NEW DELHI, India – August 23 must be remembered as "Peace Day" to mark the murder of a Hindu fundamentalist leader and the ensuing violence that targeted the Christian community, says Archbishop of Orissa Raphael Cheenath.
Addressing reporters, the archbishop along with other like-minded people, called for a peace day in which the Indian people would "forget the past and build a harmonious society."
"The gruesome murder of [Swami Laxmananda Saraswati] destroyed peace and harmony. Let us unite and build a cohesive society," Archbishop Cheenath said.
The 84-year-old Saraswati was murdered on August 23, 2008, when Maoists allegedly opened fire at the Hindu monk and four of his aides at his Jalespata ashram. In retaliation, Hindu extremists blamed the Christian community and attacked the minority group, forcing thousands to flee their homes and churches.
To commemorate the day and express solidarity, Cheenath says Christians will take part in peace marches in different parts of the state. Fasting and prayers will also be conducted in churches.
"Orissa, known as the land of peace and harmony, was divided by criminals on religious lines. Their efforts must be thwarted and the minorities in India must be protected," he said.
The violence last year against the Christian community left hundreds of houses were burnt, churches razed down and families injured. Dozens were murdered and thousands were forced out of their homes to the forests during the four month-long violence.
For the Christian community and the minority leadership, it's not just the state and central governments that must declare Aug. 23 as peace day, but also the United Nations.
Indians Christians even called on the United Nations to declare the day as a "Global Day for Peace and Harmony" to ensure that such violence is not perpetuated on any community or individuals in any part of the world.
The Archbishop, meanwhile, told reporters that the situation was still tense in the riot-hit district and Christians were still feeling insecure considering the lack of arrests made during the anti-Christian violence.
He demanded that the government arrest the culprits and offer security and protection to religious minorities, their lives, property, institutions and places of worship.
Cheenath's plea was made not only on behalf of Christians but also for Hindu monks. Any violence against Swamijis and their disciples are misused to attack minorities and therefore the government must provide them adequate security, he demanded.