Thursday, September 11, 2008

"I Thought I Might Not Even Get a Burial": Fr. Digal

Priest Recounts Close Brush With Death In Orissa

Father Bernard Digal, one of three Catholic priests who escaped death during anti-Christian violence in Orissa state, wondered if he would even get a burial after being beaten and left to die.

UCA News reports:
Father Digal, treasurer of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar archdiocese, was visiting Sankarakhole parish when the violence began on Aug. 24. He narrated his close brush with death to UCA News.

On Aug. 23, the priest and his driver Sisir Pradhan left the archdiocesan headquarters in the state capital of Bhubaneswar, 1,745 kilometers southeast of New Delhi. They reached Sankarakhole at around 10:30 p.m.

"We had dinner. As we were preparing to go to bed after a tiring day, we received a call" saying Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, a Hindu leader based in the state's Kandhamal district, was shot dead. "I could not believe it. We went to bed," he recalled.

He recounted that he woke up the next morning hearing anti-Christian slogans and people "yelling outside," saying they wanted to kill missioners.

Father Alexander Chandy, the parish's 65-year-old pastor, Pradhan and Father Digal remained inside the church compound the whole day and moved to a forested area at night.

The situation "got worse" on Aug. 24, Father Digal continued. "We kept getting information on attacks and killings in villages. We got stuck in the forest and survived on dry food."

Father Chandy was sick and could not walk far. To provide him better shelter, the younger priest and his driver went to the house of another priest's brother in the village. They wanted to use his motorcycle to go to a safer place.

Father Digal said they saw the entire house, including the motorcycle, on fire. The two of them then went to see the priest's sister in the village. She urged them to go to a safer place as people had threatened to destroy her house.

The two went to nearby Dudukangia village, where 15 Christian families lived. But the Christians refused them shelter, saying they too had received similar threats.

By then, night had fallen. Since returning to their hiding place in the forest was risky, the two decided to sleep in the village church that had already been torched. "It had only walls standing. We thought the mob would not come, and we were tired of walking all day. Our legs were swollen."

At 11:30 p.m., however, people came to the demolished church. "Seeing the mob, we ran," shared Father Digal. "Pradhan ran fast, but I was caught. The mob shouted to each other to kill me. I pleaded for my life, but they ignored me."

The mob then hit him with crowbars and sticks. "The beatings came like heavy rain. They stripped me naked and asked for mobile phones," the priest recalled.

He said he managed to run some distance but was caught. "I fell to the ground and they continued hammering me. Soon I saw blood flowing from my head and lost consciousness. They thought I was dead and left me."

In his semi-conscious state, the priest said he thought he heard wolf cries and feared the animals would feed on him. "I thought I might not even get a burial. I prayed to the Lord."

Later, two villagers came. By then, the priest's body had become numb because of the wet ground and a cold night breeze.

The villagers brought the church's broken door and helped him lie on it. They also brought him some water. "I was feeling a bit better," he said, "and the villagers left me alone."

His driver came looking for him in the morning, and later informed the police. Along with a few villagers, the police took Father Digal to a public health center in the village and later moved him to the district hospital.

After much pressure, the state administration brought Father Digal to a better hospital in Bhubaneswar. "There is no place left in my body where I was not beaten," said the priest, who is now receiving treatment in a hospital in Mumbai, western India.

VIDEO: Orissa's Religious Violence Explained

A Video Explaining the Anti-Christian Violence in Orissa

In the video, Umasankar Acharya, Bajrang Dal summarizes the motive of the anti-Christian violence thus:

"We will get the whole Hindu nation together and whoever stands against the rights of Hindus, we will finish them... India has always been, is and forever will be a Hindu nation."

The video:

Orissa Archbishop Says His Life is in Danger

Archbishop Cheenath Says His Life is Under Threat in Orissa

Normalcy Still a Long Way Off for Christians Living in Fear

Only a Ban on Hardline Groups Can Bring Lasting Communal Peace

Deccan Herald reports:
Monsignor Raphael Cheenath, archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar says his life is under threat in Orissa and normalcy is still a long way off for Christians living in fear and in hiding in the violence hit areas.

He’s had to cancel his return to Bhubaneshwar twice because of fears that there could be an attack against him, he told Deccan Herald from Mumbai.

Bishop Cheenath also disputes the assessment that things are getting back to normalcy in Kandhamal.

“Things are apparently quiet because there is nothing left to destroy. As far as I know normalcy has not returned. How can it, when people are mortally afraid to return to their homes and priests and other religious are being hunted down and are still in hiding?”

Disturbed by the reports he has received from the volatile region, Bishop Cheenath says Sangh Parivar groups have begun a systematic campaign in the last few days to compel tribal Christians to swear they have been converted under the threat of death.

“Six or seven groups are going from village to village terrorising Christians in this manner,” he said. He refused to see the recent communal flare-up as an outcome of a deep divide between Hindus and Christians in Orissa.
“It is purely the handiwork of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal,”
he said.

“The vast majority of Hindus have good relations with us and many Hindus helped and sheltered Christians and even threatened those responsible for the December 2007 riots. Unfortunately, moderate Hindus are being ‘cowed down by the sangh today’, he said.

In Orissa, Christian institutions have been open to all and benefited Hindus equally.

There are more Hindus than Christians in church-run schools. Responding to the VHP’s allegations of forced conversions in tribal areas the Bishop says such accusations only “belittle the tribals as lacking in judgement”.

The bishop says only a ban on hardline groups like the VHP and the Bajrang Dal can bring lasting communal peace to the area.

There cannot be a long term solution under the present conditions with the Sangh persisting with its hidden hate campaign which poisons the mind’s of people,” he said.

FIACONA Demands Ban on VHP

Federation of Indian American Christian Organization of North America

Press Release


Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations in North America (FIACONA) seeks an immediate ban on Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), as the VHP has openly established itself as an anti-Christian organization of militant characteristics. The militancy is nowhere short of terrorism and it neither reflects the thoughts of the majority Indian Hindus nor does it represent them. The violence against Christians in Orissa was perpetrated by Hindu radicals, allegedly by the VHP. Hindus are a peace-loving community who follow Ahimsa (non-violence). President of FIACONA, Reverend Bernard Malik says, "Since VHP does not follow Ahimsa, it has no right to represent Hindus, it has become a militant organization that most of the Hindus do not identify with, and thus in the interest of the Hindus and in the national interest of secularism, FIACONA demands an immediate ban on the VHP." Mr. Titus Mathew General Secretary said, "Because of its bloody track record VHP should be disowned by all Indians and particularly by Hindus for misrepresentation of true Hindu values."

Congress seeks ban on VHP, Bajrang Dal. The Congress sought a ban on the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal, saying they were involved in "activities detrimental to the unity and integrity of the country...These organizations should be banned," Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari said. Slamming the BJP-Biju Janata Dal ruling combine in Orissa, where communal violence has claimed several lives, Tiwari accused Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik of being ineffective and of "succumbing to the pressure of BJP to become a party to political polarization".

Left urges President to ban VHP, Dal. A delegation led by senior CPI (M) leader Brinda Karat and comprising CPI leaders D. Raja and Gurudas Dasgupta and CPI (M) MP Suresh Kurup, asked President Pratibha Patil to direct the Orissa government to rein in the saffron outfits which are involved in "killing" number of Christians in the state.

Shri Paswan seeks an immediate ban on the VHP. Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) leader and Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan demanded a ban on the Rashtriya Swyamasevak Sangh (RSS), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal for alleged violence against Christians in Orissa, as he says, "If the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) has to be banned, then why not VHP, Bajrang Dal or RSS".

Swami Agnivesh demands ban on VHP and Bajrang Dal. Social activist and World Council of Arya Samaj President Swami Agnivesh demanded a complete ban on the activities of VHP and Bajrang Dal in the country. "There is enough evidence to put a ban on these two organizations ... Bajrang Dal in fact is emerging as a 'terrorist' organization in the country," Swami Agnivesh remarked while expressing concern over the communal violence in Orissa allegedly unleashed by the members of the VHP and the Bajrang Dal.

Noted social activist Teesta Setalvad seeks a ban on VHP. She says, "The violence by VHP and Bajrang Dal against religious minorities in Orissa shows that these are violent terror outfits…It is part of a greater conspiracy to spread communal tensions. SIMI is banned for the same and hence Bajrang Dal and its affiliates should also be banned".

