Father Ajay Kumar Singh addresses a seminar in New Delhi on Aug. 25, 2018, commemorating the 10th anniversary of anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal, Odisha. (Photo: Bijay Kumar Minj/UCA News)
Some 60 delegates from Christian and Muslim organizations have hailed an initiative to forge closer bonds and break down interfaith barriers in a state that witnessed one of the worst anti-Christian riots in Indian history.
The delegation met Odisha's chief minister Naveen Patnaik on Feb. 13 and expressed their gratitude for the grant of 160 million rupees (US$2.24 million) to their institutions, which will be disbursed by the state’s Special Problem Fund during the 2019-20 financial year. The money will be used to build facilities for pilgrims and community halls for visitors.
“It is indeed a great initiative from our chief minister as it will improve the bond among all of us so that we can work toward the development of the state,” Father Prasanna Kumar Pradhan, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, told UCA News.
“Even in the past, the chief minister made sure to reach out to all communities including Christians and we should appreciate and welcome such a move. Even during the Christmas season, he made sure he attended the during the carol-singing program.
“Of course, there were differences among minority groups in the past for various reasons, but since the chief minister himself has taken this progressive step, we have no complaints and wish to express our gratitude for his consideration and the financial support for the development of pilgrim amenities.”
The state government recently announced that it will provide a sum of 20 million rupees each to the Jesus Christ Church in Satyanagar, Mother Mary Bhubaneswar Church and Capital Masjid in Bhubaneswar.
In addition, 20 million rupees has been sanctioned for Odia Baptist Church in Cuttack and Kadam-e-Rasool mosque at Dargha Bazar.
The chief minister also sanctioned 10 million rupees each for Fakirabad Markazi mosque, Old Bazar Jama Masjid, Paltan Masjid, Sambalpur St. Joseph's Cathedral, Berhampur Bhapur Bazar Jamis Masjid, Giri Road Odia Baptist Church, Rourkela Bishop Missionary and Sunni Jama mosque at Rajgangpur.
“We should all be thankful for this great gesture from our chief minister, who is trying to build a bridge between various communities. Let us put aside our differences and work toward state development,” said Munna Khan, a Muslim leader in the state.
“We should see this as an opportunity to work together with state agencies because taking such a step also shows that the government recognizes our contribution to society,” Father Madan Sual Singh, director of Jana Vikas, the social service wing of the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar that covers Kandhamal district, told UCA News. “Let’s hope that this fund is a step toward development of the state.”
Kandhamal witnessed one of the worst anti-Christian riots in Indian history on Aug. 23, 2008. As Hindus celebrated Janmashtami or the birth of Krishna, their leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati was shot dead.
Hindu radicals attacked Christians after dubbing the murder a Christian conspiracy. The violence continued for seven weeks, resulting in 100 dead and 56,000 homeless. Some 6,000 houses and 300 churches were destroyed.