John Dayal - All Indian Christia Council
Christian rally demands justice, security
Thousands fear they may have to usher in a second Christmas as refugees in Orissa forests
Christians of Chandigarh and surrounding districts of Punjab and Haryana rallied in their thousands in the "City Beautiful" on Thursday demanding security and justice for their community in Orissa and Karnataka, the worst hit in the fundamentalist violence through several months of the year 2008.
"Over 50,000 Christian men, women and children of Kandhamal fear they will celebrate Christmas 2008 as refugees hiding for their lives in the forests of Kandhamal district in Orissa, in ill-kept refugee camps in the state or as internally displaced persons seeking safety and a livelihood in various cities of the country. They remain hounded by memories of Christmas 2007 which 1,000 of them spent in the forests after the first attacks," speakers including National Integration Council member Dr John Dayal, All India Christian Council National Secretary Dr. Sam Paul and Chandigarh-Shimla Catholic diocese administrator Fr Thomas told the rally.
The Christian march and mass rally addressed a Memorandum to the President of India through the Governors of Punjab and Haryana and the Chief Administrator of the Union Territory of Chandigarh. The Memorandum cautioned that while the situation was comparatively peaceful in these the two states and the Union territory, reports had started coming in of communal gangs terrorizing Home Churches and small congregations in small towns.
The situation in Orissa, Karnataka Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh, however, continued to be terrible despite assurances by Central and state governments. In Orissa and other states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata party, the police forces and the subordinate criminal justice apparatus had been heavily infiltrated by the communal ideology of the Sangh Parivar. The result was that the police was a mute bystander and often an active participant in attacks on Christian houses of worship and gatherings, and assaults on priests. This state of impunity must end There also have been many cases of sexual violence. Cases were often not registered, and tragically, it was the victim Christians who ended up facing the wrath of the government. A hate campaign continues unabated in the media and on the streets, targeting Christians and their faith, questioning their patriotism and stigmatizing their religious personnel.
The Memorandum quoted figures compiled by the All India Christian Council: the states of Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Uttaranchal have been severely affected. In Orissa, over 4,500 houses have been burnt and 300 villages purged of all Christians in the worst case of "ethnic cleansing" in Independent India. Over 50,000 are homeless, ten thousand of them in government camps. We have the names of Sixty dead and close to Ninety men are still reported missing and may be dead in the forest. Independent probes have spoken of clandestine disposal of bodies. School children are without education, babies without infant food, and families without warm clothes in the cold hill tract.
The government must immediately crack down on hate campaigns and ensure justice. The Anti Communal Violence Bill, which was initially rejected by civil society because it was lopsided, must be immediately revised and brought into force, by an Ordinance if necessary after consulting all minority communities, the Memorandum said.
The Centre must use Constitutional provisions to ensure that State governments implement guarantees of freedom of faith and protection of the homes, places of worship, and livelihood the religious minorities. At present, criminal gangs are roaming free. Central forces that have been sent to Orissa, for instance, have not been able to rescue those in the forests for want of effective coordination with the state machinery.
There is also little justice in the relief, rehabilitation and compensation procedures. The victims of Orissa have been given a pittance. Even the victims of December 2007 violence have not been able to build their houses. Churches, burnt down by communal forces, must be rebuilt at State expense. The governments and the aggressors cannot evade their culpability and responsibility. The Church cannot continue to rebuild places of worship only to see them demolished and burnt by criminal gangs of a particular ideology, the Memorandum said.
The rally also affirmed the demand by the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, the National Council of Churches in India and the All India Christian Council that the Central Bureau of Investigation probe major cases, including that of the rape of a Catholic Nun in Kandhamal in August 2008.
Justice to the Christian community cannot be complete without accepting the just demands of the Dalit Christians for Scheduled Caste Status at par with their brethren in the Sikh, Buddhist and Hindu faiths, the Memorandum said. The sixty year old struggle for a fair deal, supported by several National Commissions, appeals to the basic tenets of Equality and Affirmative Action enshrined in the Constitution of India, the Memorandum added.
Press Statement released to the Media by Dr John Dayal