Other social activists also demand a ban on the VHP. The social activists, who included among others Ms Meenakshi Ganguly from Asia Division Human Rights Watch, National Integration Council member Shabnam Hasmi, National Dalit Movement for Justice general secretary Dr.Sirivella Prasad and AIDMAM National Convener Vimal Thorat, urged the Orissa state government to arrest all those responsible for attack on the Christians, launch comprehensive relief and rescue operation to bring the displaced to safer places, involve NGOs and Civil Society in relief and rescue operation, punish the officials who failed in their job to protect the lives of the people and deploy adequate central Para military forces to contain the violence.

Dr. Victor Joseph Chairman of Government Relations said, “As is evident from the above, the majority of Hindus do not follow the ideology of the VHP that has become a militant organization.” Mr. Abraham Mammen the National Vice President said, “FIACONA condemns the alleged role of the VHP in the Orissa killings of innocent Christians and demands an immediate ban of the VHP.”

Kandhamal Christians Will Be Wiped Out: VHP Vows

The Christians Will Be Wiped Out From Kandhamal: VHP Vows

Dhirendra Panda writes:

I am born of a hindu Brahmin family. My father and other relatives being devotedly religious persons used to tell me that sanyasis are symbols of love, care, truth, justice above earthly hatred-ness, jealousy, violence. We were told about the stories of Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna Param Hansa, Sri Chaitanya, Jayadev, Aurovindo.

During my childhood, it would have been quite difficult to digest that sadhus and saints engaged for spreading hate and violence. Similarly there would be many people to disbelieve that sadhus are campaigning for votes to a particular party and using religion for political ends. So nobody should get surprised if they call for wiping out the Christians from Kandhamal.

On 6th August 2008 there were 144 in and around Swadhinata Sangrami Sadan Ground. Considering the announcements and assurance given by the Police Officers and others, it was thought the government will not allow any rally or meeting of VHP. But the VHP had its Sraddhanjali sabha (Tribute paying meet) and along with sadhu (ascetic holy man) sanths (saints), BJP leaders such as Suresh Pujari (President,Orissa BJP), Prasanna Mishra, Panchanan Rout, MLA Pratap Sarangi and Subash Chouhan, Bajranga Dal leader were present in the Meeting.

Please read some of the statements given in the meeting

Mahant Swami Satchidananda Maharaj, presiding over the Meet:
Sacrifice of Swamiji will be meaningful once the cow-slaughter and conversion is totally stopped in the state. In each village committees will be formed to actualize the dreams of Swamiji. If the villagers get awareness, these will be stopped automatically.
Tridandi Swami Bhagwan Das:
Now the Hindus have become minority. There is an international conspiracy behind it. The Christians, majority in 186 countries have not only killed Laxmanananda, but also doing this; they have challenged the entire Hindu Society.
Swami Arupananda Maharaj:
Attack on Swamiji is the same as attacking the 'Hindu Religion'. All the saints/sadhus need to counter-attack unitedly otherwise the entire India will be converted into a Christian nation.
Swami Brahmananda Saraswati:
Once the Englishmen came for trade and commerce had occupied our country. Now Christians in the name of 'the minorityism' have come again to take away our 'independence'. If the attack continues like this, the Hindu community will be wiped out one day.
Swami Satyapriya Maharaj, Arya Samaj:
The Government is like a eunuch that could not give protection to Swamiji, but continue in giving protection to murderers.
Abinash Baba, Joranda:
This is a country of saints and sadhus and the country is 'functioning' for them only. The Government should provide security and protection to mathas and temples.
Ramacharan Das Maharaj:
Limiting ourselves in mere blaming the Government will not serve the purpose. We have to realize and decide that whoever will be able to understand the Hindu religion and respect the saints and sadhus can sit on the throne. If this happens, all the problems will be solved.
Swami Chanmayananda Maharaj:
The Hindus occupying 85 % of total population are screaming, but the government pays no heed to it. The situation is like this only because we are not united. If we unitedly put all our votes for one party, everything will be set aright. Shankaracharya should be entrusted with the responsibility to decide whom to vote for and issue 'whips' to cast all our votes accordingly. By this whichever party comes to power will be compelled to respect our words.
Ashok Sahu, President, Hindu Jagaran Samukhya (former DG, Police Assam):
[Archbishop] Raphael Cheenath, President, Loka Sangram Dalit Manch and John Doyal have hands behind the murder of Laxmanananda.
Gouri Prasad Rath, General Secretary, VHP:
Now Orissa is run under demonic prowess. The sadhus and sanths were arrested for no reason. They were not allowed to have darshan (see) to Sri Ram temple. The Police should beg apology for insulting the Hindu community in Orissa by arresting the sadhus and saints. As we were not allowed to hold condolence (sradhhanjali) rally, henceforth we'll never allow anybody to hold peace rallies here. Unless the killers of Swamiji are arrested, there will be no peace in Orissa.
Ashok Tiwary, VHP's Akhil Bharatiya Dharma Jagaran Pramukh; Ramanuj Das Moharaj, Chintamani Parbat Maharaj, Mahanta Raghubir Das Maharaj, Mahanta Ram Charan Das Maharaj, Mahant Ramakrishna Das Maharaj, Sankarananda Maharaj, Mahant Narayan Baba, Brahmachari Jiban Chaitanya Maharaj, Swami Prana Swarupananda Maharaj have taken vow – The Christians will be wiped out from Kandhamal.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

27 Year Old Man Beaten & Buried Alive!

How 27 Year Old Rajesh Digal Was Buried Alive by the Mob

Rajesh Digal (27 Yrs), Christian was buried alive near Paburia, under Tikabali Police station in Kandhamal district.

Kamal, brother in law of Rajesh Digal narrates the chilling incident.
Rajesh Digal and and Tunguru Mallick work in Chennai.

On 24th August 2008 they were coming to Bataguda on a home visit but were held up at G. Udaygiri. They could not get any public transport to reach their village Bataguda (situated about 60 km from G.Udagiri) because the VHP had called a Bundh, on account of the death of their leader Swami Laxmananda Saraswati. Finally, the two decided to walk it out.

As they had reached Paburia the mob stopped them and asked their identity. They told about themselves but the mob identified Rajesh as a Christian. When they checked his bag, they found a Bible. Thereafter, they started beating him as they pleased and Rajesh fell down.

While Rajesh was being beaten, some others started digging a pit. When they completed digging the pit, they proceeded to bury Rajesh who was still alive.

"Why are you burying me? I am still alive" Rajesh asked.

"Call your Jesus. He will save you" they replied and buried him alive.

Then they caught hold of Tunguru who was watching everything. They poured kerosene on him and set him on fire. But he somehow escaped and ran for his life and reached village where he narrated whatever happened to the villagers and to Mr. Kamal.

Tunguru, who had a narrow escape from being burnt alive, still bears the burn marks on his body.

Rajesh Digal who was buried alive, leaves behind two young girls and an aging mother. The family is in the refugee camp and could not lodge even an FIR to the police.

No Relief for Christians Even in Relief Camps

Orissa: No Peace for Christians Even in Refugee Camps

Even in the camps, the faithful find fundamentalists who coerce them to convert to Hinduism. Priests also threatened and abused.

AsiaNews reports:
There is no end to the tension in Orissa, where for two weeks a pogrom has been underway against Christians. Many of the faithful who have taken shelter in the refugee camps after their homes were destroyed and burned have found themselves threatened in the camps as well, where they should be protected by the police.

The threats come from the Hindu radicals of the VHP (Viswa Hindu Parishad) and of the RSS (Rastriya Swyamsevak Sangh), who force the tribals to convert back to Hinduism, or suffer new violence. Some of the priests and their relatives have also been threatened, and as a sign of their "reconversion", they are shaved bald like sadhus (Hindu ascetics).

According to accounts sent to AsiaNews from Bhubaneshwar, the fundamentalist groups are also spreading through the villages and forcing the Christians to sign papers saying that they are "freely" returning to Hinduism. Those who refuse are beaten, and their homes are burned.

Sometimes - sources tell AsiaNews - as a sign of their "new life", they are forced to burn the churches and homes of other Christians.

And the destruction itself is becoming more "intelligent". Sometimes, instead of burning homes, the fundamentalists content themselves with taking all of the furniture and objects out of it, and destroying them. In this way, they say, they make the families poor and exclude them from reimbursement by the government, which has promised money for those who have had their homes burned. This method is also useful in case the fundamentalists are arrested by the police: arson is punishable with years in prison, but the distraction of objects with only a few months.

Orissa Refuses CBI Probe into Kandhamal Riots

Orissa refuses to hand over Kandhamal riot case to CBI

Says CBI Has Lost Its Credibility

Orissa's BJP led state government has rejected the opposition's demand for a CBI probe into communal violence in Kandhamal.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) established on 1 April 1963, is India's premier investigating agency, responsible for a wide variety of criminal and national security matters.

