PM terms violence against Christians in Orissa a ‘national shame’

New Delhi, Aug 29 (IANS) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Thursday termed the violence against Christians in Orissa as a “national shame” and assured leaders of the community that compensation would be paid to the affected families.

A group of Christian leaders met Manmohan Singh to seek his intervention in the ongoing violence against Christians in the state, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) spokesman Father Babu Joseph said.

He quoted the prime minister as describing the riots in Orissa as “a national shame”.

Christian leaders also said that Manmohan Singh assured them that the families of those who lost their life would be given compensation of Rs.300,000 from the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund.

CBCI along with other Christian organisations announced that 40,000 Christian schools and colleges would remain shut Friday to “protest the violence against their community”.

Meanwhile, Manmohan Singh spoke to Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and asked him to take immediate steps to stop the violence and restore normalcy, a statement from the prime minister’s office said.

A Christian delegation from CBCI led by Most Rev. Vincent Concessao, Archbishop of Delhi called on the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, in New Delhi on August 28, 2008

“A delegation of Catholic Bishops Conference of India along with Archbishop of Delhi met the prime minister and apprised him of the recent situation in Orissa. The PM mentioned that the central government was in touch with the state government and every effort would be made to restore normalcy in the state,” the statement said.

“The PM later spoke to the chief minister of Orissa and requested him to take immediate steps in this direction. He also advised the chief minister to provide immediate relief to the affected people, particularly children,” it added.

Meanwhile, the Italian government has expressed its concern to the Indian mission in Rome over the violence against Christians in Orissa.

Foreign Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee discussed the issue with Nalin Surie, secretary ministry of external affairs (West).

Sonia urged to intervene, check Orissa violence

New Delhi, Aug 29 (IANS) A Christian activist has urged Congress president Sonia Gandhi to advice the central government to take steps and check communal violence in Orissa.

The central government must authorise the army to move into affected blocks of Kandhamal district where the Orissa police and the Rapid Action Force (RAF) had “failed miserably” in controlling violence, National Integration Council member John Dayal has said in a letter to Gandhi.

“I have written the letter on behalf of the Christian community,” Dayal told IANS.

Communal clashes flared up in Orissa after Swami Lakshmananand Saraswati, a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader, and four others were killed in Kandhamal district Saturday evening. At least 11 people have been killed and several churches attacked across the state where many towns are under curfew.

“The central government must order a CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) inquiry into the murder of the VHP leader and the ensuing violence to trace the guilty in both cases,” Dayal wrote.

“Relief and rehabilitation steps must be taken so that the tens of thousands of Christians now hiding in the forests can return home. The government must rebuild their houses and also rebuild every single church that has been destroyed,” Dayal said.

A delegation of Christians also met the prime minister Thursday and submitted a memorandum in this regard, Dayal added.

Ban Bajrang Dal, sack Orissa government; demands Muslim body

New Delhi, Aug 29 (IANS) Expressing anguish over the continued violence against Christians in Orissa, a Muslim organisation Thursday demanded a ban on the Hindu outfit Bajrang Dal for allegedly attacking minority communities.

The All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, an umbrella body of Indian Muslim organisations, said the Bajrang Dal was also involved in the gruesome killing of Australian Graham Staines and his children in 1999.

“In addition to burning and demolishing many houses, churches, orphanages and other Christian properties and even police stations, the Hindutva goons have already killed 20 Christians in an area which has seen saffron violence for years,” it said in a statement issued here.

Orissa has been on the boil since the killing of Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati, a member of the central advisory committee of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), and four others Saturday evening by suspected Maoist guerrillas at his Jalespata ashram in Kandhamal district.

The killing triggered communal clashes in which at least 11 people have been killed.

Demanding deployment of army to control the situation, the Muslim body said the state government should be removed as they had failed to protect the Christian community from attacks by people connected to the Bajrang Dal.

“The AIMMM urges the central government to ban the Hindutva terrorist organisation Bajrang Dal which plays the central role in such violence,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, the Sacred Heart Cathedral here held an inter-religious prayer service Thursday in memory of those who died in Orissa.

On Friday, the Christian community in Delhi will hold a demonstration in front of the Orissa Bhavan.

The All India Confederation of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes Organizations, the national body of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe government employees, demanded immediate action to check the violence.

