Hindu nationalists continue to oppress Christians in Kandhamal district, report says.
NEW DELHI, November 11 (CDN) — More than two years after losing relatives and property in anti-Christian violence, there is no sense of relief among survivors in India’s Orissa state, as many are still ostracized and pressured to “return” to Hinduism, according to a private investigation.
“Despite the state administration’s claim of normalcy,” the preliminary report of a fact-finding team states, “a state of lawlessness and utter fear and sense of insecurity” prevails among Christians of Kandhamal district, which saw a major anti-Christian bloodbath in 2008.
The team, consisting of local attorney Nicholas Barla and another identified only as Brother Marcus, along with rights activists Jugal Kishore Ranjit and Ajay Kumar Singh, visited four villages in three blocks of Kandhamal on Nov. 5.
In Bodimunda village in Tikabali, the team met a pastor who said he has been closely watched since Hindu extremists forced him to become a Hindu. The pastor, whose name the report withheld for security reasons, said he had to convert to Hinduism in 2008 “to save his old mother, who could not have escaped the violence as she was not in a position to walk.”
He is still closely watched in an effort to prevent him from returning to Christianity. While the attorneys and activists were still at the pastor’s house, a man who identified himself as from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, India’s most influential Hindu nationalist conglomerate) came to inquire about his visitors. The pastor felt compelled to tell them that they were “bank officials.”
In the same village, Hindu nationalists have also imposed a de facto ban on any private or public vehicle to ferry Christians or their belongings, said the report.
The team met the family of a paralyzed Christian, Bamadev Pradhan, whom auto-rickshaw drivers refused to take to a hospital when he recently ran a high fever. Eventually a Christian driver took him to the only hospital in Tikabali, around eight kilometers (nearly five miles) from his village of Bodimunda, but as the Christian was driving back, some local men confiscated his vehicle.
With the help of the auto-rickshaw union, the driver (unnamed in the report) got the vehicle released after paying a fine of 1,051 (US$24) rupees and promising that he would not transport any Christians in the future.
Another Christian said area Hindus extremists prohibited Christians from procuring basic necessities.
“We are not allowed to bring housing materials or food provisions or medicines, and nor are we allowed to buy anything from local shops,” he said. “We do not have any shop of our own. Here, we are struggling to live as human beings.”
The team also met a Hindu who had to pay 5,000 rupees (US$112) to get his tractor returned to him, as he had transported housing material for the construction of the house of a Christian.
In the house of a Christian in Keredi village in Phulbani Block, the team found a picture of a Hindu god. The resident, who was not identified in the report, explained that he had to display it in order to protect his family from harm.
The team found pictures of Hindu gods also in the house of a Christian in Gandapadar village in the Minia area, Phiringia Block. A woman in the house told the team that local Hindu nationalists had given her pictures of Hindu gods for worship.
“We have kept them, as they often come to check whether we have reconverted to Christianity,” she said.
Almost all Christians the team met complained that the local administration had done little to protect them and suspected that officials colluded with area Hindu nationalists.
Released on Nov. 8, the report asserts that Christians have been barred from taking water from a government well in Dakanaju village, under G. Udayagiri police jurisdiction in Tikabali Block. The village head, Sachindra Pradhan, has promised to take action “at the earliest,” it added.
Violence in Kandhamal and some other districts of Orissa state followed the assassination of Hindu nationalist leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati on Aug. 23, 2008. The rampage killed over 100 people and burned 4,640 houses, 252 churches and 13 educational institutions, according to estimates by human rights groups.
The spate of attacks began a day after Saraswati’s killing when Hindu nationalist groups blamed Christians for his murder, although Maoists (extreme Marxists) active in the district claimed responsibility for it.
John Dayal, a Christian activist in Delhi, told Compass that “the apparatus of 2008 remains undisturbed.” The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was part of the ruling state alliance with the regional Biju Janata Dal (BJD) party at the time of the violence. Although the BJD broke up with the BJP in 2009, blaming it for the violence, the former cannot be excused, said Dayal.
“While the BJP is mainly to be blamed, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is not entirely innocent,” Dayal said. “Not just that he allowed the BJP and RSS cadres to run amok when they were part of his government, turning a blind eye to their very visible anti-Christian activities, but he was his own home [interior] minister and cannot really shirk command responsibility for the carnage together with his BJP ministerial colleagues and senior officers.”
Kandhamal district Magistrate Krishan Kumar, who was on a tour at press time, could not be contacted for comment despite repeated attempts.
Of the 648,201 people in Kandhamal district, 117,950 are Christian, mostly Dalit (formerly “untouchables” in the caste hierarchy in Hindu societies), according to the 2001 Census. Hindus, mainly tribal people and numbering 527,757, form the majority.
Report from Compass Direct News
Investigation concludes Hindu nationalist state government is responsible.
NEW DELHI, March 22 (CDN) — Christians in Karnataka state are under an unprecedented wave of Christian persecution, having faced more than 1,000 attacks in 500 days, according to an independent investigation by a former judge of the Karnataka High Court.
The spate began on Sept. 14, 2008, when at least 12 churches were attacked in one day in Karnataka’s Mangalore city, in Dakshina Kannada district, said Justice Michael Saldanha, former judge of the Karnataka High Court.
“On Jan. 26 – the day we celebrated India’s Republic Day – Karnataka’s 1,000th attack took place in Mysore city,” Saldanha told Compass, saying the figure was based on reports from faith-based organizations.
Saldanha conducted the People’s Tribunal Enquiry into the attacks on Christians in Karnataka on behalf of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties’ Dakshina Kannada district chapter, the Catholic Association of South Kanara (another name for Dakshina Kannada) and the Karnataka Chapter of Transparency International.
“Attacks are taking place every day,” said Saldanha, chairperson of the Karnataka Chapter of Transparency International.
The latest attack took place on Wednesday (March 17), when a mob of around 150 people led by the Hindu extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP) and its youth wing, Bajrang Dal, stormed the funeral of a 50-year-old Christian identified only as Isaac, reported the Karnataka-based Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC).
