Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Orissa Bishop Appeals for Peace

Bishop Of Balasore Appeal For Peace and Harmony In Orissa

The atrocities being committed against the Christian Community in Orissa and in particular in Kandhamal District from the wake of the killing Swami Laxanananda Saraswati along with four others on 23rd August 2008 near Tumudibandh. We, the Catholic Community in Orissa, deeply condemn this barbarous incident. At this juncture, I earnestly appeal to all of you to maintain peace and harmony.

Following is the Circular from Balasore Diocese:

Circular No. 5/2008


BALASORE-756 001

1st September 2008

My dear Fathers, Brothers, Sisters and Lay Faithful,

You might be well aware of the atrocities being committed against the Christian Community in Orissa and in particular in Kandhamal District in the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar from the wake of the killing Swami Laxanananda Saraswati along with four others on 23rd August 2008 near Tumudibandh. We, the Catholic Community in Orissa, deeply condemn this barbarous incident and deeply sympathize with the near and dear ones of the deceased. At this juncture, I earnestly appeal to all of you to maintain peace and harmony. I am sending herewith a circular, which gives a number of relevant informations, action plan and what had been being done to stop the violence. As you can see, this attack by the Fundamentalists caused much damage, strain and loss to the church in Orissa. I also give you herby some of the facts and figures of the attacks.


Violence re-erupted within the Indian state of Orissa once again. The attacks performed by Hindu extremist groups are just one link in a long chain of events that have continued to strain Hindu-Christian relations within the State. This time the attacks were triggered by the killing of a prominent Hindu leader Swami Laxanananda Saraswati along with four other people in his Jalaspeta Ashram near Tumudibandh, Kandhamal District, Orissa, on Saturday 23rd August 2008. In retaliation for the Swamiji's death, the extremist wing of the VHP has engaged in a series of attacks against Christians all through out the Sate of Orissa.

Some of the major developments or incidents Since 23rd August at wake of the killing the Swamiji and his four associates.

- On 24th August two sisters of Precious Blood Congregation at Kothaguda who were on their way to Berhampur were stopped near G. Udayagiri, pulled out from the vehicle. The Vehicle was then set on fire and the driver was severely beaten up.

- Almost at the same time a vehicle carrying HM sisters near Ainthapally in Sambalpur, a prayer chapel at Tentuliapadar in Sundargarh was also burned and destroyed. With these incidents, the stories of violence, abuse and attacks continue with several churches, church institutions, priests, Nuns, Christian people and their houses being attacked, abused, ransacked, and torched.

- As the impact of the news started getting visible across the State, the Government got into action by announcing prohibitory orders (144 Section) in Kandhamal District. This was also a preparatory action by the State Government ahead of the 12-hour bandh called by the VHP and other affiliates of the Sangh Parivar on 25th August to protest the killing.

- On Sunday morning 24th August 2008, prayers in many churches were disrupted with very few participants attending the Mass in Kandhamal District fearing attacks.

- From the same day attacks in Kandhamal District intensified of Janvikas Office like many other Offices which were burnt to ashes.

- The mob continued their assaults at Divya Jyoti Pastoral Centre by gutting, burning and looting the same at about 6 p.m. The same group entered the Balliguda presbytery, convent and hostel damaging the properties, Roman Catholic Church at Kanjamedi.

- On 25th August 2008 as the Bandh lead to many protests, Rastha Rokos, tyre burning etc, the following incidents of violence shook the whole state and the Christian Community. Phulbani Church and the presbytery were vandalized and ransacked, Srasanda MC Brother's residence was attacked and some of the patients who came there to get treatment were beaten up. On the same day at 10.30 a.m the houses of Christian families in Christiansahi in Balliguda were destroyed and ransacked, two boys studying in the church run hostel were caught in Balliguda and their heads were tonsured.

- The Pastoral Centre, Kanjamendi, was burnt and ransacked on 24th. Fr. Thomas Chellan, the Director of the Pastoral Centre and Sr. Meena, H.M., the Administrator of the Centre escaped from the centre and took shelter in a nearby family. On 25th, mob having the information about it, forcefully entered the house dragging both of them outside. They were beaten up badly and taken to the Police Fundi in that area. Fr. Thomas Chellan is still in serious condition.

- On 25th late night, Sankrakhol Parish church and presbytery were set fire and ransacked. Fr. Bernard Digal, the Treasurer of the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar who had gone to visit Fr. Alexandar Chandi was held up at Sankrakhol parish when the mob attacked the church. His Jeep was set fire. While narrating the incident Fr. Bernard said that when the mob entered the church premises, they left to the forest and hid themselves. He walked around 10 kms to reach one of his relations house. On the way Fr. Bernard Digal was severely beaten up and wounded and is presently undergoing medical treatment.

- On 25th August late night the Convent of St. Joseph's at Sankrakhole was attacked and ransacked. The Sisters also left to the forest and have saved their life.

- The mob made some attempts to enter the premises of the Catholic Church, Bhubaneswar and the Archbishop's House. The Institutions in Bhubaneswar St. Arnold's School, NISWASS, Loyola School, XIM, have suffered some damages.

