Christian nuns in Orissa appeal for an end to the onslaught
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2:30pm UK, Wednesday October 15, 2008
Alex Crawford in Orissa
Tens of thousands of Christians have been made homeless after an orgy of violence by Hindu hardliners in the east Indian state of Orissa.
More than 300 villages have been destroyed and more than 4,000 homes burnt in violent attacks which have been going on since August and show no sign of stopping.
The Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh has now sent hundreds of paramilitary troops to the area to try to stop the persecution which he’s called the nation’s shame.
Nearly 60 people have been killed, 18,000 injured and there are scores of reports about gang rapes, including of one nun.
Fourteen districts in the area have been affected and more than 200 hundred churches destroyed.
Many of the Christians have criticised the state police for not doing enough and in some cases they have been accused of adding to the violence and intimidation.
More than 1,000 people crowd around stick fences in the Naugaon refuge camp in the Khandamal district of Orissa as guards patrol outside.
This is the area which has seen the worst violence and the 400 families crowded into this camp are only a few miles away from their former homes.
They came in their hundreds and just ransacked our homes, setting them on fire. If you didn’t run away, you were beaten. They told us we could only stay if we converted to Hinduism. Otherwise, they said they would kill us.
One woman reveals the hardliners’ brutal treatment.
The camp may now be guarded by paramilitary police but they still cannot prevent attacks. The camp has had two firebombs thrown into it.
The tales these people tell of the cruelty wrought upon them is shocking.
One victim’s lip quivered uncontrollably as she told us how she watched her brother being burned alive by the Hindu mobs.
“They came in their hundreds and just ransacked our homes, setting them on fire. If you didn’t run away, you were beaten. They told us we could only stay if we converted to Hinduism. Otherwise, they said they would kill us,” she said.
The trouble began when a prominent Hindu leader was killed in mid-August. He had been leading a campaign to convert Christians to Hinduism.
Many of his followers believed his killers were Christians, despite the police saying there was no evidence of this.
They embarked on an orgy of revenge and it still has not stopped.
Posted on Oct 13, 2008 | by Vishal Arora/Compass Direct News
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NEW DELHI, India (BP)–After police in India’s state of Orissa confirmed Oct. 6 that a key Hindu nationalist was killed by Maoists, a Hindu extremist group allegedly circulated forged documents in an attempt to implicate a local church in the Aug. 23 murder.
The Hindu Jagaran Samukhya (Society for Revival of Hinduism or HJS) circulated documents saying that Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati’s killed in Orissa’s Kandhamal district was planned at a meeting at Bethikala Church on May 25 attended by 17 people following a briefing and order by religious leaders, the Press Trust of India news agency reported Oct. 9.
Local Christian leaders responded by saying they will file defamation charges.
“We will file both civil and criminal defamation cases against the person who made such allegations,” Joseph Kalathil of the Catholic Archbishop in Bhubaneswar and Prafulla Ku Sabhapati, president of the Bethikala Parish Council of Kandhamal, said in a statement. “Not only our signatures were forged, the contents of the documents were also fabricated.”
Orissa state police confirmed that Maoists killed Saraswati after a communist leader told NDTV 24X7 news that his organization was behind the murder, targeting Saraswati as a key leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP).
“We left two letters claiming responsibility for the murders,” said Sabyasachi Panda, chief of the Orissa unit of the banned Communist Party of India-Maoist.
Panda said the government of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik “suppressed those letters.” The Orissa government, which is affiliated with the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), will support the World Hindu Council, Panda said. “The state government made it look like Christian groups were responsible for the attack. The Christian community in Orissa does not
have any Maoist organization supporting them here,” Panda said.
In another development, The Indian Express reported that the Orissa police had arrested three tribal Christians in connection with Saraswati’s murder and obtained confessions of their involvement.
A representative of the Christian Legal Association told Compass Direct News that, according to Orissa sources, the police had tortured the three Christians to pressure them to confess to a crime they did not commit.
After the assassination of Saraswati, Hindu extremist groups blamed local Christians and began attacks on them, their houses and their churches in spite of the Orissa police and media stating on the day of the murder that suspected Maoists had killed Saraswati.
