People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
January 06, 2008
'The Attacks Were Preplanned;
The Administration Failed Miserably'
A CONVENTION organised at St Colombus school in New Delhi called upon the UPA government to urgently intervene and stop the ongoing attacks against Christians in Orissa by VHP and other Hindu fundamentalist organisations.
Addressing the convention on December 31, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechury said “We are ashamed that such incidents are taking place in this country. It is sad that no senior minister of the UPA government has issued a statement against the attacks on the Christian community in Orissa”.
He saw a sinister pattern in these attacks by RSS outfits and said the aim is to destroy the secular foundations of the nation and usher in their vision of a rabid Hindu rashtra. He called upon all sections of our country to unitedly resist this communal onslaught.
Former prime minister V P Singh addressing the gathering said such attacks destroy the secular fabric of the nation. He also found fault with the prime minister for remaining silent on these attacks.
Earlier, a large number of Christians from Delhi and the National Capital Region took out a candle light procession from the Sacred Heart Cathedral at Gol Dak Khana to Jantar Mantar expressing solidarity with the victims in Orissa.
Later in the evening a delegation led by Archbishop Vincent M Concessao, president of National United Christian Forum and Raphael Cheenath, SVD, Archbishop of Cuttak-Bhubaneswar met the prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh and submitted a memorandum expressing their serious concern over the developments that are taking place in Orissa in the wake of VHP and other Sanghparivar outfits' activities.
Below we reproduce excerpts of the memorandum submitted to the prime minister as it throws light on the gruesome happenings in Orissa.
The feast of Christmas, a day of joy and peace turned to be a tragedy for all of us! And we dare say that it became sad not only for Christians but for every citizen of this country who believe in our secular constitution and in the rule of law.
So far 61 churches and institutions have been attacked, not to mention about the families and personnel. Many of our priests and nuns are still hiding in the forests for the fear of being attacked.
The trouble began on December 24 at 8.00 a.m. in Bamunigam. Some Hindu fundamentalists forcefully removed the Christmas decoration which the Ambedkar Baniko Sangho had put up as part of preparations for Christmas. This was followed by some quarrels. Within a few minutes a group of people who were stationed close by pounced on the members of Ambedkar Baniko Sangho with sticks, knives and other lethal weapons.
The people dispersed out of fear. The fundamentalists began to destroy the shops of Christians. About fifteen shops have been destroyed or looted. Six, seven members of Ambedkar Baniko Sango were beaten up by the miscreants.
On the second day, the crowd came back and destroyed the church in Bamunigam. Then they entered the Catholic village and burnt their houses and property. Another group of the attackers went to the direction of Kathingia parish. On the way they destroyed (burned) at least three village churches. Probably they will destroy also the large church in Kattingia.
ATTACK ON BALLIGUDA PARISH
On the same day, December 24 evening, much larger crowd (400 to 500) marched into Balliguda twon parish and began to destroy the Church institutions. By 10.00 p.m. the large parish church, the presbytery, convent, computer room, dispensary and two students’ hostels, etc were destroyed. The same crowd moved into the town and completely burnt down the church which belonged to the Baptist Christians. They also attacked another church belonging to the Pentecotal Christians.
On December 25 they were moving around menacingly threatening the priests and Christians so that they were not even able to file a FIR. The situation is desperate and there is total fear and anxiety among Christians.
Two constables asked the priests of Philbani parish to have no celebration otherwise there will be more troubles. On 25th December, the convent in Phulbani was also attacked by a group of fundamentalists. They destroyed everything possible from outside of the convent (door, window glasses, etc.) including a new school bus.
On December 25 the priests and sisters in Pobingia parish were advised to move out to a safer place which they did. At 12.00 noon a group of Bajrang Dal people attacked the church of Pobingia parish and destroyed it. They were in the process of destroying the presbytery in the afternoon. All these happened in the presence of police with impunity.
1. Even though the government is assuring us all protection, the fundamentalists are moving about with lethal weapons threatening the Christians.
2. The fundamentalists go on their destructive activities even in the presence of the police force who often say that they are not enough to face such a crowd. The destruction goes on unhindered.
3. The Christians who are already attacked and those who are in great fear of being attacked feel with sufficient reason that they are left to the mercy of the fundamentalists.
4. We don’t see anywhere sufficient number of police force to give security to the Christians.
5. The fundamentalists are forcing the Christians to leve their homes and take refuge in the forest.
INSTITUTIONS ATTACKED SO FAR
Parish Churches: Balliguda, Baminigam, Pobingia, Sankharakhole, Padangi
Village Churches: Bodagan-Balliguda; Balliguda town, Kamapada – Balliguda, Mandipanka – Godapur, Jhinjirguda – Bamunigam, Ulipadaro – Bamunigam, Coborkutty- Kattingia, Kulpakia- Naugam, Dohapanga – Baliguda, 7 churches, Sirtigua, 4 churches in Phirngia, 7 churches in Phulbani, 4 churches in Kalingia, 2 churches in Tikabali, 4 village churches – Naugam, 3 more village churches, Borigude(Padangi), Bakingia (Raikia, Dalagam, Iripiguda.
A good number of village churches are also destroyed of which we do not have definite information. In Barakhama parish, 400 houses are gutted, five people murdered, property looted, one tractor, one jeep and two motorcycles burnt. The formation House of Capuchin congregation was totally vandalised.
Convents: Balliguda, Pobingia, Bamunigam Sankharakhole Padangi, Phulbani.