- A mob entered the premises of Carmel School at Bhadrak and broke some window glasses of the school building, the glasses of the School Buses and jeep parked in the compound.

- A group of people broke the glasses around the statue of Mother Mary in the premises of Balasore Social Service Society and some window glasses of the building on 25th August at Balasore.

- A large violent mob with deadly weapons and explosive liquids attacked the Muniguda Mission and set fire to the Church, Convent, Boys Hostel and the Centre of Life Skill Education for Adolescent illiterate Girls.

- On 26th, a Baptist Church was looted and houses of the Christian families were set on fire, another three Catholic churches of were attacked in the District. On the same day, 45 houses belonging to Christian families in Patapaga under Raikia Police Station were burnt to ashes while World Vision Office in Bhawanipatna was attacked and the office vehicle was set fire. Pastor Sikandar Singh from Bhawanipatna was also beaten up; his house and vehicle were burnt. Similarly a Lutheran church in Gosaninuagaon of Berhampur was also attacked.

- These are a few incidents to know the intensity and depth of attacks on the Christians in Khanadamal and adjacent Districts in Orissa. There are many more to innumerate in different Dioceses and Districts of Orissa. I am giving you some statistics on the attacks.

1. Number of Deaths in Kandhamal District : 26
2. Number of churches destroyed : 41
3. Number of Houses destroyed : 4014
4. Number of Convents destroyed : 5
5. Number of Hostels destroyed : 6
6. Number of Institutions destroyed : 7

What has been done in Orissa till now?

  • The All India Christian Council, Orissa, led by Rev. P.R. Parichha and other 6 members met His Excellency Muralidhar Chandrakant Bhandare, Hon'ble Governor of Orissa, at Raj Bhavan, Bhubaneswar and explained the distressful situation of the christians in the State of Orissa and specifically in Kandhamal District. They highlighted the State's failure to safeguard life and property of the christians in Orissa and demanded a CBI inquiry into the killing of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati.
  • A coordination team comprising of NGOs and the church personnel in Orissa, has been formed to coordinate the works of relief and rehabilitation during the coming months and disseminate the information to all concerned citizens.
  • All educational institutions were closed for a day during the last week of August in the five Dioceses in Orissa, condemning the violence in the wake of the killing of the Swamiji, citing the insecurity of the minority community and seeking protection from the State and Central Government.
  • Steps are being taken to meet the Chief Minster of Orissa, Mr. Naveen Patnayak, to brief the grieving situation of the christians in Khandamal and other parts of Orissa and on the relaxed law and order situation of Orissa.
  • Most Rev. Raphael Cheenath, Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubanewsar and myself are in constant touch with various civil and ecclesiastical authorities to bring about an amicable solution to the burning problem.

What is being done outside the State of Orissa?

- A memorandum was submitted the Hounarable Madam President of India Mrs. Pratibha Patil, requesting her to intervene to impress on the Central Government to rush adequate Union forces, including contingents of the Armed Forces if required, to restore law and order in the State of Orissa particularly in the Kandhamal District.

- A group of Christian leaders led by Most Rev. Raphael Cheenath, Most Rev. Vincent Concessao and a few other dignitaries had met the Prime Minister Sri Manmohan Singh on Thursday 28th August, and appraised him about the critical situation in Orissa. They demanded the following to the Prime Minister that:

1. The atrocities should be stopped immediately.

2. An Independent CBI enquiry should be made.

3. The Central Para-Military Forces/ Army be deployed in adequate strength at all the affected and sensitive places to prevent any further recurrences as the local police has not been able to control the situation.

4. Immediate relief should reach to the refugees whose houses have been looted, destroyed or burned with all their belongings

5. An adequate compensation should be given to them from the Central Government’s Funds.

The Prime Minister assured the delegation that he will speak to the Hon’ble Chief Minister Sri Naveen Patnayak in order to take immediate action. He also assured that funds will be made available for the relief, rehabilitation, renovation and reconstruction of the damaged or destroyed houses and institutions.

- Some 45,000 educational institutions run by Christians across the country were closed on 29th August to protest the continued anti-Christian violence in Orissa.

- Christians all over the country have been praying, fasting, conducting prayer vigils, processions on the streets and sending Memoranda to the Government Officials and also to the media, demanding justice.

What has been done in the Diocese of Balasore

An emergency meeting of the Priests and Religious of Balasore, Mayurbanj and Bhdarak civil Districts were called on the 30th August at the Bishop’s House, Balasore. The following are the decisions of the Meeting:

1. Condemning the death of the Swamiji and his four associates, flash news were given in the local Newspapers

2. Bishop Thomas Thiruthalil and some of the Priests representatives met all the District Administrative body individually, such as the S.P., D.I.G., Collector & MLA.

3. Building up of peace committees in the parishes and institutions are to be initiated.

4. Forming of alumni association in all the schools.

5. PTA meetings are to be organized in different schools in collaboration with the Education Commission.

6. To form a delegation of priests, religious and laity to meet the C.M of Orissa.

7. To continue to build the civil society groups and build a base for networking and advocacy.

Expressing our solidarity with the suffering people and united in prayer with them at this painful situation,

Devotedly yours in Christ,

Thomas Thiruthalil, C.M
Bishop of Balasore

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