Archbishop Cheenath about Orissa Incidents

Re: Chicagoland Graciously Welcomes Archbishop Raphael Cheenath
Chicagoland Graciously Welcomes Archbishop Raphael Cheenath
Stany D’Souza

Chicago :  Under the auspices of St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Cathedral and several other Associations of Chicagoland area, Archbishop Raphael Cheenath from Orissa was given hearty welcome. This program was conducted in the Sr. Alphonso Hall of the Cathedral in Bellwood.

The program began with a warm welcome given by Dr. Annita John, President of India Catholic Association, Chicago Chapter and the Compeer of this program and she sang the United States National Anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner”. Ms. Christina sang the Indian National Anthem, “Jana Ghana Mana”. The opening prayer was lead by Fr. Anthony Thundathil, Parish Priest of St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Cathedral.

In his introduction of Archbishop Cheenath, Fr. Richy Vaz, reflected his wonderful memories of working under Archbishop Cheenath for 29 years in Orissa. He remembered his great leadership as a Novice Master, Provincial, Bishop and a close friend. He stated that God had mysterious plans for Archbishop Cheenath, beginning with his ordination as a priest in the year 1963. He worked as a parish priest for 9 years and became a Provincial. But when he visited Rome, within 6 months as a Provincial, the General Counsel of Vatican identified his unique talents and made him a Counselor. In the year 1974 he was appointed as a Bishop of Sambalpur. When he became the Bishop he spoke to the people in their native dialect and surprised them, with his eloquence.. He worked 34 years as a Bishop of Sambalpur. He stated that Archbishop humbled everyone by his visionary ideas and hard work in uplifting poor and downtrodden in facing natural and manmade disasters.

In his message Archbishop Cheenath informed all the priests, nuns and leaders of various associations present that Indian masses are multilinquist, multireligious, multiethnic and multisocial group. He stated that in India fundamental groups delivered lies after lies against Christians for the last one to two decades and destroyed the peace and tranquility enjoyed by the people. He stated that at this time either Central Government or the State Government does not have any hold over the fanatic groups. He stated that when Cardinal Topo visited Kandhamal he stated that they have converted Kandhamal district into cremation ground. He stated that this was due to two recent major incidents starting with assault on Christian Churches, institutions, orphanages, students” hostels, houses and the people young and old alike. He stated that in December 2007, local people of Kandhamal requested permit from the local government to celebrate Christmas – to put-up a Christmas arch, Christmas decoration and mikes. He stated that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) of Kandhamal opposed any Christmas celebrations in Kandhamal and called for a bundh for the same day. In spite of prior warnings and great threat to Christmas celebrations, the local law enforcement and the government did not take any action to safeguard the interests of the minorities. On that Christmas eve all the decorations put-up by the people was not only destroyed, the premeditated assault continued with barbaric destruction of property and lives of people belonging to Christian faith. He stated this destruction went on for 7 days and the local government operatives were all silent spectators and did not take any concrete emergency steps to curb this violence and punish those miscreants.

He stated that the second incident happened on August 23, 2008, when the local Hindu Priest Swamy Laxmananda Saraswati was gun downed by the Maoist rebels. He stated that before his death Maoist had warned the Swamy 3 times that he will be assassinated, if he does not propagate violence towards the minorities. He stated that Maoists announced that they are responsible for his and his followers killings. The next day local government announced that the Maoists are responsible for the Swamy”s killing. They did inform the media that, they killed the Swamy not because he belongs to Hindu religion but for his crimes against the community. On the same day, the VHP announced in media that Christians killed their Swamy and attacked Christian community. The late Swamy was spearheading this group against Christians since 1967 and had vowed that he will eliminate Christians from Kandhamal within the year 2000 but his dream did not come true but only strengthened the local peoples desire to be independent from the clutches of local Jamindars and businessmen. In spite of clear evidence and public statements made Maoists groups, the VHP started attacking Christians and their belongings in worst possible way. And the outcome of their barbaric acts were – 50,000 people were displaced, there were 24 relief camps with 24,000 refugees in Kandhamal; 15,000 refugees in relief camps in Bubaneshwar and Cuttack; 5, 031 houses destroyed; 69 killings, lot of people fled to neighboring Southern states and the State of Gujarath (due to their lineage to Gujarath). He stated that 5 priests were attacked and one of them succumbed to his injuries and died.

