Deep in village, thugs enforce economic boycott of ChristiansAs Archbishop Raphael Cheenath, now on a farewell pastoral tour of Kandhamal, extols the courage, faith and perseverance of the Dalit Panos and Tribal Kondh Christians of the central Orissa district in the face of unceasing Hindutva pressure, deep in the villages, the economic boycott of Christians in enforced by organised gangs of fanatical thugs.
The 77 year old Divine Word Society prelate of Orissa retires on 2nd April 2011. Like Archbishop Alan De Lastic of Delhi who emerged the face and voice of the community in his unflinching challenge to persecution in the 1990s, Cheenath was the central figure in the legal and civil society challenge to mass arson, serial murders and gang rapes unleashed in 2007 and 2008 by members of the RSS, Adivasi Kalyan Ashram and Bajrang Dal, whose political identity was confirmed by Chief Minister Naveen Pattnaik in the State Legislative Assembly.
Cheenath saluted his people saying “You have raised the faith into new heights at the face of death. I am proud of you.” As he cautioned them not to be misled by the apparent peace prevailing in the area, he said “For the government, peace has returned, but I am not sure how long it would remain, We cannot sit idle, but continue to fight for our Constitutional rights, especially religious freedom to earn sustainable peace.”
In the past, stressing that justice and peace had to go together, the Archbishop moved the Supreme Court in 2008 when the arrogant Collector- cum-District Magistrate Dr Krishna Kumar banned the entry of Christian relief organisations to help the traumatised people. The Supreme Court ruled in the Archbishop’s, favour. He has moved the Supreme Court through the Human Rights Law Network on several issues, including a challenge to the Orissa High Court granting bail to a convicted murderer, Manoj Pradhan, on the plea the he was a legislator. The Supreme Court again ruled against the lower court.
Despite these heroic efforts, much remains the same in that heavily forested district as far as justice and state action is concerned. Br Markose, a Gabriel Brother from Ranchi now working at the grassroots, has been systematically reporting issues of economic boyctott an official apathy.
In an email to me yesterday, Br Markose narrated recent cases of vigilante decisions from Bodimunda where houses of Christians were destroyed in August 20908. Twice during 2009, the Christians tried to bring construction material such as sand to rebuild their houses. On both occasions, the sand was reloaded into the tractor and taken to the temple. The owners of tractor were fined before the vehicle was released by the hardcore Sangh cadres of the village.
After six months, due to the untiring efforts of activists, the
villagers took courage to hire a tractor and bring sand. On 14th March
this year, Pradeep Nayak hired a tractor from village Rudangia and
brought two loads of sand. The next day, Joseph Nayak hired the
tractor of Tileshwar Digal of village Breka,. After making two trips,
driver Ishak was stopped by a mob of about 12 persons led by Birendra
Pradhan, stopped him and demanded a fine of Rs. 5051. The driver did
not have the money. He left the tractor on the road and returned to
On 17th March a four-hour long meeting was held at Catholic Church of the village more than 60 Christian men and women participated. Finally they wrote a formal report to the police, saying they would see the matter through, come what may.
LEGAL FACT-SHEET AND UPDATE DECEMBER 2010