Fellowship in Tizi Ouzou received no police protection despite repeated violence.
ISTANBUL, January 21 (CDN) — Members of a church in Algeria’s Kabylie region gathered to worship last Saturday (Jan. 16) in their new building despite a protest, vandalism and a fire that damaged the building the previous weekend.
Local Muslims bent on running the congregation out of the neighborhood set fires inside and outside the building on Jan. 9.
Before setting it on fire, the assailants ransacked the Tafat Church building in Tizi Ouzou, a city 100 kilometers (62 miles) east of Algiers. The perpetrators damaged everything within the new building, including electrical appliances.
“This last Saturday the church held a service even though not everyone was present,” said Mustapha Krim, president of the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA). “But they continue.”
The protests against the new church building were unique in the Kabylie region, where the majority of Algeria’s Christians live.
“We are outraged,” Krim told Algerian daily El Watan. “We believe that the degree of intolerance reached its climax. In Kabylie, this sort of practice is unusual.”
The pastor of the church, Mustapha Krireche, said that the fellowship of 300 members had constructed the church building in the neighborhood in order to accommodate their growing needs. They started meeting there in early November of last year.
A short time after the first services, they received a notice from police to stop activities, as local residents had objected to their presence in their neighborhood. The pastor said he refused to sign the notice that police handed to him. Some young people threw rocks at the new building, he said.
Troubles for Tafat ramped up on Dec. 26, when its members gathered for their Saturday morning service. More than 20 local Muslims blocked the entrance to the building, keeping church members from entering. Two days later, some of the protestors broke into the new building and stole the church microphones and speakers.
The following Saturday (Jan. 2), a group of protestors entered the building and stopped the service. That day church leaders had instructed children and women to stay home for their safety, according to Krireche. After protestors became violent and threatened the pastor, church members present decided to close the building so as to avoid more problems.
In the most recent incident, on Jan. 9 protestors entered the building and started to vandalize it, leaving after police arrived. But they returned in the evening to burn anything that they could, including furniture, appliances, Bibles, hymnbooks and a cross. Nothing inside the building was left standing.
Reuters reported that the attack in Tizi Ouzou came days after a spate of attacks on Christians in Malaysia and Egypt, “though there was no evidence of a direct link.”
“The devastation of our church in Tizi Ouzou, which coincides with events in Egypt where they burned churches, leads us to ask questions about the international Islamists,” Krim told El Watan last week. “Is this an example continuing here in Tizi Ouzou? The Islam of our parents is nothing compared to today’s political Islam. To the indifference of the authorities, it manipulates people against Christians.”
Christian leaders have said authorities have not taken appropriate steps to protect the church or bring justice to their claims. The church has filed half a dozen complaints with police on attacks against them in the last two months. Krim told The Associated Press last week that authorities don’t want to intervene out of fear of Islamist retaliation.
The EPA president told Compass that church leaders met with local authorities this week to file a complaint against a Muslim and his hard-line group said to be responsible for the attacks against Tafat.
As of this week, local officials had not responded to Tafat’s request for protection.
In February 2008 the government applied measures to better control non-Muslim groups through Ordinance 06-03. Authorities ordered the closure of 26 churches in the Kabylie region, both buildings and house churches, maintaining that they were not registered under the ordinance.
Despite efforts to comply with the ordinance, many Christian groups indicated they were blocked by lack of information, bureaucratic processes or resistance to their applications, according to the 2009 International Religious Freedom Report by the U.S. Department of State. None of the churches have closed since then, but their status continues to remain questionable and only valid through registration with the EPA.
According to a government decree dating back to June 2007, local officials can prohibit non-Muslim activities if they constitute a danger to the public order or if religious adherents move from their originally planned location, El Watan reported.
Some Protestants have estimated the number of Algeria’s Christians at as many as 65,000, though the U.S. State Department cites unofficial estimates of Christians and Jews combined as ranging from 12,000 to 40,000.
Report from Compass Direct News
LOS ANGELES, June 29 (Compass Direct News) – A member of Iran’s Parliament reportedly revealed last week that the country’s Parliamentary Committee has stricken the mandatory death penalty for those who leave Islam from proposals for an amended penal code.
Citing a BBC Persian news service report on Tuesday (June 23), United Kingdom-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) announced on Friday (June 26) that a member of Iran’s Legal and Judicial Committee of Parliament, Ali Shahrokhi, had told the Iranian state news agency (IRNA) of the decision to eliminate the mandatory death penalty amendment, which had drawn international protests.
