Today’s rally in Delhi results in promises from National Commission for Minorities and Union Home Minister, but Christian delegation not satisfied
NEW DELHI – Dec. 27, 2007 – About 1,000 Christians from churches across Delhi rallied today to demand that the Central Government halt escalating anti-Christian violence in Orissa. A memo presented to the Prime Minister resulted in a meeting with the Union Home Minister this evening. Earlier in the day, Christian leaders met with the head of the National Commission for Minorities.
The rally, held in front of the gates of Orissa Bhavan in Delhi from 4–6pm, Dec. 27, 2007, revealed support from across the political and religious spectrum. Protestors were united in their call for an end to the communal violence against Christians in Orissa. The All India Christian Council (aicc) was a key organiser of the rally.
Speakers included: V.P. Singh, former Prime Minister; Binda Karat, CPI(M) spokesperson; Shabnam Hashmi, Director of ANHAD; Swami Agnivesh; and more. India’s largest Christian groups were represented including the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), All India Catholic Union (AICU), Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) and more. Church members from many denominations across Delhi participated in the rally.
A memo was presented to the office of Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh. The PM’s office instructed the Union Home Minister, Shivraj V. Patil, to schedule a meeting with a delegation of Christians immediately. The delegation met Shri Patil at 6pm, Dec. 27, 2007, and was told that roadblocks and communication breakdowns are making it difficult to restore security in the villages of Orissa. Shri Patil said he will likely visit Orissa and promised he is doing everything possible to stop the attacks, culprits will be booked, and compensation will be provided to victims.
“Sadly, the delegation was not satisfied with the promises of the Union Home Minister since most violence continues in rural villages and the government didn’t give specific plans to halt the violence in villages nor a planned amount for compensation of victims,” said Rev. Abraham Sahu, aicc Delhi Chapter President.
Earlier in the day a delegation of Christians met with and received assurances from the head of the National Commission for Minorities, Mohamed Shafi Qureshi, that Christians will be protected in Orissa. He said he plans to visit the state.
“It is clear that the local police and Orissa state government have not been able to protect the Christian minority. While Orissa’s leaders claim they were prepared and are fully committed to stopping communal violence, we have doubts. For example, why does Orissa not have a state minorities commission? The Central Government must act now.” said John Dayal, aicc Secretary-General.
“The VHP and other groups clearly don’t believe in freedom of religion nor freedom of speech. They use accusations of forced and fraudulent conversions as an excuse for violence. Has there been a proven case in the courts of a missionary forcing someone to become a Christian recently? No! We are requesting immediate action to protect peaceful Christians and the arrest of miscreants from radical Hindutva groups,” said Sam Paul, aicc Secretary of Public Affairs.
Also, the Orissa chapter of the aicc met Orissa Chief Minister Neevan Patnaik this evening who gave assurances to the delegation and ensured protection for the Christian minorities. Yet, his inability to stop the violence against Christians is doubtful in light of the Sangh Parivar's organised attacks from the time violence broke out on December 23.
According to media reports, NGO press statements, and calls from aicc leaders on the ground in Orissa, at least 30 churches, Christian schools, and convents have been damaged or destroyed since December 24th, Christmas Eve. Four Christians were reported killed and many roads are blocked by radical Hindutva activists which prevents both police and fact finding teams from reaching victims. Despite a supposed helicopter tour of the affected districts by the Orissa Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik, and his repeated statements in various media channels that everything is under control, reports of attacks on Christians and churches continue to reach aicc and similar groups.
The violence allegedly began when Christians in a village 150 kms from the district headquarters of Phulbani 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 -- allegedly Christians -- near Daringbadi while he was travelling. The next day the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) called for a strike and its members began attacking Christians across the state.
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.
Mr. Madhu Chandra,
All India Christian Council,