Presbytery: Balliguda, Pobingia, Bamunigam
Hostels: Pobingia 2; Balliguda 2; Bamunigam 2; Minor Seminary (balliguda); Vocational Training Centre (Balliguda)
Other Institutions: Minor seminary (Balliguda); Vocational Training Centre (Baliguda); Sarshnanda, Leprosy Centre.
Kui Janakalyan Samiti organisation had declared a bandh on December 25-26, 2007 in order to press for their demands. But Christians feel that it was only a ploy used against Christians in order to
(a) Disturb the Christians celebration, the important feast of Christians; it is even a national holiday.
(b) Instead of conducting bandh they have unleashed a reign of terror, destroying institutions, intimidating Christians and forcing them to go out of their homes.
(c) Their entire attention is on driving away Christians from the region. It is evident from the slogan they are shouting at Christians.
Most of the priests and religious sisters in Kandhamal district (there are 24 centres of Christians) are living in hiding in jungles and forest.
Orissa has a history of communal flare-ups every now and then. But this time it was very intensive, violent and pre-planned from all points of view.
i) The speed with which attacks were carried out. This was not possible unless it was planned. Within half an hour over two hundred people in Bamunigam parish premises (they sprang up from nowhere) and 400-500 persons in Balliguda where maximum destruction took place. These two attacks took place simultaneously.
ii) They appeared on the scene of destruction with instruments capable of causing massive destruction in a short time. For instance, they had acid with them in order to burn things. They had guns, iron-cutting swords (machine) to cut the grills of doors and windows.
iii) The attackers had enough food stuff with them to prepare their meals in the area of attack. One must conclude that they had preplanned this attack.
iv) Swami Lakshmanananda Sarswati began to travel from Daringibadi to Bamunigam as soon as the attack began in Bamunigam. The Swami is considered to the master-mind behind all the attacks.
I had told my priests and nuns that they should save themselves and not worry about the property. So, I advised them to escape to anywhere as soon as they hear about an impending attack. Because of this the institutions were open to fundamentalists for total destruction.
i) We could not rely on police force either because they were too few or they were indifferent for reasons I do not know.
ii) Destruction took place even in the presence of police force (20 of them) in Bamunigam who just watched.
iii) The fundamentalists broke open the main door, smashed window glasses, twisted grills and gathered all that could be piled in the middle of the building, poured kerosene or petrol or acid on the heap of things and made a bonfire. The end of the show! Then they moved into another place.
iv) Whatever they could have, they carried it away with them.
WHO WERE THE ATTACKERS?
In general the armed mob of fundamentalists belonged to what is called the Sangh Parivar, professing an extremist and intolerant Hindutva ideology of hate and violence. But the people who perpetrated the crimes were as a rule from other villages to avoid recognition, so after committing the crimes, they disappeared from the scene. So, often it is difficult to identify individuals involved in acts of arson and attempted murder.
HOW DID THE GOVT HANDLE THE PROBLEM?
In general, the government promised us all support and protection. The Kui Samaj had declared two day bandh on December 25 and 26 in order to protest against giving scheduled caste status to SC Christians. Since December 25 is Christmas, we expected some trouble. We approached the DM SP about the impending troubles. They promised us all support. To make the long story short, the following is our experience:
i) The district administration had not taken any precautionary measures to prevent troubles; consequently they were not able to control or prevent the destruction.
ii) When the trouble began on December 24 at 8.00 a.m I approached the DGP who promised all support. But we are utterly disappointed because only after 26 hours after first attack, the force reached the places of attack Bamunigam. Distance from Bhubanashwar to the area of trouble is 300 kms. From district headquarters, Phulbani(Kandhmal) to the troubled area is over 85 kms.
iii) Either the deployment of the force was insufficient or the force did not have the power to take necessary action on the spot.
iv) The fundamentalists moved freely in trucks and other vehicles shouting slogans (Jai Shri Ram, Jai Bajrang Dal etc). Destruction went on unabated.
v) So no one has been apprehended even though most of the attacks took place before the police.
vi) Most of the priests, pastors and nuns in Kandhamal district have taken shelter in the forest. In fact the fundamentalists are in search of their hide-outs.
vii) The Christians who are already attacked and those who are in great fear of being attacked feel with sufficient reason that they are left to the mercy of fundamentalists.
In general I would say that the administration miserably failed to take necessary and effective steps to prevent such unprecedented destruction of establishments of Christian community in Kandhmal district.
Delegation to the chief minister made the following demands:
i) That a CBI inquiry may be ordered for proper and impartial investigation for justice.
ii) That central para military forces are deployed in adequate strength at all the affected and sensitive places to prevent any further recurrences as the local police has not been able to control the situation.
iii) That impartial and proper assessment of the property damaged, caused to various churches, institutions and other establishments may be made and adequate compensation be provided as early as possible to restore confidence of the people in the administration.
iv) That proper compensation is given to the deceased family and injured persons.
v) That the culprits responsible for creating communal disharmony and causing damage to people and properties should be severely dealt with and the government officials be given exemplary punishments for their gross negligence, inaction, apathy amounting to connivance with the perpetrators.
vi) A fact find committee consisting of various church leaders and representatives visit various affected sites and personnel of the Kandhamal district and other affected places of the state to take stock of the situation and to console the victims and families. Therefore, we request to provide police protection to the team during their visit.
I have come all the way from Orissa to present these facts to you personally and along with Archbishop Vincent M. Concessao of Delhi, I urge you to take appropriate action immediately.
Archbishop of Cuttak-Bhubaneswar