The Parliamentary Committee had come under intense international pressure to drop clauses from the Islamic Penal Code Bill that allowed stoning and made death the mandatory punishment for apostates.
The new penal code was originally approved in September 2008 by a preliminary parliamentary vote of 196-7.
In Friday’s statement, CSW said that the bill must now pass through a final parliamentary vote before being sent to Iran’s most influential body, the Guardian Council, which will rule on it.
The council is made up of six conservative theologians appointed by Iran’s Supreme Leader and six jurists nominated by the judiciary and approved by Parliament. This body has the power to veto any bill it deems inconsistent with the constitution and Islamic law.
The Christian and Baha’i communities of Iran are most likely to be affected by this decision. Iran has been criticized for its treatment of Baha’is, Zoroastrians and Christians, who have all suffered under the current regime.
Joseph Grieboski, president of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, said the timing of the announcement of the decision during protests over contested elections might not be coincidental.
“Were the regime to maintain [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad’s presidency then pass and enforce a restrictive penal code, the international pressure on Iran would be unbearable for the regime,” said Grieboski. “I do not consider it a sign of opening up. Instead, I see it as a sign of self-preservation.”
Huge protests over the election results demonstrated considerable opposition to the Iranian government’s heavy-handed tactics, and although the official churches have taken no official stance, many Christians have supported the opposition, according to sources connected to social networking sites.
In the face of the massive protests, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, Hassan Qashqavi, released a statement condemning Western involvement in Iranian affairs and accusing the BBC and Voice of America networks of spreading “anarchy and vandalism.”
This passing of blame bodes ill for minorities in the country, including Christians, whom the Iranian government sees as pawns of the West; they could expect even harsher treatment in a feared post-election clamp-down.
“Since minorities, especially Baha’is and Christians, are often seen as fronts for the West, we can expect that they will feel the greatest backlash by the regime during the protests, and I would argue an even worse crackdown on them if Ahmadinejad and [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei come out of this,” said Grieboski.
An Iranian Christian who requested anonymity told Compass that both Christians and Iranians as a whole were tired of the dictatorial regime and asked for prayers for relief.
“The people are really tired, they have no hope, mentally, financially, spiritually, it is really difficult to live in Iran,” the source said. “You can’t have a private life, you can’t make a decision about what you believe, women can’t even decide what to wear. We just pray for the whole nation.”
The Iranian source was reticent to predict how the government might react to Christians following the elections but said that if there were a reaction, they could be among the first victims.
“So what the reaction of the government will be we can’t be 100 percent sure,” the source said, “but they could have a very radical reaction.”
Iranian Christians Maryam Rostampour, 27, and Marzieh Amirizadeh Esmaeilabad, 30, who were arrested on March 5 for their Christian activities, are still held in the notorious Evin Prison. The facility has drawn criticism for its human rights violations and executions in recent years.
Compass has learned that the women have been placed in solitary confinement.
Report from Compass Direct News
Suspecting cover-up, Communist investigators say 500 people may have been killed.
NEW DELHI, November 5 (Compass Direct News) – Terrified Christians already ravaged by more than two months of violence in Orissa state’s Kandhamal district braced for more carnage as suspected Maoists today gunned down a local worker of the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Dhanu Pradhan was an RSS activist said to be on the Maoists’ hit list. Police said he was shot by three suspected Maoists in Kumharigaon village under Brahmanigaon jurisdiction in Kandhamal at 1 p.m., reported The Indian Express. Modern India’s worst-ever spate of violence began in the forest district of Kandhamal on Aug. 24, a day after a leader of the Hindu extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP), Laxmanananda Saraswati, was killed.
Although a Maoist group admitted killing Saraswati and four of his aides, the VHP blamed local Christians for the assassinations. The wave of violent attacks carried on unabated for more than two months, destroying at least 4,500 houses and churches in the district.
More than 500 people, mostly Christian, might have been killed in the past few months’ violence in Kandhamal district, according to a report by a Communist Party fact-finding team. The report also suggested that the state government downplayed and covered up evidence of unreported deaths.
“The official figure for deaths has been reported to be 31, however, a senior government official on the condition of anonymity informed that he himself consigned two hundred dead bodies – found from the jungle – to flames after getting them collected in a tractor,” said the report by the Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist (CPI-ML).
The unnamed official estimated that, based on the intensity and pace of killings, the number of those killed was more than 500, according to the report. The fact-finding team visited Kandhamal district on Oct. 15-16 and published its report in the Oct. 27 issue of the party’s official publication, Liberation.
