INDIA: MURDER, RAPE, ARSON CONTINUE


Two killed in Uttarakhand state; more violence in Orissa, Karnataka and Kerala.

NEW DELHI, September 24 (Compass Direct News) – The unprecedented wave of anti-Christian attacks that began a month ago continued in the past week with more incidents of murder, rape and arson, mostly in the eastern state of Orissa and southern state of Karnataka. Two Christians were also found murdered in the northern state of Uttarakhand.

“The atmosphere in the Kandhamal district of Orissa is still volatile,” an attorney visiting Kandhamal with a team to provide legal aid to victims told Compass. “Yesterday afternoon, we were going to the Raikia area, but as we were about to reach there, we were informed that a mob had attacked a police station and the police had to open fire. We had to flee Kandhamal right away.”

According to The Indian Express, around 2,000 people, including women, surrounded the Raikia police station yesterday to demand the release of two fellow villagers from Masakadia village who had been arrested on charges of arson and rioting.

Security personnel from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), a federal agency, opened fire to prevent the mob from entering the police station. The security personnel resorted to fire after failing to control the mob with persuasion and the use of batons, added the daily. One person died and two were critically injured from the gunfire.

The attorney also said Hindu extremists had destroyed all communication links in Kandhamal, including mobile phone networks, and blocked some roads with trees and stones.

 

Rape, Murder, Arson in Orissa

Attacks on Christians continued in the Kandhamal district. While a young woman was reportedly gang-raped by unidentified rioters on Sunday night (Sept. 21), a man went missing and was allegedly killed on Friday (Sept. 19).

Father Ajay Singh of the Catholic Archdiocese of Bhubaneswar, Orissa’s capital, told Compass that a local Oriya-language newspaper, Dharitri, reported that a 20-year-old woman was raped by about 15 men in an area under Tikabali police jurisdiction in Kandhamal late on Sept. 21.

The victim, who was living in a relief camp and believed to be Christian, had gone back to her house to see her grandmother. A group of men stormed the house and took her to a nearby jungle and raped her, Singh said, adding that the police had confirmed the incident.

The Press Trust of India (PTI) reported that Iswar Digal, who had taken refuge at Ghumusar Udayagiri relief camp and was believed to be Christian, went missing after he went to meet his ailing father in Gatingia village on Friday (Sept. 19). Digal’s wife, Runima Digal, filed a police complaint stating that Hindu extremists killed her husband after he had gone to the village along with her to visit his father.

She said the extremists had warned them not to return to the village if they did not convert from Christianity to Hinduism. Police, however, have registered only a case of kidnapping, added PTI.

The news agency also reported that at least 10 houses, believed to be that of Christians, were burned in Gochhapada area on Saturday (Sept. 20). An Orissa state official told The Times of India, “It is difficult to guard all the remote areas. But we are trying our best.”

The violence in Kandhamal began following the assassination of a leader of the Hindu extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP), Laxmanananda Saraswati, and four of his associates on Aug. 23. Although Maoists claimed responsibility for the murder, the VHP put the blame on local Christians, saying they killed him because he was resisting conversion of Hindus to Christianity.

According to the All India Christian Council (AICC), at least 14 districts witnessed violence with Kandhamal as the epicenter, and at least 50,000 people from 300 villages have been affected by the violence, with hundreds still hiding in forests. Some 4,000 houses and 115 churches have been burned or destroyed, and the AICC reported 45 Christians were confirmed dead with five others still missing.

 

Killing in Uttarakhand

Amid persistent tensions in various parts of the country following the violence in Orissa, two Catholics, including a woman, were found murdered on Monday (Sept. 22) in the Dehra Dun district of the northern state of Uttarakhand (formerly known as Uttaranchal).

A 56-year-old Catholic preacher, Sadhu Astey, and his disciple, identified only as Mercy, 32, were found strangled to death at their prayer center, called Samarpanalaya, in Chotta Rampur village near Herbertpur area in Vikasnagar Block, reported The Tribune.

Police said local residents grew suspicious when there was no movement at the center the past two days and informed officers. The center was found ransacked.

“We are investigating these murders to know whether it was done by dacoits [bandits] with an intention to loot, or there is something else,” Police Inspector Harish Verma told media. Dr. Sajan K. George of the Global Council of Indian Christians said he suspected Hindu extremists were behind the killing.

The Tribune said it was the fourth attack on Christians in the Dehra Dun district in the past few months.

Sangh Parivar [family of Hindu nationalist groups led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS] activists had attacked Christian missionaries on Aug. 15 when they were distributing their leaflets,” the daily reported. “They were brought to the police station and beaten up. Interestingly, instead of taking action against the attackers, the police detained five of the Christian leaders for nine hours.”

Christians were also attacked in the area on June 4 and June 22, it added.

Uttarakhand is ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

 

Attacks in Karnataka, Kerala

Suspected Hindu extremists attacked at least three more churches in the southern state of Karnataka, where violence against Christians rose to new heights after tensions began in Orissa.

