New Delhi (AsiaNews) – This Christmas was a day of violence in Orissa. The temporary toll includes three people killed; 13 churches set on fire; two parish houses destroyed; tens of people hurt, many seriously; a Christian orphanage vandalised; trains blocked for hours; and police cars torched; al of it as a result of a full scale onslaught by the Viśva Hindū Parişad (VHP), a Hindu fundamentalist organisation. The terror started on Christmas eve and continued throughout Christmas Day. The police has imposed a curfew in many villages but is still unable to keep the situation under control.
The spark that ignited the wave of violence was a visit on Christmas Eve to Bramunigam in Phulbani District (Orissa) by Swami Lakhananda Sarswati, an 80-year-old local VHP leader. Surrounded by his bodyguards, he came to a Christian area where local worshippers had put up again tents to celebrate Christmas that some 300 VHP members had previously destroyed. A quarrel followed which the media reported as “an attack against Swami Lakhananda Sarswati.” The VHP reacted to the incident by calling for a day of “national strike” in Orissa.
In Phulbani District all hell broke lose. Many armed VHP members attacked churches, some 13 in all, forbidding Christians from celebrating Christmas, shooting at people, killing three (two Christians) and wounding many more, including three who are now fighting for their life. Clashes continued into Christmas Day with police doing nothing according to eyewitnesses.
The list of violent incidents in Phulbani released by the All India Christian Council includes:
§ In the Daringabadi Block the offices of World Vision of India, a Protestant organisation, were attacked and set on fire; office documents were destroyed along with a jeep and seven motorcycles.
§ In the Balliguda Block, five churches were damaged, including a Baptist church, a Catholic church and a Pentecostal church as well as a Catholic Sisters' convent. Furniture, sound systems and tents were burnt. A computer training centre was vandalised. VHP members also interrupted Christmas celebration at another Baptist church.
§ In Nuagam Block, churches in Kdupakia, Sirtiguda and Gosukia Jangungia villages were attacked; furniture and liturgical items were destroyed.
§ In Chakapad Block, a church was set on fire whilst Christians were holding a Christmas celebration. Some parishioners were hurt.
§ In Phringia Block, a Catholic church was destroyed by a bomb thrown by fundamentalists. A Protestant clergyman, Rev Junas Digal, had his head shaved, was forcibly brought before a Hindu temple and forced to bow in front of a Hindu deity.
§ In Raikia, tens of Christian-owned shops were reportedly destroyed with armed VHP vigilante groups, marching up and down the streets all day long, ordering Christians to stay indoors.
§ In central Phulbani, a Baptist church and a Catholic church were not allowed to conduct Christmas celebrations. An orphanage run by a Catholic priest was attacked and three vehicles torched. The Carmel Convent School in Phulbani was attacked; its school buses and vehicles were broken into, then set on fire and destroyed.
Many Christians have complained that the police did nothing to stop the violence. But in Phulbani and Tikabali mobs of Hindu fundamentalists also attacked a police station and road block, setting them and a jeep on fire.
The private residence of a minister, Padmanabh Beheras, was also attacked.
A four-hour sit-in organised by the VHP blocked railways and highways in Cuttack, Balasore, Bubaneshwar and Bhadrak causing major delays for train travellers.
Revenue Divisional Commissioner Satyabrata Sahu said the authorities imposed a curfew on Phulbani, Baliguda, Daringibadi and Brahmanigaon, but the situation has not yet returned to normal.
There are about 100,000 Christians in Orissa’s Phulbani District out of a population of 650,000 people.
In the state of Orissa, which is a stronghold of Hindu fundamentalist nationalism, an anti-conversion law has been in place since 1968 blocking missionary activities by Christians.
In 1999 an Australian missionary, Graham Staines, and his two children were murdered and their bodies set on fire in their car.
In the same year a Catholic priest, Fr Arul Doss, was also killed.