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Bishop fears for life

From Devika Sequeira, DH News Service, Panaji:

Monsignor Raphael Cheenath, archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar says his life is under threat in Orissa and normalcy is still a long way off for Christians living in fear and in hiding in the violence hit areas.

He’s had to cancel his return to Bhubaneshwar twice because of fears that there could be an attack against him, he told Deccan Herald from Mumbai.

Bishop Cheenath also disputes the assessment that things are getting back to normalcy in Kandhamal.

“Things are apparently quiet because there is nothing left to destroy. As far as I know normalcy has not returned. How can it, when people are mortally afraid to return to their homes and priests and other religious are being hunted down and are still in hiding?”

Disturbed by the reports he has received from the volatile region, Bishop Cheenath says Sangh Parivar groups have begun a systematic campaign in the last few days to compel tribal Christians to swear they have been converted under the threat of death.

“Six or seven groups are going from village to village terrorising Christians in this manner,” he said. He refused to see the recent communal flare-up as an outcome of a deep divide between Hindus and Christians in Orissa.

“It is purely the handiwork of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal,” he said.

“The vast majority of Hindus have good relations with us and many Hindus helped and sheltered Christians and even threatened those responsible for the December 2007 riots. Unfortunately, moderate Hindus are being ‘cowed down by the sangh today’, he said.

In Orissa, Christian institutions have been open to all and benefited Hindus equally.

There are more Hindus than Christians in church-run schools. Responding to the VHP’s allegations of forced conversions in tribal areas the Bishop says such accusations only “belittle the tribals as lacking in judgement”.

The bishop says only a ban on hardline groups like the VHP and the Bajrang Dal can bring lasting communal peace to the area.

“There cannot be a long term solution under the present conditions with the Sangh persisting with its hidden hate campaign which poisons the mind’s of people,” he said.

Source: Deccan Herald
Thursday, September 11, 2008