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Hindu-Christian tension follows murder in village

04/17/09 RAIPUR, India (UCAN) — The murder of a former Catholic by his kin in a tribal area of Chhattisgarh state took a sectarian turn when some Hindus accused Christians of killing the man over religion.

Bhodoro Toppo, 60, was axed to death by his younger brothers and other relatives on April 12 following a prolonged dispute over family land, according to Father Augustus Kujur, the local parish priest.

Toppo, who had abandoned his Catholic faith some time ago, lived in Sukrapara village, in the territory of Jashpur diocese’s Tilinga parish.

Before Toppo’s burial with Hindu rites on April 13, about 5,000 Hindus held a procession with the body. They shouted accusations that Christians had deliberately murdered a Hindu, said Father Kujur on April 15.

The march came just three days before the state went to the polls on April 16 to elect its 11 representatives to the national parliament. The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian People’s Party) rules the state.

The Hindu protesters also wanted to march on April 15, but police denied them permission.

“The situation is still tense, though apparently calm,” Father Kujur reported, saying “heavy police protection” had been given to the families of the accused and to the village.

All in the village found Toppo “notorious and troublesome,” the priest said, adding that the murder victim had been encroaching on his brothers’ land.

On Easter Sunday, some villagers, including Toppo’s younger brothers, attacked him and cut his throat with an axe. Police arrested and jailed seven people accused of the murder.

Father Kujur noted that some of the Oraon tribal villagers accused of the crime became Christians only last year.

Toppo had stopped practicing the faith before that, and the day before he was attacked and killed, he hoisted a saffron flag.

The priest interpreted this as Toppo reminding the villagers, who he dared to do anything to him, that he had connections with the Hindu radical group Bajrang Dal (party of the strong and stout).

Police have told Hindu activists the murder was a due to family rivalry and not religion, the priest said.

Hitavada, a popular regional English newspaper, quoted police officer A.R. Korram as saying religious hatred was not the cause of Toppo’s death.

However, the daily said the attack took place after Toppo carried a saffron flag past an Easter procession, going the opposite direction. Some people in the procession taunted the man, resulting in a fight, and “suddenly a mob of religious fanatics from the procession pounced upon the lone man (who) was beaten to death,” said the daily, which Christians claim has a pro-Hindu bias.

Diocesan spokesperson Father Edmon Bara said local Hindi dailies also published the news and gave it a sectarian color. “Since it is election time,” said the priest based in the Jashpur Bishop’s House, Bajrang Dal activists “are twisting the whole story to get Hindu votes.”

Father George Xalxo, assistant parish priest in Tilinga, said Hindu activists also damaged village catechist Ramael Kispotta’s house and took some money on the night of April 14. “Tension has come from outside and not from inside,” the priest added.