As Pastor Sunder Raj of St. Thomas Church in Gijahalli, near Arsikere in Hassan district, was about to begin the funeral service, the mob pulled the coffin apart and desecrated the cross the relatives of the deceased were carrying. They threw the body into a tractor and dumped it outside, saying his burial would have contaminated Indian soil and his body should be buried in Rome or the United States, added the GCIC.
With police intervention, the funeral took place later the same day.
Blaming the state government for the attacks, Saldanha said the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had “outdone Orissa.”
Karnataka Home Minister V.S. Acharya denied the results of the inquiry.
“The allegation of Karnataka having faced 1,000 attacks is absolutely false,” Acharya told Compass. “There is liberty in the state. Sections of the media are trying to hype it, and such claims are politically motivated. Karnataka is the most peaceful state in India, and the people are law-abiding.”
The wave of persecution in Karnataka began as fallout of the anti-Christian mayhem in eastern Orissa state, where Maoists killed a VHP leader on Aug. 23, 2008, with Hindu extremists wrongly accusing Christians. The attacks in Orissa’s Kandhamal district, the epicenter of the bloodbath, killed more than 100 people and burned 4,640 houses, 252 churches and 13 educational institutions.
Violent attacks have stopped in Orissa, but Karnataka continues to burn.
In addition to the attacks, numerous Christians also have faced false charges of fraudulent or forced conversions throughout Karnataka.
“I have been to many police stations where complaints of [forced] conversions have been lodged against Christians, and when I asked the police why they were acting on frivolous complaints, most of them told me that they had orders from above,” he said.
In his report, he notes that Christians “are dragged to the police station under false allegations, immediately locked up, beaten up and denied bail by the lower judiciary, which functions as the loyal partner of the police department and refuses bail on the grounds that ‘the police have objected.’”
The report says 468 Christian workers in rural areas had been targeted with such actions since September 2008.
“Numerous others have been threatened and beaten up,” the report states. “The police are totally out of control, with the lower judiciary having abdicated its constitutional obligation of safeguarding the citizens’ rights particularly from a tyrannical state machinery, while the state government proclaims that everything is peaceful.”
Chief Minister Bookanakere Siddalingappa Yeddyurappa and Home Minister Acharya are from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (Hindu nationalist conglomerate or the RSS), believed to be the parent organization of the BJP, Saldanha pointed out.
He also said that although the attacks on Christians had turned public sentiment against the BJP in Karnataka, the party seemed to care little as both opposition parties, the Congress Party and the regional Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) party, were “in shambles” in the state.
In May 2009 the BJP lost general (national) elections, and since then sections of the party are in desperation, he said, adding, “Perhaps this is one of the reasons why attacks continue to happen in Karnataka.”
Saldanha said the state government was controlling media coverage of the attacks by “monetary appeasement.”
“The citizens are told that the situation is happy and under control, principally because the greater part of the media is being fed or appeased with massive publicity advertisements which have cost the state exchequer over 400 million rupees [US$8.8 million], most of the money clandestinely billed to the various Government Corporations and Public bodies,” Saldanha states in the introduction to his yet unpublished report.
The BJP came to sole power in Karnataka in May 2008. Prior to that, it ruled in alliance with the JD-S party for 20 months.
There are a little more than 1 million Christians in Karnataka, where the total population is over 52 million.
Report from Compass Direct News
Christians concerned as rightwing factions splinter to form militant outfits.
PUNE, India, October 29 (CDN) — After more than a decade of severe persecution, India’s Christian minority is growing increasingly concerned over the mushrooming of newer and deadlier Hindu extremist groups.
Gone are the days when Christians had to watch out only for the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) and its youth wing, Bajrang Dal, which are closely linked with the most influential Hindu extremist umbrella organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). With voter support faltering for the RSS’s political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), moderate and extremist sections within the Hindu nationalist movement are blaming each other, and militant splinter groups have emerged.
Claiming to be breakaway factions of the RSS, new groups with even more extreme ideology are surfacing. The Abhinav Bharat (Pride of India), the Rashtriya Jagran Manch (National Revival Forum), the Sri Ram Sene (Army of god Rama), the Hindu Dharam Sena (Army for Hindu Religion) and the Sanatan Sanstha (Eternal Organization) have launched numerous violent attacks on Christian and Muslim minorities.
The Sri Ram Sene was one of the most active groups that launched a series of attacks on Christians and their property in and around Mangalore city in the southern state of Karnataka in August-September 2008, according to a report, “The Ugly Face of Sangh Parivar,” published by the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), in March 2009. In Jabalpur city in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, suspected extremists from the Abhinav Bharat attacked the Rhema Gospel Church on Sept. 28, according to the Global Council of Indian Christians. They had earlier attacked Pastor Sam Oommen and his family in the same city on Aug. 3.
The Hindu Dharam Sena has become especially terrifying for Christians in Jabalpur. Between 2006 and 2008, Jabalpur was plagued by at least three anti-Christian attacks every month, according to The Caravan magazine. In the western state of Gujarat and other parts of the country, the Rashtriya Jagran Manch has also violently attacked Christians, according to news website Counter Currents.
At an ecumenical meeting held in New Delhi on Saturday (Oct. 24), the secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, Archbishop Stanislaus Fernandes, said the rise of fundamentalism was “seriously worrying” the church in India. The meeting was held to discuss prospects for immediate enactment of federal legislation to counter religious extremism with the proposed Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill.
RSS ‘Too Mild’
The new groups, formed mostly by former members of RSS-connected outfits, find the Hindu nationalist conglomerate too “mild” to be able to create a nation with Hindu supremacy.
The Sri Ram Sene, mainly active in south India, was started by Pramod Muthalik after he was expelled in 2007 from the Bajrang Dal, one of the most radical groups in the RSS family, for being an extremist, according to the daily newspaper DNA. The Hindu Dharam Sena was started by Yogesh Agarwal, former worker of the Dharam Jagran Vibhag (Religion Revival Department) of the RSS, also in 2007, as he felt “the RSS did not believe in violence,” according to The Caravan. He had earlier launched the Dharam Sena, an offshoot of the RSS, in Madhya Pradesh and neighboring Chhattisgarh state in 2006.