On Sunday (Sept. 21), two churches were vandalized in the state capital, Bangalore, and another church was attacked in the Kodagu district, about 300 kilometers (186 miles) from Bangalore.

In Bangalore, extremists desecrated the St. James Church in Mariammanapalya near Hebbal area and the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus in Rajarajeshwarinagar area, reported The Times of India. Police told the daily that they had detained seven people and suspended a constable for negligence in protecting the churches.

In Kodagu district, members of the Brethren’s Church in Nellihudikeri area found portions of the front glass facade of the church broken on Sunday morning, reported the daily. The vandalism occurred despite two constables guarding the church.

Karnataka police arrested the state convener of VHP youth wing Bajrang Dal, Mahendra Kumar, on Friday night (Sept. 19) in connection with the spate of attacks on churches and prayer halls in several parts of the state. Bajrang Dal extremists vandalized numerous churches and Christian institutions in various parts of Karnataka earlier this month.

On Monday (Sept. 22), anguished Catholic Archbishop of Bangalore the Rev. Dr. Bernard Moras told Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa that he was ready to “shed blood and give his life for Christ,” reported the Economic Times.

Yeddyurappa had called on the archbishop and senior state officials after an emergency cabinet meeting. Archbishop Moras “greeted the visitors with a grim face without the customary geniality,” the daily reported, “and blurted out his anguish: ‘I am deeply hurt and saddened. This is not a happy occasion to meet the head of the state.’”

The Karnataka chief minister assured the Christian minority community that security at churches and Christian institutions had been increased. He also claimed that the attacks on churches were part of a conspiracy to malign the BJP in Karnataka.

Yeddyurappa said police had arrested three persons including the son of a local Congress Party leader in connection with a violent incident in the Sagar area of Shimoga district, reported the Rediff News on Monday (Sept. 22). “Ravi, another person arrested in connection with the attack, is said to have instigated these youth to desecrate churches by promising to pay 1.5 million Indian rupees [US$32,800],” it reported.

Yeddyurappa had earlier blamed the anti-Christian violence in parts of the state on a booklet reportedly circulated by a Christian organization that allegedly hurt Hindu sentiments.

But a fact-finding team of the National Commission for Minorities (NCM), which visited the violence-hit areas of Udupi, Mangalore and Bangalore in Karnataka last week, has indicted the BJP government for “being in league with the Hindu extremist groups. It has failed to check attacks on Christians and churches,” reported the Hindustan Times.

The NCM will submit the report to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

According to The Times of India, two churches were attacked in neighboring Kerala state on Sunday (Sept. 21) near the international airport in Nedumbassery, close to Kochi city.

Some churches were attacked in Kerala last week also.

 

Ban on Extremism – or on Conversion

In the wake of the ongoing wave of anti-Christian attacks in various parts of India, the NCM is mulling recommending a ban on the Bajrang Dal.

The Hindustan Times said the NCM was working towards a unanimous decision seeking tough measures against the Bajrang Dal, as its involvement in “frequent attacks on the minorities and their places of worship across the country has been established beyond doubt.”

The former prime minister of India and chief of the Karnataka-based Janata Dal (Secular) party, H.D. Deve Gowda, also demanded a ban on the Bajrang Dal during a sit-in protest in Delhi yesterday. Several other political parties have also urged the federal government to ban the Bajrang Dal.

But a senior BJP leader, Venkaiah Naidu, termed conversion as the root cause of violence and social disturbances, saying a strong federal law to prevent religious conversion across the country would be brought if BJP regained power in the general elections expected to be held early next year, reported PTI on Sunday (Sept. 21).

The BJP leader also asked the Orissa state government to strictly implement the existing anti-conversion law in the state.

The VHP’s central governing body is likely to deliberate on ways to further intensify its campaign against religious conversions in Orissa’s Kandhamal district at its two-day “brain- storming session” in Delhi beginning tomorrow, The Statesman daily reported.

The Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America (FIACONA) will hold a rally tomorrow at Lafayette Square in front of the White House in Washington, D.C. – the day Prime Minister Singh will meet with U.S. President George W. Bush – demanding an end to violence against Christians in India.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has sent a letter to President Bush urging him to raise pressing concerns about religious freedom in India during his meeting with Prime Minister Singh.  

Report from Compass Direct News

INDIA: CHRISTIANS ATTACKED AFTER HINDU LEADER KILLED


Two people burnt alive, churches torched in Orissa state.

NEW DELHI, August 25 (Compass Direct News) – The killing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP) leader Swamiji Laxmanananda Saraswati and four associates by suspected Maoists on Saturday night (August 23) led to renewed anti-Christian attacks in Orissa state, with churches torched and two people burned alive.

Accusing local Christians of killing their leader, Hindu extremists set an orphanage on fire in Khuntapali village in Barhgarh district, burning a Catholic nun to death, according to the All India Christian Council. The attack on the orphanage in Khuntapali, 250 miles west of the state capital of Bhubaneswar, also left a priest at the orphanage hospitalized with severe burns.

