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Victims of Anti-Christian Orissa Attacks Arrested, Blamed for Violence

2/29/08 New Delhi (International Christian Concern) – In what seems like an attempt to cover up religious persecution and protect the perpetrators, the Orissa state police in India have arrested a Christian, claiming he is a “key accused for engineering” the violence against Christians in Kandhamal district during this past Christmas season.

On February 24, the police arrested Iber Naik, from Kandhamal’s Barakhama village, on charges of being the “kingpin” of the violence that began last Christmas Eve and lasted for around 10 days. This is despite the fact that the majority of the victims were Christians who were attacked by Hindu mobs.

The violence, described by Christian leaders as India’s worst-ever anti-Christian violence, resulted in the destruction of more than 700 houses and close to 100 churches, besides the killing of six Christians.

As a result of the attacks, some Christians retaliated. One Hindu was reportedly killed and a few houses belonging to Hindus were burned down. Naik is being held responsible for taking part in the death of the Hindu person in an alleged mob killing.

However, Global Council of India’s Dr. Sajan George told ICC that it was a well-known fact that the slain Hindu died in an “inferno while indulging in arson and looting of Christian property.”

Naik was arrested in a village in Bolangir district, near his hometown of Barakhama, reported the United News of India (UNI) agency on February 26. Naik denied having any role in the riot, added the agency.

Tehmina Arora, general secretary of the Christian Legal Association (CLA), told ICC that the police had earlier arrested two associates of Naik, identified as Prakash Naik and Digal, after they went to the local police station to lodge a complaint of attacks on their houses and church. The police arrested them instead of registering their complaint.

Legal Aid Needed

All India Catholic Union president Dr. John Dayal said urgent legal aid was required in Kandhamal on many counts.

“There is a need for paralegal assistance in preparing police complaints and estimating damage for those who have lost houses, shops, and churches,” he said.

Other needs include preparing defenses for those already in police custody (either
those arrested or those still not shown as arrested), senior legal advice on getting courts to oversee the rehabilitation of victims, and criminal investigation, added Dayal.

“We need to do this before evidence is lost or false ‘evidence’ manufactured by a governance system that has totally sold itself out to its coalition compulsions with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP),” he warned.

Orissa is ruled by a coalition of the Hindu nationalist BJP and the regional Biju Janata Dal party.

“Christian leaders and attorneys from across various denominations, along with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, are providing legal assistance to the victims,” Arora said. She added that numerous Christians in Kandhamal were facing false charges.

The Orissa state government has been trying to shift people’s attention away from the role of Hindutva fundamentalists ever since the violence started. The Orissa state government claimed that the violence was caused by Maoists and the trouble was not due to religious conversion, The Tribune newspaper reported on January 6. The government had earlier attributed the violence to “ethnic disturbances,” according to a report in The Times of India daily on December 28.

In contrast, the report of a fact-finding team of the National Commission for Minorities (NCM), which visited Kandhamal from January 6 to 8, said that an anti-conversion campaign had created an “atmosphere of prejudice and suspicion against the Christian community and Christian priests and organizations.”

“The role of the Sangh Parivar (family of organizations linked to India’s chief Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS) activists and the anti-conversion campaign in fomenting organized violence against the Christian community deserves close scrutiny. This is especially urgent in view of the official explanation to the effect that the recent incidents in Orissa are largely of an ethnic nature rather than motivated by an anti-minority intent,” added the report.

The Orissa government has set up a judicial commission, headed by a retired judge, Basudev Panigrahi, to probe the violence. The commission is expected to begin its investigation soon.

Orissa has been hostile to Christians for many years. Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two underage children were burnt to death by a mob of Hindutva extremists in January 1999 in the state.