The founding members of the Abhinav Bharat, which was started in Pune in 2006, also believe that the RSS is not militant enough. Outlook magazine notes that its members were planning to kill top leaders of the RSS for their inability to implement Hindu extremist ideology. The Rashtriya Jagran Manch, also a breakaway group of the RSS founded in 2007, has close links with the Abhinav Bharat.
Based out of Goa, a western state with a substantial number of Christians, the Sanatan Sanstha provides the ideological base for Hindu militant groups. It has close links with the Sri Ram Sene and publishes a periodical, Sanatan Prabhat, which occasionally spews hate against Christians.
Media reports warn of tensions due to the recent spurt in activity of the splinter groups.
“The hardliners are now getting into more extreme activities,” The Times of India daily quoted V.N. Deshmukh, former joint director of India’s Intelligence Bureau, as saying on Oct. 21.
The most extremist sections are disillusioned with the way the RSS is functioning, said Mumbai-based Irfan Engineer, Director of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. Most RSS cadres were mobilized with an ideology that called for elimination of minorities, mainly Muslims and Christians, he told Compass, adding that many of them were highly disappointed with the way the movement was being led.
He said the BJP was restricted when it led a coalition government at the federal level from 1998 to 2004, keeping it from effectively working towards a Hindu nation. A majority of the BJP’s allies in the National Democratic Alliance were not Hindu nationalists.
“One section of the [Hindu nationalist] movement believes in acquiring state power by participating in parliamentary democracy, and the other wants to create a Hindu nation by violent means,” Engineer said.
It is believed that the divide within the RSS family may deepen even further.
Analysts believe that Hindu nationalism is losing relevance in national politics, as was evident in the two successive defeats of the BJP in the 2004 and 2009 general elections. Consequently, the RSS and the BJP may distance themselves from the hard-line ideology or make it sound more inclusive and less militant.
After this year’s elections, the RSS increasingly has begun to talk about the threat China poses to India and the need for development in rural areas, instead of its pet issues like Islamist terrorism and Christian conversions. This has disappointed sections of the highly charged cadres even more, and the splintering may accelerate.
For the next few years, “we will see more new names and new faces but with the same ideology and inspiration,” said Anwar Rajan, secretary of the PUCL in Pune.
Whether the new groups truly have no connection with the RSS is not fully known – that appearance may be an RSS strategy to evade legal action, said Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer, chairman of the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism in Mumbai.
He said relations between the RSS and the new groups can be compared with the ones between Maoist (extreme Marxist) rebels and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) in India. While the CPI-M distances itself from Maoist violence, it speaks for the rebels whenever security forces crack down on them.
At base, the newer rightwing groups surely have the sympathy of the RSS, said Pune-based S.M. Mushrif, former Inspector General of Police in Maharashtra, who has been observing Hindu extremist groups for years.
Report from Compass Direct News
Through August, more violence against Christians reported in state than in any other.
NEW DELHI, September 21 (CDN) — With at least 43 incidents of anti-Christian violence, Karnataka saw more attacks on Christians in the first eight months of this year than any other state in India, according to advocacy organizations.
The figure compares with 35 attacks on churches, worship services and Christians during the same period last year in the state, which has become the center of violence against Christians. The states with the next highest incidents of anti-Christian violence from January through August this year were Andhra Pradesh with 14 and Madhya Pradesh with 11, according to figures from the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) and the All India Christian Council.
Former Chief Minister of Karnataka H.D. Kumaraswamy on Sept. 11 called on Gov. H.R. Bhardwaj to rein in abuses by the state’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government to ensure that law and order is maintained, reported the GCIC. In several districts of Karnataka during the first eight months of the year, local authorities allowed Hindu extremists to beat pastors, disrupt prayer meetings and worship services, and burn, vandalize, demolish or shut down prayer halls.
After August last year the number of violent incidents against Christians in Karnataka raced up, with a total of 112 attacks on Christians in 2008, and the Christian community fears a repeat of hostilities.
Kumaraswamy noted that a Sept. 10 attack on St. Francis De Sales Church at Hebbagudi, on the outskirts of Bangalore, came just days after Gov. Bhardwaj voiced concern over the security of minorities in the state. Armed attackers broke into the church, damaged statues and other items, smashed windows and destroyed a house behind the building, according to the Evangelical Fellowship of India. Church damages were estimated at 200,000 rupees (US$4,173).
“It is unfortunate that the government did not take any action to curb communal menace even after your caution,” Kumaraswamy wrote in a memorandum to the governor, adding that Gov. Bhardwaj was constitutionally bound to stop state security personnel from violating the law.
The former chief minister said he felt that the attack on the church, located close to the Hebbagudi police station on a busy road, reflected growing religious intolerance and tension in the state, and he criticized Home Minister V.S. Acharya for terming the attack a “minor incident.”
Archbishop of Bangalore Bernard Moras told Compass that past experience leaves him little hope for future justice.
“The state government has promised to make an immediate inquiry into the recent church attack in Hebbagudi, but nothing has been done so far, and we have no results whatsoever from the Justice B.K. Somashekar Commission of Inquiry made into church attacks last year,” he said. “Sad as it is, we feel that justice delayed is justice denied.”
Former chief minister Kumaraswamy has demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into attacks on prayer halls in the state. The leader of the opposition in the state Legislative Assembly, Siddaramaiah (who goes by a single name), has also demanded a CBI inquiry into all attacks on minorities and places of worship. The Hindu reported that he had asked state Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa to stop blaming others for the mistakes of his government.
Siddaramaiah told media on Sept. 13 that members of the Hindu extremist Sangh Parivar were involved in the attacks on churches.
“The BJP government led by B.S. Yeddyurappa has failed to take action against those involved in these incidents that created unrest in society, and now the chief minister is blaming others for the mistakes committed by his government, which has resulted in a law-and-order problem in the state,” he said.
The Hindu reported Siddaramaiah as saying that in an effort to cover up their mistakes, the chief minister and his cabinet dismissed the accusations as efforts to topple his government.
