing in these BJP and RSS dialogues that identifies the killers, arsonists and rapists. There is little that puts the onus of the violence where it belongs - on a political leadership which has conspired with the goons and its police which is guilty both of inaction in saving in the victims, and of participating in the violence against the Christians.
We are deeply anguished. We see this and similar attempts at 'dialogue' as an insidious and clever way on the eve of the meeting of the National Integration Council to absolve the BJP of responsibility and to save the goons of its parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and its militant terrorist organisations, Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad who run a parallel government in Orissa and other States. The organisations are now facing the wrath of the entire civil society of India, and of the world.
The All India Christian Council welcomes all dialogue. It is the cornerstone of our everyday life and Christian witness. But a dialogue presupposes free will, a peaceful platform, a structured agenda, a common goal for peace through mutual respect, understanding and acknowledgement of each other as equals.
The BJP-RSS 'dialogue' exercises in some parts of the country exude the stink of coercion and beating a smaller community into submission and a whittling away of Constitutional rights. This also becomes a strategy to divide the community and to isolate and target smaller groups, in this case the Believers Church and the New Life Fellowship, through well placed and motivated media gossip. These churches have pleaded innocence but face a well constructed campaign designed to extinguish them. We condemn this and affirm the unity and solidarity of the Church in its entire rich diversity of denominations and Rites, from the Catholic to the Episcopal, Evangelical and Pentecostal groups. Everybody who believes in Christ is a Christian.
We also denounce forcible and fraudulent conversions. They would by definition be illegal, immoral and against the Faith. Five decades of Church documents testify to this. Conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit. Repeated exercises by the National Minorities Commission and efforts by aggressive governments have failed to provide a single proven case of forcible or fraudulent for forcible conversion. And yet State guarantees on Freedom of Faith, including the propagation of faith, and human rights are smothered in calls for moratoriums and brutalised in police harassment.
There should be more dialogue and an encompassing one on all issues so vital to the unity and integrity of India. Religious leaders should dialogue with other religious leaders in bilateral and multilateral forums. Parliament provides the forum for political dialogue. Civil society is the best platform for a larger peaceful and continuing dialogue and debate. These are forums we trust. And we call upon them, including the National Integration Council, to act soon to save not just the Christian community in Orissa, Karnataka and other States, but to save the very Idea of India in all its glorious diversity, its precious secularism and its civilisation dignity.
Rev Dr. Joseph D'Souza