He stated that he wrote to the Prime Minister, Home Minister and Chief Minister (of Orissa) regarding the continued atrocities and total failure of law and order but for no avail. He stated that when there was communal unrest in Karnataka, Central Government sent fact finding mission with 2nd or 3rd day of the incident; whereas it took them 3 months to send a fact finding mission to Kandhamal. He stated that, this is because Kandhamal has 50 – 60% of the population Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST), 15% Christians (almost all of them are Dalits or untouchables) and majority of them are Hindus. He stated that the SCs and STs are treated very badly by Hindus and although the untouchability is unlawful, it still very much prevailing in Kandhamal. He stated that they are not allowed to drink water from the same well and to buy groceries from the same shop. He stated that, why then the hate against the church? He states, Christian Missionaries started providing education, health services, development programs and self-help programs to provide for their daily livelihood, which posed threat to upper caste. He stated that the so called “untouchables” started learning their rights and equal respect under the constitution and started questioning the upper caste, which challenged their grips over them. He stated that nobody can stop this movement now.

He states that some government officials informed him that the situation will improve after the General Election of March and April this year. So, at this time no political party at the Centre or State wants to take appropriate action because of the fear of the majority retaliating against them. He stated that they know what happened in Gujarath, where just before his successful bid for Chief Minister 2,000 Muslims were killed by the fanatics and he succeeded to become the Chief Minister of Gujarath with his drive for Hindutva. And this is the cause for inaction now by the Central and State Government, especially in Orissa, where Hindutva is very strong amongst the electorate.

He stated that people in Kandhamal, need help from everyone. He stated that even now people are very afraid to go back to Kandhamal. Although now the government is asking the local people to return to Kandhamal and assuring them to provide Rs. 50,000 grant in building their house – 10,000 to complete the foundation, 30,000 to complete the walls and 10,000 to complete the roof; the locals do not have any money to spend for the remaining amount and to purchase all other needed goods and articles for a house. States they need more money to build a house and only way for them to have a house, when everything else is destroyed, is by generous help from the donors. He states without this help, the displaced Dalits in Kandhamal will not survive. He states at this time due to lack of appropriate facilities, the people living in refugee camps are dying. In the refugee camps, some of the women giving birth. They don”t have any privacy and some of them do not have necessary medical help and appropriate help to go to school. He states that, this is the time to help them before it is too late.

In replying to the questions posed by the attendees, he stated that political parties and their leaders are raising questions with their parties but due to looming election, they will fail in line with the party polity. They will not take any steps, which will destroy their hope of winning the election. This is why the fundamental groups are not barred. He states that even he had approached Supreme Court Justices but there was no concrete positive response from them.. States there are Hindu sympathizers who are trying to protect the plight of Dalits in Kandhamal but due the fundamentalists stronghold, their voice is not heard and their efforts to enforce justice has not materialized. He states, although currently, top leaders of various religions are coming together, their efforts to re-unite the community will take a very long time. He states that poisoning of people through lies after lies for the past 2 decades will take another decade or two to take that poison out. It is just like, when poison is injected to a human being, it takes a while to take that out and to rectify its side effects.

Dr. Annita Johns praised Archbishop”s efforts in uplifting the downtrodden and the victims of violence at Kandhamal. She stated that this is the time to help these most needy people of Kandhamal. She announced some of the gracious donors who pledged their money to help Rays of Hope in Orissa. The Federation of Indo American Organizations, North America past president, Mr. Jaychand Pallekonda He praised the Archbishop”s efforts in rehabilitating the community and his role as a Guardian Angel, in spite of threats against his life from the fundamentalists. Other community leaders and attendees placed their pledges in a box circulated by Dr. Austin Prabhu and Mr. Varghese Chacko.

As a short cultural program, Anjali Nruthya Kalalayam dancers performed a wonderful classical dance to the tunes of English song. As a concluding remark, Mr. Jos Anthony Puthenveetil thanked all the Priests and volunteers of the Cathedral. He thanked all the community leaders and well-wishers for their presence in the success of this program. He thanked Archbishop Cheenath for his gracious presence and his relentless sacrifices and help in uplifting the poorest of the poor in Kandhamal, Orissa. Fr. Richie Vaz gave the concluding remarks.

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