“If the chief minister has any proof to support his statements, let him hand over the issue to the CBI,” Siddaramaiah added. “The truth will be out.”
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also recently remarked that Karnataka has witnessed a number of incidents of communal violence this year.
“What is more worrisome is that the incidents were not limited to one or two districts,” Singh said in comments that Chief Minister Yedduyurappa brushed off as untrue; the chief minister referred to the violence as a “few stray incidents” that were “blown out of proportion.”
Tensions are high in the districts of Davangere, Mangalore, Bangalore, and also potentially volatile are the districts of Chickmagalur, Chitradurga, Belgaum, Tumkur, Udupi, Shimago, Bagalkot, Dharwad and Kodagu, reported the GCIC.
Chief Minister Yeddyurappa reportedly has instructed police to provide security at all religious venues and directed them to take steps to take preventative measures. City Police Commissioner Shankar Bidari has reportedly said the chief minister ordered security officers to deal sternly with those involved in incidents of religious violence.
The Bangalore Rural police on Sept. 12 reportedly handed over the investigation of the attack on St. Francis De Sales to the Criminal Investigation Department.
Attempted Anti-Conversion Law
Foremost among priorities of the Hindu nationalist BJP when it came to power in Karnataka last year was to introduce the kind of “anti-conversion” law that has provided the pretext for anti- Christian violence in other states.
Alarmed by what they said was an increase in conversions to Christianity, six prominent Hindu leaders on June 25 said that they had urged Chief Minister Yedduyurappa to introduce “anti-conversion” laws similar to those of Madhya Pradesh and Orissa, reported The Hindu. Passage of an anti-conversion bill has been left hanging, however, with negative publicity over communal violence and Christian protests against such a bill.
Such laws are designed to thwart forcible or fraudulent conversion, but they are popularly misunderstood as criminalizing conversion in general. The laws seek to curb religious conversions made by “force, fraud or allurement,” but human rights groups say they obstruct conversion generally as Hindu nationalists invoke them to harass Christians with spurious arrests and incarcerations.
Anti-conversion laws are in force in five states – Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat – and its implementation is awaited in the states of Arunachal Pradesh and Rajasthan. Several cases against Christians have been filed under various anti-conversion laws in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Orissa, but no one has been convicted in more than four decades since such laws were enacted.
Naveen Kumar of the Federation of Christian Churches and Organizations told Compass that Christians from different districts in Karnataka have come out in protest against such a bill since August of 2008. The Christians believe that the passing of an anti-conversion bill in the state would heighten atrocities against them.
Of the 52.8 million people in Karnataka, Christians number slightly more than 1 million.
Report from Compass Direct News
State witnessed country’s ‘bloodiest anti-Christian attack last year.’
NEW DELHI, August 22 (Compass Direct News) – One year after India’s worst-ever attack on Christians, which began after the killing of a Hindu leader on Aug. 23 in Orissa state last year, churches across the country will fast and pray for a peace that remains elusive.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) has appealed to all the Catholic dioceses in the country to “pray for peace and harmony and a spirit of reconciliation” by fasting tomorrow, one year to the day that Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP) leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati was killed by non-Christian Maoists last year.
“This appeal is made in a special context to what happened to the Christians in Orissa after the murder of Saraswati in Kandhamal [district] on Aug. 23, 2008,” CBCI Secretary General Archbishop Stanislaus Fernandes said in a statement.
Archbishop Fernandes urged the Christian community to “adhere to the Christian principle of forgiveness and move forward so as to build a strong and integrated civil society.”
On Monday (Aug. 24), an inter-denominational meeting to pray for peace, healing and reconciliation will be held at The Sacred Heart Cathedral in New Delhi to mark “National Kandhamal Day.”
Leaders of all major denominations and church groups, including the CBCI, the National Council of Churches, the Evangelical Fellowship of India and the All India Christian Council (AICC), as well as government officials, are expected to attend the meeting.
A Distant Peace
Christians believe it may take a long time for peace and reconciliation to become a reality in Kandhamal, where violence in August and September 2008 killed more than 100 people and burned more than 4,500 houses, over 250 churches and 13 educational institutions.
“The road to peace is not easily available to the Christian community,” Dr. Sam Paul, spokesman for the AICC, told Compass.
The Hindu extremists who inflicted the violence last year have warned those who have returned from refugee camps for displaced Christians to withdraw the cases filed against them, Paul said.
“At some places they were threatened to convert to Hinduism,” he said. “At a few places, to maintain the peace, the local Christians had to deny their faith.”
Attorney Robin Ratnakar David, president of the Christian Legal Association, emphasized that without justice there can be no peace.
“Unless the administration is able to work together with the victims to ensure that the attackers are brought to justice, there will never be peace in Kandhamal,” he said. “On the part of the Christians who have been displaced, there is a need to courageously give testimonies against the accused to ensure that minorities everywhere are able to live in peace.”
David said it will take at least a year for the more than 827 criminal cases filed to be settled.
Dr. Krishan Kumar, Kandhamal district collector (administrative head), denied that peace had not returned to the district.
“There has been no incident of violence for more than seven months,” he claimed.
Asked why a majority of the displaced Christians had not returned to their villages yet, he told Compass, “I have no knowledge about it.” He added that he and other officials have been meeting regularly with religious leaders of various communities.
Dr. Sajan K. George of the Global Council of Indian Christians said Kandhamal did not need “mere moments of peace, but an era of peace.”
AICC’s Paul warned that if the attackers were not brought to justice, the impunity would further embolden them.
A New Delhi-based non-profit group, the Indo Global Social Service Society, has spearheaded a campaign to gain signatures for a memorandum highlighting the true condition of Kandhamal and hopes to present it to the president of India tomorrow (Aug. 23).
The memorandum states that although more than 11,000 persons were named in police complaints, only 679 had been arrested.
It also points out that a total of 50,000 persons were displaced as a result of the destruction of their houses, arson and looting, but that less than half of them have returned to their homes.
“A number of those who have returned have been denied access to water, firewood, and even to shops to buy daily necessities,” the memorandum states.