According to the All India Christian Council, more than 60 people have been killed, more than 18,000 injured and around 4,500 houses and churches destroyed in the “retributive” violence. Two Christian women, including a nun, reportedly were gang-raped. The violence, which later spread to at least 14 districts of Orissa, has left more than 50,000 people homeless.
In Kandhamal and other districts, the violence continues seven weeks after the violence began.
About 15 houses were burned down Oct. 9 by a mob in the Lansaripalli village in the neighboring Boudh district, The Hindu reported. The attackers allegedly came from the Gochhapada area of Kandhamal district.
“Thursday’s was the third incident in Boudh district,” the daily added. “More than 100 houses were burnt down in two separate attacks in the past few days.”
On Oct. 8, a mob burned and looted at least 25 houses of Christians in the Balligada village in Kandhamal, Ajay Singh of the Catholic Archdiocese of Bhubaneswar told Compass.
On Oct. 7, five or more houses were torched in Jalespanga area of Kandhamal. Another house was burned in the Sujeli village.
The Hindu said the more than 16,000 Christians living in various relief camps were not returning to their villages, fearing attacks on them if they refused to convert to Hinduism.
Singh, of the Bhubaneswar Archdiocese, told Compass that more than 12,000 Christians from various relief camps had moved out of Kandhamal to other districts and states, as they feared more attacks.
The president of the VHP, Ashok Singhal, told India’s Zee News channel on Oct. 5, “What Hindu organizations including the VHP, the Bajrang Dal and the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, India’s chief Hindu nationalist group] are doing in Orissa is all legal and is the reaction of the murder of VHP leader Saraswati, who was like Jesus Christ to us.”
In an interview with The Week magazine published the same day, Singhal said Hindu youth are “ready to die and, if necessary, to kill. [Their] patience is ebbing.”
Singhal added that a “Hindu uprising” had begun, “and the political parties will have to rethink and reinvent themselves, for their own existence. If there is no arrangement for Hindus’ security, they’ll do it on their own. … If that self-defence is militancy, so be it….”
In addition, a leader of the Bajrang Dal in the southern state of Karnataka admitted to supporting recent attacks on churches while speaking to The Week magazine. “We supported those who attacked the churches, as it is a justified fight,” Bajrang Dal convenor Mahendra Kumar said.
The violence in Orissa spread to several other states, including Karnataka, where around 20 churches were destroyed and 20 Christians were attacked in the recent weeks.
As many political parties and rights groups have demanded a ban on the Bajrang Dal for attacking Christians and churches in Orissa and other states, the federal government ruled by the United Progressive Alliance has mandated that the National Integration Council give its recommendations, the Times of India reported Oct. 10.
The Bajrang Dal, however, warned that any such move would have “grave consequences” for the government politically, saying there was “no legal ground” for such action.
There are some 900,000 Christians in Orissa, which has a population of 36.8 million.
Compass Direct News, based in Santa Ana, Calif., provides reports on Christians worldwide who are persecuted for their faith.
A Rally was organized in Newyork in front of UN Headquarters to protest the violence against Christians in India.
The link to view these pictures and videos
God Bless You
The Indian government has not placed the onus of the multiple murders, rapes, and arson on the culprits: Hindu extremists.
by Joseph D Souza and John Dayal
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Our community is facing a trial by gun, sword, fire and rapine, the worst crisis it has seen in its 2,000 year old history in India, one of the earliest homelands of the faith. There is ethnic cleansing of Christians in Orissa where violence continues unabated for 45 day at the hands of bloodthirsty gangs Civil Society identifies as the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. So far 300 villages have been cleansed of all Christians, the 17,000 or so in government’s refugee camps have been told they can go home only if they become Hindus. More than 4,000 houses and more than 100 churches have been burnt. Perhaps thirty thousand or more, more than half of them children are hiding in forests or are living as Internally Displaced Persons. More than 50 have been butchered, often burnt alive.