The report, signed by CPI-ML member J.P. Minz, also said that Hindu extremists might have used state government machinery to “minimize the evidence and possibly destroy dead bodies.”
Dr. John Dayal, a member of the National Integration Council of the Government of India, told Compass the report was startling but not surprising.
“I have been tabulating the data from independent church groups,” he said. “Even the Bishop’s House in Bhubaneswar has maintained that tens of thousands of refugees are hiding in forests, many of them with injuries of various degrees of grievousness.”
Dayal said that people must have been killed in the forests. “Even in villages, bodies have been discovered in neighboring fields,” he added.
The fact-finding team reported that the numerous attacks, acts of vandalism and killings took place “in full view of police, and the police remained mute spectators.” At least 200 Christian villages and 127 church and prayer halls were either destroyed or burned, it added.
Victims in numerous relief camps told the fact-finding team that the VHP and its youth wing, Bajrang Dal, were responsible for the tensions and violence.
“They used to organize meetings of the Kandha tribals and incite them to attack the Christian hamlets and also provided funds for doing this,” the report said.
Dayal said the Supreme Court of India should act on the report’s findings.
The CPI-ML reported that Christians continued to experience “great terror,” and that Hindu nationalist groups were demanding the withdrawal of security personnel sent by the federal government to contain the violence.
“Riot victims are frightened to go back to their villages because they have been threatened that if they return they will be cut into pieces,” said the report. “The rioters are also proclaiming that only Hindu converts will be allowed to return. On the other hand, those in charge of the relief camps are pressuring the riot victims to return to their villages, saying that the life has returned to normalcy and peace has returned.”
The Indian Express yesterday reported that about 250 riot victims who had taken shelter in the Meliaputti and Mandasa areas of Srikakulam district in neighboring Andhra Pradesh state were refusing to go back to their villages “out of fear.”
“As many as 109 persons of 35 families of Sarlaguda, Raikia, Nuagaon, Baliguda, Bataguda, Barkhama, G. Udaygiri, Tikabali and Suraballi areas have been residing at Sourakaligam village of Meliaputti area, Andhra Pradesh, since the Kandhamal violence,” said the newspaper, adding that 140 others had taken shelter in Kumudhisingi village of the Mandasa area.
There are 12,641 violence-affected people in seven relief camps in Kandhamal, according to the district authorities.
Violence in Another District
The violence in Kandhamal has led to tensions in several other districts of Orissa. Yesterday a mob of around 400 people surrounded and beat five Christian men in the Bindha area of Bhadrak district’s Tihidi Block, according to the Christian Legal Association.
The incident took place when five men and two women, all staff of the Discipleship Centre, were returning from a few villages where that Christian organization has projects. A cyclist suddenly appeared before them and had an accident, incurring minor injuries. Soon a mob of about 300 people gathered and began beating the men, accusing them of converting Hindus, as if such activity were illegal in India.
The mob dragged the Christians to a Hindu nationalist rally where slogans against them were chanted. Police arrived and took the Christians to a police station, charging them under laws against forcible or fraudulent conversion. The seven Christians remained in jail at press time.
Police also filed a counter-complaint against the attackers, but no one was arrested at press time.
Nun’s Rape Case
In the case of a Catholic nun raped on Aug. 25 during the initial violence, the Kandhamal district court today issued a notice summoning her to appear for identification of the culprits, reported the Press Trust of India news agency.
The victim, who said she was raped in K. Nuagaon in Baliguda, had refused to cooperate with police, demanding that a federal agency investigate her case. On Oct. 24, she appeared before media and blamed police for not coming to her rescue. She said she was raped while police did nothing, and that later she saw a policeman talking congenially to one of the rapists.
Previously she had filed a complaint at the Baliguda police station, but officers did not make any arrests until a national newspaper, The Hindu, highlighted the case on Sept. 30. When the nun initially went to the police station to file her complaint, an officer had warned her of possible negative consequences of doing so.
While Christians are demanding that a federal agency take over investigation of the violence in Orissa, the state government has appointed a one-man panel, the Justice S.C. Mohapatra judicial commission, to carry out the probe.
The commission placed an advertisement in a local newspaper, Sambad, on Nov. 3 seeking affidavits of victims by Nov. 15. It also said that people could appear before the commission on Nov. 28 in its office in Bhubaneswar, the state capital.
The commission will analyze the sequence of events and circumstances leading to the killing of Saraswati on Aug. 23 and the subsequent violence. It will also probe the role, conduct and responsibility of individuals, organizations, groups and agencies in precipitating and committing the crimes and investigate whether the measures that followed were adequate.
