Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
ACN, Königstein/Montreal, Thursday, October 16, 2014 –After the election of Narendra Modi of the Hindu “Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)” as prime minister of India the country’s secular constitution is under threat. With these words Ajay Kumar Singh, Catholic priest and human rights activist in Kandhamal District in the East Indian state of Odisha (formerly Orissa), warned of the growing influence of radical Hindu forces on the Indian subcontinent. “Especially under threat is the Christian minority because it is rejected by extremists as alien and because they regard the Christian message as endangering the caste system,” stressed Fr. Kumar Singh, who also works for the “Odisha Forum for Social Action” (OROSA), at a meeting with staff of the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
According to Fr. Kumar Singh, the aim of the “Bharatiya Janata Party” is to establish a state religion which excludes the lower castes and minorities. “They even want to impose only one language, Sanskrit, even though hundreds of languages are spoken in India,” the Catholic priest continued. The aims of the BJP, which has become the strongest political force in India in only a few decades, were underestimated by the faithful and even by Church personnel. Fr. Kumar Singh: “It is important for us to understand what is happening. As a Church we must think way beyond the bounds of the individual dioceses; we must act regionally, nationally in order to find responses to this challenge. Otherwise Orissa 2008 will be repeated, even worse than then because we learnt no lessons from it.” In August 2008, Hindu nationalists attacked mainly the villages of Christian Dalits, who are among the lowest of the castes and are often exposed to sheer arbitrary action. Previously, a leader of the Hindus had been murdered by persons unknown.
According to official figures of the 2008 attacks, which were only the subject of legal prosecution in isolated cases, 39 people were killed. According to the description by the “National People’s Tribunal (NPT)” in 2010, an association of human rights activists in Odisha for the Kandhamal District, approximately 100 were killed. The NPT stated the attacks were prepared well in advance and more than 600 villages were looted, 5,600 houses, 295 churches and 13 schools were destroyed; 54,000 people were made homeless, and of these 30,000 were unable to return to their villages. As a result, approximately 10,000 children were robbed of the possibility of attending school because they were forced to flee and were displaced. 2,000 Christians were compelled to deny their faith. The plight of the innumerable women who were raped is documented in a report of the “National Alliance of Women – Odisha,” which was published in August 2014 under the title “Breaking the shackled silence: unheard voices of women in Kandhamal” and can be downloaded from the internet: SelectedWorks of Saumya Uma
ACN supports the Catholic Church in the state of Odisha with various programs treating traumatized people, with projects reinforcing reconciliation and peace processes, and with measures to renew and deepen Christian communities. Projects intended for the reconstruction of churches and church institutions have been and are being funded.