The following is a press release issued by the All India Christian Council:
NEW DELHI – December 20, 2008 – Rightwing Hindu organisations in Orissa confirmed they will hold a bandh (strike) on Christmas Day triggering fears of further anti-Christian violence. Separately, politicians held hearings in Washington, D.C. and London about extremism and violence in India. And a European Union delegation conducted a fact finding trip to Orissa from Dec. 9-12, 2008
On Dec. 17, 2008, ultra-nationalist Hindutva groups said they will observe a state-wide shut-down for 12 hours on Christmas Day, reported The Hindu newspaper. The protest is due to the failure of authorities to arrest the killers of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Lakshmanananda Saraswati who was assassinated on Aug. 23, 2008. The Orissa Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik, opposes the bandh, and the newly appointed Minister of Home Affairs in New Delhi, P. Chidambaram, publicly assured Christians they'll be safe. Aicc leaders remain concerned it will have the same results as an August 25th bandh which saw anti-Christian violence spread across the eastern state of Orissa. Last Christmas, a bandh called by a tribal organisation, Kui Samaj, resulted in unprecedented anti-Christian attacks throughout one district.
"The bandh is provocative. Combined with a continuing hate campaign against Christians, there is potential for violence over Christmas. We appeal to police, politicians, local language media, and civil society in Orissa – and across India – to seek peace instead of hostility," said John Dayal, aicc Secretary General. "Specific actions like positioning adequate Central Reserve Police Forces and banning the entry of VHP and Bajrang Dal leaders from the sensitive Kandhamal District are essential."
Dr. Joseph D'souza, aicc President, said, "The climate of intimidation and fear among Christians continues in Orissa. Although we hope the state and central authorities act to protect thousands of innocent victims and prevent future mob violence, we're deeply worried. We are appealing for preventative action through all legal avenues."
Yesterday, Dec. 18, 2008, the British House of Lords held a two and a half hour debate about recent developments in India. Baroness Caroline Cox, whom aicc hosted during a fact finding trip in early November, initiated the debate and several peers spoke. John Montagu, Earl of Sandwich, said, "Patnaik, is a personal friend of mine from Delhi in the 1960s…But I have to tell Naveen that, from what I have read, neither his Government nor the Union Government in Delhi have taken sufficient action to find the perpetrators of this massacre or to protect its victims still in camps." Excerpts of the debate are available at: http://indianchristians.in/news/content/view/2660/47/.
On Dec. 10, 2008, the United States Congressional Task Force on International Religious Freedom held a briefing titled, "The Threat Religious Extremism Poses to Democracy and Security in India: Focus on Orissa." Witnesses included Vishal Arora, an independent Indian journalist; Dr. Angana Chatterji, Associate Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at California Institute of Integral Studies; Angela Wu, International Director at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty; Sophie Richardson, Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch's Asia Division; and Joannella Morales with the State Department's Office of International Religious Freedom. The aicc briefed two of the panelists during their recent visits to India.
From Dec. 9-12, 2008, aicc coordinated briefings for a delegation of European Union representatives by Orissa's non-governmental organisations, advocates, and both Christian and non-Christian community leaders. The delegation included officers from the embassies of Finland, Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, and United Kingdom. Despite public assurances by Indian authorities that the rule of law has returned to Orissa, both the central and state government advised the delegation not to visit the two most affected districts: Kandhamal and Gajapati. The reason given was "the prevailing law and order situation". This meant the delegation was effectively prevented from observing the current condition of government-run relief camps and victims.
D'souza said, "We are hopeful that our great democracy can resolve these issues by itself, but at the same time we welcome the interest of nations friendly to India and citizens of goodwill from across the world who believe in human rights and religious freedom."
According to aicc leaders and Indian media reports, there are still 8,000+ in government-run relief camps and victims don't have adequate food and medical care. On Dec. 1, Chief Minister Patnaik told the Orissa state assembly that 4,215 houses and 252 churches or prayer halls were destroyed. The state government issued compensation checks to a few of the families who lost loved ones or houses. Fast track courts have not been started. The aicc has reliable reports that 118 people died in the violence. In October, India's Supreme Court ordered the state government to compensate for burned churches, but no progress is reported yet. Two state-appointed investigations are ongoing. Justice (retired) Basudev Panigrahi continues to investigate the Dec. 2007 violence, and Justice (retired) Sarat Chandra Mohapatra started an inquiry into the killing of swami Saraswati and subsequent communal violence.
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.