Giving hope to persecuted Christians since 1995
Select Page

Communist group in Orissa state suspected of instigating Christians to retaliate.

2/1/08 NEW DELHI (Compass Direct News) – With a strong presence in Orissa state’s Kandhamal district, Maoists are suspected of using recent violence in the area to recruit frustrated Christians and goad them into retaliating, Christian leaders said.

Extreme Marxist groups, among them Maoists, may find affected areas “happy hunting grounds” for recruitment, warned Dr. John Dayal, a member of India’s National Integration Council.

Dayal told Compass that Maoists’ normally recruit in areas in which state governments fail to deliver on promises, “where the rich, the powerful, the religious bigots rule with impunity,” and administrations are thoroughly corrupt.

According to a fact-finding team of the Orissa state chapter of the All India Christian Council (AICC), the violence in Kandhamal around Christmas time was perpetrated by Hindu nationalist (Hindutva) groups that killed at least four Christians and burned 730 houses and 95 churches. Hundreds of displaced Christians are in various relief camps set up by the state government.

There were also reports of houses of Hindus being burnt.

“There may be vested interests or just misguided persons – and many agents of provocateurs, which is more likely – who are trying to goad the misguided and politically naive youth and seniors who have been pushed into a corner,” said Dayal, also secretary general of the AICC.

He added that area people may see both church and government as helpless before Laxmananda Saraswati, who allegedly incited mobs to launch anti-Christian attacks.

“The fact that Saraswati is not only roaming scot-free but also holding rallies in Kandhamal,” he said, “must be most galling to the youths amongst the Christians of all denominations and ethnic status – tribal [aboriginal], Dalit and semi urban – who have seen their churches burnt, their homes destroyed, their mothers and sisters reduced to begging and humiliated in the refugee camps.”

Hindutva groups, mainly the extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP), carried out attacks under the pretext of avenging an alleged assault on Saraswati after the first anti-Christian incident was reported from Brahmanigaon village last December 24.

Who Torched Hindu Houses?

While the identities of those who attacked houses belonging to Hindus remains largely elusive, Christian leaders suspect Maoists instigated some ill-advised Christians to retaliate.

Jacob Pradhan, general secretary of the Kandhamal district chapter of the Christian Endeavour Union, told Compass that around 100 houses belonging to Hindus were burnt in Brahmanigaon, Godapur, Barakhama and some other villages on December 26 and 27. Pradhan, who visited Brahmanigaon and Godapur villages to take stock of the situation, suspected that these houses were torched by sections of “misguided Christians” possibly incited by Maoists.

“You can read Christian-sounding names of Maoists who are reported in local newspapers as having been arrested,” Pradhan explained. “It seems to me that some from Christian families who are not religious and involved in the Maoist movement – like those from other faiths – instigated attacks on the houses of Hindus.”

The Rev. P.R. Parichha, president of the Orissa chapter of the AICC, said it was also possible that some Christians may have retaliated out of “desperation.”

“Local Christians are formulating a strategy on how to peacefully but effectively respond to incidents of persecution in future,” he added.

Hindutva Groups Behind Violence

Christians maintained, however, that isolated incidents of retaliation should not be used to suggest any Maoist-Christian partnership, as alleged by some Hindutva groups.

According to a January 10 report by private TV channel, NDTV, the VHP has accused Christian establishments and non-profit groups in Kandhamal and neighboring Gajapati district of having links with Maoists and diverting foreign funds to ultra-leftists to retain their allegiance.

The channel reported that the state government, formed in coalition with the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, would investigate the allegation made by the Hindutva groups.

“There are people from all religious backgrounds in the Maoist movement,” said Dayal. “It is a political ideology.”

The NDTV indicated that the state government could be trying to “divert attention from the real issue.”

The Maoist movement in India is believed to have begun in West Bengal state in 1960s. It has spread to several parts of the country, such as Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa states, through the activities of underground groups like the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and some other Maoist factions, which are considered terrorists by the government of India.

Dayal also stressed that the violence cannot be portrayed as a tribal-versus-Christian conflict either, as the state government seeks.

“The evidence is to the contrary,” he said. “The relations between Christian tribals and Christian non-tribals, Christian Dalits and Dalits of other faiths, as well as between Christians belonging to the tribal and Dalit communities remain cordial as they have been historically.”

It is estimated that Christians make up 16 percent of the 650,000 people in Kandhamal district. More than 60 percent of the Christians belong to the Pana community, who are classified as Scheduled Castes or Dalits. They are demanding recognition as a tribal community, claiming they too speak the local language of Kui – a demand opposed by the Kui tribal peoples, as it would increase the number of candidates for jobs reserved in the name of affirmative action.

According to the Indian Constitution, only Hindu Dalits can benefit from affirmative action in government jobs and educational institutions. A Dalit Hindu therefore loses such privileges after conversion to Christianity.

“The violence was a result of the targeting of Christians by political-religious fundamentalists [Hindutva extremists],” Dayal maintained.

The National Commission for Minorities (NCM), which sent two researchers to Kandhamal district, said on January 17 that the violence was “organized and preplanned.” “The team maintained that the large-scale violence was because of the inaction of the administration,” reported the New Indian Express newspaper.

Earlier, a fact-finding team led by Dayal 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.)

Relief Agencies Remain Barred

On another front, the Orissa High Court on Wednesday (January 30) dismissed a petition of the Catholic Church asking the state government to allow Christian agencies to provide relief in affected villages of Kandhamal.

The district administration had issued a notice saying no private or non-governmental agencies would be allowed to provide relief in the area.

Christians have complained that the camps set up by the government lack basic facilities.

According to the Global Council of Indian Christians, two Christians died due to illness in Kandhamal relief camps in early January.

The spate of violence began in Kandhamal on December 24 and subsided in a week’s time, but special armed forces continued to be deployed in affected areas at press time.

The Times of India newspaper reported on January 22 that the 700 members of the Central Reserve Police Force initially deployed would remain in Kandhamal till March 15.

Despite the deployment of armed forces by the federal government apart from local police, however, there have been several reports of forced conversion of Christians to Hinduism. (See Compass Direct News, “Hindu Nationalists Plan to Revive Tensions in Orissa State,” January 23.)