Interview: Archbishop of Bhubaneswar on Life of Christians after the Kandhamal violence
`Naveen is protecting a lie in order to be in league with BJP to retain power'
Strap: Sangh Parivar aims to establish the dictatorship of Brahmins to suppress dalits and tribals, says Raphael Cheenath, archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar
Bishop Raphael Cheenath needs no introduction for those who tracked Kandhamal violence closely in 2008. He was widely quoted by the global media all through the year-long Kandhamal violence.
In an one and half-an-hour long interaction with Sai Prasan, a senior journalist, in Mumbai, Cheenath spoke on the reasons for Naveen Patnaik, Odisha chief minister, going slow in the investigations on Kandhamalviolence to the different dimensions on forthcoming state assembly and Lok Sabha elections scheduled to be held in mid-April.
How is the situation in Kandhamal now? Have the Pana Christians gone back or they are still staying outside the district?
Odisha government's claim that the people have gone back to the villages and the situations is getting normalized is not true. The people have not gone back as they are afraid that they will inevitably be forced to go back to Hinduism. Thousands are living in Bhubaneswar and other places in the state. And, many have gone outside Odisha like Karnataka and Kerala and other states. On the other hand, there are sporadic instances where people are threatened. After Christmas, one man was killed and another man was killed last week. They were kidnapped and killed later on. People are afraid that they will be attacked in case they go back.
Why the law and order problem still continues inspite of Supreme Court's direction to Odisha government to protect the people's life?
Odisha government is maintaining right from the beginning before the judiciary that the situation is under control and normal. However, the Supreme Court could realize the seriousness ofthe situation and asked the state government to quit in case they are not able to protect the rights and life of the minorities. On the part of the state government, it was a total negligence or connivance with the law-breakers.
The present ruling BJD and BJP combine is dependent on the majority votes. If any step is taken by the state government in order to alienate the sufferings of the one per cent of the minority population, it might go against the feelings of the majority. Both BJD and BJP can not afford to loose the majority votes.
In fact, the government has successfully used Swami Laxmanand Sarasvati for polluting the minds of the people, creating a rift between SC and ST who were living together for the last several decades like brothers and sisters without any problem in Kandhamal. The Sangha Parivar is systematically dividing the SCs and STs.
So, is it a SC-ST conflict and not communal clash?
No, it is not true at all. The houses of dalit and tribal Christians have been looted and burned. It is a communal violence.
But, the major partner in the coalition state government is BJD. Then, why theyare protecting communal forces?
BJD has come to the power with the support of BJP and the former can not survive in the government without the support of the latter. And, moreover, the BJD is negotiating with the BJP for the forthcoming elections in the state.
Do you think Kandhamal violence was well designed on the lines of Godhra in Gujarat with an eye to win elections?
Yes, the first experiment of Sangh Pariwar was Gujarat and the second experiment is in Odisha. Narendra Modi has followed the principle, "beat the minority and get the majority" to win elections. And, the same principal is being applied in Odisha too. The third experiment may possibly be in Karnataka. It is an irony that both Central and state governments have failed to control law and order. More than 50% of the media reports are based on only violence in the country.
After Kandhamal violence, do you think that Odisha is safe for Christians when the government is partisan?
As far as Kandhamal is concerned, Christians are not safe even after 15-months of violence. There have been attacks on Christians in Sambalpur, Berhampur and other parts of the state. So, Christians are insecure in the state and other parts of the country including Karnataka and Delhi.
Who is responsible for Kandhamal violence?
There are several elements who are responsible for this. It is the duty of the state government to protect the life of the people in which the state government has failed to do so. Secondly, the political parties have played a very dirty game. Finally, organisations like Bajarang Dal, VHP and RSS are responsible for this. And, of course, the poverty is also responsible for this kind of situation.
Are you satisfied with the investigations in the nuns rape case?
A charge sheet has been filed in the nun rape case. Now, the court has to look into the matter.
Are you satisfied with the investigations in Kandhamal?
The government has not given any proof to the 1,200 families living outside district that they are safe in Kandhamal on their return. The culprits are moving freely as they get bail after the initial arrests.
In Bible, Jesus said, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay."(Romans 12:19-21). Does this mean that Church should forgive those who commit evil against it. Don't you think the Church should forgo nun rape case and leave it in the hand of the God?
Jesus Christ has talked aboutten commandments of love. There is God of Love and God Justice. From ourside, we have to forgive. But, the law of the land will take its own course of action for violating the law in which no one can interfere.
Sister Jesme said that the Church should put its own house in order to fight Hindu fundamentalists. So, what is your comment on this?
We are a human society. There will always be weaknesses. Some people highlight that in order to get good things. She has to justify for leaving the Church after spending a large part of her life with the Church. I shall not comment whether it was right or wrong on her part on whatever she has written in the book.
Why France intervened in the Kandhamal violence asking the state government to maintain law and order problem while it is an internal issue of the country?
Italy was the first country and France joined later. The global media coverage on Kandhamal has drawn the attention of the western countries. The concern was why the freedom of religion given in Indian constitution should be curtailed for a section of the society. The law stating that an individual seeking permission from the authorities to change religion is a total infringement of an individual's freedom. The logic that Christian organizations are exploiting the poor conditions of dalits and tribals is totally baseless. Till the last one or two decades, where were these Hindu fundamenatalists who are showing concern for the deprived sections of the society? Till today, they were humiliating them. This is not merely a conflict of Hindu and Christians. It is a struggle between the strong upper castes led by Brahmins on the one hand and the deprived section – dalits and tribals on other hand. The upper castes do not want the deprived section to come up in the society. They are putting Dalits and Tribals against one another by following divide and rule policy.