Mohapatra is a retired judge of the Orissa High Court.
Orissa is ruled by a coalition of a local party, the Biju Janata Dal, and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which has close ties with the VHP.
Report from Compass Direct News
Two killed in Uttarakhand state; more violence in Orissa, Karnataka and Kerala.
NEW DELHI, September 24 (Compass Direct News) – The unprecedented wave of anti-Christian attacks that began a month ago continued in the past week with more incidents of murder, rape and arson, mostly in the eastern state of Orissa and southern state of Karnataka. Two Christians were also found murdered in the northern state of Uttarakhand.
“The atmosphere in the Kandhamal district of Orissa is still volatile,” an attorney visiting Kandhamal with a team to provide legal aid to victims told Compass. “Yesterday afternoon, we were going to the Raikia area, but as we were about to reach there, we were informed that a mob had attacked a police station and the police had to open fire. We had to flee Kandhamal right away.”
According to The Indian Express, around 2,000 people, including women, surrounded the Raikia police station yesterday to demand the release of two fellow villagers from Masakadia village who had been arrested on charges of arson and rioting.
Security personnel from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), a federal agency, opened fire to prevent the mob from entering the police station. The security personnel resorted to fire after failing to control the mob with persuasion and the use of batons, added the daily. One person died and two were critically injured from the gunfire.
The attorney also said Hindu extremists had destroyed all communication links in Kandhamal, including mobile phone networks, and blocked some roads with trees and stones.
Rape, Murder, Arson in Orissa
Attacks on Christians continued in the Kandhamal district. While a young woman was reportedly gang-raped by unidentified rioters on Sunday night (Sept. 21), a man went missing and was allegedly killed on Friday (Sept. 19).
Father Ajay Singh of the Catholic Archdiocese of Bhubaneswar, Orissa’s capital, told Compass that a local Oriya-language newspaper, Dharitri, reported that a 20-year-old woman was raped by about 15 men in an area under Tikabali police jurisdiction in Kandhamal late on Sept. 21.
The victim, who was living in a relief camp and believed to be Christian, had gone back to her house to see her grandmother. A group of men stormed the house and took her to a nearby jungle and raped her, Singh said, adding that the police had confirmed the incident.
The Press Trust of India (PTI) reported that Iswar Digal, who had taken refuge at Ghumusar Udayagiri relief camp and was believed to be Christian, went missing after he went to meet his ailing father in Gatingia village on Friday (Sept. 19). Digal’s wife, Runima Digal, filed a police complaint stating that Hindu extremists killed her husband after he had gone to the village along with her to visit his father.
She said the extremists had warned them not to return to the village if they did not convert from Christianity to Hinduism. Police, however, have registered only a case of kidnapping, added PTI.
The news agency also reported that at least 10 houses, believed to be that of Christians, were burned in Gochhapada area on Saturday (Sept. 20). An Orissa state official told The Times of India, “It is difficult to guard all the remote areas. But we are trying our best.”
The violence in Kandhamal began following the assassination of a leader of the Hindu extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP), Laxmanananda Saraswati, and four of his associates on Aug. 23. Although Maoists claimed responsibility for the murder, the VHP put the blame on local Christians, saying they killed him because he was resisting conversion of Hindus to Christianity.
According to the All India Christian Council (AICC), at least 14 districts witnessed violence with Kandhamal as the epicenter, and at least 50,000 people from 300 villages have been affected by the violence, with hundreds still hiding in forests. Some 4,000 houses and 115 churches have been burned or destroyed, and the AICC reported 45 Christians were confirmed dead with five others still missing.
Killing in Uttarakhand
Amid persistent tensions in various parts of the country following the violence in Orissa, two Catholics, including a woman, were found murdered on Monday (Sept. 22) in the Dehra Dun district of the northern state of Uttarakhand (formerly known as Uttaranchal).
A 56-year-old Catholic preacher, Sadhu Astey, and his disciple, identified only as Mercy, 32, were found strangled to death at their prayer center, called Samarpanalaya, in Chotta Rampur village near Herbertpur area in Vikasnagar Block, reported The Tribune.
Police said local residents grew suspicious when there was no movement at the center the past two days and informed officers. The center was found ransacked.
“We are investigating these murders to know whether it was done by dacoits [bandits] with an intention to loot, or there is something else,” Police Inspector Harish Verma told media. Dr. Sajan K. George of the Global Council of Indian Christians said he suspected Hindu extremists were behind the killing.