“Home Minister Shivraj Patil must act now to stop the VHP sponsored violence over Dalit and tribal Christians before the situation goes out of control,” said Udit Raj, the chairman of the Confederation and also of the Indian Justice Party.

“The Dalit and tribal Christian minority of the state has been living under the shadow of fear from previous attacks,” he said in a statement.

Communal trouble spreads in Orissa, more churches burnt

Bhubaneswar, Aug 29 (IANS) As communal violence spread in Orissa Thursday with fresh incidents of mobs burning churches and homes, the government formed village peace committees hoping to curb tensions in the state where at least 11 people have been killed in revenge for the murder of a VHP leader last week.

The situation in the state was so volatile that Minister of State for Home Sri Prakash Jaiswal and other Congress leaders, who arrived in Bhubaneswar to visit riot hit areas, were told by the government that they could not do so and returned to New Delhi.

Though Kandhamal district continued to be the worst hit with mobs defying curfew, blocking roads and attacking churches even after shoot-at-sight orders, there were reports of churches and homes being attacked from other parts of the state too.

Police said trouble had spread to new areas, including the western district of Bolangir and the coastal district of Kendrapada.

Curfew had been clamped in Kendrapada town and security intensified in Bolangir.

“There have been stray incidents of violence in Kandhamal. We have also received reports of people burning a church in the district of Bolangir,” said Director General of Police Gopal Chandra Nanda, adding that more than 3,000 policemen had been deployed.

“We are hopeful normalcy would return in a week,” Nanda told IANS while describing the situation as “under control”.

In Kandhamal, the nerve centre of the clashes, grassroots workers such as anganwadi workers were roped in in the bid to restore normalcy .

“Dozens of such committees have already been formed and we have instructed our grassroots workers to form more such groups,” said Kandhamal District Collector Krishan Kumar.

“We have also formed a peace committee in the district headquarters today with politicians, media and people from all sections of society,” he added.

Police have registered at least 70 cases in different police stations related to the communal violence and 54 people have been arrested, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik informed the state assembly.

The state has been on the boil since Saturday evening when Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, a member of the VHP’s central advisory committee, and four others were killed by suspected Maoist guerrillas at his Jalespata ashram in Kandhamal.

As violence raged in Kandhamal, particularly in isolated hamlets, despite orders to the police to shoot at sight anybody defying curfew and indulging in violence, police and paramilitary forces marched through several towns on Thursday.

Curfew has been clamped in all towns of the district and is still in force, said revenue divisional commissioner Satyabrata Sahu.

On Monday, the VHP had called for a statewide shutdown. Since then, 11 people have been killed in the state, 10 in Kandhamal and a woman in Bargarh district who was burnt when the crowds attacked an orphanage. Local newspapers and television channels, however, put the toll at 17.

Saraswati was leading a campaign against cow slaughter and religious conversion in the communally sensitive Kandhamal district – which with a population of around 600,000 including 150,000 Christians has witnessed numerous clashes between Hindus and Christians in the past.

Radical Hindu groups in the state blamed Christians for the crime and alleged that Christians killed Saraswati because he was opposing religious conversion. Christian organisations deny these allegations.

Saraswati’s supporters have been holding protests since Saturday night, blocking trains and vehicles.

Orissa is not new to communal violence between Hindus and Christians.

On Jan 22, 1999, Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons, 10-year-old Philip and six-year-old Timothy, were burnt alive by a Hindu radical mob in their vehicle in Keonjhar district.

Mahesh Bhatt leads delegation to condemn Orissa violence

An eight-member delegation of representatives of various religious organisations, led by noted filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, met Maharashtra Governor S.C. Jamir here Thursday to condemn the attacks on Christians in Orissa and requested him to convey their sentiments to the centre.

The delegation, under the banner of the All India Christian Council (AICC), requested that the central government step in to save the lives and properties of Christians. It also demanded that armed forces be rushed to Orissa and relief materials be provided to the victims of communal violence, a delegation member said.

The governor gave the delegation a patient hearing and assured them that he would convey their message to the president, prime minister and home minister.

The delegation included AICC general secretary Abraham Mathai, Father Anthony Charanghat on behalf of the Archbishop of Bombay, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Raza Academy general secretary M. Saeed Noori and Sikh Association office-bearer Sardar Rajinder Singh.


