07/12/2005, 00.00
INDIA
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Hindu nationalists claim to have rescued 80 Christian clergymen

by Nirmala Carvalho
The incident is reported in a weekly paper published by a Hindu fundamentalist paramilitary group. It remains unverified and highly suspect.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Some 50 volunteers from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), or National Volunteer Corps, are said to have rescue 80 Christian clergymen involved in a roadside accident in Sambalpur district in the Indian state of Orissa, this according to local media sources, including the PTI news agency and the Organiser, a RSS-published weekly. It has, however, been impossible to independently verify the claim.

As the story goes, a group of some 90 Christian clergymen left Jamankeri directed to Goudpil where they were to take part in a wedding. Before they reached their destination they were involved in an accident in a local forest. Ten of them are said to have died.

According to article in the Organiser, the other 80 were rescued by some 50 sangh volunteers who were in the area and who heard their cries.

"The pastors were rescued and admitted to a nearby Hospital, 45 Km from the site, in that dark night," the weekly wrote.

The paper also quoted Bishop Samal saying that "these RSS boys have given us a new life. We are grateful to them. May god bless them!"

Similarly, it quoted one of the rescuers: "We have done nothing much. What we have done has been done for humanitarian reasons. All of us are human beings."

AsiaNews spoke to the chairman of the Bishops' Conference of Orissa, Mgr Thomas Thiruthalil about the incident, but he said he was "unable to guarantee the authenticity of the news."

"What I can say for a fact is that these extremist groups threaten minorities. On Saturday they mobbed my lay catechists in a remote area. So I have no comment to make about their alleged rescue mission".

John Dayal, chairman of the All India Christian Union, told AsiaNews that "this rescue story involving 80 clergymen travelling through a forest in a remote area only to get into an accident with another ten dying whilst Hindu extremists who just happen to be in the same place is intriguing".

"I have tried to check out the story, but it was impossible," Mr Dayal said.

"The death of ten Christian clergymen should be front page news in the national press, on TV newscasts, on the net, but there is no official information forthcoming from the government".

"This is cause for concern, he explained, "and for investigation at the highest level."

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