Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Orissa Update

Orissa News Updates from various newspapers.

Conversion to Hinduism a condition for Christians to return home in Kandhamal

Parvathi Menon

Forced conversion of Christians by Hindutva groups has become the order of the day

August and September saw steady depopulation of villages of their Christian population

The writ of the Sangh Parivar appears to run untrammelled in the district

— PHOTO: Lingaraj Panda

HOMELESS: Inmates queue up for food at a relief camp set up at the Balika Upper Primary School at Phulbani in Kandhamal district of Orissa on Tuesday.

PHULBANI: “Those who don’t want to become Hindus, stay here. Those who have gone back to their villages are tonsured and forcibly converted,” said D.S. Kumar. A graduate, he used to run an STD booth and a petty shop in Minia, a village in Kandhamal district of Orissa, before his home, possessions and shop were burnt by Hindutva mobs on August 24. Nearly 90 Christian homes in his village were destroyed between August 24 and 29.

“The nine churches in my gram panchayat had already been destroyed in December 2007,” said Kumar. He is now among the 244 inmates of the relief camp at the Balika Upper Primary School in Phulbani, district headquarters of Kandhamal.

Since the murder of VHP leader Lakshmanananda Saraswati on August 23, for which the Maoists claimed responsibility, Sangh Parivar mobs have been allowed to take the law into their own hands and unleash terror against the Christian population, driving them into the forests, into relief camps, or out of the district.

Kumar’s father Jagannath Digal converted to Hinduism to save his land. “He owns four acres, which they threatened to take away from him. Those who return for livelihood reasons are forced to convert to survive,” said Kumar.

Forced conversion of Christians by Hindutva groups has become the order of the day in Kandhamal district. Not only have Christian families suffered the loss of their homes, possessions and places of worship in sustained attacks by marauding mobs of Hindutva supporters from August 24, they now cannot return to their villages unless they convert.

Heavy price

From the relief camps in Khandamal district and elsewhere where Christian families have taken refuge come stories of this new stage of the Hindutva project.

August and September saw a steady depopulation of villages of their Christian population, who fled fearing for their lives. Now, if families wish to return, conversion to Hinduism is the price they must pay.

Jibardhan Majhe from Rattanga village near Phiringia said that after an attack on his village in December 2007, the RSS asked him to convert by tonsuring his head and breaking a coconut in the temple. He refused and his house was burnt along with other Christian homes on August 26 this year. “Four families of my village have converted to Hinduism and have gone back,” he said.

“In my village, the Hindus told us that if you want to stay here you have to convert. All Christian families except four converted to Hinduism,” said Rina Digal, an inmate of the relief camp. He is from Rasimendi village near Phulbani.

The writ of the Sangh Parivar appears to run untrammelled in the district, with the State machinery appearing to be incapable of controlling them.

They have built a base among the Kondh tribals who act as their foot soldiers against Dalit Christian. The Sangh Parivar has cleverly exploited the divide between the tribals and Dalits who have gained from the education and employment opportunities created by the large network of Christian organisations and charities in the district over the decades.

“Dalit Christians are doing well educationally and socially, and there is jealousy among the tribals over their success,” according to Father Uday, Prefect of the St. Pauls’ Seminary in Baliguda. “The tribals loot from Christian homes after an attack, and take away utensils, money, gold, paddy, rice, dal and cattle. Hindu businessmen see opportunities in this.”

Threat calls

Christian priests, pastors and nuns are unlikely to be able to return to their places of work in Kandhamal in the near future. Some have been marked and get regular threatening calls. “I am a tribal and my nephews are searching to kill me,” said Father Lakshmikant, Parish priest of the St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Baliguda.

He had to flee from the mobs that were after him and spend days in the forest before he reached Bhubaneshwar. He is now in charge of a relief camp at the Missionaries of Charity Centre for Leprosy in the capital.

Meanwhile, thousands of Christian families in relief camps, who have rejected the option of conversion, have little hope of returning to their homes and villages that they left more than a month ago.

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India authorities impose curfew, Christians attacked

