Catholic bishops from the persecution ravaged state of Orissa warned this week that Hindu extremists have a “master plan” to wipe out Christianity in the remote eastern Indian state.
In a letter to the state’s chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, the Indian bishops conveyed their concerns about the mass “exodus of Christians” from Kandhamal District and addressed the “considerable reduction” of refugees in relief camps, according to Catholic News Agency.
The bishops denied that the Christian refugees were leaving the camps to safely return to their homes. Most, they reported, are moving to relief camps in other areas such as in Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Jhanla, Berhampur, or have moved into rented houses, homes of relatives, friends or acquaintances.
“It is estimated that 10,000 to 15,000 Christians of Kandhamal district are living outside the district,” the bishops wrote in the letter to the minister.
And while displaced Indian Christians want to return to their villages, they still fear being attacked on their way back or in the village themselves, the bishops added.
Another factor hindering the people’s return are reports of forced conversions. The bishops noted that details of forced conversions are taking place where Christians are pressured to choose to “accept Hindu Samskaras under oath and under pain of divine punishment.”
They are also forced to convert to Hinduism or forfeit the harvesting of their field. One man was even denied burial in his village because he was not a Hindu, the letter highlighted.
Another issue troubling the bishops is the fact that most of those who brutally attacked the Christians have not been brought to justice.
The state government have not arrested or brought the criminals to court, the bishops complained. Also, the government has not fulfilled their promises to allot land and money to the now homeless Christians.
Some 50,000 Christians have been displaced during the more than two months-long anti-Christian violence in Orissa. About 30,000 of the people are said to be living in refugee camps where the living condition is poor.
Christians and human rights activists in India and abroad have condemned the government for turning a blind eye to the violence that has gone on unabated since August and has even spread to several other Indian states.
Indian bishops in the letter contested allegations that the attacks are an ethnic conflict.
“Hindu Fundamentalist groups have been trying to name the communal violence as an Ethnic Conflict between the Tribals and the Pano Christians. A cursory look at facts reveals that this conflict is a calculated and pre-planned master plan to wipe out Christianity from Kandhamal district, Orissa, in order to realize the hidden agenda of Sangh Parivar of establishing a Hindu Nation,” they argued.
The bishop did, however, applaud the Orissa government’s decision to establish a Fast Track Court at Kandhamal to accelerate the trials of cases involving attacks against Christians.
The bishops requested to the Orissa minister that the judge of the court be of a religion other than Hindu or Christian to ensure fairness.
In addition to the request, the clergy also asked for the national police to remain in Kandhamal until after the parliamentary and assembly in Orissa, and for churches to be rebuilt or repaired by the first week of December in time for Christmas. “This will also help confidence building among the congregations and bury the past quietly as they approach Christmas 2008,” their letter concluded.
The letter was signed by Raphael Cheenath, Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar; Bishop of Balasore Thomas Thiruthalil; and Bishop of Berhampur Sarat Nayak.
Similarly, an ecumenical group of U.S. Christian leaders wrote a letter this week to President Bush appealing for a stronger American response to the attacks on Indian Christians.
“You should insist, in the strongest terms, that these reprehensible groups and the assenting local government agencies be brought into conformity with India's rule of law," the letter signed by 24 Catholic, Orthodox, mainline Protestant and evangelical leaders read.
The American Christian leaders also used a similar description to the Indian Catholic bishops to describe what is taking place in India – calling it “religious cleansing.”