Charges of Church involvement in Orissa violence ‘baseless,’ Indian archbishop says

Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar.
Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar.

.- Churchmen and other leaders in India’s Orissa state have rejected a Hindu radical group’s claim that the Church perpetrated violence there. The local archbishop said the group spreads “baseless and misleading” information.

A series of violent anti-Christian actions broke out in Orissa in August 2008 after the killing of elderly Hindu leader Swami Laxmananda Saraswati. Although Maoists claimed responsibility, Hindu radicals blamed Christians.

Thousands of Christians were injured in the violence and tens of thousands fled their homes out of fear.

Ashok Singhal, president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has said that Saraswati tried to stop conversions, charging that missionaries killed him with the help of the Maoists.

“The Bible and rifle now go together,” he claimed, according to UCA News.

However, Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik disclosed in the state assembly that the VHP itself and other radical groups were involved in the violence against Christians.

Singhal, who is based in New Delhi, denied VHP involvement in the riots and criticized Patnaik for allowing a European Union delegation to visit Orissa early in February. The delegation’s closed-door meeting with church leaders compromised the country’s security, he charged.

He also claimed that “foreign forces” have engaged in religious conversion in Orissa by luring illiterate tribal people.

Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, head of the Catholic Church in Orissa, dismissed Singhal’s charges as Hindu radicals’ “customary” attempts to start controversy over conversion and the Church’s foreign funding and foreign connections.

“This only shows their poverty of issues,” he told UCA News on Tuesday. According to the archbishop, Singhal’s reaction was disproportionate because he mistook the European Union as a Christian organization.

“The European Union is a non-religious organization that has regular contacts with the Indian government for more than two decades but with no religious group in India,” he commented.

Archbishop Cheenath accused Hindu radicals of pursuing a divide-and-rule strategy by disseminating “baseless and misleading” information.

Social activist Dhirendra Panda also dismissed Singhal’s allegations, calling them “irrational and illogical.”

Damodar Rout, state minister of Agriculture and Cooperation, told the media to ignore the VHP, saying its only interest is to create disturbances in Orissa.

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