"CBI had lost its credibility by giving clean chit to Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, an accused in the Bofors case" Orissa's Excise Minister Debi Prasad Mishra told reporters in Bhubaneswar.

The Minister also claimed that the Orissa police was effectively investigating into the killing of VHP leader Laxmananda Saraswati and communal violence thereafter.

More in this report.

Violence Will be Met With Violence: VHP Chief

Violence Will be Met With Violence, Warns VHP Leader Praveen Togadia

Claims VHP Not Involved in Orissa Violence

On India's National Newspaper:
NEW DELHI- Unfazed by the criticism his group has faced over the violence in Orissa, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Praveen Togadia has said that violence against Hindus will be met with violence.

Even as he denied the involvement of the VHP, the radical Hindu group, in the attacks on the Christian community and churches in the state, he insisted that Hindus had the right to retaliate.

"If a violent religion is targeting a section of Hindu society, there would be a violent reaction," Togadia, a surgeon by profession, told IANS in a telephonic interview.


VHP supporters and tribals went on the offensive against the killings, attacking and torching Christian homes and churches in remote rural areas, leaving at least 16 people dead and many injured.

Thousands of poor Christians fled their homes and villages. As the bloodshed raged for days, the community frantically urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to intervene to end the mayhem.

But Togadia insisted that Maoists did not kill Saraswati and that Christians were to blame.

"Maoists have nothing to do with this. The Orissa government is trying to save Christians in the area by releasing all this fake (information)," he said. He added that the media was wrongly blaming him and his organisation unnecessarily.

"Don't blame me or my organisation for what is happening in Orissa. It is for the police and the judicial system to pinpoint who is to blame. In Orissa, it is a fight between tribals and Christians."

You Can Live Here Only As Hindus, Christians Told

Kandhamal Christians Under 'Threat' to Convert

Aditi Tandon writes from Kandhamal on The Tribune

The anti-Christian flame in Kandhamal may have become dimmer for a while, but it is far from blown out. Fuelling it is the issue of conversion, which has become a determinant of people’s lives in this part of the country.

Several Christians in 11 blocks of the tribal districts are said to have been “forcibly converted” as Hindus in the past 17 days of mayhem; the rest say they are facing a choice between life and faith.

The radicals have told us that we can live here only as Hindus. They are giving deadlines to people to convert or be prepared to face the worst. They asked my family to fall in line by 8 pm on September 3. When we did not agree to convert, they razed our properties,” Jitender Digal, a refugee at Bijaya High School camp in Raikia block, told The Tribune.

In Kandhamal, minorities furnish proof of how “force and fear” is being used to deter people from their faith. Lalu Naik of Balliguda block shows this correspondent a letter whose text, he says, the radicals have framed for the Christians to follow. Signed by Lalu’s father Babulal Naik and 10 members of his family, the letter reads: “Shrijukta Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) mahodaya (Respected VHP official), I was a Christian until now, but I voluntarily want to embrace Hinduism.”

The sample, claim refugees, is meant to facilitate Christians’ conversion to Hindu religion. Such letters have been floating around for a fortnight, with covert but stern messages to Christians to convert. The first targets in this “war” of conversion are pastors, now hiding in the relief camps by thousands. Three of them - Samuel Naik, Akhar Digal and Dibya Digal from Raikia and Udaygiri blocks - have already lost their lives in the recent violence. In each case, the killers first asked the victims if they were ready to become Hindus, say relatives.

Samuel Naik’s son Ramesh, who witnessed killings of his father and grandmother, recounts, “They gave three warnings to my father. When he refused to abandon his faith, they slaughtered him. My grandmother met the same fate.” Ramesh is now hiding at the G Udaygiri camp, while his mother Upojini Naik is at the Raikia relief camp, where over 200 pastors are seeking refuge.

Among them are Subodh Naik, Bijay Pradhan, Subodh Digal and Ulkeshan Naik, who claim being on the radicals’ hit list. “They want us to join them and prove our loyalty by attacking churches and killing Christians. They have threatened to eliminate us if we don’t listen to them.” Many pastors are missing or feared dead.

As for forcible conversions, they are mostly reported to be happening in G Udaygiri, Raikia, Tikabali, Chakapad and Balliguda blocks, with Christians now demanding a separate district. Ashok Behera, a camper at Tikabali, says, “We want a district with a Christian collector, a Christian SP and a Christian block development officer. We have lost faith in the system as close to 2,000 Christians have been converted.”

VHP leaders for their part remain adamant as ever, claiming they will “do everything possible to protect the Hindu faith in Orissa.” Kabi Chandra Nath, who assumed charge of the Jalaspeta ashram after Laxmananda Saraswati’s death, goes to the extent of defending the radical stand, saying, “We are not converting anyone. We are simply bringing misguided followers back to the fold.” Never mind the cost.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

"I Will Die. But I Won’t Stop Being a Christian"

The Plea for Deliverance on the Lips of Fleeing Christians

WHEN THEY came for Narmada Digal, she wasn’t there. She had fled, five children and mother-inlaw in tow, to the safety of the jungles a kilometre away. So, they set about what she left behind. A framed picture of Jesus, a Bible in Oriya, utensils in the kitchen, some clothes, and linen.

By the time Narmada tiptoed back, her home was gone. What was left was still hot from the ashes, and smoking. The neighbours came to commiserate. Narmada took a good look, stood erect, and pulled her sari over her head. She began to pray.

“Lord, forgive us our sins. Jesus, you are the only one. Save us from our misfortune. Free us, Lord.” The words are tumbling out.

Narmada’s children have joined her. She is weeping as she pleads for deliverance. So is everybody else. It’s a simple bond that no human wrath can sever, a woman and her God. “I will die. But I won’t stop being a Christian,” Narmada says.
Full article (with pictures): In the name of God

Monday, September 8, 2008

Fr. Thomas Pally's Kandhamal Visit Report

Fr. Thomas Pally, Who Visited Kandhamal and Came Back September 7 Reports - To Break the Shackles of Fear

(I know it is not good to begin with excuses. There is no time to edit this report. I have to take the train to Mumbai. If I wait, this report will have to wait till 13th September)


Let me make one thing clear at the outset. This visit was not a fact-finding visit. Of course we kept our eyes, ears, mind and hearts for facts and for a general assessment of the mood of the people. We took notes, did digital documentation. But more than all that for me it was an attempt to break the Shackles of Fear. Fear, yes, fear with in me and with in so many like me both in the religious and secular circles I moved in Bhubaneswar. I had been in Bhubaneswar since 26th. I would not have forgiven myself if I had not gone to Kandhamal. It is true every one advised against it. But the risk had to be taken. If anything happened to me then we would know that the danger is for real. If I returned safe then we could all make a start in reaching out to those out there. It was a risk worth taking.

12.30 hrs 5th September 2008

We - Bibhuti, his friend Mrutyunjai, Tapan the driver and me - left Bhubaneswar by 12.30 hrs on 5th September. We drove towards Berhampur. At Kalighat took the road to Daringbadi. We were in Daringbadi by 21.00 hrs. The town was completely deserted as there was a night curfew in place. The security seems to have trusted the people there. There was not even one security in sight. We spent the night at Jagruti, an NGO. (They are now engaged in relief work in Raikia)

06.30 hrs 6th September 2008

We left Daringbadi after interacting with people at the tea shop at the town centre. There were no signs of any tension. People seemed to be going about their normal activity. We were heading towards Baliguda, via Nuagam. Daringbadi block was not much affected by the riot more so the town of Daringbadi .

03.08.00 hrs Simanbadi 6th September 2008-09-07

Simanbadi did not seem normal only for the reason there were gun toting CRPF personnel on the road. As we got down one officer came forward and wanted to verify our identity - the only time an official asked for it. He was polite and told us that one company was posted in and around that area. The people were friendly. I am told that is an area which has majority Christian population. There was no disturbance in the area.

09.00 hrs Kudupakia (Sirtiguda) 40 km from Daringbadi

The first signs of violence were evident there. There were burnt houses along the road. There are around 50 families out of them 12 only are Hindus. But the attack was done egged on by those that gathered from Sirtiguda. On the main road the Hindus and Christians were together in talking to the team and seemed comfortable with each other. This was a surprise to me. Away from the crowd Christians told that they fear renewed attack. There was no sign of any police personnel any where near by.