A nun and an uncounted number of other women have been gang raped. Gender violence was one of the unspoken traumas of the widespread violence in Orissa in December2007. For all practical purposes, Orissa seems not to be a part of India where the rule of law operates, and the Indian Constitution remains operative.
Orissa is ruled by a coalition of the Biju Janata Dal and the Bharatiya Janata party [BJP]. The violence has spread to other States ruled by the BJP, including Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttarakhand. Other States have not remained untouched, and Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Delhi have also seen demolition of churches, the maiming or killing of priests.
A Constitutional authority as the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, and the supreme leader of his party, Mr Lal Krishna Advani could have ordered his governments in the States to act and stop the violence. He chose to remain a silent spectator for more than 40 days. When he spoke at last to condemn the rape of the Nun in Orissa, he immediately diverted attention from the heinous crime by speaking of `forcible and fraudulent conversions’ during a meeting with some Christian leaders, called at the behest of a Hindu swami from Rishikesh and some BJP Members of Parliament. The dialogue was neither religious, nor political.
There is nothing in these BJP and RSS dialogues that identifies the killers, arsonists and rapists. There is little that puts the onus of the violence where it belongs – on a political leadership which has conspired with the goons and its police which is guilty both of inaction in saving in the victims, and of participating in the violence against the Christians.
We are deeply anguished. We see this and similar attempts at `dialogue’ as an insidious and clever way on the eve of the meeting of the National Integration Council to absolve the BJP of responsibility and to save the goons of its parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and its militant terrorist organisations, Bajrang dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad who run a parallel government in Orissa and other States. The organisations are now facing the wrath of the entire civil society of India, and of the world.
The All India Christian Council welcomes all dialogue. It is the cornerstone of our everyday life and Christian witness. But a dialogue presupposes free will, a peaceful platform, a structured agenda, a common goal for peace through mutual respect, understanding and acknowledgement of each other as equals.
The BJP-RSS `dialogue’ exercises in some parts of the country exude the stink of coercion and beating a smaller community into submission and a whittling away of Constitutional rights. This also becomes a strategy to divide the community and to isolate and target smaller groups, in this case the Believers Church and the New Life Fellowship, through well placed and motivated media gossip. These churches have pleaded innocence but face a well constructed campaign designed to extinguish them. We condemn this and affirm the unity and solidarity of the Church in its entire rich diversity of denominations and Rites, from the Catholic to the Episcopal, Evangelical and Pentecostal groups. Everybody who believes in Christ is a Christian.
We also denounce forcible and fraudulent conversions. They would by definition be illegal, immoral and against the Faith. Five decades of Church documents testify to this. Conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit. Repeated exercises by the National Minorities Commission and efforts by aggressive governments have failed to provide a single proven case of forcible or fraudulent for forcible conversion. And yet State guarantees on Freedom of Faith, including the propagation of faith, and human rights are smothered in calls for moratoriums and brutalised in police harassment.
There should be more dialogue and an encompassing one on all issues so vital to the unity and integrity of India. Religious leaders should dialogue with other religious leaders in bilateral and multilateral forums. Parliament provides the forum for political dialogue. Civil society is the best platform for a larger peaceful and continuing dialogue and debate. These are forums we trust. And we call upon them, including the National Integration Council, to act soon to save not just the Christian community in Orissa, Karnataka and other States, but to save the very Idea of India in all its glorious diversity, its precious secularism and its civilisation dignity.
Rev Dr. Joseph D Souza is the international president of the Dalit Freedom Network and president of the All India Christian Council.
Dr John Dayal is an activist in India for the human rights of Christians and Dalits – formerly known as “untouchables.”
14 Oct 2008, 0212 hrs IST,TNN
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BANGALORE: Was it an accident or yet another attack by miscreants? With no answers in sight, the Karnataka police and church authorities are at lo
ggerheads over what sparked the fire which gutted a room and partially damaged the main prayer hall of St Antony’s Church at Yedavanahalli near Attibele in Bangalore Rural district in the wee hours of Monday.
The village is about 34 km from Bangalore. While church authorities claimed miscreants had lit the fire, police maintained it was an accident.