By Jatindra Dash
BHUBANESWAR, India, Oct 1 (Reuters) - Authorities imposed a curfew in several towns in eastern India on Wednesday after fresh attacks by Hindus on Christians as clashes over religious conversions spread, officials said.
Hindu crowds set fire to houses in two largely Christian villages on Tuesday in the district of Kandhamal in the state of Orissa on Tuesday, killing one person. One church was also burnt. "We have now re-clamped day and night curfew in at least nine towns," district superintendent of police S. Praveen Kumar told Reuters. Ten people have been arrested.
The violence followed a string of attacks on Christians in three states that has killed at least 34 people and damaged dozens of churches in the last month. Christians have responded with some violence in Orissa.
More than 3,700 federal police have been deployed in Orissa, the focus of the violence, although Christian groups and local media have accused police and state authorities of turning a blind eye to some attacks.
In Orissa, thousands of Christians now live in government camps because their homes were destroyed or they are too fearful to return.
The Hindu, a respected national newspaper, reported on Wednesday that many Christians were only allowed to return to their villages if they converted back to Hinduism.
The same newspaper has this week detailed attacks, largely on Christians, that included reports that a young nun was gang raped in August and a priest who tried to stop the attack was beaten and doused with kerosene.
Victims of attacks say Hindu nationalist political groups such as the hardline Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Sangh Parivar have been involved. Hindu nationalist groups deny this.
Pope Benedict has condemned the attacks and Roman Catholic bishops have urged the European Union to treat persecution of Christians as a humanitarian emergency.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, repeatedly questioned about the violence while on a trip to France, called the attacks a "national shame" and asked the Orissa state government, run by a Hindu-nationalist coalition, to ensure law and order.
The clashes were sparked by the issue of religious conversion in Orissa's poor tribal region, home to many Christian missionary groups. Hindus have opposed the Christian missionaries' conversion of lower-caste Hindus.
Religious clashes have also been reported in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka states, which are both headed by Hindu-nationalist governments.
The clashes first erupted in Orissa in August after the killing of a Hindu leader linked to the main opposition Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. Police suspected Maoist rebels but many Hindus in the region blamed Christians.
India does not have a long history of attacks on minority Christians, but intolerance has risen in the past two decades with a revival of Hindu nationalism. (Writing by Alistair Scrutton; Editing by Bill Tarrant)

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Indian Prime Minister Condemns Renewed Orissa Religious Clashes

By Bibhudatta Pradhan

Sept. 30 (Bloomberg) -- India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condemned renewed violence in the eastern state of Orissa that has been witness to clashes between Hindus and Christians since August and led to more than 30 deaths.

Singh asked the state government of Orissa to ensure that adequate protection was provided to the lives and property of all citizens, according to an e-mailed release issued by his office in New Delhi today. The prime minister, currently on a visit to France, urged the state government to maintain law and order.

One person was killed and eight injured when a mob attacked villages this morning in the riot-hit district of Kandhamal, Krishan Kumar, the collector of the area, said by telephone.

The religious unrest started last month over allegations that Catholic groups were bribing or forcing poor Hindus to change their faith and has drawn condemnation from global leaders, including Pope Benedict XVI. While Christian groups have denied the accusations, attacks on churches and members of the community have spread to states such as Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

The Orissa violence started after a Hindu religious leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four others were killed on Aug. 23 in the state. Houses were torched and places of worships were attacked in the violence between the two communities, mainly in Kandhamal district, the epicenter of the violence.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bibhudatta Pradhan in New Delhi at

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One killed in fresh flare-up in Kandhamal

PHULBANI: The fledgling peace process in Kandhamal lay in tatters on Tuesday after rampaging mobs killed one person and injured 15 in a pre-dawn raid on three villages in Ghumusar Udaygiri.

Two churches and around 70 houses were also damaged as tribal Kandhs continued their attacks on Pana Christians, fuelled by ethnic and communal reasons.

The state government, which has been making desperate efforts to control the sectarian mayhem in the tribal-dominated region since the killing of VHP Leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his associates on August 23, appeared to be at its wits end on how to tackle the situation.

In the latest attack, around 1,000 armed tribals swooped on three villages, Rudangia, Gadaguda and Telingia spread over a radius of 5km in G Udaygiri block, and targeted Pana-Dalits who have embraced Christianity, said an official source.

The mobs desecrated two churches, torched and razed over 70 houses and brutally assaulted around 15 people.

A woman, Ramani Naik (50), of Rudangia, died on the spot. The official death toll has now gone up to 32. The condition of nine others is said to be serious and they have been shifted to the MKCG medical college at Berhampur, in Ganjam.

Three of those injured have bullet injuries. Eight people, including two women, have been arrested in connection with the incident. The attack came hours after three crude bombs were set off near a relief camp on Monday.

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24-hour curfew re-imposed in Orissa district after fresh violence

Day and night curfew was re-imposed in nine towns of Orissa's Kandhamal district on Wednesday following the burning of several houses and the death of a woman in clashes between Christians and Hindus, police said.

"We have re-imposed a day and night curfew in nine towns," Kandhamal Superintendent of Police S. Praveen Kumar told IANS.

A mob set fire to several houses in Behera Gaon village in the district on Tuesday night. Earlier in the day, a mob set fire to Christian homes and a church in Rudangia village under Udayagiri police station on Tuesday morning. The two sides then clashed using country made guns and other weapons. Police were forced to open fire to disperse the mob. Forty-year-old Rukmini Nayak was killed in the violence and over a dozen people were injured.

About 10 people were arrested by police for their involvement in the violence.

The region has been witnessing communal violence since Aug 23, when Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his aides were shot dead by unidentified gunmen at his Jalespata Ashram.

The VHP accused Christians of the murders, a charge strongly denied by Christian organisations.

Since then, thousands of people have been rendered homeless, many churches attacked and at least 33 people killed in the state.

Prohibitory orders are still in force in the district and night curfew was earlier imposed in most towns.

Orissa is not new to communal violence between Hindus and Christians. On Jan 22, 1999, Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons, 10-year-old Philip and six-year-old Timothy, were burnt alive by a Hindu mob in their vehicle in Keonjhar district.

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