09.30 hrs K.Nuagam

This was the place where Fr.Thomas Chellan was dragged out of house where he had taken shelter after the pastoral centre was attacked. He was the director. He was dragged out beaten very cruelly, stripped and kerosene was poured over him to burn him. This was also the place where Sr.Meena who helps in the centre was also assaulted, allegedly raped and taken half naked to the nearly police station. "We checked the facts with people who came around. They said all that is true. One redeeming thing in the whole incident is that it is not the police that saved them. When some almost lit the match stick to set fire to Fr.Thomas some good Hindus stopped them from that heinous crime. We asked if it is safe for Fr.Thomas to come back. They said "the good people may not be always around!!"

We could not enter either Jana Vikas, the diocesan Social Action Centre nor the Pastoral centre as the gates were all locked from inside and outside. The building from outside do not give a vandalised look. But knowing the way the fanatics work the interiors all will be burnt out. In front the pastoral centre and by the side of Jan Vikas we could see the burnt out four-wheeler.

Two churches - one small and another large were both vandalised and the roof completely done in. Houses were in the interior area and we knew there would not be time to reach out to the interior area.

10.30 hrs Balliguda

Balliguda had seen the vandalsation of three very important and big Catholic institutions during the last violence. This time the damage was token, The mob only wanted to make a statement - that we can do what we want. Only some stones were thrown and some few articles from kitchen etc taken out and burnt. We could not enter in.

While taking breakfast we found the town going about as though everything was normal. There was rush to the bank probably because the bank had been closed because there were two holidays the preceding days and also curfew restrictions had been imposed earlier. For the rest it was business as usual but for the sight of some security personnel.

11.00 hrs. Baliguda Nuasai

The Hindus and Christians live in this hamlet very close to Baliguda. As the crowd advanced most people left the houses including the Hindus and went off to the forest. We noticed that all the houses were not destroyed in a row. The houses were selected for destruction. The dwellings of Hindus and Christians are mixed. The Christian houses were targeted. The leaders that led the crowd seemed to have done their home work well.

12.30 hrs. Barakhama

This was the town that had witnessed a very high level of violence during the last riot. The Christians unlike the other villages and towns had resisted strongly the attack initially. Two people had died last time. This time too two people were killed: Ajit Kumar Digal (22)alias D.Francis and Praful Kumar Naik (45). Ajit was the elder son of Darath Digal and Nimothi Digal. The couple have three other chidren - Muhammad Digal, Topoi Digal and Kamini Digal. Ajit was shot dead by country fire arm and Praful was beaten to death a little away from his own house. He is buried near the spot he was killed.

The town has around 7000 people and 2000 are Christians. There is a long standing feud over land in the village between the Adivasis who are mainly Hindus and Panos (dalits) who are Christians. The Adivasis accuse the Panos of having encroached their land.

Lily of the Forest:

The villagers said a large crowd over 3000 attacked them from all sides on 26th at around 15.00 hrs. Minaki, 9 months pregnant also ran to the forest along with the others. She delivered a girl baby on 29th ,the third day in the forest. She named her Lily.

There is an apology of a relief camp in the forest right now. But there seem to be plans for better lay out in the future. Right now 2000 are scattered in primary school buildings. There are no tents to take shelter from the inclemency of the weather. People make do with the veranadha, shade of the tree, or just sitting around trees, on the road etc. Cooked food is served twice a day.

Kartic Nayak, who has just completed his degree studies had taken photos the aftermath of the attacks and made the same available to us on a CD.

14.00 hrs Nuagam

We returned via Nuagam and when we reached there a lot of people were on the road. We were informed that a young married woman just died after being bitten by snake - allegedly in the forest where she had taken refuge - and the dead body was just being brought home from the hospital. As we were interacting with the people the body was brought and the scene was indeed heartrending. Her husband Saryo Nayak and relatives were in a shock. There was also talk that she died not in the forest.

We visited the relief camp by the side of the road. There were several security personnel. The situation was like the earlier camp, the facilities minimal, really not worth enumerating. Again no tents, poor sanitation. Food twice a day seems to be the set standard. 1200 are in the camp where one would expect to find just over 200 people.

15.00 hrs Raikia

There are supposed to be 3 camps, two only have been set up. One in the Block office building and one in school. We visited the Block office building where Jana Vikas staff are also taking shelter. The building can take in a maximum of 200. There are over 2000 spilling over to the verandha, the grounds around. Again the standard two meals a day. I found two health workers. The NGO Jagruti is helping out in the camp. Mr. Kailash was there at the site. I am told the one in charge of the camp is a good officer. When we were there some philanthropists had some relief materials from Puri. People and organisations can bring in relief materials. They have to reported to the Collector and the relief officer directs to the place he feels it is most needed.

We interacted with the staff of Jana Vikas. More people are expected to join the camp. The total number is expected go beyond 6000.

16.30 hrs Tiangia

Travelling to Tiangia we passed through Gattumaha where 10 houses by the road side were burnt down. All Christian houses.

Then the church at Lakebali was also vandalised.

By the side of Tiangia stood Majumma. The village has altogether 50 houses of whom 15 are Christians. All the houses were demolished either partially or fully.

Tiangia was the only place we met with some resistance and we could not reach the hamlet. We took a photo of a vandalised church at the entrance to the village. Immediately we were challenged by voices from a nearby hillock over looking the village. A group of Bajrang Dals volunteers descended from the hill. Bibhuti asked me not to come along. He walked towards the group and met them two furlongs from where I stood. Bibhuti told me later that they were very aggressive, agitated. They alleged that the Christians had murdered Mr. Dasrath Pradan who was a dalit. They felt aggrieved that no one was listening to them. Bibhuti came back after nearly half an hour and advised me no to proceed to the village. Two of the Bajrang dal men too came to the vehicle. We parted being civil to each other. I was disappointed for not being able to reach the place I had badly wanted to reach. That village was the native village of a priest colleague of mine from Archbishop's house. I wanted to go to their house and reassure them. But that was not to be.

I checked with Fr. Manoj - the priest from the village. There is another side to the story, just the opposite. They allege that Dasrath was killed by Hindus as he had earlier been a Christian and though converted back to Hinduism had been a rising dalit leader and taking up dalti causes. The Hindus killed three others in the village. This was not shared by them to the Bibhuti. So where does the truth really lie?

17.30 hrs Vis Sankharkole to Phulbani the capital of Kandhamal

We left for Sankarkole. The convent there was vandalised again. We could not visit the village as the village was not on the road side. We were informed that there would be curfew in Phulbani afer 18.00 hrs.

18.00 hrs Lunch at Phulbani

We halted for lunch but after lunch the curfew had begun and also it was dark and was not possible to make inquiries regarding the riot and we left for Bhubaneswar via Daspalla, Nayagad, Khorda and reached Bhubaneswar by 00.30hrs 07th September 2008.

So what did the visit achieve?

It was the first visit into the riot torn area by any from our circle of friends both secular and religious. It helped to assess the situation.

The situation is not normal. At the same time is not something one can not handle if one wants to reach out to the affected.

Relief camp situation is pathetic to say the least. A quantum leap is to be done to give it even a semblance of giving relief and protection.

In some villages people continue to live in fear. They think they could be attacked any time - Kudupakia, Barkhama. Barkhama people say that they want to relocate themselves entirely.

Police protection but for some town areas and large villages is minimal and anti-social elements and fundamentals will easily take advantage.

Cases are not being registered just like the last time. We need to be prepared for a very, very long haul at the legal front.

Medical assistance, counsellors, community organisors need to be present with those in the camp and those living outside need to be strengthened.

Restoration of assets through compensation mechanisms, livelihood restoration need to undertaken soon.


It has been a redeeming experience for me. To go and share their life even in passing made meaning to me. I just wanted to go there, to listen, to see, to feel with them and assure them that although they can not see us, there are millions who care for their safety, security and welfare. And are doing there at most each one in her / his own way to make that possible. We had to assure ourselves that they are told and assure them that they have not been abandoned just to the mercy of the state and the rampaging mobs.

That to some measure, a very small measure we had been able to do. I hope the visit acts as a catalyst.

Updates of Orissa Violence: 30 Aug - 7 Sep, 2008

Updates of Kandhamal (Orissa) Violence

30 August - 7 September, 2008

Date - Police Station - Event

30.08.2008 PHIRINGIA 5 Christian of Sudam Majhi, Goutam Mahji, Samo Majhi, Baruna Majhi and Jeebardhan Majhi of Ratanga Village, Phiringia Block were Set on fire.

01.9.2008 Raikia At about 4.00 p.m, 100 years old Catholic Parish Church Mondasore was attacked, vandalized, looted and set fire.

01.9.2008 Raikia Presbytery of Catholic Priest was attacked, looted and burnt to ashes

01.9.2008 Raikia The Scorpio (Four Wheeler) car of Fr. Jugal Kishore Digal was set fire at Mondasore

01.9.2008 Raikia Mr. Rabindra Parichha, of Bhaliapada village, under Mondasore Parish said "I had called the district control room and asked for the security force and also faxed letter apprehending the danger for the Mondasore parish but, In spite of the police information my Parish church was attacked.