Indo-Asian News Service (IANS), a private news agency, spoke to victims of the Kandhamal violence on the eve of the one-year commemoration.
“It was the darkest night of my life,” recalled 45-year-old Ravinder Nath Pradhan, who a year ago saw his house and paralyzed brother doused with gas and set afire by a fanatical mob. Since then, Pradhan told IANS, justice is “nowhere near.” On Aug. 24, 2008, some 500 people attacked his village and destroyed his house.
“Within moments they flung petrol on my wheelchair-bound younger brother and torched him,” Pradhan, a retired soldier from Gadragaon village, told IANS. “We fled for our lives.”
After the violence, his family and a group of 120 Christians were forced to flee their homes to a relief camp in the state capital, Bhubaneswar.
“We went back once in December to reap our crop,” he told IANS. “Tension still loomed large. We [minority and Hindu families] used to share all our joys and sorrows. Now they say a passing hello and inquire where you are headed, and that’s it. We live underneath trees where we once had our own home.”
Seeds of Destruction
The region had been tense since the 2007 Christmas season, when alleged extremists of the VHP carried out attacks on Christians, killing at least four persons, burning 730 houses and 95 churches and rendering thousands homeless.
The spark that ignited the violence was a minor conflict between VHP supporters and local Christians over the pitching of a tent for Christmas celebrations in Brahmanigaon village. Christians were beaten, and their shops were destroyed as they went ahead with their celebration plans. In the melee, VHP leader Saraswati, who was believed to be behind the assault, came under attack and “retributive” action followed. (See “Four Die in Christmas Rampage by Hindu Extremists,” Dec. 28, 2007.)
Eight months later, with hundreds of displaced victims still living in relief camps, Maoists assassinated VHP leader Saraswati and four of his disciples on the evening of Aug. 23. The VHP wrongly blamed Christians for the murders in order to ignite large-scale violence on the minority community.
VHP leaders made public statements blaming the killing of their leader on local Christians, claiming it was to avenge the December 2007 violence. Fearing tensions, the administration of Kandhamal imposed a curfew. The VHP, too, imposed a “closure” across the state to protest Saraswati’s death, requiring a society-wide shutdown.
Defying the curfew imposed by the administration, the VHP mobilized hundreds of supporters and organized a funeral procession carrying Saraswati’s body from his ashram (religious hermitage) in Jalespata area to another site in Chakapada area – using a circuitous route that took it more than 100 kilometers (66 miles) to provoke greater conflict, according to The Hindu. As the VHP’s funeral procession continued on Aug. 24 with police escort, reports of violence began to flood newsrooms across the country.
Local police were apparently under political pressure not to take action against the organizers of the procession (see “Police Do Little to Protect Christians in Orissa,” Sept. 4, 2008). The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which has close links with the VHP, was still part of the ruling state government, in partnership with the regional Biju Janata Dal party.
The state government excused itself by blaming its inability to prevent arson, rape and murder on the “difficult” hilly terrain of Kandhamal, according to The Indian Express, and the federal government ruled by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) offered nothing more than token expressions of concern.
The UPA issued an official warning to Orissa under Article 355 of the constitution, which empowers the federal government to proclaim an emergency. But the warning came three weeks too late – by then the worst was over.
Report from Compass Direct News
‘Convert or die’ threats prevent Christian families from returning to home villages.
NEW DELHI, February 18 (Compass Direct News) – In the wake of anti-Christian violence in Orissa state last year, hard-line Hindus in Kandhamal district have forced nearly half of 40 Christian families in one village to convert under threat of death, area Christians said.
Bareka village resident Goliath Digal, 58, told Compass that the Hindu hardliners have taken 18 Roman Catholic families to a Hindu temple and performed Hindu rituals on them, forcing them to sign statements that they had converted of their own will.
“During the riots, all our belongings had been taken away and we were left with nothing,” Digal said. “Now they are threatening to murder us if we do not become Hindus.”
Of the 22 other families in Bareka, 16 have returned to the village from relief camps but are living in fear, Digal said, and the rest have fled to Berampur, Jharsuguda and to nearby villages with no plans to return. He added that he and others with farmland near the village have not been able to cultivate crops out of fear and opposition.
Fear of Return
In G. Udayagiri refugee camp, 55-year-old Vipin Nayak of Tiangia Budaripura village said that all 400 Christian families from the hamlet have remained in the camp except for five families who were allowed to return after being forced to become Hindus.
“We cannot enter the village until we become Hindus – if we do return, we risk our lives,” said Nayak, whose brother, Vikram Nayak, was killed in the anti-Christian violence that lasted for more than two months.
The Hindu hardliners have ordered the Christians to enter the village carrying Hindu scripture, the Bhagwat Geeta, in their hands if they want to return to the village, he said. Many Christians have tried to sneak into the village and were kidnapped and had their heads tonsured, Nayak said.
In Tikabali relief camp, 20-year-old Geetanjali Digal told Compass that Hindu extremists are telling villagers, “Once again we will attack, and riots will take place. We burned your houses, this time we will kill you all. Nobody will be left alive.”
Another source told Compass that one of the most dangerous hamlets is Badimunda. “Christians cannot step into the village at all,” said the source.
Prabhasini Nayak, a 20-year-old Christian resident of Kakamaha village, Panganaju, who remains in G. Udayagiri relief camp, said Hindus have threatened to impose monetary punishment on her Hindu uncle and his family if they make contact with her and Christian members of her family.
“The fundamentalists have threatened my uncle’s family to have no ties with us,” she said. “If they are found doing so, they will have to pay a fine of 5,000 rupees [US$100] to the fundamentalists.”
Peace Committees Fail
The district collector of Kandhamal, Dr. Krishna Kumar, said his office has received 68 to 70 complaints of forcible conversion of Christians to Hinduism, “and in all such cases police complaints have been registered and action is being taken.”
Christian leaders from Kandhamal said the government has set up meetings of “Peace Committees” to aid refugee camp dwellers to return to their home villages, but in many places the presiding officials failed to show up.
Kumar, however, told Compass that reconciliation has begun in various places. “Peace Committees have been very successful,” he said.
