Deaths Mount as Violence Spreads in Orissa, India

Shireen Bhatia | Compass Direct News | Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Deaths Mount as Violence Spreads in Orissa, India


August 27, 2008

NEW DELHI (Compass Direct News) – At least 18 people are confirmed dead in 92 incidents of violence against Christians since suspected Maoists murdered Hindu leader Swamiji Laxmanananda Saraswati and four others on Saturday (Aug. 23) in Orissa state.

With Hindu extremists inciting hatred by heated accusations that Christians killed Saraswati, the national newspaper Hindu reported today that nine people had been killed in Orissa violence, and a Compass source near the state capital of Bhubaneswar confirmed an additional nine people slain.

The death count by the Hindu included four people killed in the Barakhama area. News agencies had earlier confirmed three dead in Raikia and two others, including a woman, killed in Bargarh, where a missionary-run orphanage was set on fire yesterday. The figure of 92 incidents thus far comes from the Global Council of Indian Christians.

Additionally, the Compass source said that Hindu extremists today killed pastor Samuel Naik of the Bakingia Seventh-Day Adventist Church at Kandhamal, and Jacob Digal and Gopan Naik of Damba village were slain this morning. Also killed today was Golok Naik of Pidinanju village (under Mondakia police station), and yesterday pastor Mukunda Bardhan from Mukundapur, Gajapati was burned to death. 

Three other people whose names have not yet been verified, said the source, were killed in Katingia village of G. Udaygiri, along with a pastor belonging to Operation Mobilization from the same area. In Badimunda, about 12 kilometers (seven miles) from G. Udaygiri, nearly 25 Christian homes were burned down.

There were many reports of Christians being pulled from their homes and killed or beaten, with many homes of Christians torched in Baliguda. According to reports by the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), the East India office of Compassion International in Bhubaneswar was ransacked.

Saraswati and four others were killed by suspected Maoists in the swami’s ashram, or religious center, in the Jalespata area of Kandhamal district’s Tumudiband Block in Orissa state. A warning letter found at the Saraswati religious center and use of expensive arms suggested Maoists were behind the attack.

In a state with a strong Maoist presence, police reportedly said they have evidence to link the communist rebels to the murders of Saraswati and his four associates. One police theory is that Maoists would attack Hindu leaders in a misguided effort to gain support among area tribal people, many of whom have converted to Christianity.

On Sunday (Aug. 24) the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a partner in the state’s ruling coalition, and the Hindu extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP) called for 12-hour a shut-down in which inflammatory speeches were made accusing Christians of killing Saraswati.

Authorities in Denial

Orissa Police Chief Gopal Chandra Nanda downplayed the violence, telling Reuters that incidents were only “sporadic” and that “some prayer houses have been attacked and vehicles have been burnt.”

Likewise, local authorities and media have painted the shutdown as “peaceful,” denying that organized attacks took place. The state is ruled by a coalition of the BJP and the Biju Janata Dal party.

At the same time, Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) extremists have continued to incite hatred against Christians and criticized the local government. VHP Secretary General Pravin Tagodia accused the state government of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik of acting like a “eunuch” and demanded his apology for the killing of Saraswati and his companions.

“Christians murdered Swamiji, but the government is lying and giving it a Maoist color,” Tagodia said. “Naveen as an individual and police, in particular, are responsible for this attack orchestrated by the church on Hindu dharma.’’

At the same time, a senior leader from Christian relief and development organization World Vision told Compass that a news report about the arrest of their staff members in connection with Saraswati’s killing was false. The police had merely kept two of their employees for protection, he said.

“No complaint had been lodged against them,” he said. “The employees have safely reached their homes.”

Widespread Violence

Sources from Kandhamal district said hundreds of Christians along with their families have fled to the nearby forests to save their lives in the rainy climate and are without shelter, food and clothing.

“Three adults and one child were reportedly killed in fresh violence in Barakhama, Kandhamal,” EFI News reported.

At least 14 Christians have been killed in Kandhamal, according to the news agency: Hacked to death by a rampaging mob of Hindu extremists were two Christians in Mutungia village, one in Petaponga village, one in Borimunda village, three in Katinga village, three in Tianga village, three in Adikuppa village and one in Bakingia village.

According to reports received from Kalahandi district, many incidents of violence and house burning have taken place even though it is more than 300 kilometers (186 miles) from the place where Saraswati was killed.

Christian sources said pastor Sikandar Singh of the Pentecostal Mission was beaten and his house was burned in Bhawanipatna. In Kharihar, three Christian shops were looted and burned. Pastor Alok Das was beaten at Kharihar, as was pastor I.M. Senapati. In Aampani, pastor David Diamond Pahar was beaten by more than 200 people. They chased him away from Aampani, and he is hiding in nearby villages.

Pastor Pravin Ship and two other area pastor identified only as Pradhan and Barik were beaten and chased away with their families. In Naktikani, an angry mob surrounded the village to attack Christians. The government sent forces to try to control the mob but without success.

Christian Pleas

A delegation of Christian leaders in New Delhi met with Home Minister Shivraj Patil to brief him of the situation and to register their concern. Patil assured the Christian delegation, including the Rev. Dr. Richard Howell, general secretary of EFI, and Father Babu Joseph, spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India of the central government’s support in curbing violence against Christians in the state.

Another delegation led by Orissa state Christian leaders met Gov. Rameshwar Thakur with the same objectives. The Rt. Rev. Samson Das and attorney Bibhu Dutta Das were also among those who met with the Orissa governor today.

In Kolkata, the All-India Minority Forum today condemned the attack on churches in Orissa and demanded the resignation of Chief Minister Patnaik for his “failure” to protect religious minorities in his state.

“We condemn in unequivocal terms the incident of burning alive people who belong to the Christian community by Vishwa Hindu Parishad activists, and armed attacks on churches in Orissa,” Forum President Idris Ali said.

‘Kill Christians’

The violence has spread even though church leaders across the country condemned the Hindu priest’s killing and appealed for peace.

The VHP and its allies had called for a 12-hour shutdown to protest the killing of the swami, and Christian leaders expected Hindu mobs would use it to mobilize strikes at the Christian community.

“But what has taken place has even surpassed what we expected,” said one pastor who wished to remain anonymous.

Hindu extremists paraded the body of Saraswati throughout nearby villages, whipping up anger and mobilizing crowds against Christians, in uncontested defiance of a Kandhamal district administration prohibition against the gathering of four or more people. Among the slogans shouted was, “Kill Christians and destroy their institutions.”

In spite of an Orissa state-imposed curfew, crowds violated restrictions and proceeded to attack Christian communities throughout the state. Compass has received reports that the violence has spread to the districts of Gajapati, Phulbani, Nuaparha, Kalahandi, Rayagada and Koraput.

The Orissa Legislative Assembly was disturbed for the second consecutive day at the various calls for the resignation of Chief Minister Patnaik.

Christians make up 2.4 percent of Orissa’s population, or 897,861 of the total 3.7 million people.

Copyright 2008 Compass Direct News. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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