02. 09.2008 Raikia Christian house of Mr. Dibya Digal of Pajimaha was attacked and set fire

02.09.2008 Raikia Christian House of Mr. Samont Nayak was attacked and set fire

02.09.2008 Raikia 18 Christian people of Bhaliapada Village reached to the Bhubaneswar and they are now in the Refugee camp. It is reported that all became the destitute.

02.09.2008 Daringbadi At about 50 Christian houses of Balligada were attacked, All the house hold articles were set on fire.

02.09.2008 Daringbadi Catholic Church at Kakadabadi village was attacked and set fire

02.09.2008 Daringbadi 3 Christian house of Kakadabadi village was ransacked and set fire

01.9.2008 Daringabai Catholic Church at Balligada was ransacked and set fire

01.9.2008 Daringbadi Baptist Church at Balligada was ransacked, vandalized and set fire

02.09.2008 Tikabali 35 Christian houses were set fire ( Beheragano area)

02.09.2008 Chakapad 5 Christian houses were set fire

01.9.2008 Bhanjanagar Catholic Church at Chadiapally was ransacked and set fire

01.9.2008 Baptist Church at Durgaprasad was ransacked and set fire

02.09.2008 Sarangard Christian People of Padangi village were being forced to practice Hinduism and given warning to death, if they practice Christianity

02.09.2008 G.Udayagir The house of Mr. Gaura Chandra Nayak was attacked and set fire.
Christian families of Belghati were converted to Hinduism.

03.09.2008 Daringbadi (Mondasore Parish) At about 2a.m., Catholic Church, Padunbadi was attacked, destroyed, ransacked, demolished. It is reported that even the walls were broken.

03.09.2008 Refugee Camp at Raikia is in turmoil. The refugees had requested that no members of RSS, VHP or Bajrang Dal be allowed in to the refugee camp set up at the Block Development Office. Despite this the BDO was found in close door conversation with three members the fundamentalist group. The refugees have demanded an explanation from the officer who has now been gheraoed by the agitated refugees. One Mr. Godda from the group of three managed to flee the place. He is now threatening to bring in thousands of fundamentalists to attack the refugee camp. The destitute have made hunger strike to settle the matter.

In the evening people found tank water was in blue colour and suspected that someone might have put poison. People were in panic, it was reported to the Sub-collector and RDC, and they reached to spot and assured security and protection.

03.09.2008 Tikabali 5 Houses of the Dadarimunda Village were set ablaze.

03.09.2008 Daringabadi In Simanbadi parish at Kotasingh and Gadadi village 18 each houses are burnt by the fundamentalists.

03.09.2008 Daringbadi The fundamentalists burnt 25 houses from Katadi village which is under the Padangi parish, Sarangada P.S. On the other hand from Birangi village about 10 houses are burnt on the same day

03.09.2008 Tikabali 5 houses, Dadarimunda village were set fire and destroyed.

03.09.2008 Bhubaneswar KharvelnagarBishop's of Orissa met Chief Minster and explained the present situation of the Kandhamal. Chief minister assured to give protection and take good measure for the relief and rehabilitation. Bishops mentioned about the forceful conversion to Hinduism.

04.09.2008 VHP to go ahead with Yatra (Indian express dated 04.09.2008, front page) ( I am faxing the clip)

04.09.2008 The fear and panic have spread among Christians living relief camps in Kandhamal District in Orissa following alleged attempts by Hindu radicals to reconvert them.

05.09.2008 Raikia 12 Houses of Murudipanga Village under Raikia police station were attacked, ransacked and set on fire.

80 People of the same village have gone to the refugee .

06.09.2008 Bhubaneshwar 144 has been declared in sensitive areas, especially in the Church situated areas.

10 Platoons of Orissa armed force and 4 platoon of CRPF have been deployed.

06.09.2008 PURI Anti slogans were written against Christian on the walls of all Christian institution in Puri ( Puri parish, retreat centre, leprosy centre and MC brother's house) The wall paints portrait Padri hatao (destroy the priests), stop conversion and stop cow slaughter.

06.09.2008 PURI Fr. T.Kurian, in charge of Karunalaya Leprosy centre Puri said "Some one came by motor cycle and ordered to stop the tuition class for the students. Hence, for time being the classes are stopped".

06.09.2008 RAIKIA 3 houses of Tdahupanga village, under Raikia police station were ransacked. Inhabitants of the houses have come to the refugee camp in Raikia.

06.09.2008 RAIKIA Mr. Raju Parichha's half constructed house was demolished completely in the Raikia Town which is situated 1.5. K.M away from the Raikia police station.

06.09.2008 RAIKIA In Kanya Ashram shahi three houses of Rajkishore Digal, Santosh Nayak, and Joseph Nayak were attacked.

06.09.2008 RAIKIA The house of Mohini Parichha, Badapata village was attacked which is situated just 1.Km away from local police station.
RAIKIA 3 Christian Houses of Petamaha village were set on fire.

06.09.2008 RAIKIA The house of Sekhar Digal, Dodongia was attacked and ransacked.

06.09.2008 -TIKABALLI- Two Christian houses of Breka village, were set on fire and ransacked

06.09.2008 G. UDAYAGIRI About 6000 people are in refugee camp in G.Udayagiri

RAIKIA About 8500 destitutes are in Raikia refugee camp.

07.09.2008 TIKABALI About 3000 destitute are in Tikabali refugee camp.

07.09.2008 SARANGAD One dead body is recovered today at Sarangad

The Media's Bogus Conversion Debate

With a Bogus "Conversions" Debate, the Fundamentalists Have Suppressed More Fundamental Questions Facing Them

An excellent analysis fundamental to understanding the sinister anti-Christian pogrom in Orissa and the media perspectives. An excerpt:
The question being pondered is if Christian missionaries have converted tribal and Dalit people of Orissa using coercion that has led to the tensions in Orissa. One wonders what would happen if the debate holds Christian missionaries guilty. Would that mean the members of the Christian community are rightly being burnt alive and their homes destroyed, forcing their families – some of them having small children or pregnant women or old people -- to take shelter in the jungles? Should the violence be condemned and controlled only if missionaries are found innocent? The debate can either lead more violence or an increase in the circulation and TRP rating of the media organisations.

It is common knowledge that although Orissa has a stringent anti-conversion law (the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act of 1967) that provides for punishment to those found indulging in unlawful conversions, not even a single Christian has been convicted of unlawful conversion by any court of law. This is true not only in Orissa, but also other states with similar legislation, such as Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Even so, why should the Hindu nationalists or the media probe anyone’s conversion, which is a personal matter and a basic human right? Such an exercise casts aspersions on those who have converted to Christianity.

The debate on conversions can also be taken to mean that it is common Hindus who are carrying out attacks on Christians to protest conversion attempts on them. This is precisely the lie that the Hindu nationalists want people to believe in.

One fails to understand how some media can have such a short memory. Most mainstream media commendably covered the infamous violence in the western state of Gujarat in 2002 (popularly known as post-Godhra ‘riots’), exposing a nexus between the BJP government and the VHP, and how they organised the killing of common Muslims under the pretext of avenging the deaths of Hindu passengers in the Sabarmati Express train fire near the Godhra railway station. But, six years later, the media seem to have prematurely ruled out the possibility of a similar nexus existing between the Orissa government, of which the BJP is a partner, and the VHP, and that of the violence being instigated by the Hindu nationalist group.

Is there a lack of other angles to the coverage of the Orissa violence? How about highlighting and investigating the fact that the tragic killing of Saraswati and his four disciples in an armed attack was prima facie carried out by Maoists? That Christian organisations and churches unequivocally condemned the attack on Saraswati and his disciples also remains under-covered. Nor have the numerous newspapers and news channels brought out the fact that retributive violence meted out on innocent people of a particular community is unjustifiable. There is also a need to bring out the politics behind violence in the name of religion. The coverage of the suffering of those who are being attacked is also lacking.

Does this not reflect a lack of concern on the part of the media? Aren’t the journalists supposed to show some empathy with the suffering and some sort of judgment against inhuman acts, be it the brutal attack on Saraswati or the more cruel violence that followed? If taking the side of human rights of a hapless community is dismissed as “activism”, a dirty word in the media, our country and its people will benefit more from an “activism oriented” media than ruthless “neutrality”.