The Sanga Parivar is trying to Talibanise the tribal's attire. They are asking the tribal women not to wear the modern dress, instead maintain the traditional minimum cloths on the body. This is absolutely a dictatorial attitude of Brahmanical order.
You have been asking Christians to strengthen themselves. What do you mean by this?
Strengthen means they should have unity among themselves. They should have good relationship with their Hindu and Muslim neighbours. We ask people to be a true Christian which needs lot of sacrifice. The community should look from within and renew itself. Church has to do a lot in this direction.
So, you are in favour of Ecumenical movement?
Yes, very much. On every third week of the month, all the major denominations have a meeting. The smaller demonimnations do not come. They do not listen to any onewhich has created a lot of problem. Several accusations which Bajarang Dal is making is due to their activities. We are also disowning them. Any one who is using money and allurements; we do not endorse.
Christian organisations are at the loggerhead in Odisha, but they enjoy a very good relationship with Hindu fundamentalists in Kerala, Chandigarh and other parts of the country. Why this double standard?
Alignment is a matter of political existence. Church has always supported those who have the political voice in the society.
Have you asked CM why the violence is still taking place in Kandhamal?
Naveen Patnaik is stating the same thing all the time - we have done everything possible. The Christian organisations have asked him to expedite the enquiry into the Swami Laxmanand Sarasvati murder case and punish the murderers. The whole lie will be over. Now, the government is maintaining the lie that Christians are responsible for the Swam-ji's murder. Maintaining a lie is a part ofa big political game. Christians have not killed Swami-ji. It is the Maoists who are responsible for his killing for pushing extreme-Hinduism. Maoists have claimed that they have killed Swami-ji and left two letters mentioning the reasons for his murder. Government has confiscated both the letter. Government is maintaining the lie that Christian leaders have killed Swami-ji in order to defend the killing of the innocent people in Kandhamal. If the truth will come out that Christians have not killed Swami-ji, then it will be very difficult for the state government to defend themself for the killings of the innocent people in Kandhamal. They have committed such a heinous crime without any reason.
Why Naveen Patnaik wants to hide the fact that Christians are not responsible for Swami-ji's murder?
If the truth comes out that Christians are not responsible for Swami-ji murder, then it will be very difficult for him to justify whatever happened in Kandhamal. Who will punish all those who are responsible for the Kandhamal violence? The reaction will always be in proportion to action. There cannot be a mass upsurge and it can not be 100 times to the actual action. A planned design is responsible for the innocent killings in Kandhamal.
Do you think that CM is aligning with BJP to win poll ?
CM has to win elections. Hence, he will align with BJP as it has a good presence in the state.
The tribals leaders are of the opinion that land is responsible for the Kandhamal violence….
These all may be secondary reasons. The land grabbing is there in Delhi and Mumbai for which the demolition is taking place. But, there is no such kind of violence there. What they are justifying is an anarchy; it is a mob rule which can not be justified.
There are allegations that a large number of Churches are built on the unauthorized land in Kandhamal and other part of the state…..
I give full authority to the state government to demolish unauthorized Churches. But, the same bulldozer should demolish hundreds of temples constructed at the unauthorized land and forest areas in Odisha. The law should be applied to all and not to Christians only.
What is the permanent solution to the Kandhamal problem?
There are two things which can restore peace in the state. First, the government should book the culprits and punish them. In the last 15 months, not a single man has been punished. Around 75 people were killed, property was looted and women were raped during the said period. Around 5,000 houses have been destroyed or burned. Many institutions like Churches, schools andhospitals were burned or destroyed or looted. The government has been able to control the Bombay terrorists attack in just three days. Similarly, the tension in Karnataka was diffused within a week. But, the violence in Kandhamal continued for fifteen days. According to the claims of the government, around 7,500 security personnels have been deployed in Kandhamal district. This force is enough to control law and order situation in the country. But, this force is not able to completely control the law and order situation in a district of Odisha. The government could not control the law and order problem in the last 15 months which clearly demonstrates the inefficiency on the part of the government or lack of will or its connivance with the law breakers.
Do you think that the Kandhamal violence is targeted with an eye on elections?
Not elections only. Their agenda is Hindu Rashtra. They are using politics, religion and ethnic reasons in order to achieve their goal of Hindu Rastra. They want to make India like a Southi Arabia.
Sangh Parivar want to establish a theocratic state…
They are not for a theocratic state. It is not religionas no religion including Hinduism endorses violence and the killing of innocents. In the name of religion, they want to establish the dictatorship of the upper castes led by Brahmins.
The state assembly and Lok Sabha elections are round the corner. To which political party, the Christian organizations will support in this poll?
People are free to vote anyone in the elections. However, the sizeable Christian population will not vote BJP in this election.
Have you placed any demand before the political parties for the welfare of Christian population?
We are for the party which is secular and protects the rights of the minority. And, the integrity of the candidates is also very important.
Your last words on the overall environment?
A question always haunts all the Christians whether there will be another attack in Kandhamal. In the present condition with the attitude of the government, I think that there will be repeated attacks. If today, no one is punished, then they are free to attack. The government should have been more sympathetic and considerate in a situation like this. Sangh Parivar wants to eliminate Christians in order to establish a Hindu Rashtra.