The police’s first theory that a short circuit was the cause was swiftly disproved by Bescom (Bangalore Electricity Supply Company) engineers who visited the spot.
Two constables posted outside the church first noticed the fire around 1am and tried to stamp it out. One of the church doors was kept open so that the constables could take shelter if it rained. When they couldn’t control the flames, they alerted neighbours who tried their best to put out the fire.
Soon, they realized that a fire was still blazing in a locked room, where most of the things were stored. That included the cassocks, about 300 sarees gifted by devotees, CDs and copies of the Bible. The people smashed the window panes and threw water inside. But, the fire raged on and fire tenders were summoned. By 2.15am, they arrived and extinguished the fire.
Fr Santhosh Almeida of the church lodged a complaint with the police and requested the police to investigate the matter. This church is administered by the church at Adigondanahalli, whose priest is Fr C Francis.
“I received a call around 2.30am that there was a fire in our church. Later, the police called me and said they were on the spot. I visited the place this morning,” he said. Fr Francis had doubts about the short circuit theory. He did not rule out the possibility of an attack.
13 Oct 2008, 0319 hrs IST, Anand Soondas,TNN
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BHUBANESWAR: The relentless persecution of Christians in Kandhmal, forcing them to remain in relief camps scattered across Orissa, is now presenti
ng a new problem — unsafe deliveries by women. Stranded without access to doctors, hospitals or medical kits, most women are delivering in relief camps with the help of fellow refugees and — if they are fortunate — some anganwadi workers.
But not all have been lucky to be able to give birth. “There have been 10 miscarriages in the past week,” said Jyotirmoy Naik in Cuttack. “Nirmala Digal, Mita Digal, Ranju Naik, Padmini Naik, Mithila Naik — all miscarried because there’s no help for expecting women at the camps.”
Jacob Pradhan, a Christian priest, said: “In the last week, three women in Baliguda delivered babies
, but all away from hospitals. They gave birth in unhygienic conditions and got the help of anganwadi workers. It’s a huge struggle.”
Rev Prakash Naik, who’s active in the Raikia camps, said even if women do manage to give birth, the conditions in the relief shelters are so bad that mortality is a big fear. “Just look around Vijaya school camp and you’ll see what I mean. Survival is a huge factor. Water has gathered in dirty, mosquito-infested puddles and people are defecating in the open.”
Many other miscarriages took place as Christians fled to the jungles and stayed there for days with attacks against them showing no signs of abating.
“Pregnant women suffered as they hid in the forests. While lack of food hindered healthy deliveries for the emaciated, others slipped and fell while running for their lives,” said Krishna Kanta Naik, a social worker in Baliguda.
“Nine women have delivered at the camps in the past week, but the children are very unhealthy.”
Caught in such testing times, the names of the babies, before their formal christening, reflect the travails of the mothers. While one infant is called Danga (riot), another is Sangram (rebellion). “Of course, the formal names will be given after 21 days, as is our ritual, but elders are calling them by these names,” said Nalin Naik.
“Because these are the only words that are there in the minds of people here right now.”
But what is also upsetting many in the camps, apart from risk-laden deliveries, is the inability to observe ‘ekusia’, the 21-day ritual marked by women when someone among them has a baby.
By Kushwant Singh
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RECENT INCIDENTS of violence and vandalism against Christians and their churches deserve to be condemned unreservedly. They have blackened the fair face of Mother India and ruined the reputation of Hindus being the most religiously tolerant people in the world. At the same time, we must take a closer look at people who convert from one faith to another. To start with, let it be understood that these days there are no forced conversions anywhere in the world. India is no exception. Those who assert that the poor, innocent and ignorant of India are being forced to accept Christianity are blatant liars. A few, very few educated and well-to-do men and women convert to another faith when they do not find solace in the faith of their ancestors. Examples are to be found in America and Europe of men and women of substance turning from Judaism and Christianity to Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism.
