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Compass (01/25/06) – A pastor and his cousin charged with attempted forced conversion in Matiapada village, Orissa state, were released on bail yesterday, while five Hindu villagers charged with assault and setting fire to the pastor’s house are still in custody.

The trouble began on January 15, when Hindu villagers “abused and slapped Rabindra Mallick, the younger brother of Pastor Kulamani Mallick, without provocation as he returned home from a nearby market,” said the Rev. Dr. Dandia Basi Hrudaya, secretary of the Orissa chapter of the All India Christian Council (AICC).

On the following morning (January 16), a group of about 15 villagers armed with sticks stormed Pastor Mallick’s home and assaulted him and members of his family. The pastor and two other family members required hospital treatment for minor injuries.

When the family fled, the village Hindus set fire to the house. Seven adjacent houses also caught fire and were destroyed; six of the eight homes destroyed belonged to Christians.

There are only nine Christians in the village, which has a total population of 70 families.

Hrudaya said Hindus had repeatedly threatened the Christian minority before the assault last week. He said the villagers were influenced by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP or World Hindu Council), a Hindu extremist group active in the district.

Later that day, Kabit Mallick, a local woman, lodged a complaint against the pastor and two of his relatives, both recent converts, alleging that they had tried to force her to accept the Christian faith.

Hindu villagers also claimed the Christians had set their own houses on fire.

Even as the ashes cooled, members of the Bajrang Dal – the youth wing of the VHP – alleged that Christian missionaries were torturing Hindus in Orissa as a means of forcing them to convert to Christianity.

Both Christian and Hindu villagers lodged police complaints, with the Christians naming 14 attackers. Police then arrested five Hindus: Ramesh Mallick, Gandarbha Mallick, Bandhua Mallick, Suman Mallick and Baga Mallick.

The district court later charged the five with destruction of a property by fire and rejected their bail application.

Police also arrested Pastor Mallick and his cousin Gunanidhi Mallick in connection with the accusations of forced conversion. The local magistrate’s court rejected a bail application for the Christians on January 18, but the district court granted bail for them on Monday (January 24).

Christians in Maliapada said Jagannath Pareda, officer-in-charge at the local police station, had declined to charge the attackers with destruction of property by fire. Pareda is allegedly a supporter of the VHP.

Both Pareda and the superintendent of police of Jajpur district were unavailable for comment at press time.

The Rev. Pran Ranjan Parichha, president of the Orissa AICC, wrote to Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Friday (January 20), urging him to ensure compensation and rehabilitation for the villagers who had lost their homes. These villagers were still without shelter, food or spare clothes.

Parichha also asked for “a permanent solution” to repeated attacks against Christians in the state.

In another letter written to the district collector of Jaipur, Parichha sought police protection for the Christians of Matiapada “until normality is restored.”