25 2007: Seven churches, Catholic, Protestant, Pentacostal, Independent
... burned in Barakhama village, Kandhamal district, central Orissa.
December 23, 2007: Hindutva (Hindu supremacist ideology) affiliated
Adivasi (tribal) organisations organised a march, rallying, "Stop
Christianity. Kill Christians." A Dalit (formerly "untouchable"
groups) Christian leader testified, "We went to the local police
and informed them of the situation. They assured us that things would
be under control. On December 24, in the daytime, we heard voices of
Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh
(RSS), Shiv Sena people, chanting, ‘Hindu, Hindu, Bhai, Bhai’;
‘RSS Zindabad’; ‘Lakshmanananda Zindabad.’ They
shut down shops. That night they felled trees to block roads, severed
power and phone lines. On the 25th, we went to the inspector-in-charge
of police again. On the 25th, at 2.30, about 200 of us sat down to Christmas
prayer at our church, and around 4 p.m. we heard the mob approach."
about 4,000 persons, many bearing symbolic tilaks (religious mark on
forehead), belonged to various Sangh Parivar (Hindu nationalist, militant)
groups, named above, inciting local Hindus into rioting. Estimates state
20 per cent of the mob comprised people from Barkahama, 80 per cent
from surrounding Baliguda, Raikia, Phulbani, as far away as Beherampur.
"They broke the door to our church. We ran. We fell and kept running."
Women and men were intimidated and assaulted. Cries rent the air. "Christians
must become Hindu or die. Kill them. Kill them. Kill them. Gita not
Bible. Destroy their faith."
carried rods, trishuls, swords. They used guns, a first in Orissa. Predominantly
middle class caste Hindus participated in looting, destroying and torching
property. Handmade bombs started the fires. Breakage was systematic.
Women and men hid for days in forests, later seeking shelter in Baliguda
town relief camp, returning to decimated Barakhama on January 2. Engulfed
in soot and sorrow, people attempted to function amid charred remnants.
A woman said, "Everything burns down and we are left with nothing.
How little our lives are made (of). How alone we are, so far away from
in one church, furniture was dragged out, lit into a grotesque sculpture.
The private violated in public, made spectacle. A Catholic church burnt,
opposite the street the fire station witnessed the incident, but did
not intervene. A cow, dragged from a shed, set afire, was beaten to
death, identified as "Christian."
Bammunigaon, Bodagan, Daringbari, Goborkutty, Jhinjirguda, Kamapada,
Kulpakia, Mandipanka, Nuagaon, Phulbani, Pobingia, Sindrigaon, Ulipadaro
villages. Convents, presbytery, hostels, a minor seminary, vocational
training centre. Organisational offices, as that of World Vision. Two
churches in Chakapad. Christian religious services were not permitted
in Phulbani. A Hindutva mob surrounded Tikabali police station, two
jeeps were torched.
investigators charge that the violence was planned, that the police
had prior knowledge of Hindutva groups’ intent to riot. The pertinent
district collector and superintendent of police have been transferred,
not discharged. A Judicial Review Commission (JRC) chaired by a former
(not sitting) judge has been appointed by the government of Orissa to
investigate the riots. Its power or legitimacy is in question. The Central
government did not appoint an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation,
even as it is apparent that the very administration that failed to contain
the riots and delayed deploying adequate forces, and whose officials
at the district level may have been involved in its execution, cannot
activists have lobbied the JRC to organise its terms of reference premised
on the claim that an attack on Lakshmanananda Saraswati, a Hindu proselytiser,
by Christians in Bammunigaon started the riots. This timeline is falsified.
Sources state Hindutva groups planned Christmas day strikes, organised
vandalism of Christmas symbols, and incited rioting. Christians in one
area responded with reciprocal, not proportionate, violence. Dominant
rationale reduces this to majority vs minority communalism. Rather than
focus on systematic targeting of Christians, their overwhelmingly peaceful
submission to Hindutva’s violence, and vast structural injustices
and differences in relations of power between majority and minority,
the scrutiny appears to be focused on the failure of all Christian groups
to simply submit to dominance.
riots were not unexpected. Saraswati has been overseeing Hinduisation
there since 1969. Adivasis, Dalits, Christians, Muslims are targeted
through social and economic boycotts, forced conversions to Hinduism,
and other violences. The Orissa Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act, 1960,
deployed against Muslims; Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967, against
Christians. In 1999, Mayurbhanj Catholic priest Arul Das was murdered,
followed by destruction of Kandhamal churches. In 2004, Raikia Catholic
Church was vandalised, eight Christian homes burnt. In 2005, converting
200 Adivasi Christians to Hinduism in Malkangiri, Saraswati stated,
"How will we ... make India a completely Hindu country? This is
our aim and this is what we want to do." In 2006, celebrating RSS
architect Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar’s centenary, presided by Saraswati,
seven yagnas (sacrifices) were held, culminating at Chakapad in Kandhamal,
attended by 30,000 Adivasis. Between July-December 2007, Hindutva rallies
across Kandhamal raised anti-Christian sentiments.
leaders rumour, "Phulbani-Kandhamal is a most important Christian
area in Orissa with rampant and forced conversions." The Christian
population in Kandhamal district is 117,950, Hindus number 527,757.
Sangh leaders claim, "By VHP data there are 927 churches in Phulbani
district built on illegally taken land." Church leaders respond
there are 521 churches. Orissa Christians number 897,861, 2.4 percent
of the state’s population. Constitutionally authorised, the Hindu
Right inflates conversions to Christianity. This circulates in retaliatory
capacity even among progressive communities, who fixate on conversions
as contributing to the communalisation of society, debilitating to the
majority status of Hindus. Muslims are seen as "infiltrating"
from Bangladesh, looting livelihood opportunities, dislocating the "Oriya/Indian
nation," non-Hinduised Adivasis and Dalits as "unruly."
legitimates violence as patriotic response. The Sangh uses local militarism
(Kandhamal) as consort to state controlled militarization (Kashipur,
Kalinganagar). Hindu cultural dominance organises Hindu nationalism.
Orissa amalgamated as a Hindu state between 1866-1936. The absence of
structural reforms and assertion of Hindu elites define post-colonial
governance. The Sangh has proliferated into 10,000-14,000 villages,
operating 35-40 major organisations, with a massive base of a few million.
A Balasore district Shiv Sena unit formed the first Hindu "suicide
squad." The Hindu nationalist BJP-BJD coalition yields power. The
Hindu Suraksha Samiti organises against Muslims. Revolting slogans,
"Mussalman ka ek hi sthan, Pakistan ya kabristan (For Muslims there
is one place, Pakistan or the grave)," perforate neighbourhoods.
Hindu militant groups, neighbours, police, chief minister, Central government
acted with egregious impunity. People remain missing, death counts inaccurate.
The police refuses Christians seeking to file first information reports.
The Baliguda relief camp is skeletal. Despite continuing tensions, police
presence has abated. Confidence building steps are absent. Relief, compensation,
reparation are incommensurate with the extent of social, psychological,
and economic losses of communities. Political parties, focused on politicking
the issue, fail to respond to immediate and long-term needs of people.
Angana Chatterji is associate professor of Social and
Cultural Anthropology at California Institute of Integral Studies.
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