NEW DELHI, September 1 (Compass Direct News) – A Maoist group today claimed responsibility for killing Hindu extremist leader Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his disciples in Orissa state on August 23, saying that fanatical Hindus’ claims that Christians murdered him were “lies.”
The violence that has claimed the lives of least 36 people, most of them Christians, and destroyed hundreds of churches and homes continued over the weekend as Hindu extremists continued to blame Christians for the killing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP) leader.
The Central Committee of the Communist Party of India-Maoist, an extreme Marxist group banned by the Indian government, released a statement today saying that Sangh Parivar, the family of Hindu extremist groups led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS, have deliberately misled people about Saraswati’s death.
“The Sangh Parivar leaders like Praveen Togadia have been trying to divert the people by uttering lies that it is not the Maoists but Christian organizations that had carried out the attack on the VHP leader,” the Marxist group stated.
The statement said Saraswati was a “rabid anti-Christian ideologue and persecutor of innocent Christians who was responsible for the burning down of over 400 churches in Kandhamal district alone.”
Saraswati, who had run a campaign against Christian missionaries for several decades in Orissa, was allegedly behind a spate of anti-Christian attacks in Kandhamal district last Christmas season. The violence lasted for more than a week beginning December 24, and killed at least four Christians and burned 730 houses and 95 churches.
The Maoist statement warned the VHP of “more such punishments if it continued violence against religious minorities in the country” and called for a ban on groups linked to the Sangh Parivar, such as the VHP, its youth wing Bajrang Dal, right-wing Hindu political party Shiv Sena and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
On August 30 private news channel NDTV 24X7 quoted unnamed government sources as saying that their assessment was that Christians had no role in the killing of Saraswati, and that the probe was leading to Maoist culprits.
Christian leaders said that as a result of the violence more tha 50,000 Christians are living as refugees in jungles.
According to the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), today at least two churches and a motorbike were burned and a pastor was beaten in Koraput district.
The Orissa Missionary Movement Church and the Bible Mission Church were set ablaze by mobs in Jeypore town, according to EFI, and also in Jeypore a pastor of the Blessing Youth Mission was attacked.
The state government today said 543 houses had been burned in Kandhamal alone thus far, IANS reported. Although the number of incidents has come down compared with last week, fresh attacks were reported yesterday.
Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) reported today that the violence had spread to three more districts of Orissa.
“Security forces had been deployed in nine districts [of Orissa] since August 23, but policemen are now being deployed in an additional three districts,” Inspector General of Police Pradeep Kapur told IANS.
Security forces had been deployed in the districts of Bolangir, Bargarh, Kandhamal, Gajapati, Ganjam, Koraput, Rayagada, Bhadrak and Kendrapada. Kapur, however, refused to tell the three additional districts where police personnel had been deployed.
Yesterday several churches and houses were burned in Bataguda and Parampanga areas of Kandhamal district, Boriguma area of Koraput district and in parts of Rayagada district, according to IANS.
The Hindu newspaper reported that eight prayer houses were damaged in Kundra area of Koraput district on Sunday. “Violence erupted in the district following a clash between two groups in Jeypore town on Saturday and five churches were damaged,” the newspaper reported, adding that a curfew was still in force.
Although the violence began more than a week ago, police are still saying they are not able to reach interior villages of Kandhamal. The state government has now reportedly asked for additional central paramilitary forces to control the violence.
While many parts of Orissa remained under curfew today, over 13,000 people were reportedly living in relief centers set up by the state government in seven places in Kandhamal.
With violence continuing with little or no police protection, Christian leaders said many fearful believers have been forcibly “reconverted” to Hinduism.
According to The Indian Express, more than a hundred Christians “reconverted” to Hinduism in Kandhamal on Friday and Saturday (Aug. 29-30). “I have heard that reconversions are taking place and I am looking into it,” Kandhamal Revenue Divisional Commissioner Satyabarat Sahoo told the newspaper.
A number of reconversions have reportedly taken place in Raikia, Baliguda, Barakhama and others areas of Kandhamal, the newspaper reported.
Dr. Sajan K. George, president of the Global Council of India Christians, told Compass that Hindu extremist groups are “reconverting” Christians by force.
“We have collected evidence and given it to authorities,” he said. “However, the police and other state government authorities are not doing anything.”
George led a sit-in protest with local Christians in front of the state legislative assembly building in state capital Bhubaneswar, and submitted a memorandum to the state governor on Saturday (Aug. 30).
Brahmachari Shankar Chaitanya, successor of the slain Saraswati, asserted that the conversions were “purely voluntary.”
“If misguided people want to come back to Hinduism they will do so, and it is our duty to extend all necessary help and embrace them,” Chaitanya told The Indian Express.
'Punish the Killers'
Christians noted that the violence by VHP extremists is in a state ruled by a coalition of Biju Janata Dal party and the BJP.
A delegation comprising a noted filmmaker and Christians from various denominations today submitted a memorandum to the Indian President Pratibha Patil demanding action against the VHP and other groups for leading mobs to kill and attack Christians.
The delegation urged the president to invoke Article 355 of the constitution, which states that the federal government has a duty to protect states against external aggression and internal disturbance.
The delegation included film director Mahesh Bhatt; Dr. Abraham Mathai, vice chairman of the Maharashtra State Minorities Commission; Dr. John Dayal, member of the National Integration Council of India; Mehmood Madani, member of Parliament; Archbishop Raphael Cheenath from Orissa; Delhi Archbishop Vincent Concessao; the Rev. Dr. Babu Joseph, spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India; Joseph Dias from the Catholic Secular Front; the Rev. Madhu Chandra of the All India Christian Council, and Jenis Francis of the Federation of Catholic Associations.
“More than 50,000 Christians are living as refugees following the violence in Orissa,” Mathai told reporters. “All the political parties are sitting as mute spectators.”
Christians make up 2.4 percent of the state’s population, or 897,861 of the 36.7 million people.
Copyright 2008 Compass Direct News