Orissa Christmas Week 2007 Anti-Christian Violence --Fact Finding Team preliminary report

Orissa Christmas Week 2007
Anti-Christian Violence
--Fact Finding Team preliminary report on 5 January 2008

From John Dayal in Orissa
4 January 2008

Dear Friends

New Year Greetings

I have just returned - at 2.20 a.m. on 4th January, after spending a total of more five days in two stretches in the Kandhamal District of Orissa which saw unprecedented violence against Christians from Christmas Eve 24th December 2008 to 27th December 2008. I am submitting a preliminary report on my Fact Finding five day visit tomorrow, 5th January 2008 with initial facts, role of police and district authorities, the Sangh Parivar role in the violence, caution, and suggestions that need be heeded.

The Fact Finding initial report will be released at a press conference in Bhubaneswar on 5th January 2008. The full report will be possible within a fortnight. The great human tragedy and violence against Christians in the Kandhamal hills district of Orissa was waiting to happen. It was part of a great conspiracy and the guilty are identified and known. The tragedy will repeat again unless urgent steps are taken. It was also a first time that a group of Hindu villagers were attacked. This must never happen again, whatever is the provocation. Fortunately, no one was hurt though village houses were burnt.

This was also the first time that such a large number of Christian villagers were displaced and had to live in refugee camps after their houses were brunt. I and my fact finding team which assisted me - including Advocate Fr Nicholas Barla of Rourkela, and Bhubaneswar social activist and Kui culture expert Mr. Hemant Nayak - could visit almost every single town and major hamlet of the Kandhamal district which was target of arson and pillage. We also visited the two refugees' camps, one in which every refugee is Christian, and the other with a mixed population, in the region.

Before going, we had met Home Minister of India, the Governor and Chief Ministers of Orissa and senior officials in New Delhi and Orissa. Others Christina leaders, including Cardinal Telesphore Topo, Bhubaneswar Archbishop Raphael Cheenath, svd, and Delhi Archbishop Vincent Concessao, have at various times met President Pratibha Patil, Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh, Home Minister Patil, Orissa Governor Mr. Murlidhar Chandrakant Bhandare and Chief Minister Naveen Pattanaik, and National human Rights Commission and the National Minorities Commission.

Union Home Minister Patil made a helicopter visit to Barakhama town and visited the refugee camp and the CNI church which was one of many burnt. Patil was accompanied by the Orissa Chief Minister, the Orissa Congress leader Jayanti Ballabh Pattanaik and other local political leaders. Famous director Mahesh Bhatt and Maharashtra Minorities Commission Vice chairman Abraham Mathai came to Bhubaneswar and met the Chief Minister. A delegation of MPs is in Bhubaneswar and trying to go to the affected district.

CBCI Cardinal Topo is also in Bhubaneswar, and met the Chief Minister who was told him he should not go to the affected district till later.

Copies of the Fact Finding Report will be submitted to the President and Prime Minister of India, the Governor and Chief Minister of Orissa, the Chairmen of the national Human Rights Commission and the National Minorities Commission, the Catholic Bishops Conference, the National Council of Churches in India, the All India Catholic Union and the All India Christian Council. Copies will also be given to major Human Rights organizations in India and broad. Orissa is a peaceful state, where Emperor Ashoka, after a great battle, turned to peace. It was once, though not now, home to vibrant Buddhism and pacificism.

Unfortunately, it is also the state where Graham Stuart Staines and his you sons Timothy and Philip were burnt alive in January 1998, and Faster Doss was speared to death. Sporadic violence has traumatized the Christian community many times in the past. The state, among the richest in mineral resources, also has a record of violence related to iniquities in development. I hope the authorities will have learnt their lesson this time.

John Dayal

(to read this letter in hindi, click here )