India Finally Allows EU to Visit Orissa – But No Fact-Finding

After months of asking, delegation wins clearance to enter Kandhamal district.

NEW DELHI, January 29 (CDN) — Weary of international scrutiny of troubled Kandhamal district in Orissa state, officials yesterday finally allowed delegates from the European Union (EU) to visit affected areas – as long as they do no fact-finding.

A team of 13 diplomats from the EU was to begin its four-day tour of Kandhamal district yesterday, but the federal government had refused to give the required clearance to visit the area, which was wracked by anti-Christian violence in 2008. A facilitator of the delegation said that authorities then reversed themselves and yesterday gave approval to the team.

The team plans to visit Kandhamal early next month to assess the state government’s efforts in rehabilitating victims and prosecuting attackers in the district, where a spate of anti-Christian violence in August-September 2008 killed over 100 people and burned 4,640 houses, 252 churches and 13 educational institutions.

When the federal government recommended that Orissa state officials allow the delegation to visit the area, the state government agreed under the condition that the diplomats undertake no fact-finding, according to the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency. The government stipulated to the EU team, led by the deputy chief of mission of the Spanish embassy, Ramon Moreno, that they are only to interact with local residents. The delegation consented.

Delegates from the EU had also sought a visit to Kandhamal in November 2009, but the government denied permission. The diplomats from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Finland were able to make it only to the Orissa state capital, Bhubaneswar, at that time.

Ironically, three days before the government initially denied permission to the EU team, the head of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Mohan Bhagwat, visited Orissa and addressed a huge rally of its cadres in Bhubaneswar, reported PTI on Tuesday (Jan. 26).

While Bhagwat was not reported to have made an inflammatory speech, many Christians frowned on his visit. It is believed that his organization was behind the violence in Kandhamal, which began after a leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP), Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, was killed by Maoists (extreme Marxists) on Aug. 23, 2008. Hindu extremist groups wrongly blamed it on local Christians in order to stir up anti-Christian violence.

On Nov. 11, Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik told the state assembly House that 85 people from the RSS, 321 members of the VHP and 118 workers of the Bajrang Dal, youth wing of the VHP, were rounded up by the police for the attacks in Kandhamal.

EU’s Indictments

It is believed that New Delhi was hesitant to allow EU’s teams into Kandhamal because it has indicted India on several occasions for human rights violations. Soon after violence broke out in Kandhamal, the European Commission, EU’s executive wing, called it a “massacre of minorities.”

Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, who was attending the ninth India-EU summit in France at the time of the violence, called the anti-Christian attacks a “national shame.” French President Nicolas Sarkozy, head of the European Council, and Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, took up the issue “strongly with Singh,” reported The Times of India on Sept. 30, 2008.

On Aug. 17, 2009, the EU asked its citizens not to visit Kandhamal in an advisory stating that religious tensions were not yet over. “We therefore advise against travel within the state and in rural areas, particularly in the districts of Kandhamal and Bargarh,” it stated.

The EU’s advisory came at a time when the state government was targeting the visit of 200,000 foreign tourists to Orissa, noted PTI.

Kandhamal Superintendent of Police Praveen Kumar suggested that the advisory was not based on truth.

“There is no violence in Kandhamal since October 2008,” he told PTI. “The people celebrated Christmas and New Year’s Day as peace returned to the tribal dominated district.”

Before denying permission to the EU, the Indian government had restricted members of a U.S. panel from coming to the country. In June 2009, the government refused to issue visas for members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to visit Orissa. The panel then put India on its “Watch List” for the country’s violations of religious freedom.

Tensions Remain

Local human rights activist Ajay Singh said that while the state government had made some efforts to rehabilitate the victims, a lot more needed to be done.

An estimated 300 families are still living in private relief camps in Kandhamal, and at least 1,200 families have left Kandhamal following the violence, he said. These families have not gone back to their villages, fearing that if they returned without converting to Hinduism they would be attacked, he added.

Singh also said that authorities have asked more than 100 survivors of communal violence living in an abandoned market complex known as NAC, in G. Udayagiri area of Kandhamal, to move out. He said it is possible they were asked to leave because of the intended visit of the EU team.

Of the more than 50,000 people displaced by the violence, around 1,100 have received some compensation either from the government or from Christian and other organizations, he added.

Additionally, the state administration has to do much more in bringing the attackers to justice, said a representative of the Christian Legal Association. Of the total 831 police cases registered, charges have been filed in around 300 cases; 133 of these have been dropped due to “lack of evidence,” said the source.

Report from Compass Direct News 


Still blaming Christians for assassination, Hindu fanatics continue attacks.

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.


Fresh Attacks

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.  

Report from Compass Direct News


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