Hundreds of church structures and homes destroyed in at least 114 attacks.
NEW DELHI, August 27 (Compass Direct News) – Three more deaths were reported today in the eastern state of Orissa, where a spate of anti-Christian violence began after suspected Maoists murdered Hindu leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his disciples on Saturday (Aug. 23).
The number of people confirmed dead has risen to 21 on the fourth day of ongoing violence in Kandhamal district and other parts of Orissa. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that more than 114 anti-Christian attacks have taken place in various parts of the state.
“The worst hit are the people in Kandhamal district, where more than 400 churches, more than 500 houses and many Christian institutions have been demolished,” GCIC President Dr. Sajan K. George said in a memorandum to the state governor. “The people have fled to jungles for safety.”
The Rev. Dr. Babu Joseph, spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, told Compass that Christians in Orissa were living in fear and anxiety.
“The law enforcing agencies have not been able to contain the violent elements that are still at large,” he said. “The violent mobs are destroying churches, orphanages, hostels of children, convents of religious women and houses of Christian families. There appears a sense of helplessness among the Christian community that has borne the brunt of the communal frenzy created by some fundamentalist organizations.”
Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) reported that three more bodies were recovered today. One body was discovered from Phiringia area and another from Raikia in Kandhamal.
“One of them had died on Monday and the other on Tuesday – both died after mobs attacked them,” Kandhamal district collector Kishan Kumar told IANS. “A third person was rescued in a critical condition, but died on Tuesday night in the hospital.”
The state administration, however, claimed far fewer casualties. “Only seven bodies have been recovered thus far,” Deputy Inspector General of Police R.P. Koche told Compass.
Mobs were burning Christian houses in Gadavisa village, around three kilometers (nearly two miles) from Udayagiri in Kandhamal, a local source requesting anonymity told Compass at press time.
IANS reported that mobs defied curfew, blocked roads and attacked churches in Kandhamal even after police issued shoot-at-sight orders to control the situation, as trouble spread to other areas with incidents of violence reported in Sundergarh, Gajapati and Rayaagada districts.
“We have given orders to shoot-at-sight anybody defying curfew and indulging in violence,” Revenue Divisional Commissioner Satyabrata Sahu told IANS.
The news agency also said that Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik informed the state assembly today that different police stations had registered a total of at least 70 cases and arrested 54 people in connection with attacks.
According to The Hindu newspaper, Patnaik claimed that violence was under control.
The Rt. Rev. Sunil K. Singh, bishop of the Church of North India, told Compass, “The situation in Orissa is far too worrisome and delicate. There has been a total break down of law and order resulting from barbaric communal attacks by anti Christian elements on innocent and peace loving Christians, their priests, nuns, religious workers, their churches and organizations.”
The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) called for “immediate” intervention of the federal government on the “outrageous communal violence in Orissa.”
“Reports of violence against a minority community are outrageous,” IANS quoted NCM Chairperson Mohammad Shafi Qureshi as saying. “Efforts must be made to rein in violence, and the [government] must intervene effectively to restore peace in the state.”
The panel also sought a comprehensive report from the Orissa government over incidents of violence and arson that have claimed lives and damaged or destroyed churches and properties.
“We will also send our own delegation to the state to take stock of ground realities,” Qureshi said.
According to a report by Christian Legal Association, the Orissa High Court today passed an order asking the state government to deploy army personnel to ensure that victims are given compensation and are properly rehabilitated.
The court order came in response to a public interest litigation filed by attorney Collin Gonsalves of the Human Rights Law Network, a non-profit organization, on behalf of local Christians.
In view of the uncontrolled violence, the state legislative assembly yesterday accepted a no-confidence motion by the opposition Congress Party against the ruling coalition of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and the Biju Janata Dal party, a regional party that claims to be secular.
Discussion on the no-confidence motion is expected to be held on Friday (August 29), reported NDTV 24X7 news channel.
About 30 armed men with sophisticated rifles and AK-47s attacked Saraswati’s ashram (religious center) in the Jalespata area in Kandhamal’s Tumudiband Block on Saturday (August 23). A warning letter found at the Saraswati religious center and the use of expensive arms suggested Maoists were behind the attack, and police have reportedly said the Maoist rebels are responsible for the murders of the Hindu leaders.
Violence erupted the next day when Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) 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.”
Saraswati allegedly incited the attacks on Christians and their property in Kandhamal last Christmas season. The violence lasted for more than a week beginning December 24, killing at least four Christians and burning 730 houses and 95 churches.
The 2007 attacks were allegedly carried out mainly by Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) 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.
Christians make up 2.4 percent of Orissa’s population, or 897,861 of the 36.7 million people.
Report from Compass Direct News