Two people burnt alive, churches torched in Orissa state.
NEW DELHI, August 25 (Compass Direct News) – The killing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP) leader Swamiji Laxmanananda Saraswati and four associates by suspected Maoists on Saturday night (August 23) led to renewed anti-Christian attacks in Orissa state, with churches torched and two people burned alive.
Accusing local Christians of killing their leader, Hindu extremists set an orphanage on fire in Khuntapali village in Barhgarh district, burning a Catholic nun to death, according to the All India Christian Council. The attack on the orphanage in Khuntapali, 250 miles west of the state capital of Bhubaneswar, also left a priest at the orphanage hospitalized with severe burns.
Over the weekend, VHP extremists in Nuagon, Kandhamal district burned alive a man suffering from paralysis, whose identity and religious affiliation were still unknown at press time, and assaulted pastors.
The Indian Express reported that a mob torched a house in Nuagaon near Pasara outpost in Chakapada area last night. The paralytic man stranded inside the house reportedly burned to death.
The Hindu extremists also launched arson attacks on at least 10 churches, several prayer houses, shops and vehicles in various parts of the eastern state.
Numerous Christians have fled to jungles to save their lives, according to the AICC, which has written to the federal internal minister demanding security for the community.
Saraswati allegedly incited the attacks on Christians and their property in Kandhamal during last Christmas season. The violence lasted for more than a week beginning December 24, and killed at least four Christians and burned 730 houses and 95 churches.
The attacks were allegedly carried out mainly by VHP extremists under the pretext of avenging an alleged attack on Saraswati by local Christians. Hundreds of Christians were displaced by the violence in Kandhamal, and they are still in various relief camps set up by the state government.
At around 9:30 p.m. on Saturday (August 23), around 30 armed men carrying sophisticated rifles and AK-47s launched an attack on Saraswati’s ashram (religious center) in the Jalespata area in Kandhamal’s Tumudiband Block, killing five people, including Saraswati, reported CNN-IBN news channel.
A warning letter found at the Saraswati religious center and the use of expensive arms suggested Maoists were behind the attack. Christian groups, including the Global Council of Indian Christians, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, the AICC, and the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) condemned the killing of Saraswati and his associates.
The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a partner in the state’s ruling coalition led by the Biju Janata Dal party, and the VHP called for 12-hour a strike in which inflammatory speeches were made accusing Christians of killing Saraswati.
“Swamiji [Saraswati] was opposed to religious conversion taking place in various parts of Orissa,” BJP state leader Suresh Pujari told Press Trust of India. “Those opposed to Swamiji’s anti-conversion activities killed him.”
On Sunday, the Kandhamal district administration imposed a curfew in all sensitive areas in Kandhamal and issued orders prohibiting the gathering of four or more people throughout the district.
All borders of the district were also sealed. Defying the orders, VHP extremists took Saraswati’s funeral procession from the Jalespata religious center to the main ashram in Chakapada, covering around 70 kilometers (44 miles), apparently to incite violence. According to media reports, they launched attacks on Christian institutions along the way.
“A large number of supporters of Laxmanananda entered the district headquarter town of Phulbani in violation of curfew restrictions on their way to Chakapada and targeted churches and houses,” Kandhamal District Collector (administrative head) Krishan Kumar told The Indian Express newspaper.
The newspaper also reported that two police officers suffered injuries when they tried to prevent the mob from attacking churches, prayer halls, houses and vehicles on the route of the procession.
Eyewitnesses told the newspaper that a Baptist church and its parsonage, a Roman Catholic church, three houses and some vehicles were attacked by the extremists in Phulbani town, the district headquarters. Nine shops and two vehicles were also torched in Raikia, and two jeeps in Udayagiri.
In Nuagaon, Kandhamal district, Hindu extremists reportedly gang-raped a young Catholic nun of the Cuttack-Bhubaneswar diocese working with the Jan Vikas Kendra social service center before destroying the building.
John Dayal of the AICC reported that less than a kilometer away from the social service center, a senior priest and nun were injured when Hindu extremists attacked the facility. Calling for their blood, Hindu extremists took the director of the Diocesan Pastoral Center in Kanjimendi, known only as Father Thomas, and a nun to a local police station, then set the center on fire.
The Pioneer newspaper reported that VHP extremists burned a small thatched prayer house on Saturday night in Tentulijhari area in Sundargarh district.
EFI reported that pastor Jeebaratna Lima of the Believer’s Church from Khurda district was attacked on Sunday while he was going to his church to conduct the prayer service. The mob almost set him on fire after spraying him with gas, but police arrived in time to save him.
Another Believer’s Church pastor, Bahumulya Paik, was attacked the same day in Bamunidei village in Ganjam district.
The violence continued today. The VHP and its youth wing, the Bajrang Dal, with the support of the BJP enforced a dawn-to-dusk closure across the state, organizing numerous protests and road and rail blockades and launching more attacks.
As a precautionary measure, the state government ordered closure of all schools and colleges. According to Indo-Asian News Service (IANS), the protestors today attacked more than 10 churches and dozens of vehicles in different parts of the state and clashed with police in some places.
According to the EFI report, a Believers Church was also vandalized in Chandrasekharpur area in the state capital, Bhubaneswar.
“It was a spontaneous response of the people to the shutdown,” national coordinator of the Bajrang Dal, Subash Chauhan, claimed while speaking to IANS.
While the district administration has suspended the officer-in-charge of the Tumudiband police station, Orissa state chief minister Naveen Patnaik has ordered a judicial probe into the incident and announced a compensation of 200,000 rupees (US$4,617) to the next of kin of the deceased.
The population of Kandhamal is 600,000, which includes around 150,000 Christians.
According to The Pioneer, police have arrested three Christians in connection with Saraswati’s murder, but at press time police had not confirmed the report.
Report from Compass Direct News