Government let us down, lament Orissa bishops

November 2nd, 2008 - 11:04 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi/Bhubaneswar, Nov 2 (IANS) Asserting that the Orissa and central governments had “failed miserably” to protect Christians from the violence unleashed by Hindu rightwing groups, five top bishops in the state said they were “agonised” by the belated response for help.”We are agonised over the tardy manner in which both the state and central governments have responded to the ongoing violence against Christians in Orissa. We are sorry to state that both these governments have failed miserably in discharging their constitutional obligations,” said a pastoral letter that was read out to the laity in churches across Orissa for Sunday mass.

While coming down heavily on both the governments, the letter drafted jointly by the bishops of Balasore, Sambalpur, Bhubaneswar, Rourkela and Berhampur demanded that “the guilty be punished and the affected people be protected and adequately compensated”.

Anti-Christian violence that swept through western Orissa in the last two months has left at least 38 people dead and rendered more than 20,000 people homeless, many of whom are living in relief camps now.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal have been blamed for the violence against Christians, the majority of whom are tribals, after the two organisations retaliated following the Aug 23 killing of VHP leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his aides.

“In this time of crisis and conflict, we come to you through this pastoral letter to express our solidarity with you, to pay homage to those brothers and sisters who have laid down their lives for the sake of their faith, to comfort those who have been injured, to be with those who have been traumatised by the violence and mayhem unleashed on Christians,” the letter says.

“We stand by those whose rights have been violated and to assure that justice will be done to all who have suffered by the violence against the Christians of Orissa.”

While condemning “all forms of violence” the bishops exhorted the government to do more for the security of Christians in Orissa.

“Adequate security be provided to all, relief and rehabilitation be undertaken in full measure, life in the relief camps be made more human; to demand from the government that the guilty be punished; to demand from the government that an adequate compensation package be announced and undertaken.”

While individual priests have reacted to the violence in Orissa, this is the first time that five bishops have come together to collectively address worshippers during Sunday prayers.

Also condemning the killing of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati in “strong words”, the letter demands that “the culprits be identified and punished. We reiterate the fact that no Christian, no church institution or leadership is involved in this murder”.

In the same breath it said, “We condemn in strong words the lies that are propagated by some vested interests that the Christians were behind the killing of the Swami.”

“We are going to meet with the representatives of the Church of Orissa and would reflect about the violence and come out with short-term and long-term plans to respond to violence.”

The pastoral letter was drafted by Rev. Thomas Thiruthalil, Rev. Raphael Cheenath, Rev. Alphonse Bilung, Rev. Lucas Kerketta, Rev. Sarat Chandra Naik and Rev. John Barwa.

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