08/30/2004, 00.00
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New attack against Catholics in Orissa

by Nirmala Carvalho

According to Mgr. Thomas Thiruthalil, Chairman of the Orissa Bishops' Regional Council, the attack in Kandhamal was planned.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – "It is another planned attack against the Church by Hindu fundamentalists and not an act of revenge against some prior offence," said Mgr. Thomas Thiruthalil, Bishop of Balasore and Chairman of the Orissa Bishops' Regional Council, commenting to AsiaNews the August 26 attack against a Catholic church in Kandhamal district in India's eastern state of Orissa.

On that day a group of merchants burst into a church destroying statues and other religious objects. "They barged into the Church by force," Bishop Thiruthalil said, "brought down the Tabernacle, burnt the Holy Bible and Vestments, and destroyed the pews and the paintings".

According to local police the attack came in retaliation to violence perpetrated a few days earlier by some Christians who set on fire a lorry parked nearby and pelted local merchants with stones.

"Initially," the bishop said, "the police was unwilling to file a first information report about what happened. In the end it relented and did it. But," he said incredulous, "the police made a few arrests . . . in both communities."

Kandhamal is now under curfew. People fear that violence might spread to neighbouring districts.

Bishop Thiruthalil forwarded a petition to Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil calling on the government to look into the matter with urgency. "Catholics in Orissa are very worried," the bishop added. "Unfortunately, attacks against the Church and Christian activities are not isolated episodes."

Orissa is a Hindu fundamentalist stronghold. Several acts of violence have been perpetrated against religious minorities and Christian communities for the purpose of reconverting Christians back to Hinduism.

In 2003 leaders of different Christian denominations belonging to the All Indian Christian Council called on the National Commission for Minorities to put a stop to the ongoing forced re-conversion campaign and to investigate cases in which people were re-converted back to Hinduism under duress and intimidation.

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