Over the weekend, VHP extremists in Nuagon, Kandhamal district burned alive a man suffering from paralysis, whose identity and religious affiliation were still unknown at press time, and assaulted pastors.

The Indian Express reported that a mob torched a house in Nuagaon near Pasara outpost in Chakapada area last night. The paralytic man stranded inside the house reportedly burned to death.

The Hindu extremists also launched arson attacks on at least 10 churches, several prayer houses, shops and vehicles in various parts of the eastern state.

Numerous Christians have fled to jungles to save their lives, according to the AICC, which has written to the federal internal minister demanding security for the community.

Saraswati allegedly incited the attacks on Christians and their property in Kandhamal during 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 attacks were allegedly carried out mainly by VHP extremists under the pretext of avenging an alleged attack on Saraswati by local Christians. Hundreds of Christians were displaced by the violence in Kandhamal, and they are still in various relief camps set up by the state government.

 

Maoists Suspected

At around 9:30 p.m. on Saturday (August 23), around 30 armed men carrying sophisticated rifles and AK-47s launched an attack on Saraswati’s ashram (religious center) in the Jalespata area in Kandhamal’s Tumudiband Block, killing five people, including Saraswati, reported CNN-IBN news channel.

A warning letter found at the Saraswati religious center and the use of expensive arms suggested Maoists were behind the attack. Christian groups, including the Global Council of Indian Christians, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, the AICC, and the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) condemned the killing of Saraswati and his associates.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a partner in the state’s ruling coalition led by the Biju Janata Dal party, and the VHP called for 12-hour a strike in which inflammatory speeches were made accusing Christians of killing Saraswati.

“Swamiji [Saraswati] was opposed to religious conversion taking place in various parts of Orissa,” BJP state leader Suresh Pujari told Press Trust of India. “Those opposed to Swamiji’s anti-conversion activities killed him.”

On Sunday, the Kandhamal district administration imposed a curfew in all sensitive areas in Kandhamal and issued orders prohibiting the gathering of four or more people throughout the district.

All borders of the district were also sealed. Defying the orders, VHP extremists took Saraswati’s funeral procession from the Jalespata religious center to the main ashram in Chakapada, covering around 70 kilometers (44 miles), apparently to incite violence. According to media reports, they launched attacks on Christian institutions along the way.

“A large number of supporters of Laxmanananda entered the district headquarter town of Phulbani in violation of curfew restrictions on their way to Chakapada and targeted churches and houses,” Kandhamal District Collector (administrative head) Krishan Kumar told The Indian Express newspaper.

 

Numerous Attacks

The newspaper also reported that two police officers suffered injuries when they tried to prevent the mob from attacking churches, prayer halls, houses and vehicles on the route of the procession.

Eyewitnesses told the newspaper that a Baptist church and its parsonage, a Roman Catholic church, three houses and some vehicles were attacked by the extremists in Phulbani town, the district headquarters. Nine shops and two vehicles were also torched in Raikia, and two jeeps in Udayagiri.

In Nuagaon, Kandhamal district, Hindu extremists reportedly gang-raped a young Catholic nun of the Cuttack-Bhubaneswar diocese working with the Jan Vikas Kendra social service center before destroying the building.

John Dayal of the AICC reported that less than a kilometer away from the social service center, a senior priest and nun were injured when Hindu extremists attacked the facility. Calling for their blood, Hindu extremists took the director of the Diocesan Pastoral Center in Kanjimendi, known only as Father Thomas, and a nun to a local police station, then set the center on fire.

The Pioneer newspaper reported that VHP extremists burned a small thatched prayer house on Saturday night in Tentulijhari area in Sundargarh district.

EFI reported that pastor Jeebaratna Lima of the Believer’s Church from Khurda district was attacked on Sunday while he was going to his church to conduct the prayer service. The mob almost set him on fire after spraying him with gas, but police arrived in time to save him.

Another Believer’s Church pastor, Bahumulya Paik, was attacked the same day in Bamunidei village in Ganjam district.

The violence continued today. The VHP and its youth wing, the Bajrang Dal, with the support of the BJP enforced a dawn-to-dusk closure across the state, organizing numerous protests and road and rail blockades and launching more attacks.

As a precautionary measure, the state government ordered closure of all schools and colleges. According to Indo-Asian News Service (IANS), the protestors today attacked more than 10 churches and dozens of vehicles in different parts of the state and clashed with police in some places.

According to the EFI report, a Believers Church was also vandalized in Chandrasekharpur area in the state capital, Bhubaneswar.

“It was a spontaneous response of the people to the shutdown,” national coordinator of the Bajrang Dal, Subash Chauhan, claimed while speaking to IANS.

While the district administration has suspended the officer-in-charge of the Tumudiband police station, Orissa state chief minister Naveen Patnaik has ordered a judicial probe into the incident and announced a compensation of 200,000 rupees (US$4,617) to the next of kin of the deceased.

The population of Kandhamal is 600,000, which includes around 150,000 Christians.

According to The Pioneer, police have arrested three Christians in connection with Saraswati’s murder, but at press time police had not confirmed the report.

Report from Compass Direct News