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Indo-Americans protest against Orissa violence

NEW YORK: An organisation of Indian-American Christians conducted a prayer vigil in New York outside the United Nations headquarters to protest the attacks on Christians in Orissa.

The vigil coincided with the Catholic Church closing all its institutions in India to protest violence against the Christian community, the clergy and destruction of their institutions, allegedly by religious extremists.

The three-hour New York vigil was organised by the Federation of Indian-American Christian Organisations in North America (FIACONA), Indian Christian Forum and Gujarat Christian Federation of America.

Twelve people have so far been killed in violence triggered by the killing of Vishwa Hindu Parisahd leader Laxmanananda Saraswati in Orissa’s communally sensitive district of Kandhamal.

As many as 1,000 families in over 200 villages of the district have been affected by the violence. (Times of India)

Convents shut in protest of Orissa violence

Educational institutions run by the church in the national capital were today (August 29) closed as
part of a countrywide agitation to protest against violence against churches and Christian institutions in Orissa.

Prominent colleges St Stephens and Jesus and Mary, and schools including Columbus, Mount Carmel and Don Bosco were closed as part of the protest.

Scores of devotees also held a demonstration at Orissa Bhavan here asking the government to ensure law and order in the state and protect life and property of members of the minority community.

A day-long prayer meeting was also held at the Gol Dak khana in New Delhi.

“All Christian schools in the city and across the country are closed to express solidarity with the innocent people in Orissa who have been targeted. Rallies were held in several parts of the country,” Babu Joseph, spokesperson of Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI), said.

Rallies were held in all state capitals and memoranda were given to governors on the issue, he said. 

A group of Christian leaders yesterday met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seeking his intervention to maintain peace and ensure safety of Christians in the state.

Singh has assured the delegation that “every effort” would be made to restore normalcy in Orissa which has been rocked by the violence.


Refugees mount, India attacks wane

Jatindra Dash

Thousands of people, most of them Christians, have sought refuge in makeshift government shelters in eastern India, driven from their homes by religious violence which has killed at least 11 people this week.

An official said on Friday the religious clashes showed signs of abating after a week of violence in the state of Orissa where Hindu mobs burnt more than a dozen churches and attacked Christians following the killing of a Hindu leader.

“Hindu and Christian peace committees have been meeting and the leaders have appealed for calm,” Krishan Kumar, the chief administrator of the worst-affected Kandhamal district, told Reuters, adding that a curfew imposed to halt the attacks would be lifted for a few hours.

At least 6,000 people were taking shelter in the government camps and about 5,000 are hiding in forests around the district of Khandhamal, which has a history of communal and religious clashes, for fear of mob violence.

The numbers at the government camps are expected to swell to 10,000 later on Friday, Kumar said.

Most of India’s billion-plus citizens are Hindu and about 2.5 percent are Christians but in the Kandhamal area, more than 20 percent of the 650,000 people are mainly tribal inhabitants who converted to Christianity.

Religious violence has troubled the tribal regions of Orissa for years, with Hindus and Christians fighting over conversions.

While Hindu groups accuse Christian priests of bribing poor tribes and low-caste Hindus to change their faith, the Christians say lower-caste Hindus convert willingly to escape a complex Hindu caste system.

The recent violence has drawn international condemnation.

Pope Benedict has condemned the violence against Christians in Orissa but also deplored the killing of the Hindu leader.

On Thursday, Italy’s foreign ministry said it would summon India’s ambassador to demand “incisive action” to prevent further attacks against Christians.

Kumar said on Friday that bodies of two Christians believed to have been killed earlier this week were found on Friday.

About 25,000 Catholic schools were due to be closed in India on Friday in a symbolic protest against the killing. (Jakarta Post)

Christianophobia needs to be countered as much as anti-Semitism or Islamophobia: Vatican

London, Aug. 30 (ANI): The Vatican has said that “Christianophobia” must be fought with the same determination as anti-Semitism or Islamophobia.
The Mirror quoted Vatican Foreign Minister Archbishop Dominique Mamberti as saying that the deaths of 13 people in Orissa, India, there is a need for promoting religious freedom as a vital part of international relations and human dignity.
“In order to promote this dignity in an integral way, so-called ”Christianophobia” should be combated as decisively as ”Islamophobia” and anti-Semitism,” he said.
His comments came as thousands of people, most of them Christians, sought shelter in makeshift government camps, driven from their homes by religious violence. It was alleged that Hindu mobs burnt over a dozen churches and attacked Christians after a Hindu leader was killed.
Mamberti said the events in India made the issue of religious liberty today all the more pressing.
While Hindu groups accuse Christian priests of bribing poor tribes and low-caste Hindus to change their faith, the Christians say lower-caste Hindus convert willingly to escape a complex caste system.
Pope Benedict has also condemned the violence against Christians in Orissa and deplored the killing of the Hindu leader.
Italy’’s foreign ministry said it would summon India’’s ambassador to demand “incisive action” to prevent further attacks against Christians. (ANI)

