Thursday, September 11, 2008

Indian Government Not Doing Enough says Bishop

Bishop Alex Dias of the Diocese of Port Blair in India’s Andaman and Nicobare islands has charged that the Indian government is not doing enough to halt the anti-Christian violence in the state of Orissa. Speaking in an interview, the bishop warned that the violence could spread if it is not halted in time, saying “The world must know that these things happen in India.” “The government of Orissa and the Indian government are not doing all they should do, despite the presence of police,” Bishop Dias said in an interview with SIR News. “But if the violence against Christians is not stopped in time, it risks spreading to other Indian states that are famously anti-Christian, such as Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisghar. There are some signs of this happening already.”

The series of anti-Christian attacks began when a Hindu leader was killed by suspected Communist militants. Hindu extremists used the leader’s death as a pretext for the violence, in which many Christians have been killed and many Christian churches and homes burned to the ground. “Even if all the world knows Christians are not responsible,” the bishop continued, “the Hindu fundamentalists want to kill a Catholic leader too. The archbishop is doing all he can to curb the violence, meeting politicians in Delhi, but that’s not enough.” Bishop Dias said the India Supreme Court’s ban of a planned procession bearing the ashes of the murdered Hindu leader is a positive development, claiming that more actions against Christians were planned to follow the event. “The world must know that these things happen in India, which boasts to be the world’s greatest democracy,” the bishop told SIR. “What is happening is ridiculous. In a democracy with a lay government, every religion should have its freedom.”

According to Bishop Dias, international diplomatic pressure is needed despite the Indian government’s condemnations of the violence and the deployment of a special police force. “They should have acted earlier,” the bishop said of the Indian government. “They took action after the pressures of the Bishops Conference, in my opinion, a bit late and not adequately.” Though it is reported that the situation in Orissa has calmed, there are still some attacks in relief camps. “People do not want to stay there, because they feel threatened,” Bishop Dias explained. There is still peace in the Andaman and Nicobare Islands, where about 40,000 Catholics make up a fraction of the archipelago’s total population of 400,000. Bishop Dias told SIR that after the violence in Orissa began, he met with the delegates of the local media. “They all condemned the incidents,” he said. “Then, on September 4, we organized a procession with other Christian leaders and 12 delegates of the other religions.” “The governor of the Andaman Islands reassured us that it will not happen here,” Bishop Dias reported.

Priest speaks of his ordeal:
Fr Edward Sequeira, one of the victims of the violence committed by Hindu radicals in Orissa, does not hesitate to call them terrorists. Hindu fundamentalists have long been conducting a campaign against conversions to Christianity, and against evangelization. For Fr Edward, 58, missionary activity is something that upholds the dignity of the person. “I have been working among lepers in Padampur in Bargarh district for the past ten years. I realized that, given the preference for a male child in rural Indian communities, parents many times have more than 4-5 daughters before a son is born - and unfortunately, these girls are rarely sent to school, they are made to graze cattle or even sent at early age as domestic workers or to the landlords, and many girls suffer from malnutrition. "So I started a very small hostel-orphanage for girls, to give them opportunity and dignity through education and vocational training. One such girl in my orphanage was Rajni Majhi. Hatred of Christianity and personal development is what drives radical Hindu groups to try to wipe out the presence of Christians and their institutions. "For more than 25 years I have worked in Orissa, and not a single person have I converted to Christianity".

Fr Edward explains what happened to him: "On Monday August 25th, around 1.30 pm, as I was having lunch, there was a knock on the door. When I opened it, a huge crowd of more than 500 people were outside and asked: 'Who is the priest?'. This is nothing strange, as often people come requesting my help, for my vehicle to drive them to a hospital or other such emergencies. As soon as I identified myself, they raised their arms holding all the weapons - axes, shovels, spades and iron rods. They took me outside in the courtyard and began hitting me, screaming abuses at Christianity and shouting 'Bajrang Bali Ki Jai; Yesu Christi Murdabada; Hail Lord Hanuman (a Hindu god with the face of a monkey), destroy, eliminate Jesus Christ', beating me on my head, back, all over my body. "They thrashed me for nearly an hour. Then they entered my room, collected all the clothes and books and whatever they laid their hands on and piled it in the centre of the room, threw some kerosene on the pile, and some crude oil, and threw some gelatin sticks which they had brought with them and lit the fire and threw me into the flames and locked the door from the outside. Somehow, I was not frightened, there was definitely the divine presence in the burning room, and I went into the bathroom and locked myself in and shut all the windows. The whole room was engulfed in thick smoke and flames. In the meanwhile, the men dragged Rajni outside with the children - some of the children escaped. They brought her outside my bathroom window. I could hear the cries of Rajni.

"These criminals tied her hands together - they made a huge bonfire in the orphanage room and threw her onto the fire. I can still hear her voice, 'Father, they are going to burn me', these were her last words to me, after this I lost consciousness. Now my concern is for helping the orphans. These children saw the fire. I can't even imagine their trauma; they will be afraid for their whole lives". It was only the arrival of fire-fighters that put an end to the tragedy. "When the Church makes the people aware of their dignity and gives them self-reliance, we are attacked. We are improving the economic status of the poor and marginalised. The international community must unequivocally condemn this terrorist attack, and also impose sanctions. The international community should question India's abuse and lack of human rights and religious freedom”.
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