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Hindu Nationalists Plan To Revive Tensions In Orissa State
Christians told to convert or die after Christmas attacks; extremists plot ‘Mission 2008.’

1/23/08 India (Compass Direct News) – Amid reports of forced conversion of Christians to Hinduism following an unprecedented spate of violence over Christmas in Orissa state’s Kandhamal district, federal intelligence sources have warned churches of the likelihood of more attacks.

The intelligence department intercepted a letter by an extremist of a Hindu nationalist (Hindutva) group stating members will renew efforts to spark tensions in Kandhamal district and neighboring Chhattisgarh state, said Father Babu Joseph, spokesman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI).

According to a fact-finding team of the Orissa state chapter of the All India Christian Council, the violence killed at least four Christians and burned 730 houses and 95 churches in the days following last Christmas Eve. Hundreds of displaced Christians in Kandhamal are in various relief camps set up by the state government, where at least two people have died recently due to ailments.

Joseph told Compass that the letter, written by an extremist of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Murari Lal, and sent to his colleague, Saudan Singh, reveals that the Hindutva group has planned an effort to create more tensions for Christians called “Mission 2008.”

Church leaders, added Joseph, have been asked to remain alert.

Lal, who was identified as an RSS worker in Sarguja district of Chhattisgarh state, named and praised several Hindutva outfits for their “good work” in the letter.

“Our Mission 2008 and its confidential meeting took place successfully,” the letter says, according to the Daily News and Analysis (DNA) newspaper. Our hope is to create Gujarat [state] type communal frenzy in Orissa.”

Gujarat is seen as the Hindu extremist Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) “laboratory of Hindutva.” In 2002, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP colleagues allegedly allowed Hindu extremists to carry out anti-Muslim violence in which at least 2,000 people, mainly Muslims, were killed.

“We have begun a program to create communal tension by using the cow issue,” adds the letter, originally written in Hindi language. As cows are considered sacred by Hindus, extremists portray Christians and Muslims as “cow eaters,” besides accusing them of conversions and terrorism.

“In Jashpur and Sarguja districts [of Chhattisgarh state],” the letter says, “we have created a very good environment against Muslims and Christians. Adivasis [tribal people] have also started a front against foreign missionaries … This time even the Congress [Party] is supporting us.”

The letter also says there is a need to install statues of Hindu gods Hanuman and Shankar, which tribal people “recognize faster.”

“We need to install the statues as early as possible to make adivasis Hindus,” it says.

Tribal people or aboriginals in India are not Hindu. Most tribal people groups have their own faiths, mainly animistic.

RSS leader Ram Madhav, however, claimed in DNA that his organization had no role in the violence. “The RSS does not support any violence,” he said.

Christians fear the incidence of persecution will increase this year as legislative elections are expected in 10 states, including three states ruled by the BJP – Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan (See Compass Direct News, “Christians Fear More Violence in Election Year,” January 15).

Convert or Die

Although the spate of violence began in Kandhamal on December 24 and subsided in about a week, special armed forces continued to be deployed in affected areas at press time.

The Times of India newspaper reported on Tuesday (January 22) that the 700 officers of Central Reserve Police Force deployed during the week of violence would remain in Kandhamal till March 15.

Despite the presence of federal armed forces and local police, however, reports surfaced of forced conversion of Christians to Hinduism.

A local Christian source from the Indian Evangelical Team ministry told Compass on condition of anonymity that such conversions have taken place in at least four villages after the initial violence.

“In Jargi village, 41 out of the 45 families from my church became Hindu due to pressure and threats,” said the local source. “Extremist elements forced the Christians to break their church with their own hands, and now a temple will be constructed at the site.”

In Mardudi village, pastor Dibakar Digal and his wife were forced to drink cow urine and apply vermillion on their foreheads, declaring themselves Hindu. They were threatened that if they did not convert, they would be killed.

While 18 Christian families were converted in a similar fashion in Kambarkia village, nine families were converted in the same way in Dandikia village.

UCA News (UCAN) also reported on Tuesday (January 22) that Orissa Christians had been given a “convert or die” ultimatum.

“There was no other way than to convert to Hinduism,” a Christian youth, Sumant Digal, from Gochhapada village, told UCAN. Extremists had threatened to kill him and torch his house if he did not become a Hindu.

“Several people told UCA News in mid-January that although the violence had subsided, Hindu fanatics continued to threaten Christians in interior villages,” stated the UCAN report. “The radicals want Christians to convert to Hinduism or leave the area, and they threaten to kill those who do not comply.”

The Catholic news agency quoted another Christian, Pusali Digal, from Jemapadar village, as saying, “Reconvert or die, or leave the place, was the option given to me and my family.”

Deaths in Relief Camps

Dr. Sajan K. George, national president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, told Compass that two Christians died due to unknown ailments in Kandhamal relief camps.

Pastor Hari Digal died in the Baliguda relief camp on Monday (January 21), and a church elder, Kujura Digal, died in a camp in Barakhama two days earlier, said George, who was in Kandhamal at press time.

Houses of both Christians had been destroyed in the violence.

“The two Christians could not bear the trauma of being attacked and the loss of their houses,” said George, adding that he had urged the state government to improve facilities at the relief camps.

Violence Preplanned, Organized

The National Commission for Minorities (NCM), which sent a team of two representatives to Kandhamal district, said on January 17 that the violence was “organized and preplanned.”

Additionally, the New Indian Express newspaper reported that the NCM team “maintained that the large-scale violence was because of the inaction of the administration.”

But Hindutva groups, mainly the Bajrang Dal, the youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP), dismissed the NCM report, saying it was “one-sided,” added the newspaper. The VHP is connected with the RSS, which allegedly planned and organized the Christmas violence.

Earlier, a fact-finding team led by Dr. John Dayal, member of the National Integration Council and a Christian leader, had also said the violence was carried out in a planned manner. (See Compass Direct News, “Fact-Finding Mission Suggests India Violence Was Preplanned,” January 4.)

The NCM team also criticized the state government for not giving sufficient compensation to the victims of the violence. In apparent response to the NCM report, the state government increased compensation to be given to victims.

Financial assistance for reconstruction of destroyed houses has been revised from 40,000 rupees (US$1,009) to 50,000 rupees (US$1,261), while 200,000 rupees (US$5,044) each will be provided for schools, hospitals and hostels damaged in the violence, the New Indian Express reported today.