There are also men and women who convert to the faith of those they wish to marry. We have plenty of cases of Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Sikh inter-marriages. However, the largest number of converts come from communities discriminated against. The outstanding example was that of Dalit leader Bhimrao Ambedkar who led his Mahar community to embrace Buddhism because they were discriminated against by upper caste Hindus. This is also true of over 90 per cent of Indian Muslims whose ancestors being lower caste embraced Islam which gave them equal status. That gives lie to the often-repeated slander that Islam made converts by the sword.
An equally large number of people converted out of gratitude. They were neglected, ignorant and poor. When strangers came to look after them, opened schools and hospitals for them, taught them, healed them and helped them to stand on their own feet to hold their heads high, they felt grateful towards their benefactors. Most of them were Christian missionaries who worked in remote villages and brought hope to the lives of people who were deprived of hope.
To this day, Christian missionaries run the best schools, colleges and hospitals in our country. They are inexpensive and free of corruption. They get converts because of the sense of gratitude they generate. Can this be called forcible conversion? Why donʼt the great champions of Hinduism look within their hearts and find out why so many are disenchanted by their pretensions of piety? Let them first set their own houses in order, purge the caste system out of Hindu society and welcome with open arms all those who wish to join them. No one will then convert from Hinduism to another religion.
Khushwant Singh is a prolific writer and journalist in India. A popular Urdu and Punjabi poet and a self proclaimed agnostic. He edited Illustrated Weekly of India and daily Hindustan Times.
Note: View express in the article is exclusively of the author and not of DurDesh.net
Deshakalyan Chowdhury/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
A Christian in her burned home in the Indian state of Orissa. Villagers blamed Hindu militants.
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By SOMINI SENGUPTA
Published: October 12, 2008
BOREPANGA, India — The family of Solomon Digal was summoned by neighbors to what serves as a public square in front of the village tea shop.
They were ordered to get on their knees and bow before the portrait of a Hindu preacher. They were told to turn over their Bibles, hymnals and the two brightly colored calendar images of Christ that hung on their wall. Then, Mr. Digal, 45, a Christian since childhood, was forced to watch his Hindu neighbors set the items on fire.
“ ‘Embrace Hinduism, and your house will not be demolished,’ ” Mr. Digal recalled being told on that Wednesday afternoon in September. “ ‘Otherwise, you will be killed, or you will be thrown out of the village.’ ”
India, the world’s most populous democracy and officially a secular nation, is today haunted by a stark assault on one of its fundamental freedoms. Here in eastern Orissa State, riven by six weeks of religious clashes, Christian families like the Digals say they are being forced to abandon their faith in exchange for their safety.
The forced conversions come amid widening attacks on Christians here and in at least five other states across the country, as India prepares for national elections next spring.
The clash of faiths has cut a wide swath of panic and destruction through these once quiet hamlets fed by paddy fields and jackfruit trees. Here in Kandhamal, the district that has seen the greatest violence, more than 30 people have been killed, 3,000 homes burned and over 130 churches destroyed, including the tin-roofed Baptist prayer hall where the Digals worshiped. Today it is a heap of rubble on an empty field, where cows blithely graze.
Across this ghastly terrain lie the singed remains of mud-and-thatch homes. Christian-owned businesses have been systematically attacked. Orange flags (orange is the sacred color of Hinduism) flutter triumphantly above the rooftops of houses and storefronts.
India is no stranger to religious violence between Christians, who make up about 2 percent of the population, and India’s Hindu-majority of 1.1 billion people. But this most recent spasm is the most intense in years.
It was set off, people here say, by the killing on Aug. 23 of a charismatic Hindu preacher known as Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, who for 40 years had rallied the area’s people to choose Hinduism over Christianity.
The police have blamed Maoist guerrillas for the swami’s killing. But Hindu radicals continue to hold Christians responsible.
In recent weeks, they have plastered these villages with gruesome posters of the swami’s hacked corpse. “Who killed him?” the posters ask. “What is the solution?”
Behind the clashes are long-simmering tensions between equally impoverished groups: the Panas and Kandhas. Both original inhabitants of the land, the two groups for ages worshiped the same gods. Over the past several decades, the Panas for the most part became Christian, as Roman Catholic and Baptist missionaries arrived here more than 60 years ago, followed more recently by Pentecostals, who have proselytized more aggressively.
