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Church leaders demand arrest of anti-Christian attackers

05/28/09 BHUBANESWAR, India (UCAN) — Church leaders in Orissa have asked the state chief minister to arrest the perpetrators of last year’s anti-Christian violence in order to help resettle victims in their villages.

Most of those who went on a four-month spree of killing, arson, rioting and looting are still moving freely in the villages, a delegation comprising heads of various Christian denominations told Chief Minister Navin Patnaik on May 27 in Bhubaneswar. Bhubaneswar is the capital of the eastern Indian state

Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, head of the Catholic Church in the state, led the nine-member delegation.

They said that around 3,000 people still live in government relief camps and another 900 families in village relief camps following the violence that began on Aug. 24, 2008.

The attackers threatened Christians with dire consequence if they do not become Hindus or withdraw criminal cases filed against them, the delegation said. “To restore peace and normalcy, such criminals need to be arrested and brought to justice,” they stressed.

Christian groups say at least 90 people were killed and more than 50,000 displaced during the violence. Hindu radicals destroyed hundreds of Christian homes and many Church buildings.

The Church delegation said their people can return to their homes only if the government arrested the suspected criminals who had attacked them.

The delegation also urged the minister to reconstruct the destroyed houses to build confidence among the victims and maintain peace in the area.

They also want the government to give promised compensation to the victims immediately as well as speed up the settlement of the victims’ land deeds. Many of them do not own the land they have occupied for decades, the delegation said.

The group also demanded the government take steps against a controversial Hindu leader, Laxmi Baba, who has reportedly radicalized over 300 youths in Mahindragiri village in Ganjam district. “He and his group could be a potential threat to communal harmony and peace in the state,” the Christian leaders warned.

Last year’s anti-Christian violence began a day after Maoists killed another Hindu religious leader, who had for decades opposed Christian missioners working among tribal and low-caste people in the state. Hindus blamed Christians for the death and attacked them.

Father Joseph Kalathil, vicar general of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar archdiocese, said the chief minister’s response to the delegation was positive. He discussed with the delegation their demands in detail and directed his personal secretary to take appropriate action

The Christian delegation also prayed for Patnaik to govern the state successfully over the next five years, and congratulated him on his “historic” victory during recent elections to the state legislative assembly.

Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal (people’s front of Biju), a regional party, registered a third successive win in the election held from April-May. The party is named after the chief minister’s father, Biju Patnaik, himself a former chief minister.

The Christian delegation commended Patnaik’s “clean image” and “great efforts” to develop the state and its people. They said the election gave democracy and secularism “a comprehensive victory” and demonstrated people’s aversion for hatred and sectarianism that some groups are trying to spread in the state.

In its previous tenure, Patnaik’s party had allied itself with the Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian people’s party), which is seen as the political arm of several radical groups that want to create a Hindu theocracy in India.