Priest's Brother Forced to 'Reconvert'

Catholic Priest's Brother Forced to 'Reconvert' to Hinduism

Christians in Orissa face the choice between their Faith and Homes. While the State's police have been mere spectators in the continuing mayhem, survivors have been forced to flee to the state capital Bhubaneshwar.

Catholic priest Fr. Prabodha Kumar who reached the state capital received a troubling news report about his brother back home. Compass Direct reports:
Among those who have fled to Bhubaneswar was Father Prabodha Kumar, a Catholic priest who reached the Catholic Archbishop's House in Bhubaneswar after a seven-day journey from Onjamundi village in Kandhamal.

He was among other fearful sojourners at the house whose mobile phones constantly rang with news of more attacks from their relatives, friends and church members in interior villages of Kandhamal.

Fr. Kumar looked deeply troubled after one such phone call yesterday.

"My brother has been forced to 'reconvert' to Hinduism, as he was told that if he did not do so, his house would be destroyed," he said.

For Orissa Christians, It's Either Faith or Homes

Orissa Christians Forced to Choose Between Faith, Homes

Via Christian Post:
Christians in the eastern Indian state of Orissa, which has been plagued with sectarian violence in recent weeks, are reportedly being coerced into converting to Hinduism in order to save their homes.

Hindu militants behind the deaths of dozens of believers as well as the torching of churches and Christian-owned homes and businesses are demanding Christians sign papers renouncing their faith and convert to Hinduism. If they refuse, the Christians are reportedly threatened with having their property destroyed or face social ostracism, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide.
Also Download and listen from Vatican Radio:

Sunday, September 7, 2008

VIDEO: A Cry for the Burning Orissa

A Cry for Orissa

A video raising a cry for Orissa. Contributed by an "Orissa Burning" reader.

Why Blame the Christians?

Although it is the Maoists who claim that they killed Swami Laxmananada, the VHP is convinced that it was the Christian community which was behind the Swami’s killing. Maoists have been known to resort to such killings. Why blame the Christians?

An excerpt from a Merinews story:

Orissa is presently burning but it is not getting adequate media attention, because floods in Bihar and the latest developments on the nuclear deal have been hogging the limelight. Violence, triggered by the killing of Swami Laxmananada by the Maoists, has spread in the State. For the VHP, the Maoists are innocent and the Christians are the real culprits. According to VHP’s rationale, the killing of the Swami had to do with his mission of re-conversion of Hindus and the Christians therefore had a valid reason to eliminate the Swami.

The VHP has totally rejected the claim of the Maoists that they killed the Swami. The Maoist menace in Orissa is not something new; many such killings have been attributed to their organization. If Maoists are staking the claim for killing Laxmananda, then there is no point in rejecting the said claim. There was a sinister plan underlying the VHP’s rejection of the said claim by the Maoists. The plan envisaged blaming the killing on the Christians. VHP tactfully exploited the killing of its mentor to attack the Christians in Orissa. This casts serious doubts on the intention and modus operandi of the VHP. The self-proclaimed representative of Hindu religion always uses dead bodies to kill numerous innocent people. In Jhajhhar, they killed Dalits for a dead cow; in Gujarat, they triggered a communal carnage after the unfortunate Godhara incident; presently they have resorted to killings in Orissa, after a death took place.

Communal politics triggered by dead bodies is not a coincidence; it needs a serious analysis. At present Orissa, which boasts of a two percent Christian population, is becoming a second Gujarat. This is alarming for those who sincerely believe in Indian secularism and want to protect the country’s secular fabric. In any debate on Indian secularism and VHP, the role of the Congress is significant. Congress is responsible for the growth of VHP because it adopted a soft approach towards it. There are thousands of reasons to ban VHP, as there are for SIMI. India does not need organizations like SIMI and VHP which spread hatred in the name of religion.

Moreover, VHP presently is a national threat. A couple of weeks back, its activists were arrested in Kanpur city of Uttar Pradesh for making bombs. They were planning serial bomb blasts. In Nanded in Maharashtra, VHP and its other wings were caught red-handed, while making bombs for carrying out blasts in many areas. It is easy to guess what prevents the UPA government from banning the VHP. Soft attitude towards a communal organization will never help parties like the Congress, which swears by secularism.
Read the full article: It’s time we banned the VHP

Saturday, September 6, 2008

"We Were Not Allowed to Enter": Shabnam Hashmi

Shabnam Hashmi, Managing Trustee and Executive Secretary of Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (ANHAD), member of the National Integration Council of India's Ministry of Home Affairs and a Council Member of the National Literacy Mission reports on the situation in Orissa:

Visit To Orissa

By Shabnam Hashmi

06 September, 2008

I went to Orissa for two days as part of a delegation. We were not allowed to enter Kandhamal. We met a large number of victims in Bhubaneshwar, met the governor and the local civil society members as well as priests of various churches.

Visit to Kandhamal next week depends on the fact whether the Govt will permit us to go there or not. VHP’s Togadia has been allowed to go and add more fuel to the fire.

This account is based on the testimonies of:

8 priests and over 300 families who hid in thick forests without water and food, with small hungry children, with thousands of mosquitoes and other insects and who walked over 280 kilometers to reach Bhubaneshwar with just the set of clothes that they were wearing. It took them 5 days to reach the city.

It is not safe to give the names or addresses of those who testified before us as even now VHP and the other Sangh organisations are still attacking the villages , burning houses, shops and churches, catching people, tonsuring them, forcing them to sign that they have become Hindus.

It is an Indian tradition to talk with respect about those who have departed from this world. Pray that their soul may rest in peace.

Swami Laxmananda Saraswati was killed on August 23rd, 2008 at the VHP ashram in Jalespata, Kandhamal, Orissa. A large number of organisations across India condemned the attack and his killing.

While condemning every violent act and his killing there is a need to look at his work and message before making him a martyr.

The swami came to Kandhamal in 1969. He travelled from village to village initially contacting the business community, organising poojas and bhajans, which very soon turned into inflammatory messages against the local Christian community. Initially in 1970es the attacks came on smaller villages. The first organised attack came in 1987. People from 6-7 villages were collected together to attack a village which had a large Christian population. Under his leadership 16 churches were burnt down in 1986-87. There were 56 cases registered for this but Swami was not arrested. Not even under the ‘secular’ governments. The sheer fact that none of the political parties touched him, due to their deep concern for the ‘Hindu’ vote, he got emboldened and his campaigns became more aggressive and vicious.

While Christians were attacked using the bogey of conversion, the VHP and the swami spearheaded the campaign to forcibly convert local animistic Tribals and Christian Tribals into Hindus, calling it ghar wapsi or reconversion as if the tribals were ever in the Hindu fold.

On January 22, 1999 Graham Stains and his two young sons were burnt to death by a Sangh sponsored mob in Keonjhar district of Orissa. Same year in September another Christian priest was killed in the village Jamudhi , also in Keonjhar district.

After Graham Stains was murdered by the Sangh goons instead of condemning the murder the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee asked for a national debate on conversion and within a week of that VHP printed and distributed over 5 million pamphlets full of vicious propaganda against the Christian minority. Similarly when the whole drama of the Shabri Kumbh was going on in the dang district of Gujarat where also Christians have been under attack since 1998, the VHP distributed vicious Cds against Christians. The distribution of the CDs was challenged by us in the Supreme Court through a PIL. Under the garb of doing educational and development work the sangh has opened Vanvasi Kalyan Ashrams and Ekal Vidyalaya throughout the tribal belts in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Orissa. The VHP alone has over one lakh workers in Orissa. There are approximately 6000 RSS shakhas.

On December 24, 2007 violence broke out over Christmas celebrations in Kandhamal district. Attackers from VHP/ RSS came with axes, rods etc. hundreds of houses, Christian institutions, businesses, and properties were attacked and raised to the ground in the violence that continued for over a month. For years the administration has ignored the hate campaigns and the violence against the Christians. The VHP has not only been in the fore front of these violent attacks but has sowed the seeds of hatred by distributing highly provocative material against the Christian community.

Swami Laxmananda Saraswati was killed on August 23rd, 2008 allegedly by Maoists. VHP declared a bandh on August 25, 2008. His body was taken in a procession travelling close to 150 kilometers accompanied by a VHP mob and the police and administration. It stopped in front of many churches, raising highly abusive and provocative slogans, attacking the churches, Christian institutions breaking glasses, furniture, attacking people, while the police looked on including the highest officers of the state and the district.

