NEW DELHI – An Indian Catholic on a hunger strike to force government action for peace in India’s Orissa state refused food even after police took him to a hospital.

Rajiv Joseph was taken to the hospital Dec 18, eight days after he began his "hunger strike until success or death" on Human Rights Day, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News.

After returning to his cloth canopy on the roadside the same day, he told UCA News, "I’m physically fit, and I’ll continue fasting." His canopy is in an area set aside for public protests, about a mile from India’s Parliament.

Joseph said he has consumed only water since he began fasting. The police followed normal procedure by taking him to a hospital, but when the doctors said he was fit, the police could not keep him there, he added.

Joseph, president of the Indian Minority Front, a political party he launched in November, is demanding that more security forces be sent to Orissa, where he said Christians remain afraid after Hindu fanatics attacked them for seven weeks, starting Aug 24.

The violence left at least 60 people dead and more than 50,000 displaced. Thousands of Christians
still live in government-run relief camps or far from home for fear of being attacked if they return to their villages.

Joseph wants the government to block a general strike Hindu radical groups have called in the state for Christmas Day and is calling for the federal and state governments to rehabilitate victims of the violence.

Federal government leaders have asked him to end the strike and promised to meet his demands; Joseph said, "but I need action, not promises".

The "double talk", he said, forced people of minority faith communities to form the new party.

Though he sat alone in his tent,
Joseph said Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Zoroastrians and some political organisations were backing his action.

In the first 10 days of Joseph’s hunger strike, about 30 Catholic priests and 20 nuns visited him.

Divine Word Father Babu Joseph, spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, told UCA News Dec 17 that the Catholic Church "fully supports his act of care and concern for the people of Orissa, especially the Christians".

"It is a noble way of protesting and helping fellow brethren in their distress," Father Joseph said, adding that a hunger strike is "the best way to express strong disagreement
with the government". -cns

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