Kandhmal simmers, Orissa govt orders probe

Kandamal continues to simmer with sporadic incidents of violence. Twenty companies of CRPF have already reached the area.

Additional forces are on standby. In Phulbani, villagers are hiding in forests and they are being attacked even there.

Houses are still burning and in Raikia the situation is much worse with more bodies coming in. Violence continues to grip the area despite the security presence.

The National Human Rights Commission has asked the Orissa government to file a detailed report to it on the communal violence in the state.

The state government has already ordered a probe into the killing of the VHP leader Laxmanananda Saraswati.

Meanwhile, there are reports of increasing communal tension in the state’s Koraput area following clashes between two groups. (NDTV)

INDIA As Orissa Death Toll Rises, Prime Minister Intervenes

NEW DELHI (UCAN) — Prime Minster Manmohan Singh has directed officials to help Christians in Orissa, where Church people say continuing anti-Christian violence has killed at least 19 people.


The federal government has been in touch with the government of the eastern Indian state, “and every effort would be made to restore normalcy,” according to a government press statement on Aug. 28.

It said Singh spoke with Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and “requested him to take immediate steps” to restore peace in the state. The prime minister also advised Patnaik to provide “immediate relief to the affected people, particularly children,” the statement added.

Continued violence in Orissa, which started on Aug. 24, has killed at least 22 people, Chandrakant Nayak told UCA News. Nayak directs Love India, an NGO, in the state’s Kandhamal district, hardest hit by the violence.

A Church official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed 19 deaths, but the toll will be higher, he said, as “the situation is very grim in the interior villages (where) we have not much information.” The priest is based in the state capital of Bhubaneswar, 1,745 kilometers southeast of New Delhi.

The violence began after the killing of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, a Hindu religious leader, and five of his associates on Aug. 23 in Kandhamal district. Maoists reportedly claimed responsibility for the killings, but Hindu radicals allege gunmen hired by Christians murdered their spiritual leader, a charge all Christian groups have denied. The 85-year Hindu leader, based in Kandhamal district, had for several decades opposed conversions to Christianity

On Aug. 28, a seven-member ecumenical delegation met the prime minister in New Delhi to update him on the situation in Orissa.

Sushma Ramaswami of the Church of North India, a Protestant union, told UCA News the prime minister described the Orissa violence as a “shame” on the whole nation.

Their memorandum to Singh, released later to the media, said senior police officers in Orissa have expressed their inability to control the situation because the government has not deputed a “sufficient number of policemen.”

It charged fundamentalist groups want to drive Christians out of the region, as shown from the slogans they raise against Christians. Most Christian priests, pastors and Religious men and women now hide in the forests to save their lives. However, “the fundamentalists are in search of their hide-outs,” the memorandum warned.

The violence has forced some 60,000 Christians to take refuge in forests, it said. Despite government assurances of protection, it added, the fundamentalists move about with weapons threatening Christians.

The memorandum signers want the Central Bureau of Investigation, the country’s premier investigating agency, to investigate Swami Saraswati’s murder. Meanwhile, they want the army deployed to quell the violence.

The Christian leaders also sought compensation for the families of the deceased and injured, besides for damage to churches, institutions and other establishments destroyed in the violence.

The memorandum demands culprits “be severely dealt with” and officials who neglect their duties “be taken to task.” It also asks for a new law to protect religious minorities from atrocities.

Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, another delegation member, told UCA News on Aug. 28: “Christians hiding in the forest don’t have anything to eat. Yesterday evening one priest called me and said they were hiding in the jungle for the past three days. The attackers are sparing no one.”

The archbishop added: “This is a collapse of the total police force. Sometimes they (policemen) don’t even have a lathi (baton) to defend themselves. The state administration is not doing anything to restore peace.”