After the December 2007 violence many organisations had come together and worked for relief and fought legal battles for the victims. Such organisations and individuals were especially targeted. Janvikas office was attacked thrice. All five organisations fighting for Dalit human rights were attacked: Janvikas, Gramiya Progoti, Pobara, Pollishree, Ajka. Tribal leaders heading the Dalit Adivasi Vikas Initiative, Phulbani Action Group and Forum for Peace and Justice were attacked. All shops were attacked. The initial number of attackers was 200-300 which swelled to 500-600. The mob comprised of mainly he business community led by hard core VHP leaders. AS the mob moved from one village to the second the number increased as local Sangh members kept adding to the mob. Some tribals also joined the attackers. Dasrath Pradhan died on the spot and Trinath Digal, who had taken out his goats for grazing was chased and his head was smashed with a stone. He died. Vikram Naik was attacked. He died after 3 days. Parikrit Naik was attacked on 25th. He managed to run and hide in the forest. After two days in the forest he decided to escape to safety. He was caught again and attacked, hacked into two and burnt.

People were taken out from their homes and huddled together and forced to sign the papers that they are becoming Hindus or face the consequences.

In Mondosore village around 10am on August 24th people from nearby villages gathered with knives, swords, weapons and collected near a temple about 1km away from the village. They were shouting provocative and abusive slogans against the Christians and inciting people to attack them. The mob blocked all the routes for going out from the village by felling huge logs and tree trunks on the roads. A huge mob gathered by now near the Shiv temple. The priest and nuns from the church ran to the jungle but they came back at 7pm once it was dark. Some people advised them to leave so they went to padri village. But the mobs came to know about their hiding places and they had to leave again, this time splitting in two groups and changing their hiding places but with no luck. No place was safe. The people who gave them shelter, including local tribals, their lives were threatened. The priest was escorted by a local man with a knife to the forest after crossing a stream. During the night about 60 women and children came to the same forest to hide and the nuns from the church also found their way to the forest hiding place. There was a hut nearby where everyone crowded in but there was no place even to sit. Around midnight the church bell started ringing. This was a signal that things were not right. The whole group moved to another area near the village but still under cover. They could see the village shops on fire, they could hear small bombs, shouting & screaming. More people came towards the forest to escape the attack. Through them came the news of shops belonging to Christians being burnt and one person was killed by the attackers.

Around 6am the priest, 4 nuns and two orphan children decided to move to another place. They started walking, climbing mountains. Till 3 pm they walked for10kilometers and not reaching anywhere. Then they decided to rather die than get lost in the forest. When they came out they were near village Koroda. The people stared at them and they thought the end was near when a person on a motorcycle came and stopped near them. He was well built and there was a thin person at the back. The motorcyclist was a Hindu while the pillion rider a Christian. He took turns to transport them to a safer place in turns from where they managed to reach Bhubaneshwar.

Another priest from the Phulbani headquarters expecting trouble after the swami’s killing transferred all the records to his Hindu friends’ houses. When the procession with the dead body arrived he hid in a nearby house while the others were asked to leave and hide behind the church. Sunday morning mob of 4000 people accompanied the procession. It was 7.30am. DIG, Collector, Police accompanied the procession. The mob broke the wall, smashed everything in the church and the residence. They started throwing stones. It was after some stones hit the police that they started a mild lathi charge. Local youth searched for the priest, nuns and other workers. Around 9am another lot came and started banging he door. Some of the boys who wee hiding came out and they were immediately beaten. The priest hid in a broken toilet. The mob came to the house where they were told he was hiding but never checked the toilet so he was saved. After one hour he came out on the road and asked for shelter in a house. Three houses refused, forth gave him shelter. The mob almost immediately reached there. The owners hid him in the kitchen but their house was attacked and broken down. Mob left only after 9pm. After they left the priest rushed to his house. His land phone was ringing and his assistant was on the line. He was hiding in the forest. Using a ladder the priest jumped behind the church and with the help of the light from the mobile phone found his was into the forest. Tuesday morning they started moving to another place in the forest when they by chance came across a hut belonging to a Hindu woman whom the priest had helped earlier. She and her daughter took them in, prepared food for them and fed them.

27th morning at 4 am they again went back to the church and contacted every taxi service but no one agreed to take them. Then the news came that another father is severely beaten and is being rushed to Bhubaneshwar in an ambulance. The same ambulance brought them to the city along with the patient.

We were able to talk to a few of the hundreds of women, children and men who ran from various villages and hid in the forests for days without food. They were from 15 different villages but the stories were the same. Their houses were attacks by mobs ranging from 300-500 people-all from the surrounding gram panchayats and villages. They came with axes and knives, with diesel, blocked all exit roots so that no one could escape in any vehicle. Burnt down houses, attacked churches, burnt tyres on the roads, beat up people. A young woman said that they have been told very clearly that they will be allowed into the village if and only if they become Hindus. She reached Bhubaneshwar on 31st along with others from the village, walking over 200 kilometres. Many of the victims narrated that the violence broke out with the arrival of the swami’s body in each village. In all instances police was present with the procession.

This account is based only on the testimonies for those who managed to escape and reach Bhubaneshwar. The situation is very serious in Orissa and only a full fact finding team can come out with full details after it is allowed to enter those areas.

BJP Tacitly Supporting Fundamentalists: Agnivesh

Orissa Violence Similar to Gujarat Riots: Swami Agnivesh

Prominent Arya Samaj scholar and president of the World Council of Arya Samaj "Society of Nobles", a Hindu reform movement, founded by Swami Dayananda Saraswati in 1875, Swami Agnivesh points out the tacit support Hindu fundamentalists receive from India's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP):
"The killing of Swami Laxmanananda is being used as an excuse to target minorities in Orissa like the Godhra incident was used in Gujarat to fan the communal cauldron," Swami Agnivesh, President, World Council of Arya Samaj, told reporters in New Delhi.

"The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrag Dal are getting tacit support from the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) which is part of the ruling coalition in the state to instigate violence in the state," he alleged.

A fact-finding team of Swami Agnivesh, Shabnam Hashmi and Vimal Thorat recently visited the state to enquire about recent violence in Kandhamal.

"To some extend, the repeat 2002 Gujarat riots are taking place in Orissa. With the same preparedness and planning," claimed social activist Shabnam Hashmi.

"We heard reports there that the attackers had lists with them while targeting the victims," she alleged.

"It is very surprising that while we were not allowed to go into area, but were asked to wait till September fourth. VHP leader Pravin Togadia was allowed into the region with full police protection," Agnivesh said.

"What is more strange is that the Union Home Minister for State Sri Prakash Jaiswal was turned back as state refused to give him any security to the troubled area," he added.

Arson, Water Poisoning at Relief Camps

Cases of Poisoning of Drinking Water Was Reported by Two Relief Camps

GCIC reports:
The Relief Camp at Vijoy High School Raikia block, Kandhamal reported that drinking water was poisoned on 3rd September 2008. Fortunately, the poisoning of water was detected in time and confirmed by a doctor just before food was served to the Christians taking refuge in the camp, resulting in their going hungry till 4pm, when alternate arrangements were made to provide potable water.

An attempt to poison the drinking water source of the relief camp in Habaq High School, Relief Camp at G. Udayagiri, Kandhamal was foiled by an alert security guard. Hindutva under VHP extremists climbed on the drinking water tank 9 pm on 2nd September and were caught by the Security guard, even as they were trying to open the lid with a bag containing a poisonous substance to be mixed into the water, to cause a massive killing of Christians together.

Hindutva extremists from VHP are objecting to the Christians "eating at government expense". On Sept 4th a group of nearly 2500 Hindutva extremists barged into the Relief Camp at Tikabali Govt. High School shouted at the Christian refugees and took away supplies meant for the Christian refugees, while police were silent spectators to the event. A group of women instigated by VHP attempted to set afire a relief camp when its inmates were demonstrating near the block office demanding sufficient aid at Tikabali in Kandhamal district.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

"'Father They Are Going to Burn Me": Rajni's Last Words

Rajni' Death is a Deep Wound in my Heart

Fr. Edward, Survivor of Arson in Orissa Recalls How Rajni Was Burnt to Death

Fr. Edward Sequeira SVD

Fr Edward Sequeira, one of the victims of the violence committed by Hindu radicals in Orissa, does not hesitate to call them "terrorists". Groups connected to Sangh Parivar seized him, beat him for more than an hour, and then shut him inside a room that they set on fire. Fr Edward was able to save himself by taking shelter in the bathroom. Before he passed out, he heard the screams of Rajni Majh, who was tied up and thrown into the flames, where she was burned to death.

Initial reports said that she was a sister, then a lay missionary. Fr Edward explains that the girl was one of the many orphans he had rescued, and that she lived and worked in the orphanage he had founded.