Meanwhile, the Kandhas, in part through the teachings of Swami Laxmanananda, embraced Hinduism. The men tied the sacred Hindu white thread around their torsos; their wives daubed their foreheads with bright red vermilion. Temples sprouted.
Hate has been fed by economic tensions as well, as the government has categorized each group differently and given them different privileges.
The Kandhas accused the Panas of cheating to obtain coveted quotas for government jobs. The Christian Panas, in turn, say their neighbors have become resentful as they have educated themselves and prospered.
Their grievances have erupted in sporadic clashes over the past 15 years, but they have exploded with a fury since the killing of Swami Laxmanananda.
Two nights after his death, a Hindu mob in the village of Nuagaon dragged a Catholic priest and a nun from their residence, tore off much of their clothing and paraded them through the streets.
The nun told the police that she had been raped by four men, a charge the police say was borne out by a medical examination. Yet no one was arrested in the case until five weeks later, after a storm of media coverage. Today, five men are under arrest in connection with inciting the riots. The police say they are trying to find the nun and bring her back here to identify her attackers.
Given a chance to explain the recent violence, Subash Chauhan, the state’s highest-ranking leader of Bajrang Dal, a Hindu radical group, described much of it as “a spontaneous reaction.”
He said in an interview that the nun had not been raped but had had regular consensual sex.
On Sunday evening, as much of Kandhamal remained under curfew, Mr. Chauhan sat in the hall of a Hindu school in the state capital, Bhubaneshwar, beneath a huge portrait of the swami. A state police officer was assigned to protect him round the clock. He cupped a trilling Blackberry in his hand.
Mr. Chauhan denied that his group was responsible for forced conversions and in turn accused Christian missionaries of luring villagers with incentives of schools and social services.
He was asked repeatedly whether Christians in Orissa should be left free to worship the god of their choice. “Why not?” he finally said, but he warned that it was unrealistic to expect the Kandhas to politely let their Pana enemies live among them as followers of Jesus.
“Who am I to give assurance?” he snapped. “Those who have exploited the Kandhas say they want to live together?”
Besides, he said, “they are Hindus by birth.”
Hindu extremists have held ceremonies in the country’s indigenous belt for the past several years intended to purge tribal communities of Christian influence.
It is impossible to know how many have been reconverted here, in the wake of the latest violence, though a three-day journey through the villages of Kandhamal turned up plenty of anecdotal evidence.
A few steps from where the nun had been attacked in Nuagaon, five men, their heads freshly shorn, emerged from a soggy tent in a relief camp for Christians fleeing their homes.
The men had also been summoned to a village meeting in late August, where hundreds of their neighbors stood with machetes in hand and issued a firm order: Get your heads shaved and bow down before our gods, or leave this place.
Trembling with fear, Daud Nayak, 56, submitted to a shaving, a Hindu sign of sacrifice. He drank, as instructed, a tumbler of diluted cow dung, considered to be purifying.
In the eyes of his neighbors, he reckoned, he became a Hindu.
In his heart, he said, he could not bear it.
All five men said they fled the next day with their families. They refuse to return.
In another village, Birachakka, a man named Balkrishna Digal and his son, Saroj, said they had been summoned to a similar meeting and told by Hindu leaders who came from nearby villages that they, too, would have to convert. In their case, the ceremony was deferred because of rumors of Christian-Hindu clashes nearby.
For the time being, the family had placed an orange flag on their mud home. Their Hindu neighbors promised to protect them.
Here in Borepanga, the family of Solomon Digal was not so lucky. Shortly after they recounted their Sept. 10 Hindu conversion story to a reporter in the dark of night, the Digals were again summoned by their neighbors. They were scolded and fined 501 rupees, or about $12, a pinching sum here.
The next morning, calmly clearing his cauliflower field, Lisura Paricha, one of the Hindu men who had summoned the Digals, confirmed that they had been penalized. Their crime, he said, was to talk to outsiders.