Faithful killed, homes and churches burned, thousands flee: pogrom of Indian Christians (OVERVIEW)
Bubaneshwar (AsiaNews) - AsiaNews is attempting an initial tally of the wave of violence that has shaken Orissa since the evening of August 23, between 9 and 10 o'clock, with the killing of Hindu fundamentalist leader Swami Laxanananda Saraswati and five of his followers. The information has been obtained from: the justice and peace commission of the diocese of Kuttack-Bhubaneswar, the All India Christian Council, and the Global Council of Indian Christians (Protestant).
On the evening of Saturday, August 23, shortly after news came of the Hindu leader's death, the first attack took place: two sisters of the congregation of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus Christ in Kothaguda were stopped by a group of assailants, who made them get out of their vehicle and then set fire to it. The driver was savagely beaten: almost at the same time, another vehicle in which religious sisters were traveling, near Ainthapally in Sambalpur, was stopped and set on fire.On the morning of Sunday, August 24, attacks began on various churches, which were sparsely attended because of the fear of attacks. This was the prelude to the escalation of violence that took place throughout the entire day: at around 5:30 in the afternoon, the Jan Vikas social center of the archdiocese of Cuttack Bhubaneswar was attacked; the crowd burned cars, motorbikes, and all of the documents.
At 6 in the evening, the crowd burned the pastoral center in Divya, and then attacked the priests' residence in Baliguda, in the heart of the district of Kandhamal, previously the theater of violence from December 24-26 in 2007. The assailants damaged both the convent and the adjacent welcome center. Similar attacks took place at about 6:30 that same evening, at the Catholic church in Kanjamedi, after which three other churches in the area were attacked. That night, 12 shops belonging to Christian Dalits were burned. A young sister from the diocese of Cuttack Bhubaneswar, doing social work in Nuagaon, in Kandhamal, was sexually assaulted: the Hindu fundamentalists then completely burned down the building.
Monday, August 25: at 7 in the morning, some of the followers of the radical Hindu leader Laxanananda Saraswati caused serious damage to the Catholic church in Phulbani. Also on the morning of August 25, the bishop's residence and curia in Bhubaneswar were attacked. Only the presence of police was able to drive away the attackers, but not before they threw stones and other objects at the building, breaking many of the windows.
At about 1 p.m., Jamai Pariccha, the director of the Catholic social assistance agency Gramya Pragati, was attacked. His wife, who is Hindu, asked for mercy for her husband, but the crowd would not listen: the fundamentalists continued to beat him, shouting "He is a Christian, and we will kill him!' The man was taken to a hospital, which has not been named for security reasons. His property, including his car, was destroyed. A similar episode took place one hour later, at about 2 in the afternoon, at the home of Puren Nayak, a Catholic teacher in Bhudansahi. The home was set on fire. It is said that Hindu women told the men which were the homes of the Christians, and offered them kerosene for burning them.
In the afternoon, 21-year-old lay missionary Rafani Majhi was killed, burned alive while she was trying to save the orphans at a mission in Bargarh. Another man was burned alive in Kandhamal. A priest was also seriously wounded in the attack on the orphanage, and has been hospitalized with wounds all over his body.
Fr Thomas Challan, director of the diocesan pastoral center in Kanjimendi - less than a kilometer from the place where the sister who was raped worked - and a religious, Sister Meena, were seriously injured during an attack on the pastoral center, which was destroyed by fire. Both of the injured were taken to the police station, while officers tried to stop their heavy bleeding. On the evening of the 25th, the parish of Sankrakhol was also attacked and burned. The pastor, Fr Alexandar Chandi, was able to escape to the nearby forest before the fundamentalists captured him. Fr Bernard Digal, who was visiting his friend Fr Chandi, fled from the enraged crowd. His jeep was destroyed. Today, Fr Bernard Digal was brutually assaulted, he is in a critical condition in hospital.At around 11:30 p.m., 17 Christian homes were sacked in Raikia, and all of their meager furnishings were destroyed. The convent of Saint Joseph was also attacked, and the sisters were able to save themselves only by hiding in the forest. Throughout the day on August 25, a number of attacks took place on churches in various areas of the district, including: the Pentecostal church in Budamaha, the church in Masadkia, the church in Pisermaha, the Baptist church and Redemptorist church in Mondakia, and the church in Mdahupanga. A handful of police officers were sent to guard the church in Jeypore, under threat of imminent attack: according to sources in the security forces, more than 200 fundamentalists were ready to attack it, while the pastor and one of his fellow priests abandoned the building, finding refuge at the home of some friends.
In the district of Bargarh, a crowd made up of 2,000 fanatics attacked and destroyed many churches, targeting priests and sisters. In Padampur, Fr Edward Sequira was brutally beaten: he is alive at the moment, but in critical condition because of his many injuries, and he has not yet regained consciousness.
Confirmation has come from Tiangia of the death of a Catholic, Vikram Nayak, literally torn to pieces by an enraged crowd. Two other people were wounded in the attack, and died hours later from their injuries and from lack of treatment. At the village in which the massacre took place, many homes of Catholic families were burned, while the inhabitants took refuge in the forest. Last night, in the area of Raikia, three people died from asphyxiation when their homes were burned.
Tuesday, August 26: in the morning, in the village of Tingia, three people died of asphyxiation when their homes were burned. At around 11:30 a.m., a crowd burned the church and five homes in the village of Badimunda, in the district of Kandhamal. The two missionaries, a Divine Word missionary and a Jesuit, were kidnapped but escaped on Monday the 25th: Fr Simon Laksa and Fr Xavier Tirkey, naked and beaten, were able to flee to safety. They are now safe in their community.
The police have begun to act more decisively to restore calm to the region, while the government authorities have imposed a curfew and have given orders to shoot violators on sight. At around 9:30 in the evening, gunfire was exchanged between Hindu fundamentalists and security forces, near the village of Barakhama: four people died in the shooting. In Kandhmal, the curfew has been extended from four villages to seven, but this has not prevented the destruction of hundreds of buildings and properties belonging to Christians, in addition to the damage done to many churches.
There is news from the area of a lack of food, clothing, and drinking water; the humanitarian emergency is becoming increasingly serious, and the heavy rainfall last night is not helping the situation of those who have fled to the forest from the attacks. Women and children are among the hardest hit.