Christians fear repeat of 1998 Gujarat violence in Orissa

By Vishal Arora, IANS

New Delhi : With alleged attacks on Christian institutions in Orissa since Monday, the community fears a repeat of an infamous spate of violence in Gujarat’s Dangs district during Christmas in 1998.

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It could be a repeat of the series of attacks on Christians and their property in December 1998 in Dangs, which was followed by burning alive of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two minor sons in January 1999 (in Keonjhar district) in Orissa, said Dominic Emmanuel from the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese.

Dangs witnessed a 10-day spate of violence from Dec 25, 1998 to Jan 3, 1999 following a massive rally where the Hindu Jagran Manch allegedly made provocative speeches against Christians.

Emmanuel said that the Christian community was shocked that their members were attacked during their most important festival.

“How can the peace-loving Christian community be a threat to anyone?” he asked.

Christian leaders from different denominations have urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to intervene.

In a memorandum submitted to the prime minister Wednesday, the Christian leaders have said that at least 14 churches, four convents, three houses of priests, and eight hostels have been fully or partially destroyed besides injuries sustained by Christians in Kandhamal district’s Baliguda sub-division.

Baliguda has been tense since eve of the Christmas when a mob allegedly led by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) attacked Christians and vandalised their shops to protest the celebrations by the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes in Brahmani village.

Rabi Sudhasundar, the priest of the church, alleged that a Hindu leader did not want Christians to openly celebrate Christmas.

“The leader instigated local residents and led a mob of more than 100 people carrying sticks and guns to attack the Christians indiscriminately,” he told IANS, adding that later, when the leader was returning to launch more attacks, Christians tried to stop him which led to a clash between the two groups.

Sudhasundar said there were more than 200 Catholic families in Bamunigam area where Brahmani village is situated, and that the church had taken permission from authorities for holding a Christmas programme.

Meanwhile, VHP’s state general secretary Gauri Prasad Rath denied that his organisation had any role in the arson and attacks in the area.

“We only observed a peaceful four-hour bandh on Dec 25 to protest the attack on Swami Laxmananda Saraswati,” he claimed.

Speaking to IANS, Tehmina Arora, general secretary of the Christian Legal Association, pointed out that in spite of various incidents of violence against Christians in the state, there is no state chapter of the minorities’ commission. “It is shameful, as it reflects the apathy of the state towards grievances of the minorities.”

According to the 2001 Census, there are 897,861 Christians out of the total population of more than 36 million in the state.

Christians in Delhi, led by the All India Christian Council (AICC), are planning to stage a protest rally at Orissa Bhawan at 4 p.m. Thursday.