New Delhi (AsiaNews) - Hundreds of families are still homeless in the eastern state of Orissa, more than a months after Hindu extremists devastated and burned Christian churches, homes, and shops. In many areas of the Kandhamal district, nighttime curfews are still in effect and media access is denied. The road that runs along the forest edge passes through entire villages that have been reduced to piles of rubble. The late and insufficient intervention of the authorities is raising serious questions about the responsibility and desire to prevent violence.
According to witnesses, the spark was struck on December 24, in the village of Bamunigam, near the police station of Daringibadi Bloch, in the district of Kandhamal. At 8 a.m., a group of fundamentalists forcibly removed the Christmas decorations set up, with the permission of the authorities, by the group Ambedkar Baniko Sangho. When this group's members protested, the Hindus responded that the Christmas celebrations had to be stopped, and in a few minutes more than 200 extremists attacked the Christians with clubs, swords, and rifles. Although the Christians fled, their attackers opened fire and seriously wounded two of them. They then sacked and devastated dozens of shops and homes belonging to Christians, beating the people they found there. That same evening, during midnight Mass, explosives were thrown at the archbishop's residence in Bhubaneswar.
On Christmas day, December 25, the attackers returned in force and destroyed the churches in the zone of Bamunigam. They then besieged and burned the homes and property of the Christians, shouting at them to go away.
Meanwhile, at 2 p.m. on December 24, between 400 and 500 persons attacked and devastated the Catholic parish church in Balliguda. That same evening, they set fire to the church, the nearby convent, the parish offices, the clinic, and two student hostels. They then invaded the city and burned the Baptist church, and attacked a Pentecostal church. The following day, December 25, they returned, threatening all the priests and Christians and warning them not to tell the police.
That same day, a crowd destroyed a convent in Phulbani, plus the new school bus there. At midday they destroyed the parish church and the priest's residence in Pobingia. Fortunately, the priests and sisters who had gathered to celebrate Christmas had been warned in time to get away.
According to witnesses, the police never intervened, even though they were present. In Bamunigam, at least 20 policemen silently watched the attacks. The authorities had even asked the priests of the parish of Phulbani not to hold any celebrations, to avoid further problems. More than half of the 24 parishes in Kandhamal were unable to celebrate Mass in Christmas, out of fear of violence.
In the entire region, over the course of three days the attackers destroyed 5 parish churches, 48 village churches, 67 hostels, as well as the minor seminary in Balliguda and the Sarshnanda clinic in Pobingia. In a true hunt of Christians, hundreds of homes were destroyed or burned. In the parish of Barakhama, 400 homes were gutted and 5 persons killed, and there was damage to shops and vehicles. The Capuchin house of formation was devastated. Undisturbed, the attackers knocked down doors and broke through windows, heaped the furniture in the middle of the rooms, and set the pile on fire.
But the violence continued during the following days, and again in the early days of 2008, with threats, aggression, devastation.
The victims complain that the attacks were carefully orchestrated, noting that hundreds of extremists gathered in half an hour (more than 200 in Bamunigam and 4-500 in Balliguda), well organised, with rifles and swords, coming in from other villages so that they could not be identified.
A delegation of the victims asked asked the state's chief minister for impartial investigations and the punishment of all responsible, for sufficient security forces to prevent fresh violence, for adequate and speedy reimbursement for the damage to Church and private property, and for compensation for those wounded and for the victims' families.