Area Christian leaders maintained that the Peace Committees will help little as there is almost no willingness by hard-line Hindus to tolerate Christian presence.
“‘Only Hindus and no Christians’ is the new slogan of Hindu fundamentalists in the area,” said one pastor on condition of anonymity. “Christians have to become Hindus or leave.”
Last month, India’s Supreme Court ordered the Orissa state government, led by an alliance that includes the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, to ensure protection for the state’s Christian minority.
The violence last year resulted from Hindu extremist organizations blaming Christians for the murder of Hindu leader Laxmanananda Saraswati on Aug. 23. Police, however, have charged Maoist extremists for the killings. A Communist Party fact-finding team estimated at least 500 people were murdered. More than 50,000 people were left homeless as some 5,000 houses were burned or destroyed, and 252 churches were destroyed.
Dr. Kumar said that smaller, transitional relief camps have been established in various blocks of the district, closer to villages, so that in time residents might be emboldened to venture freely back to their homes.
Asserting that only 1,500 people are left in refugee camps, Dr. Kumar said that 75 percent of those who fled have returned to their villages.
But Christian leaders from the district said that people who have left relief camps have not returned to their villages but migrated to safer places, especially the larger cities of Berhampur, Cuttack and Bhubaneshwar. They estimated that most are working as day-laborers and are not earning enough to survive.
Geetanjali Digal of the Tikabali relief camp told Compass that the camp still provides a key source of food.
“They have burnt our house,” Digal said. “All that we had is burnt. We have put a small tent in the place of our house that was burnt, but for food we go to the camp. My father is unable to get any work.”
Prabhasini Nayak of G. Udayagiri refugee camp said many people in the camps are eagerly awaiting government compensation to rebuild their homes so that they can start life anew.
“We are one of them,” she said.
Report from Compass Direct News
10 men accused; 50 others sought from mob active during anti-Christian violence.
NEW DELHI, February 3 (Compass Direct News) – Orissa police on Thursday (Jan. 29) filed preliminary charges against 10 men in the rape of a nun during anti-Christian violence in Orissa last August.
The charges were filed at sessions court of Balliguda block in Kandhamal district, where violence against Christians was reported to be the severest. Central Investigation Department (CID) Inspector Dilip Mohanty filed the charge sheet before the sub-divisional judicial magistrate of Balliguda.
The deadline for filing charges was upon Orissa police, who are required to do so within 120 days from the date of arrest. Police made the first arrest in the case on Oct. 2, 2008.
“We have submitted the charge sheet within the stipulated 120 days,” CID Inspector General Arun Ray told reporters. “Now the court will frame charges and the trial will start.”
All of the accused had been arrested earlier by Orissa police: Jhuria Pradhan, Kartik Pradhan, Saroj Bhadei, Muna Bhadei, Tapas Patnaik, Santosh Patnaik, Biren Sahu, Somanath Pradhan, Gajendra Digal and Jharalal Behera. According to the Crime Branch report, Kartik Pradhan is Jhuria Pradhan’s son, while Muna Bhadei is the son of Saroj Bhadei. Tapas and Santosh Patnaik are siblings.
In a suspect line-up at Cuttack on Jan. 5, the nun identified Santosh Patnaik and Kartik Pradhan as people involved in the crime.
Police Stood By
A native of Dhama area in Sambalpur district of Orissa, the nun said she was raped in K. Nuagaon village on Aug. 25, 2008, during large-scale violence against Christians that broke out in Kandhamal and surrounding districts of Orissa.
The violence resulted from Hindu extremist organizations blaming Christians for the murder of Hindu leader Laxmanananda Saraswati on Aug. 23. Police, however, have charged Maoist extremists for the killings. The melee lasted more than two months and resulted in around 120 dead, according to the All India Christian Council (AICC), although a Communist Party fact-finding team estimated at least 500 people were murdered (the Orissa state government’s official death toll is still just 32). More than 50,000 people were left homeless as some 5,000 houses were burned or destroyed, and 252 churches were destroyed, according to the AICC.
The 29-year-old nun, who was working at Divyajyoti Pastoral Centre in K. Nuagaon, was allegedly dragged and raped by the accused as police looked on. In her First Information Report (FIR) filed on Aug. 26 at Balliguda police station, according to the Indian Express, she said 40 armed men arrived at Divyajyoti Pastoral Centre on Aug. 24.
“Me and the Father [Thomas Chellantharayil] jumped over the boundary and ran to a nearby forest,” she reported. “They were shouting, ‘Bharat mata ki jai [Victory to Mother India].’ They burned the centre … The next day, we concealed ourselves in the house of Prahallad Pradhan of K. Nuagaon, but at 1 p.m. the mob found us and dragged me and father out.”
The mob took her to the deserted offices of a local Christian Non-Governmental Organization and forced her clothes off of her, she said. “There one of them raped me. After that, they paraded me naked on the street and took me to an official at K. Nuagaon.”
In her FIR, the nun had not named anyone but said that she could identify the victims if they were brought before her. A doctor examined her at 8:45 p.m. on Aug. 25, and the medical report reportedly confirmed rape and sexual assault. Orissa police, however, waited 38 days to pick up the medical report, citing busyness as the reason for delay.
Indian media widely cited laxness on the part of the administration, and senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Lal Krishna Advani called it, “a shameful crime against humanity.”
The state government suspended five policemen, including Sub-Inspector of Balliguda K.M. Rao, for misconduct and negligence. In the ensuing arrests, Orissa police apprehended some suspects as far away as Palaghat in Kerala, India’s southern-most state.
The nun had asked for a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into the incident in a petition to the Supreme Court in October 2008. The court denied the request and asked her to cooperate with the state’s crime branch.
Ray, the CID inspector general, said police have submitted another 50 names who were part of the mob that assaulted the woman, according to the Indian Express. The court is expected to issue non-bail arrest warrants for them. A supplementary charge sheet will be filed after completion of the investigation.
Report from Compass Direct News
Two women whose houses were burned die from illnesses in hospital.