The Tribune said it was the fourth attack on Christians in the Dehra Dun district in the past few months.
“Sangh Parivar [family of Hindu nationalist groups led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS] activists had attacked Christian missionaries on Aug. 15 when they were distributing their leaflets,” the daily reported. “They were brought to the police station and beaten up. Interestingly, instead of taking action against the attackers, the police detained five of the Christian leaders for nine hours.”
Christians were also attacked in the area on June 4 and June 22, it added.
Uttarakhand is ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Attacks in Karnataka, Kerala
Suspected Hindu extremists attacked at least three more churches in the southern state of Karnataka, where violence against Christians rose to new heights after tensions began in Orissa.
On Sunday (Sept. 21), two churches were vandalized in the state capital, Bangalore, and another church was attacked in the Kodagu district, about 300 kilometers (186 miles) from Bangalore.
In Bangalore, extremists desecrated the St. James Church in Mariammanapalya near Hebbal area and the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus in Rajarajeshwarinagar area, reported The Times of India. Police told the daily that they had detained seven people and suspended a constable for negligence in protecting the churches.
In Kodagu district, members of the Brethren’s Church in Nellihudikeri area found portions of the front glass facade of the church broken on Sunday morning, reported the daily. The vandalism occurred despite two constables guarding the church.
Karnataka police arrested the state convener of VHP youth wing Bajrang Dal, Mahendra Kumar, on Friday night (Sept. 19) in connection with the spate of attacks on churches and prayer halls in several parts of the state. Bajrang Dal extremists vandalized numerous churches and Christian institutions in various parts of Karnataka earlier this month.
On Monday (Sept. 22), anguished Catholic Archbishop of Bangalore the Rev. Dr. Bernard Moras told Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa that he was ready to “shed blood and give his life for Christ,” reported the Economic Times.
Yeddyurappa had called on the archbishop and senior state officials after an emergency cabinet meeting. Archbishop Moras “greeted the visitors with a grim face without the customary geniality,” the daily reported, “and blurted out his anguish: ‘I am deeply hurt and saddened. This is not a happy occasion to meet the head of the state.’”
The Karnataka chief minister assured the Christian minority community that security at churches and Christian institutions had been increased. He also claimed that the attacks on churches were part of a conspiracy to malign the BJP in Karnataka.
Yeddyurappa said police had arrested three persons including the son of a local Congress Party leader in connection with a violent incident in the Sagar area of Shimoga district, reported the Rediff News on Monday (Sept. 22). “Ravi, another person arrested in connection with the attack, is said to have instigated these youth to desecrate churches by promising to pay 1.5 million Indian rupees [US$32,800],” it reported.
Yeddyurappa had earlier blamed the anti-Christian violence in parts of the state on a booklet reportedly circulated by a Christian organization that allegedly hurt Hindu sentiments.
But a fact-finding team of the National Commission for Minorities (NCM), which visited the violence-hit areas of Udupi, Mangalore and Bangalore in Karnataka last week, has indicted the BJP government for “being in league with the Hindu extremist groups. It has failed to check attacks on Christians and churches,” reported the Hindustan Times.
The NCM will submit the report to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
According to The Times of India, two churches were attacked in neighboring Kerala state on Sunday (Sept. 21) near the international airport in Nedumbassery, close to Kochi city.
Some churches were attacked in Kerala last week also.
Ban on Extremism – or on Conversion
In the wake of the ongoing wave of anti-Christian attacks in various parts of India, the NCM is mulling recommending a ban on the Bajrang Dal.
The Hindustan Times said the NCM was working towards a unanimous decision seeking tough measures against the Bajrang Dal, as its involvement in “frequent attacks on the minorities and their places of worship across the country has been established beyond doubt.”
The former prime minister of India and chief of the Karnataka-based Janata Dal (Secular) party, H.D. Deve Gowda, also demanded a ban on the Bajrang Dal during a sit-in protest in Delhi yesterday. Several other political parties have also urged the federal government to ban the Bajrang Dal.
But a senior BJP leader, Venkaiah Naidu, termed conversion as the root cause of violence and social disturbances, saying a strong federal law to prevent religious conversion across the country would be brought if BJP regained power in the general elections expected to be held early next year, reported PTI on Sunday (Sept. 21).
The BJP leader also asked the Orissa state government to strictly implement the existing anti-conversion law in the state.
The VHP’s central governing body is likely to deliberate on ways to further intensify its campaign against religious conversions in Orissa’s Kandhamal district at its two-day “brain- storming session” in Delhi beginning tomorrow, The Statesman daily reported.
The Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America (FIACONA) will hold a rally tomorrow at Lafayette Square in front of the White House in Washington, D.C. – the day Prime Minister Singh will meet with U.S. President George W. Bush – demanding an end to violence against Christians in India.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has sent a letter to President Bush urging him to raise pressing concerns about religious freedom in India during his meeting with Prime Minister Singh.
Report from Compass Direct News
More attacks launched in Orissa and Karnataka; Orissa archbishop threatened with death.
NEW DELHI, September 19 (Compass Direct News) – After three weeks of widespread attacks on Christians and their property in Orissa state and other parts of the country, the federal government finally warned two states that their failure to prevent violence could lead to the imposition of “President’s Rule.”
As more incidents of violence were reported from Orissa and the southern state of Karnataka yesterday, the federal government ruled by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) issued an official warning to the two states under Article 355 of the Indian Constitution, Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) reported. The article requires state governments to function with due respect to constitutional provisions, setting up a potential showdown between the federal UPA, led by the Congress Party (Indian National Congress), and Orissa and Karnataka states ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The BJP is the largest opposition party at the federal level. The UPA also said it was keeping a close watch on the activities of Hindu extremist groups, including the Bajrang Dal, youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP), which is allegedly behind the ongoing violence, reported Press Trust of India.
The governments of the two states under the scanner suspected political motives behind the federal government’s move. The BJP today dared the federal government to impose President’s Rule in Karnataka.
“We dare the Centre to go a step ahead and implement Article 356 [empowering the federal government to impose emergency rule],” BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad told IANS. “They will have to bear the consequences and the people of the country would give them a fitting reply.”
The Christian community, however, saw a ray of hope in the federal government’s move. Father Dominic Emmanuel of the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese told Compass that the federal government’s warning has brought “at least some consolation” to the country’s Christian community, which forms 2.3 percent of the total population.
The violence began following the assassination of a VHP leader and icon of Hindu nationalism, Laxmanananda Saraswati, and four of his disciples in Orissa’s Kandhamal district on Aug. 23. Although Maoists claimed responsibility for the murder, the VHP put the blame on local Christians, saying they killed him because he was resisting conversion of Hindus to Christianity.
While the state government says 24 people, mainly Christian, have died in the Orissa violence, the All India Christian Council (AICC) maintained that 45 Christians were confirmed dead and five more were still missing.
According to the AICC, 14 districts of Orissa witnessed violence with Kandhamal as the epicenter. It reported at least 50,000 people from 300 villages have been affected by the violence, with hundreds still hiding in forests, and 4,000 houses and 115 churches burned or destroyed.
New Attacks in Orissa
Incidents of violence continued in Orissa’s Kandhamal district. Mobs burned down two prayer houses on Wednesday night (Sept. 17) in Mundigarh and Lankagarh areas under Tumudibandh police station in Kandhamal, reported The Indian Express daily.
“The district administration foiled another attempt by the troublemakers to set afire the Phiringia police station last night,” the newspaper reported. “Both roads to the town, Phulbani-Phiringia and Gochhapada-Phiringia, were blocked by felling of trees.”
The administration, however, learned of the plan, cleared the blockade and moved security forces to the town.
Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar Raphael Cheenath received a death threat.
“Just last week I received a chilling letter from Hindu groups which said ‘blood for blood, life for life.’ What can I do?” Cheenath said yesterday while at the Catholic Bishop Conference of India office in Delhi, according to IANS.
The letter stated that the archbishop, who has been staying in Bhubaneswar for three decades and whose house was stoned a few days ago, would be killed if he returned to Orissa. “They [Hindu groups] threatened to kill me,” he said. “Is this how civilized society behaves?”
Archbishop Cheenath, Delhi’s Archbishop Vincent Concessao and Father Babu Joseph, spokesman for the Catholic Church in India, met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh yesterday to apprise him of unabated violence in Orissa.
“Despite your consoling words and assurances, the violence still continues in some parts of Kandhamal,” they said in a memorandum, which carried a list of violent incidents that took place in Kandhamal after Sept. 11, when the Orissa state government told the Supreme Court of India that normalcy was returning in the district.
“Looting, arson and vandalism continue,” said the memorandum. “Security forces are mainly in the towns, main roads and are not moving to the interior parts of Kandhamal. Crimes are being freely committed by the culprits with impunity.”
Forced conversions from Christianity to Hinduism are continuing in the villages of Orissa, the memo said. “Christians are forced under threat of death, burning of their houses, or death of their relatives. After conversion, they have to burn their Bibles, religious articles and their own house, to prove that they are genuine Hindus. All other Hindu ceremonies are imposed on them.”
