INDIA: POLICE DO LITTLE TO PROTECT CHRISTIANS IN ORISSA


Survivors fleeing to state capital continue to receive accounts of violence.

BHUBANESWAR, India, September 4 (Compass Direct News) – Christian victims of Hindu extremist violence who have fled to the capital of the eastern state of Orissa said state police have been mere spectators as mayhem continued a 12th consecutive day.

Attacks on Christians and their property and institutions began in Orissa’s Kandhamal district following the killing of a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP) leader, Laxmanananda Saraswati, and four of his disciples on August 23. Maoists claimed responsibility for the murders on Monday (Sept. 1), though the statement did nothing to slow Hindu extremist violence that Christian leaders say has claimed more than 100 lives.

Among those who have fled to Bhubaneswar was Father Prabodha Kumar, a Catholic priest who reached the Catholic Archbishop’s House in the capital after a seven-day journey from Onjamundi village in Kandhamal. He was among other fearful sojourners at the house whose mobile phones constantly rang with news of more attacks from their relatives, friends and church members in interior villages of Kandhamal.

Fr. Kumar looked deeply troubled after one such phone call yesterday.

“My brother has been forced to ‘reconvert’ to Hinduism, as he was told that if he did not do so, his house would be destroyed,” he said.

Asked why he did not report the abuse to the police, the priest told Compass that if police officers could “witness Christians being brutally attacked,” why would they do anything to save his brother?

A few minutes later, Fr. Kumar’s phone rang once again. This time, it was about Christians in Kanpada village in Balliguda Block (Kandhamal district) being told to “reconvert” if they did not want their houses to be burned.

Shortly thereafter, another victim at the Archbishop’s House received a phone call reporting that at least 19 houses and churches were burned down that morning in Lujurmunda village, under Tikabali police station jurisdiction in Kandhamal.

 

State Inaction

That police did nothing to protect Christians is the assertion of most of the victims of Orissa violence.

Ravindranath Pradhan, a 45-year-old former soldier for the Indian Army, told Compass that two policemen came to him in his village, Gadragaon – also under the jurisdiction of Tikabali police station in Kandhamal – on August 24 and asked if he had heard the news about Saraswati’s killing. The officers told him to be “cautious,” but when he said police should protect him and his family, they said they didn’t have enough force to do so and left the village.

A little while later, he said, a mob of around 50 Hindu extremists stormed into the village and burned 31 houses belonging to Christians. The mob burned and killed his brother, Rasanand Pradhan, who suffers from paralysis, as he lay on his bed in a room that was set on fire.

“There is a police post in Pasora village, around five kilometers [three miles] from Gadragaon, but there was not even a single policeman in the village at the time of the attack,” the former soldier told Compass.

Ravindranath Pradhan, along with more than 100 Christians – including women, children and babies from his village, walked to reach Bhubaneswar, covering more than 300 kilometers (186 miles). He walked and used various means of transport, halting in numerous forests, before he was able to reach the state capital on Tuesday (Sept. 2).

“It took us four long days to reach Bhubaneswar,” Pradhan said. “We did not eat anything. We survived on water from rivers along the route. We also encountered wild animals in some forests.”

Pradhan had severe swelling of his left foot. One of his brothers was recovering in a hospital.

Many Christians from Gadragaon village reached Bhubaneswar on August 28. They were taken by local Christians to a YMCA center, where several other victims also are temporarily residing.

Christian leaders estimate at least 40,000 people have taken refuge in forests, and some 20,000 persons have fled to 10 government relief camps.

 

Police Afraid of VHP

Father Mathew Puthyadam of Christ the King Catholic Church in Phulbani town in Kandhamal also blames police for inaction.

At around 8:30 p.m. on August 24, he heard a mob shouting anti-Christian slogans, he said.

