All India Christian Council

HYDERABAD – Jan. 2, 2008 – Today the All India Christian Council (aicc) led a rally in Chennai to protest the anti-Christian violence in Orissa. Several civil society leaders, including Dalit and Muslim leaders, expressed solidarity with the victims. Meanwhile, violence resumed overnight including attacks on at least two Christian villages and the estimated death toll has increased.Today’s rally in Chennai, opposite the Central General Hospital and in front of Memorial House, included about 1,000 leaders from both Christian and non-Christian organisations. Pastor Titus Kumar of Vision for Orissa gave an eye-witness report with video footage of the destruction and havoc caused by extremists from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). Other speakers included: Dr. Joseph D’souza, aicc President; Rev. K.B. Edison, aicc Tamil Nadu chapter President; Bishop Ezra Sargunam, Evangelical Church of India; and Mr. Umar Farooque, the Islamic Federation for Change.

“Although the government and media are saying the attacks on Christians have stopped, rural pastors with mobile phones contacted us in the last few hours with news of fresh attacks. We are devastated to report that there were at least two attacks last night,” said Dr. D’souza. “As I talk with Christians in Orissa, it is clear the death toll has been underestimated. We have reliable but unconfirmed reports of up to 70 Christians killed or missing and presumed dead.” Official reports from the Orissa authorities have put the death count at about four to six people.

Independent act finding teams continue to be blocked from entering affected areas. Police allegedly cannot access troubled rural areas due to roadblocks. The federal government has only dispatched a handful of troops, reportedly because the Orissa government is not requesting assistance. However, media reports said the Minister of Home Affairs visited the area today, but his findings have not been released. Aicc leaders in New Delhi were told the National Commission for Minorities scheduled a team to arrive on Jan. 8, 2008, and the National Human Rights Commission is deputing a team as soon as possible.

At the rally, many cries were heard for the state government of Chief Minister Neevan Patnaik to step down in light of continuing attacks against Christians – most of whom are Dalits and Tribals. Also, leaders demanded that the Orissa government increase the promised amount of compensation for families of those murdered from 100,000 to 500,000 rupees.

“The Orissa police and politicians seem focused on blaming Christians or Naxals for the violence. We anticipate the findings of Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil. We implore authorities to act now and save innocent lives instead of assigning blame. We condemn any violence – whether done by Hindus or by Christians. But the world must know that, contrary to media reports, there is no evidence that Christians attacked Hindus — including Swami Saraswati,” said Sam Paul, aicc Secretary of Public Affairs.

The violence allegedly began when Christians in Bamunigaon village in Kandhamal district of Orissa began to celebrate Christmas Eve. Local Hindu fundamentalists opposed the event and a fight ensued. Also, a Hindutva leader, Swami Saraswati, was attacked by unknown assailants — he alleged they were Christians — near Daringbadi while he was traveling. The next day the VHP called for a strike and its members began attacking Christians across the state.

Reports collected by the aicc as of Dec. 30, 2007, indicated 65 churches burned down, 600 Christian homes destroyed, hundreds of Christians forced to flee into forests to save their lives, and thousands homeless. The aicc obtained a copy of the complaint filed with police in Bamunigaon village by Roman Catholic priest Thomas Nayak, whose church was one of the first attacked on Christmas Eve. He names twenty-two attackers who are all allegedly part of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), a sister group to the VHP, and says that Swami Saraswati visited the area on Dec. 9, 2007 and planned the attacks.

The aicc and the All India Confederation of SC/ST Organisations will organise a protest rally in Bubhaneshwar, Orissa, on January 10, 2008. Details are to be announced soon. A press conference yesterday, Jan. 1, 2008, in Bubhaneshwar included statements by film maker Mahesh Bhatt, National Integration Council member John Dayal (also aicc Secretary-General), and Abraham Mathai, Vice Chairman of the State Commission for Minorities, Maharashtra.

The aicc will engage in relief work as soon as curfews are lifted and the affected villages are accessible. Relief plans call for rebuilding churches, Christian homes, and distribution of blankets and food for people who have been hiding in forests for days.

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.

Release by

Mr. Madhu Chandra,
Regional Secretary
All India Christian Council,
aiccdelhi@gmail.com
(0) 9868184939

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