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Indian Tribal Catholics, Others Shot Dead In Politically Linked Violence

ICC Note:

This story recounts the second mass murder of Christians in Jharkhand state within a month.

From UCANews (www.ucanews.com)

Catholic Online (09/25/06) – Seven tribal people, four of them Catholics, were killed when alleged fanatics fired at a tribal gathering in Jharkhand state. Some people connect the event to the recent fall of a pro-Hindu government in the state.

Eighteen people were also wounded in the Sept. 18 violence in Kurkura Tetartoli. The village in Ranch, the state capital, which is 1,160 kilometers (about 720 miles) southeast of New Delhi.

At the meeting about 1,500 people from Kurkura Tetartoli and surrounding villages were discussing ways to avoid frequent attacks and harassment by Shanti Sena (peace army), an armed group allegedly backed by Hindu fanatics.

“Suddenly a group of men belonging to the Shanti Sena came and started firing from close range,” John Kerketta told UCA News from his hospital bed.

“People were caught unaware and started running, some were badly hit and died on the spot,” said Kerketta who suffered bullet injuries in his chest and left leg. “After I was hit by the bullets, I collapsed and thought I was dead,” he recalled.

The incident took place as a new coalition government was sworn in to replace the previous coalition led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP-Indian peoples’ party). Leaders of the predominantly tribal Church in the state had welcomed the fall of the BJP-led government.

Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo of Ranchi condemned the incident but said that with the fall of the BJP-led government, there would be more attacks on Christians. “They might even attack priests working in the remote parishes,” he added.

“We have to be cautious,” he continued, while speaking with UCA News Sept. 22. But the prelate expressed hope that the new government in the state may “tackle the situation wisely and effectively.”

State legislator Niel Tirkey says Shanti Sena is “nothing but another name” for a branch of a known fanatic Hindu group in the country. He told UCA News the group was “formed with the backing of the then ruling BJP government.”

Tirkey’s Congress party, the BJP’s main rival nationwide, is part of the new coalition government. The BJP-coalition fell when three independent legislators, one of them a Christian, withdrew their support in mid-September.

“With the downfall of the BJP-coalition, the activists of Shanti Sena are likely to go on a rampage, especially attacking the Church and targeting Catholic priests, whom they blame for the downfall of the government,” Tirkey warned.

He accused the former government of openly supporting Shanti Sena, which he described as a militant group of high-caste Hindus who do not want tribal advancement. He said the government helped the group by granting it “arms licenses and doling out huge public development works contracts” worth millions of rupees. The government gave arms licenses to the group purportedly to fight Maoist rebels in the villages.

Tirkey charged that the group has been involved in killing, attacking, threatening and extorting money from tribal people. He identified it as behind the murders of several tribal people, including Catholic Father Ignatius Bara of Simdega diocese, who was slain in Sept. 2005.

Cyprian Dungdung told UCA News that he and other Catholics “live in constant fear of Shanti Sena.” The group “attacks us anywhere and anytime, and that is why we came for this meeting,” said Dungdung, who suffered bullet injuries in his right leg and left arm…[Go To Full Story]