Death threats keep Orissa Archbishop in Delhi (Lead)

September 18th, 2008 - 4:34 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghNew Delhi, Sep 18 (IANS) Orissa’s Archbishop Raphael Cheenath has been camping in the national capital since violence erupted in the state targeting the Christian community and says he is unable to return home because of death threats from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).Cheenath, the Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, is hoping to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh along with a delegation of the Catholic clergy.

“I hope to meet him (Manmohan Singh) soon. I am waiting for an appointment,” he said.

“Just last week I received a chilling letter from Hindu groups which said ‘blood for blood, life for life’. What can I do?” Cheenath told IANS at the Catholic Bishop Conference of India (CBCI) office here.

The letter stated that the archbishop, who has been staying in Bhubaneswar for three decades and whose house was stoned a couple of days ago, would be killed if he returned to Orissa.

“They (Hindu groups) threatened to kill me. Is this how civilised society behaves?” he asked.

According to Cheenath, his representations to state authorites about how poor tribal families have been under attack have fallen on deaf ears.

“I simply don’t have faith in the state government which has failed to protect the lives of Christians in Kandhamal and Sambalpur districts. Most of them are poor and now they are refugees.”

Cheenath rejected allegations that Christians were engaged in converting tribals in Orissa.

“There is no truth in this. The VHP and Bajrang Dal are twisting facts,” he said.

The murder of VHP leader Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswathi by unidentified gunmen at his ashram in Kandhamal district Aug 23 sparked communal clashes in several parts of the state, leading to about 30 people being killed and churches and prayer halls being attacked.

Police suspect Maoist rebels killed Saraswati but some Hindu groups blamed Christians for the murder and went on the rampage. Christian groups have repeatedly denied the allegation.

Orissa is not new to communal violence involving Hindus and Christians.

On Jan 22, 1999, Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons, 10-year-old Philip and six-year-old Timothy, were burnt alive by a Hindu mob in their vehicle in Keonjhar district.

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