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Archbishop's House,
9/16, Satyanagar P. O.,
Bhubaneshwar - 751 007



Dear Friends,

(Even though you have been getting some news through various TV channels and News Papers about the Grim situation in Orissa, I would like to give you an update on the criminal attacks on Christians. I had sent this information on 31st August 2008. Now I realize that you did not receive it. So I am re-sending it with an update.)

1. The Background:

India has been witnessing attacks on Christians in the past ten years, and Orissa earned notoriety with the repeated attacks on Christians in the recent past. When one examines the repeated attacks on Christians across the country one cannot miss a pattern present in them. The Hindu Fundamentalist groups or Sangh Parivar as they are collectively known, are known for their sectarian ideology, which wants to establish a Hindu Nation in India. In order for that to happen the Minorities should either be eliminated or they should accept the Hindu way of life. The attack on Christians in Kandhamal in December, 2007, was the execution of a master-plan for the elimination of Christians from Kandhamal in Orissa. But at that time they could not implement fully their plan and they were looking for another chance for a more complete and final attack.

The Sangh Parivar is known for creating social disturbances and then uses them as pretext to carry out their agenda. As for instance on 8th July, 2008 a cow was killed by the Dalit Hindus in Thumudibhandho (which is normal among Dalit Hindus) but the Sangh Parivar tried to accuse the Christians for killing the cow with a view to mount an attack on them. Their plan did not work because both Hindus and Christians in that area refused to cooperate with the Swami Laxmananda Saraswati (Who was later killed by the Maoists) and his nefarious plan. He was very angry with the people and challenged the Government and wanted the killers of the cow to be arrested within six days. One can narrate several such instances which were the handiwork of the Sangh Parivar for creating social disharmony.

2. The attack on Christians:

On 23rd August, 2008, I was away from Orissa when the news of the attacks on Christians reached me. The very same night, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati was murdered with four of his disciples by the Maoists (Naxalites) in his ashram. This was the beginning of an unprecedented and diabolic attack on Christians. The miscreants went from place to place freely destroying institutions and houses one after another since the State police system had totally collapsed. The police and the staff were totally inadequate in number and most of them had no weapons. Occasionally they were the first ones to flee. The only helpful thing they were able to do was to inform the priests, sisters and people to flee and look for their own safety since they were not able to protect them.

The murder of the Swami is definitely not a cause for the attack, but is used as an opportunity for completing the agenda of elimination of all Christians from Kandhamal and Orissa. We know from the past history that the Sangh Parivar used to create opportunities/situations to justify their dastardly attacks. The killing of a cow, on 8th July, was such an occasion, but the people did not cooperate, so the agenda could not be executed. Then the murder of the Swami came as a golden opportunity to execute the plan of Sangh Pariwar.

3. Inaction of the Government emboldened the Miscreants:

After the attack on Christians in Kandhamal in December, 2007, those behind it were not punished. No proper and adequate compensation has been given. These facts have convinced the miscreants that they can safely attack Christians with impunity. The present unchecked attacks clearly indicate that.

4. Driven into the forest:

The frightening memories of attacks in December, 2007 are still on the minds of priests, religious women and people. So, when even the rumours of attacks were in the air, they hid themselves in the neighbouring forests or managed to get shelter in a helpful family. Certainly, it involved great risk for the family. As for instance the Director of our Pastoral Centre at Konjamonde and a sister working with him had taken shelter in a family; but they were pulled out by the miscreants, beaten up and paraded in front of ten policemen who, in fact, exposed the connivance of the State Government by not protecting its citizens. Another example of desperate calls for help was that the parish priest of Raikia parish called me by his cell phone at 5.30 a.m. on 27th August and said, "Bishop this is the fourth day that I am in the forest, living in fear of being attacked at anytime and there is nothing to eat". This is the story of many priests and nuns, who serve the poorest of the poor in a democratic republic with so-called secular credentials.

