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Victim Identifies Culprits Still at Large who Started Ongoing Violence in Orissa

1/25/08 New Delhi (International Christian Concern) – An eye-witness account has identified the man who led the first attack that ignited the violence against Christians in Orissa this Christmas that left hundreds of homes and dozens of churches destroyed. Based on our investigation, however, it appears that this man is still at large.

A local leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, an organization that acts as an umbrella of numerous extremist groups), identified as Bikram Rautho, led the mob that attacked the Church of Our Lady of Lourd (COLL) on December 24 in Bamunigam area of Kandhamal district’s Baliguda Block, said Fr. Rabi Sabhasundar of the COLL.

When ICC asked a police official of the Bamunigam police station on phone if Rautho had been arrested, he hung up the line without answering the question. The officer refused to identify himself.

The church had decorated a Christmas Crib, as is its custom, with permission from the administrative head and the superintendent of police, but Rautho and a few others went to the police urging them to stop the church from celebrating Christmas in the open, explained Sabhasundar. Frustrated with the refusal of the police to agree to their demands, the RSS and other local Hindu groups launched the attack.

At 10 a.m. on December 24, RSS leader Rautho, other members of his organization, and local Hindu traders forced Christian shopkeepers of the Monday market in Bamunigam to shut down, Sabhasundar said in his testimony to the state governor and chief minister in Bhubaneswar, the capital of Orissa. ICC has the transcript of Fr. Sabhasundar’s testimony.

A sub-inspector of the Bamunigam police station and five village heads of the locality tried to pacify Rautho and his team, but as soon as they left, the mob, carrying sticks and guns, vandalized shops and attacked Christians, added Sabhasundar. Sabhasundar was part of a delegation comprising Dr. John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Council (AICC), Dr. Abraham Mathai, vice-chairman of the Maharashtra State Minorities Commission, and Mahesh Bhatt, an eminent film-maker from Mumbai, among others.

Rautho and his team beat Christians with sticks and iron bars in the market. “Then, they came running to the Crib with guns, spears, axe, and many other tradition weapons, and completely destroyed it. They also broke, looted and burnt all the shops of Christians. Besides, they pour petrol and burnt three motor bikes a generator set, and sound system,” narrated the priest.

The mob also shot a 15-year-old boy with a gun, and hit a 12-year-old boy with a sword.

“Seeing this fearful attack, many Christians of the locality ran away fearing for their lives…Instead of celebrating the midnight mass, most of the Christians with their children and babies went to a nearby forest and spent a sleepless night out in the cold.”

After attacking the COLL, the mob unleashed a reign of terror in almost all the villages of Baliguda and other areas. The series of attacks that began on December 24 went on till the night of January 2. 16 days later, three towns in Kandhamal remained under curfew.

It is estimated that at least a dozen Christians have been killed, hundreds of houses and tens of churches burnt, and thousands displaced in the violence.

“Till today, priests, nuns and believers are in forests due to fear and anxiety. Though the government has promised to provide relief to the people of both the communities, unfortunately, Christians are being neglected. We don’t know how long this atrocity and violence will persist,” added the priest.

Meanwhile, the state government ruled by a coalition comprising Biju Janata Dal and Bharatiya Janata Party, a Hindu nationalist party, said 800 houses were damaged in the violence and 580 families, including 336 belonging to Below the Poverty Line, were affected, reported the PTI news agency on January 5.