Fr Edward is unable to hold back the tears, and begins sobbing when he talks about her. The crowd of fanatics may have thought that Rajni was one of the many people they believe have been forced to convert through "Christian proselytism". "'She was only a simple Hindu girl", the priest says, "studying in the plus 3 class. I can still hear her voice, 'Father they are going to burn me', these were her last words to me, after this I lost consciousness". Her death "is a deep wound in my heart".

Hindu fundamentalists have long been conducting a campaign against conversions to Christianity, and against evangelization. For Fr Edward, 58, missionary activity is something that upholds the dignity of the person. He spoke to Asianews:

"I have been working among lepers in Padampur in Bargarh district for the past ten years. I realized that, given the preference for a male child in rural Indian communities, parents many times have more than 4-5 daughters before a son is born - and unfortunately, these girls are rarely sent to school, they are made to graze cattle or even sent at early age as domestic workers or to the landlords, and many girls suffer from malnutrition.

"So I started a very small hostel-orphanage for girls, to give them opportunity and dignity through education and vocational training.

"One such girl in my orphanage was Rajni Majhi, who was born to Hindu parents who already had 5 or 6 daughters, and they gave her up for adoption to a Hindu tribal childless couple. Sadly, when the adopted parents after a few years conceived biological children, they began ill-treating and discriminating against Rajni, and in this reality she came to my orphanage four years ago. Within a few months, she was bubbling with life, the younger girls called her “Nanni’ (big sister), and besides studying in college in her 13th year, Rajni would be like a governess to the children.

"All the development programmes for these leprosy patients and the other dalits have all been for Hindus. More than 25 years I have worked in Orissa, and not a single person have I converted to Christianity".

Hatred of Christianity and personal development is what drives radical Hindu groups to try to wipe out the presence of Christians and their institutions. "Who says that terrorists are only those who plant bombs and carry guns? This was a terrorist attack on Orissa. What about these Sangh Parivar members, who have been given the license to kill, destroy and plunder their fellow citizens? This was sheer terrorism unleashed on the Christians in Kandhmal district".

Fr Edward explains what happened to him: "On Monday August 25th, around 1.30 pm, as I was having lunch, there was a knock on the door. When I opened it, a huge crowd of more than 500 people were outside and asked 'Who is the priest?'. This is nothing strange, as often people come requesting my help, for my vehicle to drive them to a hospital or other such emergencies. As soon as I identified myself, they raised their arms holding all the weapons - axes, shovels, spades and iron rods.They took me outside in the courtyard and began hitting me, screaming abuses at Christianity and shouting 'Bajrang Bali Ki Jai; Yesu Christi Murdabada; Hail Lord Hanuman (editor's note: a Hindu god with the face of a monkey), destroy, eliminate Jesus Christ', beating me on my head, back, all over my body.

"The extremists thrashed me for nearly an hour (editor's note: Fr Edward still has bruises all over his body, and five wounds on his back).

"Then they entered my room, collected all the clothes and books and whatever they laid their hands on and piled it in the centre of the room, threw some kerosene on the pile, and some crude oil, and threw some gelatine sticks which they had brought with them and lit the fire and threw me into the flames and locked the door from the outside.

"Somehow, I was not frightened, there was definitely the divine presence in the burning room, and I went into the bathroom and locked myself in and shut all the windows. The whole room was engulfed in thick smoke and flames.

"The attackers were shouting Bajrang Bali Ki Jai; Yesu Christi Murdabada, and hurling abuses. They went to the garage and burned the vehicle, I could hear some of them on the roof setting fire from the top. Thick smoke was in the bathroom, where I was hiding, it was dark and full of thick smoke, and as I inhaled the smoke my only concern was for the children.

Rajni Majhi Who Was Thrown into the Fire by the Mob

"In the meanwhile, the children and Rajni, who witnessed the mob assaulting me, took the children inside their own orphanage room which is next to mine and bolted the door from the inside. The men who had climbed onto the roof entered the room and dragged Rajni outside with the children - some of the children escaped. They brought her outside my bathroom window. I could hear the cries of Rajni, and the mob was cheering and shouting through the window. These criminals tied her hands together - they made a huge bonfire in the orphanage room and threw her onto the fire. They used sickles, shovels and other weapons to prevent her from running away, these extremists did not allow her to even move from the burning flames".
See Separate Story: How 20 Year Old Rajni Was Burnt to Death by a Cheering Mob

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

6 More Churches Torched Since Monday

Orissa: Six More Churches Set on Fire, Hundreds of Homes Destroyed

The anti-Christian pogrom in the state of Orissa shows no signs of a let-up. In the past three days six churches have been attacked, set on fire and destroyed; hundreds of Christian-owned houses have been devastated and then torched as police remain idle. The number of refugees and missing people is rising. Death threats are made against Christians if they practice their faith but according to the government of Orissa the situation is "under control".

Asianews reports:
According to reports that have reached AsiaNews from the diocese of Bhubaneshwar, the Catholic church in Padunbadi was attacked last night, plundered and torn down. Even the church wall was razed to the ground. The Catholic church in the village of Kakadabadi was also attacked yesterday and torched.

On Monday the Baptist church in Durgaprasad, the Catholic church in Chadiapally, and both the Catholic and Baptist churches in Balligada were set on fire and destroyed.

Also on Monday at 4 pm the Catholic church in Mondasore, a heritage building dating back to more than a century ago, was attacked, plundered and then set on fire. The residence and car of the parish priest, Jugal Kishore Digal, saw the same fate.

Rabindra Parichha, from the village of Bhaliapada, which is part of Mondasore Parish, blames police inaction.

"I had called the district control room and asked for the security force and also faxed a letter explaining the danger for the Mondasore Parish," he said. "In spite of this my Parish church was attacked and destroyed."

In an attempt to wipe out Christians and stop conversions radical Hindus have attacked and torched Christian homes. Just in the last three days two houses were set on fire and destroyed in Raikia; 50 in Balligada; three in Kakadabadi; 35 in Tikabali (Beheragano); five in Chakapad and one in G. Udayagir.

Most Christians have fled into the forest or found refuge in makeshift shelters set up by the government; others are facing retaliations and threats.

Christians in the village of Padani have been forced to carry out Hindu ceremonies and have received threats if they dare practice Christianity

NHRC Condemned for Failing to Probe Orissa Violence

National Human Rights Commission Condemned for Failing to Send Investigation Team to Orissa

Commission's Existence Seen as "Wastage of National Resources"

A human rights NGO Wednesday condemned the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) for failing to send an investigation team to the riot-hit areas of Orissa.
"NHRC has failed to fulfil its legal and moral obligation for the protection and promotion of human rights," said Suhas Chakma, Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) director, in a letter to the NHRC chairman Justice S. Rajendra Babu.

"The existence of NHRC has increasingly come to mean wastage of national resources to shield the state authorities for their acts of commissions and omissions on human rights," Chakma claimed.

"Yet NHRC has failed to issue any public statement either to condemn the killing or visit the strife-torn areas to improve the situation of the victims, in particular, those who have been displaced," Chakma said in his letter.

"The perfunctory notice issued by the NHRC to the state government of Orissa - which has been suppressing the actual status of grave situation including the number of deaths - to submit a report is scandalous, considering the scale of violence against Christians," the letter said.

ACHR has urged the NHRC to immediately send an investigation team to Orissa to inquire into killings in Orissa, improve the conditions of the displaced persons and take other necessary measures for prosecution of the culprits.
- Press Release

"If They See Me They Will Kill Me": Fr. Ashish

"They Said They Would Kill us Because We Were Christians"

Priest Recounts Terror in Orissa

Fr Ashish Missale who fled into the forests, recounts to Times, his frightening encounter with the murderous mob:
"I was conducting a prayer meeting in Orissa's Makandapur village when more than 300 Vishwa Hindu Parishad activists arrived with lathis , swords, guns, spears and trishuls. They said they would kill us because we were Christians,'' said Fr Ashish Missale who fled the murderous mob to spend two days in wilderness.

Recounting the ordeal to the media on Tuesday, Fr Missale said how one of the devotees was done to death right in front of his eyes. "They hit Mukund Bardhan on his head. They then flung him in the air and stabbed him. His cry still pierces my ears."

Armed with slides-each of which depicts death and destruction in the villages of Orissa-Missale narrated how he, along with the other devotees, fled after the VHP attack. "Children were crying and we were all afraid. We didn't know what would happen to us," he said. They spent two days in fear and unsure of their safety. Fr Missale then reached his district headquarters where he was instructed to come to Mumbai. He arrived on Monday evening.

Fr Missale now gets calls and SMSes from the VHP. "They say that if they see me, they will kill me on the spot." Filing an FIR in Orissa has become very difficult as the police are on the side of the perpetrators, Missale said.