Monday, August 18, 2008

Faith Under Fire: The attacks on the Christians of Orissa

Blogger and friend Mike Aquilina mailed me a copy of this book ("Faith under Fire") a few weeks back with the hope that I could read and review it while the blog was still running. He also included two DVDs, all of which he had received from a priest friend in India. Alas, I've been traveling (10 cities, 4 states, both coasts, since July 26), and haven't had time to view the DVDs, and have only been able to skim through the book.

"Faith Under Fire" documents the systematic attacks on Indian Catholics in the Kandhamals district of the eastern state of Orissa that exploded over Christmas 2007, and the abysmal lack of any attempt by the Indian state to protect its citizens or try and bring them to justice. (I've blogged on the violence against Christians in Orissa on a few occasions.)

The book was prepared by the Justice, Peace and Development Commission of the Catholic Church in Orissa and is published by Media House publishers in Delhi earlier this year. (The back cover lists a website that doesn't really seem to work. Email: mediahousedelhiATgmailDOTcom)

The nearly 400 page volume is divided into five sections:
  • The facts on the situation in Kandhamals, with essays and reports that try to establish what occurred

  • Statements and responses from members of the Christian community in Orissa, including Archbishop Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar and Sr. Nirmala MC (of the Missionaries of Charity)

  • Essays that give a background to the rise of sectarian violence, including the heinous Graham Staines murder. (In Indian English, such incidents are described as "communal" and "communalism" means "sectarian" or "promoting sectarian hatred.")

  • An examination of the Wadhwa Commission Report (which investigated the Staines murder and has continued to be perceived by Indian Christians as being distorted and unfair), as well as essays that examine the controversy surrounding conversion.

  • A section that documents several first hand reports of the violence, including first person accounts of riot victims.

  • Two appendices that include the text of a United Nations report on the Freedom of Religion in India and the report of the National Commission of Minorities on the Kandhamals violence, as well as color photographs that document the violence, and a section with fact sheets about the region.
The following is from the foreword by Teesta Setalvad, prominent (secular and Leftist) Indian human rights activist (especially relating to violence against religious minorities and in the name of religion) and co-editor of Communalism Combat,
Any reflection on the bleak and bloody Christmas suffered by fellow Indian Christians in the eastern Indian state of Orissay in December 2007, requires the interrogation of several issues. The muted political response across the political spectrum, the absence of political outrage or any sustained campaigns and statements (two bland questions in Parliament during the first half of the budget session reflects how far removed debates in the lower house of the Indian Parliament are to the political reality of India). The message is loud and clear. India's tiny ... Christian religious minority are too minuscule to matter. With all the power and prestige that Christian institutes of learning and education enjoy, with all the quantitative and qualitative services that Christian institutes of health and nurturing provide, Indian democracy, laced as it is today with the ... racist power of hate, has been reduced to a game of numbers.

To take the interrogation further, no spontaneous suo moto judicial action followed the violent attacks on Christian villages in Kandhamal district that rendered 30,000 citizens overnight into refugees living in camps, 101 churches destroyed and properties worth lakhs ("lakh" or "lac" = 100,000) of rupees destroyed. Despite Articles 14 and 21 (of the Indian Constitution), the right to life and equality under the law are fundamental rights guaranteed under the Indian Constitution being serious under threat and attack. [sic]

Most depressing in this all pervasive climate of complicity, was the deafening silence from India's conscience, its citizenry, you and me, as humanitarian relief was actually denied by a calculating Orissa state government, and a mute and impotent Central dispensation looked on.
At first glance "Faith Under Fire" is a commendable attempt to rigorously document this latest bout of anti-Christian persecution. It also presents a clear exposition of the commonly heard contention that the issue of "conversions" is a paper tiger, and that the real underlying issue has to do with human rights and development. As it is presented, this book is not written for the average middle class Indian (assuming he or she reads English), but is another attempt to raise awareness about the plight of India's Christians, both within India, but, I suspect, especially overseas.

A photo of a page from the appendix that presents photographic evidence of the damage to Christian property.

When it comes to the Indian state, I am afraid I am just too cynical to see this having any serious direct effect. As the ongoing conflict over the Amarnath shrine in the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir shows, India's political leaders care very little, if at all, about the well being of citizens in general, and it seems, India today is just too desensitized to violence and human misery.

We just don't care.

Incredible India indeed.

1 comment:

Orissa Burning said...

"Most depressing in this all pervasive climate of complicity, was the deafening silence from India's conscience, its citizenry, you and me, as humanitarian relief was actually denied by a calculating Orissa state government, and a mute and impotent Central dispensation looked on."

It's happening again. With greater consequences.