NEW DELHI, October 20 (Compass Direct News) – A paramilitary soldier assigned to protect Christians from Hindu violence in Kandhamal district, Orissa was mutilated and killed by a mob in Sisapanga village on Oct. 13.
The body of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) soldier was recovered from a nearby forest. He was believed to have been hacked to death by tribal people in the wake of the worst anti-Christian violence in the history of modern India.
“Police recovered the body on Monday night – he has injuries on his torso and head,” District Superintendent of Police S. Praveen Kumar told national media. “It appears he was first beaten up by sticks and then killed by a sharp weapon.” Sisapanga village is under Raikia police jurisdiction.
“The soldier had been to Sisapanga village, accompanied by a driver, to buy provisions. A group of six-seven men attacked him from behind, dragged him into the jungle and hacked him to death,” Kumar told the Times of India (TOI). “The driver fortunately managed to escape.”
The death marks the first time that central security personnel have been targeted in Orissa in the riots that have raged since Hindu extremists insisted on blaming Christians for the Aug. 23 murder of Hindu leader Laxmanananda Saraswati, even though Maoists admitted killing him and four associates.
“The murder of the CRPF jawan [soldier] comes in the wake of persistent demands from the tribals to withdraw the paramilitary force,” a police spokesman told TOI. “The CRPF has made mass arrests, mostly of tribals, during the past two weeks.”
A local source who wished to be unnamed told Compass that the attackers have warned authorities through local media that they will carry out more killings of CRPF soldiers if the forces are not withdrawn.
Amid several assurances of protection by the state government, a mob demolished a Church of North India building on Oct. 11 in Sikuli village, Kalahandi district. The same day, the gang burned down two Christian houses in the village.
Two women who previously were driven from their homes when Hindu extremists set the structures on fire have died from illnesses. Minakshi Pradhan, 22, contracted malaria after fleeing to a refugee camp, later developing typhoid, and was admitted to MKCG Berhampur hospital, where she died on Thursday (Oct. 16).
“She has a 4-year-old child she left behind,” said a local source who wished to remain unnamed. Also survived by her husband, Anand Pradhan, Minakshi Pradhan was from Murudipanga village, Raikia block division, in Kandhmal district.
Another woman, Mili Pradhan, had a tumor detected in her stomach after her house was burned on Aug. 29, and she and husband Joshi Pradhan had to flee to Berhampur. Doctors operating on her detected blood cancer, and she died in the same hospital on Wednesday (Oct. 15.) She left behind an 18-month-old daughter.
Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said in an interview to television channel NDTV that half of the 1,000-odd people arrested in the state for rioting belonged to the Hindu extremist Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). He added that he considered the Bajrang Dal a fundamentalist group.
In reaction, Subash Chouhan, national co-coordinator of the Bajrang Dal, said “It’s not the Bajrang Dal but Naveen Patnaik who is the real fundamentalist. . . . He is trying to show his secular character by trying to implement the Christian organizations’ agenda.”
Orissa police have arrested one of the “most wanted” in the anti-Christian riots in the state’s Kandhmal district.
Manoj Pradhan, a key tribal leader, was reportedly arrested at a lodge in Berhampur on Wednesday (Oct. 15) night.
“While investigating the case, we are finding it to be one of the most complicated cases in the state,” Arun Ray, inspector general of police, told media. “The crime was planned much before. We have identified the perpetrators of the crime. We have arrested three people and are likely to arrest some more people in the near future.”
In the rape of a nun shortly after the violence began, police have arrested Mitu Patnaik and also implicated Muna Ghadei and Saroj Ghadei. They were arrested at a mill in Kerala’s Palakkad district on Oct. 11.
Police had earlier arrested five men – Juria Pradhan, Kartik Pradhan, Biren Kumar Sahu and Tapas Kumar Patnaik on Oct. 3 and Santosh Pradhan on Oct. 7 for their alleged roles in the crime.
Orissa police sent Patnaik to Cuttack for DNA testing. The alleged rape of the 29-year-old woman took place at the building of a Non-Governmental Organization in Kanjamendi village in Kandhamal on Aug. 25.
The nun has refused to come forward to identify any of the suspects, though inspector general Ray told media they were hopeful of making their case.
“The nun must be very scared and disturbed,” he said. “If necessary, the trial of the case can be held in any other place in Orissa.”
The nun has expressed her disbelief by saying that she would not like to “meet” the state police that remained a mute witness of her predicament.
“The nun wrote from a hospital, as she is yet to recover from the shock,” Archbishop Raphael Cheenath reportedly said.
At the same time, Hindu radicals want to reintroduce a tribal law that would obligate a rape victim to marry the man who rapes her.
On Oct. 13, some 5,000 radical Hindu women demonstrated in K. Nuagaon demanding that “the victim marry her rapist in accordance with local tradition.”
Refugee Camp Conditions
“With around 3,000 people in one camp, public health is pathetic in refugee camps,” attorney B. D. Das told Compass. “There is an epidemic of malaria, and water-borne diseases are spreading rapidly.”
One local source told Compass, that excess people in the refugee camps are forced to go back to their homes.
“As their homes are burnt, a plastic tent along with 10 days ration (food supply) is given to them and they are sent away,” he said. “Those in the relief camps are still better off as they at least have food. Those sent back do not have income, shelter and food.”
Christian leaders are concerned with the unhygienic conditions of the camps and people dying due to inadequate facilities.
Dr. John Dayal, member of the National Integration Council, told Compass that the chief minister of Orissa admitted that at least 10,000 people are still in government-run refugee camps, and that tens of thousands are in the forests or have migrated to towns outside Kandhamal.
“The government has admitted 40 dead, though we have details of 59 men and women mercilessly killed in the seven weeks of unabated mayhem,” he said. “For us, peace would be when the last refugee is back in his home, secure in his faith, with a livelihood restored, his children’s future secured as it should be in a secular India.”
On Oct. 12 a student association, the Kandhamal Chatra Sangharsa Samiti, called for a moratorium on conversions by Christians to honor Saraswati’s lifetime of work trying to halt Christian conversions.
