Press Statement – 14th October, 2008
[Text of Statement by Most Rev. Vincent M Concessao, Archbishop of Delhi, Dr John Dayal, Secretary General, All India Christian Council and Dr Valson Thampu, Principal, St. Stephen’s College, Christian Members of the National Integration Council after its meeting on 13th October 2008 in New Delhi]
We are happy that the meeting of the National Integration Council was called at last after three years as India seemed engulfed in several instances of communal frenzy, terrorism and extremist violence., But we were sad to see that beyond platitudes and political polemics, Union and State governments gave little indication of the political will and administrative focus required to restore confidence in the people, specially the minorities.
We are particularly distressed to see that while the continuing anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal, Orissa, Karnataka was forcefully detailed by not just the Christian members but the leaders of the Left parties, senior Jurists and Civil Society and Human Rights activists, there was no assurance forthcoming as to when the more than 50,000 Internally Displaced persons, refugees in their homeland, can return home without being forced at gunpoint by the Bajrang Dal to become Hindus.
For us, peace would be when the last refugee is back in his home, secure in his faith, with a livelihood restored, his children’s future secured as it should be in a secular India.
Hours before the NIC meeting began, arsonists had struck a Catholic church in rural Bangalore, and in Kandhamal a CRPF jawan was reportedly killed by a Sangh mob, and the mutilated body of a Christian farmer was recovered in the fields. When these were personally brought to the notice of the two chief ministers, they were dismissive of the reports.
No less a person than the Chairman of the National Commission for Minorities, Mr Shafi Qureshi, a former Union Minister and Governor, had to say “the people are losing faith’ in institutions and political parties.
The Chief Minster of Orissa admitted that at least 10,000 of them are still in government run refugee camps. Tens of thousands are in the forests or have migrated to towns outside Kandhamal, and even outside Orissa. The government has admitted forty dead, though we have details of 59 men and women mercilessly killed in the seven weeks of unabated mayhem.
The confrontation between Union Home Minister Mr. Shivraj Patil and Orissa Chief Minister Mr. Naveen Pattnaik clearly showed the utter lack of coordination between the Union and State governments, the delays in sending police forces, the gross incompetence of the State officials in deploying central troops and helicopters. Though the government claims to have arrested 1,000 men, television every day shows scenes of violence and forcible conversions to Hinduism where no policeman seems to be present and the goons rule the landscape.
The inability of the Government to provide security to relief teams to go into the interiors has added to the misery. We have demanded we be given adequate security to take relief to everyday affected village and to the people still hiding in the forests.
We call upon political parties to urgently reach a consensus on curbing such senseless violence which is terrorising minorities. We have also strongly opposed the profiling of all minorities, and demand urgent confidence building measures. On our part we have done all we can. We have met every Constitutional authority at the Centre and in the affected states, heads of political parties and have even moved the High Courts and the Supreme Court. We have had dialogues with religious heads, and with leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party. We have reaffirmed the Church’s position against forcible and fraudulent conversions. And yet some government and political groups continue to harp on the same old matter which is a non-issue to the rest of the country, as a justification of the violence.
For our own community, we have demanded an early restoration of Scheduled Caste rights for Dalit Christians, a Justice Sachhar-like commission also for assessing the development status of the Christian community, and adequate representation in police and administrative forces of all states, no erosion of minority education rights and lifting of current difficulties in some places to open new schools. We have also strongly demanded that government and society overview be maintained to see that institutions, especially in the primary level in rural areas, do not teach hate, and that hate crimes in their entirety are immediately proscribed.
Other urgent steps that have long been kept in cold storage are;
1. Stern action against the hate Crimes. Hate campaigns are the incubators of communal violence.
2. Enacting of the Communal Violence Bill ensuring that it takes care of the concerns of the Christian community and does not further arm communal administrations or further embolden impunity of communalised police elements.
3. Comprehensive relief and rehabilitation policies that wipe the tear from the eye of victims of communal violence and give them the opportunity of creating a new life.
4. Adequate representation to all minorities and underprivileged groups in the Police, Administrative and Judicial systems.
5. A thorough revamp of the education system, including a close watch on the recent rash of communally motivated village and rural schools set up by political groups, so that once again secularism, religious and cultural diversity and pluralism become the cornerstone of our nation-building.
6. Above all, the State – Parliament, Supreme Court, and Executive – must ensure that no one remains under the illusion, unfortunately very well founded at present that communal politics, hate and the demonization of religious minorities can bring them electoral dividends in an India of the Twenty-first Century.