More Assaults in Karnataka
Attacks continued also in Karnataka. According to New Delhi-based Asian News International news agency, unidentified people launched attacks in three districts of the state on Wednesday (Sept. 17).
While a mob destroyed Bibles and other Christian literature and vandalized furniture the St. George Church in Ujire area of the Dakshina Kannada district, another group of people pelted a statue of the Virgin Mary with stones outside the St. Mary’s Church in Kolar district. Yet another group of people damaged furniture at a church in Chikamagalur district.
Hindu extremists in Karnataka began targeting Christians after the state education ministry served show-cause notices to over 2,000 Christian schools in the state for staying shut on Aug. 29 to protest the violence against Christians in Orissa.
Attacks on churches were reported from several parts of the state on consecutive Sundays following Aug. 29. The Bajrang Dal claimed responsibility for most of the attacks, which were mostly aimed at churches of the New Life Fellowship ministry.
The Karnataka state government today announced a probe by a retired judge of the high court into anti-Christian attacks, reported IANS.
Earlier this week, there were incidents of violent attacks on Christians and their institutions also in the southern states of Kerala, the north-central states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, and Jharkhand state in the east.
Tensions in National Capital
On Wednesday (Sept. 17), a group of unidentified people believed to be Hindu extremists sought to create tensions in the national capital Delhi.
A mob forcibly took possession of a lawn in front of a Catholic church, God’s Light Church, in Trilokpuri area in East Delhi, reported the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI).
“The mob broke open an outside gate to the lawn as well as the inside gate leading from the church and threatened to construct a temple there,” EFI reported. “They have also locked the outside gate to the lawn/garden as well as the inside gate leading from the church to the lawn.”
The church building has been in the area since 1991.
“It is a well planned move to create a confrontation with the church in Delhi too after the incidents in the states of Orissa, Karnataka and Kerala,” EFI reported. “The miscreants have resorted to this step to gauge the reaction of the church before doing anything further.”
Supporters of the VHP also tried to harass a Christian institution in the neighboring state of Haryana.
The Rev. Madhu Chandra of the AICC said some VHP extremists filed a complaint with Hisar district authorities against a school run by the North India Christian Mission for closing the school “illegally” on Aug. 29, the day all Christian schools remained closed to protest violence in Orissa. The complaint, filed in Barwala town, also accused school personnel of “converting” students and people of the area, as if conversion were illegal in India.
The AICC will hold a rally in Vijayawada in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh tomorrow (Sept. 20) to urge the governments of affected states to arrest those responsible for the anti-Christian violence.
Dr. John Dayal, AICC secretary general, returned from Orissa yesterday and warned that the situation in the country was getting “out of hand.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Body found in Andhra Pradesh state with 30 stab wounds, broken skull.
NEW DELHI, August 19 (Compass Direct News) – Christian leaders in Andhra Pradesh suspect the grisly murder of a Catholic priest was the work of Hindu extremists and that police have prematurely ruled out that possibility.
The battered body of Father Thomas Pandipally was found lying on a roadside in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh early on Sunday (August 17). The 38-year-old priest from the Carmelite of Mary Immaculate (CMI) order was killed while he was traveling by motorbike from the Lingampet area to Yellareddy village in Nizamabad district after 9:30 p.m. on August 16, reported Indian Catholic News Service (ICNS).
Fr. Pandipally, who was also the manager of a local school run by the CMI order, was to conduct the Sunday mass at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Yellareddy the following morning.
Nizamabad Superintendent of Police Rajesh Kumar told Compass that the murder had no religious motive. “There is communal harmony, and there has been no communal incident in the district at all,” he said.
There are only two possible angles in the murder case, Kumar said.
“One, the school where Fr. Pandipally was working is doing very well, and it also has a dispute with another school,” he said. “Second, Fr. Pandipally had expelled the driver of a school bus over some dispute on his salary.”
But the Rev. Father Alex Thannippara, a provincial superior of the CMI order, said he was in “complete disagreement” with Kumar’s claim of communal harmony in the area.
The Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (All India Students’ Council or ABVP, student wing of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party) are all violently active in Nizamabad, Fr. Thannippara said.
He pointed out that on January 16 a mob of around 500 people led by ABVP workers prevented the Hyderabad archbishop from blessing the new building of an HIV/AIDS care center run by the Franciscan Clarist Congregation (FCC) sisters in Lingampet.