Christians have been forced to reconvert to Hinduism, burn Bibles and prayer books, have their heads shaved and drink cow urine (for Hindu purification). They have been placed for days under the watchful eye of Hindu groups so that they do not have any contacts with their former co-religionists.
Attorney Das noted, “700 forcible reconversions have taken place in Kandhmal since the riots began.”
Hindu extremist groups denied ever having attempted to “reconvert” tribal people, many of whom were not Hindus in the first place. “Why should we do it?” Subhash Chouhan, national co-convenor of Bajrang Dal said to the Times of India. “The Christian churches and missionaries have let them down, and the natives are making a conscious choice to become Hindus. We don’t have a single office in Kandhamal.”
Dr. Dayal told Compass that he has been distressed that while the continuing anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal, Orissa, Karnataka was forcefully detailed by Christians as well as by leaders of leftist parties, and human rights activists, “there was no assurance forthcoming as to when the more than 50,000 internally displaced persons, refugees in their homeland, can return home without being forced at gunpoint by the Bajrang Dal to become Hindus.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Displaced Christians survive bomb blasts as violence continues in Kandhamal district.
NEW DELHI, September 30 (Compass Direct News) – A Christian couple was found murdered, a woman killed, numerous houses and churches burned and low-intensity bombs exploded at relief camps in the past week in Orissa state’s Kandhamal district, where Hindu extremist violence began more than a month ago.
On Sunday (Sept. 28), police found the body of Priyatamma Digal, an auxiliary nurse and midwife, in a river. On Monday, the body of her husband, Meghanath, was recovered. According to The Times of India newspaper, the Christian couple was killed last Thursday (Sept. 25).
This morning attacks by unidentified armed groups in the villages of Rudangia, Telingia and Gadaguda in Kandhamal resulted in more than 100 houses burned and the death of Ramani Nayak of Rudangia village, reported The Hindu. Her religious affiliation was not known at press time.
Eight people were seriously injured in the attacks, according to reports, and about 20 people received minor injuries.
Bomb blasts yesterday rocked three Kandhamal relief camps in the Nuagaon area, Mahasinghi village and Baliguda town, reported the Press Trust of India (PTI).
No casualties were reported, but the explosions left residents of the relief camps fearing for their lives.
“Since they have been successful in exploding bombs near the heavily guarded relief camp, there is no guarantee that the explosions will not take place in other camps,” one refugee told PTI.
The Times of India also reported that five houses were torched in Phirigia block in Kandhamal (Gochhapada police jurisdiction) on Sunday night.
Last Thursday (Sept. 25), some 700 people armed with axes, swords, and iron bars attacked a Missionaries of Charity house in Sukananda village in Kandhamal, reported Asia News agency.
“There was no one at home, because when the violence erupted against the Christians, we took our few belongings and moved to our house in Bhubaneswar,” Sister M. Suma told the agency. “We brought with us the tabernacle, the altar, and especially the Dalit and tribal girls whom we were sheltering.”
Late on Wednesday (Sept. 24), mobs burned about 30 houses and two prayer houses in Simanjodi village and 50 houses in Batingia village, reported The Indian Express newspaper.
In Rakingia village, an Orissa Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF) team that had gone to clear roadblocks was attacked, forcing the accompanying police to open fire, added the newspaper.
“Two tribal people have reportedly been killed,” the daily reported. “Sources said tribals with bows and arrows launched an attack on the ODRAF.”
According to the All India Christian Council (AICC), at least 57 people have been killed, more than 18,000 injured and over 4,300 houses, 150 churches and 13 educational institutions destroyed since the Aug. 24 outbreak of violence in Orissa. Two Christian women were also gang-raped.
The violence, which later spread to at least 14 districts of Orissa, has left more than 50,000 people homeless.
The attacks began following the killing of a leader of the Hindu extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP), Laxmanananda Saraswati, and four of his disciples on Aug. 23 in Kandhamal district. Maoists have claimed responsibility for the assassination, but the VHP has persisted in blaming local Christians.
According to media reports, Christians in Orissa retaliated in at least one incident. A man was killed in Raikia Block after “Dalit Christians of Gundhari village hurled bombs at the tribal-dominated village of Sirsapanga in the afternoon [of Sept. 24),” The Indian Express reported. “Sources said the deceased, Raghav Digal, a Dalit Hindu, was a government employee.”
‘Withdraw Federal Forces’
The leader of an influential tribal group believed to be instigating violence in Kandhamal demanded withdrawal of federal security personnel from the district as a “precondition” to stopping the attacks.
Yesterday Lambodar Kanhar, secretary of the Kandhamal Zilla Kui Samaj (Kui people group) Coordination Committee, was quoted by The Indian Express as saying that he was ready to give assurance that tribal people would not resort to violence if the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were taken out of the rural pockets of the district.
Kanhar accused the CRPF of having let loose “a reign of terror” on “innocent” tribal villagers.
The Global Council of Indian Christians’ Dr. Sajan K. George said Kanhar’s demand was an attempt to “complete ‘ethnic-cleansing’ of Christians.” A representative of the Christian Legal Association said Hindu extremist assailants were upset that federal forces were trying to prevent them from attacking Christians and their property.
At the same time, European Union (EU) representatives yesterday spoke to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the India-EU summit in France about the government’s failure to prevent a “massacre” of Christians in Orissa and Karnataka states.
According to the AICC, in the southern state of Karnataka at least 19 churches and 20 Christians have been attacked. At least four churches and four Christian schools had been vandalized in the north-central state of Madhya Pradesh, and four churches attacked in the southern state of Kerala. Two churches had also been damaged in the national capital, Delhi.
Singh yesterday made assurances that attacks on Christians would be stopped.
Christians from various denominations, along with people from other faiths, are holding a weeklong sit-in day and night at Jantar Mantar observatory in New Delhi that began on Friday (Sept. 26) to protest the lack of security. The demonstration demanding protection for minority targets in Orissa and other states will conclude with a motorbike rally on Thursday (Oct 2).
Christian leaders such as Dr. John Dayal, the Rev. Dr. Richard Howell, A.C. Michael and Jenis Francis are participating in the protest.
This report from Compass Direct News