5. Loss of Property, Destruction of Buildings and Vandalization of Institutions and Religious Houses:

The attack on Christians and their institutions in December, 2007, was aimed at the destruction of the very existence of the Christian community in Kandhamal District of the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar. The following were destroyed within four days:

Churches/Chapels: 101
Convents: 5
Residences of priests: 5
Hostels: 7
Study homes: 2
Dispensaries: 2
Computer Centre: 1
Vocational Training Centres: 2
Motor Cycles: 15
Cycles: 27
New School bus: 1
 Vehicles: 15
Shops: 126

6. The Present Attack:

The attack on August 23, 2008, was much more widespread and it has completely destroyed the infrastructures; but their primary target was priests, religious and leaders of the people. The miscreants were hunting for them. The frightening experience of attack in December, 2007, forced them to flee their habitat and hide themselves in the forests and in some Hindu houses, because staying in a Christian family would have made the family an easy target. Destruction prevailed from 24th to 31st August 2008.

Six priests have been attacked and hospitalized. Fr Bernard, the Treasurer of my Archdiocese happened to be in Kandhamal District when the riots broke out. The miscreants burned his jeep and attacked him and left him semi-conscious. He is being treated in the hospital, hardly able to move and speak.

Total deaths (may be one or two Hindus included): 27
Priests attacked and hospitalized: 6
Lady burnt to death: 1
Priests kidnapped: 2
Churches and Chapels destroyed: 50
Houses demolished in 160 villages: 4300
Convents: 4
Hostels: 5
Hostel children saved by sending them home: 2000
Institutions destroyed: 7
Vehicles (innumerable): Not yet counted

7. Destruction and Devastation engulfed the whole State of Orissa:

The attack on Christians in December, 2007, was confined to one out of nine districts, district of Kandhamal in the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar. Now the present attack (August, 2008) has spread to all the five Dioceses of Orissa: Dioceses of Berhampur, Balasore, Rourkela and Sambalpur spread across in all the 30 districts of the State. The intensity of destruction can still be seen in the Archdiocese.

8. Rapid Action Force Deployed:

The Central Government has sent Rapid Action Force (RAF) and two helicopters with the instruction "to shoot at sight". The force has come. Despite their presence, the destruction is taking place in remote villages and thick forests. The question is how many companies of RAF are required and how deep they are able to penetrate to track down the miscreants. They are not getting assistance from the local police in order to know the location of the attacks.

9. Meeting with the Hon'ble Prime Minister, Shri Manmohan Singh:

On 28th August, 2008, a delegation met the Hon'ble Prime Minister, Shri Manmohan Singh and apprised him of the serious and tragic developments in Orissa. He expressed his deep concern and anguish over the incident and called it often "a national shame". The delegation requested the Hon'ble Prime Minister that:

  • the atrocities should be stopped immediately.
  • independent enquiry (CBI) should be made.
  • sufficient force should be deployed for stopping the atrocities against Christians.
  • immediate relief should reach the five to six thousand refugees whose houses have been looted, destroyed or burned with all their belongings.
  • adequate compensation should be given from the Central Government's Funds.

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

10. ‘Gharvapasi’, reconversion

Sinister and mischievous activity of the Sangh Parivar reveals their designs, namely to destroy minorities from Kandhamal, Orissa and from the whole country. For instance, groups of Sang Parivar is forcing Christians to sign a document saying that they are ‘Hindus’. Not being satisfied with this, they are forcing them to break their own Churches, neighbour’s (Christian) houses, etc in order to prove that they are genuine hindus. Unfortunately the intelligence is silent about it or their reporting is ignored by the state government which most of the time looks the other way.

In spite of the second wave of persecution and forceful conversion into Hinduism under threat of death, I am confident that our people will group together as soon as normalcy is established and security is assured. We forgive all who, out of misguided zeal and misinformation, have inflicted this tragedy on the Christian community. We welcome all to form a new, renewed and vibrant community based on love and brotherhood. The church in Orissa will flourish and shine gloriously because it has been purified by the fire of persecution. It shall rise again in the glory of the resurrection of the Lord.

11. Sincere Thanks and Deep Appreciation:

During the attacks in December 2007, you showed great concern over our problem. I was thinking that the tragedy ended with the December attacks. But the Lord's ways are different. I humbly ask you to pray for us so that our people remain steadfast in their faith.

With best wishes, I remain,

Sincerely yours in Jesus and Mary,

Raphael Cheenath, SVD
Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar