Bhubaneswar (AsiaNews) - Christians in Orissa are demanding justice. Two years after the massacres that began August 24, 2008 in Kandhamal district, the survivors of violence are still at risk and more than 15 thousand people, mostly Dalits who converted to Christianity, can not return to their villages unless they convert to Hinduism. From about 3,300 complaints submitted by victims to local police, only 831 were accepted. Of these the majority were quashed. To date only 193 cases were treated with a direct trial. From about 794 Hindu extremists arrested, the police has released 653, while only 7criminals were sentenced to life imprisonment. In an attempt to give a voice to those suffered or witnessed violence, a National People's Tribunal has been launched in New Delhi. The initiative was organized by the National Solidarity Forum (NSF) to hear the testimony of victims, prevented by threats and pressures, from presenting their cases before the local court in the district of Kandhamal.
AsiaNews ha chiesto a mons. Rapahel Cheenath, arcivescovo di Cuttack-Bhubaneswar (Orissa) da anni impegnato nell’emancipazione dei fuori casta, cosa si cela, secondo lui, dietro i massacri e come la Chiesa sta operando in questa situazione.
AsiaNews asked Mgr. Rapahel Cheenath, archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar (Orissa) for years engaged in the emancipation of outcasts, what, in his opinion, lies behind the killings and how the Church is working in this situation.
What were your in opinion, the real causes of the violence in Kandhamal in 2008?
The Church and Christian missionaries in Orissa have always worked for the emancipation of the Dalits and tribals. Today they live in a better position than before, thanks to education programs built by the Church that have made them aware of their rights. But the Hindu nationalists and their allies can not tolerate this situation and that is why they want to get rid of Christians.
What do you think of the Dalit Christian Liberation Movement promoted by the Church and Christian missionaries?
There is no doubt that it is a useful initiative. Dalit and tribal peoples do not enjoy the same privileges of higher castes. They are discriminated against on all fronts. For centuries, they have lived in a state of slavery and rarely own the land they work. They have low incomes that do not allow them to be independent economically. All attempts to improve their condition have always been constrained.
In this light how would you view the service offered by Christians?
Any action or service performed by a Christian is based on the teaching of Jesus: "love God with all your heart and with all your strength and love your neighbour as yourself". If Mother Teresa did something for humanity it was because she followed this basic principle. Jesus identified himself with the poor, when he said: "I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink, I was naked and you clothed me, whenever you did this to one of my brethren you did it to me”.
What do you think the Church and missionaries should do?
They must implement the teachings of Jesus, following the path that leads them to help the poorest of the poor. Dalits and Tribals, are fully included in this category. The Church and missionaries are doing their best to improve their conditions through education, building hospitals, lending spiritual and financial aid. Christ did the same thing. He treated the sick, fed the poor, giving them peace and joy, he forgave sinners. And what was the outcome? Thousands followed him. Similarly there have been results in recent years in the struggle for the emancipation of the Dalit. Many of them had access to services, gaining respect in society, such as former President KR Narayan. But much remains to be done and outcasts still fight for their rights as Indian citizens, as guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. The Church has done much to spread these conditions. So if the Dalit Christians are being attacked and persecuted, it is not because of their conversion, but because Christianity has freed them from centuries of slavery.
Another issue addressed by the movement for the liberation of Dalit and tribal Christians is economic self-sufficiency. This is definitely a threat to the centuries old dominion of the highest castes over the Dalits. That is why during the violence in Kandhamal Hindu extremists burned down all 126 shops managed by Christians.
Who are the businessmen in the district of Kandhamal?
They do not originate in Kandhmal: they come from Cuttack, Bhubaneswar, Orissa and other parts of Ganjam and belong mainly to the Brahmin, Bania and Oriya castes. These occupy the land in secret, or exploit the misery of the population. Businessmen seek to obtain a monopoly of the market, through a type of Mafia control. It is they who organized the violence, using ordinary people as killing machines, to advance their interests. So these men are the real criminals. They used their influence on local authorities during the clashes of 2008 and provided kerosene, acid, weapons, drugs and alcohol to extremists. We must put these people behind bars, in this way we will give the victims justice. The main mistake made by the Christians was stand up to them only in recent years, they must be punished now, otherwise the age-old problems of India will never be solved. History is the only witness of this naked and tragic reality.
He died in Mumbai and not in Orissa because he had received death threats. He led the Church during the Kandhamal pogroms and fought for the rights of victims and survivors.