“The crowd also indulged in vandalism and demolished a statue of Mother Mary,” Fr. Thannippara said. “The police had to lock up the building and take the keys with them to pacify the crowd.”
He added that the tensions erupted despite the support of district authorities for the center.
“Later, the FCC sisters filed a suit in the court of law against the protestors,” Fr. Thannippara said. “And the sisters started receiving threats on phone that if they did not withdraw the case, some members of their communities would be attacked.”
The school where the slain priest was working was also targeted around two years ago. “A huge crowd led by RSS supporters gathered around the school and tried to parade the then-principal naked under flimsy pretexts, but the police protected him,” he said.
Fr. Thannippara said the school had no dispute with any other school, though he acknowledged that other schools may be jealous of the CMI order. He added that Fr. Pandipally didn’t ask the school bus driver to leave but only refused to raise his salary.
When school workers heard about Fr. Pandipally’s murder, all staff members came except the driver, he said, but “that does not necessarily mean he is the culprit.”
“Fr. Pandipally was very humble,” Fr. Thannippara said. “Why should anyone kill him so brutally, I can’t understand.”
According to ICNS, there were more than 30 stab injuries on Fr. Pandipally’s body, especially in the abdomen.
“His head was hit with sticks and boulders, and the skull was split open,” ICNS reported. “All over his face, on his eyes, lips and cheeks, deep wounds were found. His motorcycle was thrown in bushes about four kilometers away. He was done to death in the forest, and his body was brought back and thrown in the middle of the road.”
ICNS also reported that Fr. Pandipally received a phone call inquiring when he was leaving for Yellareddy.
Archbishop Marampudi Joji of Hyderabad has also linked the murder to growing intolerance against Christians in parts of India.
“The Indian church is shocked and deeply saddened by this barbarous killing, which is the result of a growing climate of intolerance and violence against Christians in the country,” he told Asia News.
Brutal, Mysterious Murders
Andhra Pradesh has witnessed a strange trend of brutal and mysterious murders of Christian workers.
On June 8, 2006, the body of Prem Kumar, a 67-year-old preacher from the Church of South India, was found in a forest in the same district, Nizamabad. Kumar’s head was crushed beyond recognition, apparently with heavy stones. (See Compass Direct News, “Preacher Murdered in Andhra Pradesh, India,” June 12, 2006.)
A young man approached Kumar early in the morning requesting that he hold a prayer meeting in Rampur Thanda village later that day. He never returned from that “meeting” and was found murdered.
In May 2005, pastors K. Isaac Raju and K. Daniel were brutally murdered near the state capital, Hyderabad. (See Compass Direct News, “Second Pastor Found Dead in Andhra Pradesh, India,” June 6, 2005.) Unknown persons called both pastors by phone before they disappeared, asking if they would act as wedding celebrants. Raju went to meet a caller in Anantpur district on May 24, 2005 and disappeared; an unidentified caller then phoned the police on June 2, describing where to find Raju’s body.
Previously, on May 21, callers had put Daniel into a motorized rickshaw and taken him to a cemetery in Karwan, where they beat him severely before strangling him and dumping his body on the city outskirts.
An anonymous letter was sent to a local newspaper claiming the murders were carried out by an organization called the Anti-Christian Forum. The letter promised further killings.
An article in the New Indian Express on June 27, 2005, quoted a man identified only as Goverdhan, who along with his two friends allegedly murdered the two preachers.
“I am not against Christianity, but Raju and Daniel converted hundreds of Hindu families,” Goverdhan said. “They enticed them with money. We have done this to prevent further conversions. This act should be a lesson for others.”
In 2000, Pastor Yesu Dasu, 52, was killed in a similar fashion. Two people riding a motorbike came to his home on the evening of September 11 and asked for Dasu, saying someone wanted to speak with him.
Assailants then took Dasu to the outskirts of Mustabad in Karimnagar district. They bound his hands together and hit him repeatedly with an axe, eventually severing his head.
Dasu’s body was found in a pool of blood at a cattle shed near Kothakunta, along the Mustabad-Siddipet highway, three kilometers (nearly two miles) from Karimnagar. Several pieces of the body were found scattered at the murder scene.
Extremists had earlier warned Dasu to cease preaching or face the consequences. (See Compass Direct News, “Murder of Christian Preacher Remains Unsolved in India,” October 10, 2003.)
The Congress Party, with Dr. Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, a Christian, as the chief minister, rules Andhra Pradesh state. Hindu extremists have accused Reddy of giving a free hand to Christian missionaries in the state.
Report from Compass Direct News