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Thursday, August 28, 2008
For immediate release
From Pope to international human rights groups,
global community expresses concern
HYDERABAD — August 28, 2008 — Reports from eastern India of burning Christian homes, murdered pastors, and massive destruction of Christian property continued for a sixth day. All India Christian Council (AICC) leaders in Orissa state reported 17 Christians are dead and expect the figure to rise when communication is made with remote regions.
“Differences over religion cannot be blamed for these crimes. We are distressed at the defiance of law and order by Hindu fundamentalist leaders and their public comments which are spreading lies and hate. Their unpardonable excuse is that followers are uncontrollably angry about Christian conversions in the region,” said Dr. Joseph D’Souza, AICC President. “We are also deeply troubled by the state and central government’s inadequate response. The fact that identical attacks happened in the same area exactly nine months ago is unbelievable. What will convince authorities to protect human rights and enforce constitutional guarantees?”
Although some state authorities claimed there were no new attacks, the situation continues to spiral out of control, especially in rural villages. Yesterday police were given shoot on sight orders in Kandhamal District, the epicenter of the violence, because mobs were violating curfews. Also, the Minister of State for Home Affairs, Mr. Prakash Jaiswal, was supposed to visit affected areas. But his trip was canceled due to security concerns. AICC had reliable reports of increased violence in Gajapati District in the southern part of the state.
Today Human Rights Watch, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), and Dalit Freedom Network (DFN) sent joint letters to the U.K. Foreign Secretary, U.S. Secretary of State, French Foreign Minister, and European Commissioner for External Relations urging them to issue statements of concern about the anti-Christian attacks in Orissa. CSW and DFN are AICC partners in Britain and the USA, respectively. France currently holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union.
Yesterday, in his afternoon address at Vatican Square, Pope Benedict XVI said he was deeply saddened by the violence against India’s Christians. A senior Vatican official called the attacks “a sin against God and humanity” according to one newspaper.
A seven-member inter-denominational delegation from the AICC Orissa state chapter met with the governor, Mr. Murlidhar Chandrakant Bhandare, for about 30 minutes this afternoon. “We apprised him of the situation and requested emergency deployment of the army, compensation for the victims, rebuilding of houses and churches, construction of relief camps, and restoration of the rule of law,” said Rev. P.R. Parichha, AICC Orissa state president. This evening the AICC Secretary General was scheduled to meet Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson of the ruling Indian National Congress Party in Delhi.
The AICC is supporting the call from major Indian church networks to close all of India’s Christian schools on Friday, August 29, 2008. The groups want children — and parents — to learn about the situation in Orissa and realize that communal divisions are harmful for India. They have encouraged people to pray for victims as well as perpetrators. It is estimated that about 30,000 schools will close their doors across India.
Christian leaders are also calling for a day of prayer and fasting across India on September 7, 2008.
In the aftermath of the murder of a Hindu swami by unknown assailants on August 23, 2008, mobs attacked the Christian community across the eastern state of Orissa. On Monday, a 12-hour strike called by hardliner Hindu nationalist organizations resulted in the spread of violence. Media reports and eye witness accounts indicate thousands of Christian properties burnt, sexual assaults of nuns, and pastors killed in their homes. See dedicated webpage at: http://indianchristians.in/news/content/view/2332/45/
From Dec. 24, 2007 – Jan. 2, 2008, attacks in Kandhamal district killed at least four Christians and destroyed over 100 churches and 730 Christian homes. Most of the victims were Dalits, formerly known as untouchables.
The All India Christian Council (www.aiccindia.org), birthed in 1998, exists to protect and serve the Christian community, minorities, and the oppressed castes. The AICC is a coalition of thousands of Indian denominations, organizations, and lay leaders.
Written by the All India Christian Council.