“I knew the church was going to be attacked,” Fr. Puthyadam said, his voice still trembling with fear. “I escaped to a nearby house when I saw a crowd of around 4,000 people carrying the body of Saraswati coming towards the church. The district collector [administrative head], the Deputy Inspector General [DIG] of Police, and several police personnel were also there.”

The Saraswati funeral procession stopped outside the church building, with the Hindu extremists carrying the body of Saraswati before its gate. The mob then broke the boundary wall and damaged statues and a cross.

“The collector, the DIG and other policemen witnessed it without doing anything,” Puthyadam recalled. “The DIG merely told the crowd, ‘Enough, enough, now move on.’ It is only when the crowd pelted stones on the police, and some of them got hurt, that the DIG asked his force to use batons to disperse the crowd.”

A federal security force also blamed Orissa state police for failing to prevent attacks on Christians.

On Friday (Aug. 29), the commandant of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Darshan Lal Gola, told The Indian Express newspaper that there was “complete breakdown of the state’s law and order machinery.” He pointed out that the CRPF rounded up 75 rioters in Deegei village under the Raikia police station, but local police refused to put them behind the bars.

A local human rights activist, Dhirendra Panda, said the state administration and police were afraid of VHP extremists.

“The state government did not conduct an autopsy on Saraswati’s body,” Panda said. “The body was not even taken to a hospital. Why didn’t the government follow the required procedure of law?”

Panda also pointed out that while the Orissa government put a restriction on all political party members and rights activists to visit Kandhamal, it gave police protection to VHP General Secretary Praveen Togadia to visit Saraswati’s Ashram (religious center) on August 25.

“Togadia was escorted by the police,” he said.

India’s Supreme Court reacted angrily to the Orissa administration’s denials yesterday of ongoing attacks, as justices ordered a commitment under oath for Orissa to provide protection to its people and their property.

Acting on Christian leaders’ charges that police were colluding with perpetrators and that the state government was a mute spectator, the court asked the Orissa chief secretary to file an affidavit today stating that the administration “will take all steps to protect life and property.”

Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justices P. Sathasivam and J.M. Panchal had been enraged by a denial from state counsel Jana Ranjan Das that “allegations about continuing communal violence are false.”

Thus the Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered Orissa state to report on steps taken to stop the wave of anti-Christian violence. The court order came after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ordered the state to punish those responsible for murder and arson.

In calling for the resignation of the entire state government of Orissa, on Monday (Sept. 1), Dr. Sajan K. George, national president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, said that the death toll from the violence had reached 100 “and more butchered bodies and burnt corpses are being found.”

“In Bakingia, two families of seven Christians – Daniel Naik and Michael Naik and their families – were tortured and killed,” George said. “Their bodies were found with their heads pulped and smashed, they were recognized by their clothes. Bakingia is about eight kilometers [five miles] from Raikia police station.”

 

Another Inflammatory Procession

The Orissa government today put a ban on another rally planned by the VHP to take the ashes of Saraswati in public procession from one village to another in Orissa beginning on Sunday (September 7), reported the Press Trust of India news agency.

The ban was announced by the state government in hearing of a petition filed by Archbishop Raphael Cheenath from Orissa in the Supreme Court of India.

The VHP and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a partner of the ruling government led by the Biju Janata Dal party, continue to blame Christians for the killing of Saraswati and four others in spite of the Maoist claim of responsibility for the assassination.

When Compass spoke to VHP Orissa State President Gauri Prasad Rath, he said the state government was wrongly linking Saraswati’s killing to Maoists.

“We know and believe that Christians killed him,” he said.

When Compass asked how he could say Christians killed him, he replied, “Christians attacked him on December 24, 2007.”

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 2007 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 many 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 total 3.7 million people.  

Report from Compass Direct News

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INDIA: DEATHS MOUNT AS VIOLENCE SPREADS IN ORISSA


Rampaging Hindu extremists kill four more Christians today.

NEW DELHI, August 26 (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 36.7 million people.  

Report from Compass Direct News