The feast of Christmas, an event of joy and peace turned to be a tragedy.
The trouble began on 24th December at 8.00 a.m. at Bamunigam village, close to the police station under Daringibadi Block of Kandhamal District. Some Hindu Fundamentalists forcefully removed Christmas decoration, which the Ambedkar Baniko Sangho comprising the local Christian entrepreneurs had put up as a preparation for Christmas, with due permission of the administration. This was followed by exchange of words between two groups, as the fundamentalists insisted that the people stop Christmas celebrations. Within a few minutes a group of people, who were stationed close-by, pounced on the members of Ambedkar Baniko Sangho with sticks, knives, other lethal weapons and guns and other firearms.
Seeing this armed gang coming to attack them, the people dispersed out of fear. The fundamentalists shot at the people with their guns, critically injuring two of them. They also destroyed about fifteen shops belonging to the Christians after looting the shops and houses. Six or seven members of Ambedkar Baniko Sangho were beaten up by the mob.
On the second day, Christmas 25th December, the crowd came back and destroyed the churches in Bamunigam area. Then they entered the Christian villages and burnt their houses and property. Christians were asked to leave the place. Church and the Christians were under mortal threat, but there was no police security.
2. Attack on Bamunigam and Balliguda Parishes
On the same day, 24th December at about 2.00 p.m. much larger crowd (400to 500) marched into Balliguda town parish and damaged and ransacked the church buildings. By 10.00 p.m. the following institutions were destroyed or burned (some fully, others partly). The large parish church, presbytery, convent, computer room, dispensary, plus +2 student’s hostel, etc.
The same armed mob then moved into the town and completely burned down the church belonging to the Baptist Christians. They also attacked another church belonging to the Pentecostal Christians.
On 25th December they were moving around menacingly threatening the priests and Christians so that they were not even able to file FIR (First Information Report) with the police. The situation continues to be desperate and there is great fear and anxiety among Christians.
On 25th December, also the convent in Phulbani was attacked by a group of fundamentalists. They destroyed everything possible from outside of the convent (door, window glasses, etc.) They also damaged a new school bus. On 25th December the priests and sisters in Pobingia parish were advised to move out to a safer place which they did. And thereafter at 12.00 noon a group of Bajrangdal people attacked the church of Pobingia parish and destroyed it. There after they destroyed the priest’s residence in the afternoon.
All this happened with impunity — in the presence of police. More than half of 24 parishes in Kandhamal District could not celebrate Christmas mass because of fear of attack. For instance, Two constables asked the priests of Phulbani parish to have no celebration lest there will be more troubles. During midnight Mass on 24th December, someone threw a bomb on Archbishop’s House, Bhubaneswar. It exploded, fortunately no damage took place.
3. INSTITUTIONS SO FAR ATTACKED AND DESTROYED
PARISH CHURCH (5)
VILLAGE CHURCHES (48)
Kamapada – Balliguda
Ulipadaro – Bamunigam
7 churches, Sirtiguda, Balliguda
4 churches in Phiringia
7 churches in Phulbani
4 churches in Ruthungia
4 churches in Kalingia
2 churches in Tikabali
4 village Churches – Nuagam
3 more village church
2 Budaguda (Ruthungia)
A good number of village churches are also destroyed of which we do not have definite information. In Barakhama parish, 400 houses are gutted, five people murdered, property looted, one tracto, one jeep and two motor cycles burnt. The formation house of Capuchin congregation was totally vandalized.
CONVENTS (6) PRESBYTERY (3)
HOSTELS (6) OTHER INSTITUTIONS (3)
Pobingia 2 Minor Seminary (Balliguda)
Balliguda 2 Vocational Training Centre (Balliguda)
Bamunigam 2 Sarshnanda, leprosy centre (Pobingia)
All these happened during the first three days of vandalism and arson. We are in receipt of information from various other churches and institutions that the attackers are still active and the destruction of property is still going on and Christians are under attack. On the other hand the innocent Christians are apprehended and Christian officials are victimized in order to appease the Fundamentalists.
4. Preplanned attack and destruction
Orissa has a history of communal flare-ups every now and then. But this time it was very intensive, violent and pre-planned from all points of view.
4.1 The speed with which attacks were carried out. This was not possible unless it was planned. Within half an hour over two hundred people in Bamunigam parish premises (they sprang up form no where) and 400 to 500 persons in Balliguda where maximum destruction took place. These two attacks took place simultaneously.
4.2 They appeared on the scene of destruction with instruments capable of causing massive destruction in a short time. For instance, they had acid with them in order to burn things. They had guns, iron-cutting swords (machine) to cut the grills of door and windows.
4.3 The attackers had enough food stuff with them to prepare their meals in the area of attack. One must conclude that they had preplanned this attack.
4.4 Swami Lakshmanananda began to travel from Daringibadi to Bamunigam as soon as the attack began in Bamunigam. The Swami is considered to be the mastermind behind all the attacks.
All these show that without pre-planning such unprecedented destruction is not possible within a short time, maximum destruction in three days.
5. Nature of their operation.
I had told my priests and religious that they should save themselves and don’t worry about the property. So, I advised them to escape to anywhere as soon as they hear about an impending attack. Because of this the institutions were ‘open’ to Fundamentalists for total destruction.
5.1. We could not rely on police force either because they were too few or they were indifferent for the reasons I do not know.
5.2. Destruction took place even in the presence of police force (20 of them) in Bamunigam who just watched.
5.3. The fundamentalists broke open the main door, smashed window glasses, twisted grills and gathered all that can be piled up in the middle of the building, poured kerosene or petrol or acid on the heap of things and made a bonfire. The end of the show! Then they moved into another place.
5.4. Whatever they could they have carried away.
6. Who were the attackers?
In general the armed mob of fundamentalists belonged to what is called the ‘Sangh Parivar’, professing an extremist and intolerant Hindutva ideology of hate and violence. But the people who perpetrated the crimes were as a rule from other villages to avoid recognition, so after committing the crimes, they disappeared from the scene. So, often it is difficult to identify individuals involved in acts of arson and attempted murder.
7. How did the Government handle the problem?
In general the Government promised us all support and protection. The ‘Kui Samaj’ had declared two day bandh on 25th and 26th December in order to protest against giving scheduled caste status to SC Christians. Since 25th December is Christmas we expected some trouble. We approached the District Magistrate and Superintendent of police about the impending troubles. They promised us all support. To make the long story short the following is our experience.
1. The district administration had not taken any precautionary measures to prevent any troubles; consequently they were not able to control or prevent the destruction.
2. When the trouble began on 24th December at 8. 00 a.m. I approached the Director General of Police (DGP) who promised all support. But we are utterly disappointed because only after 26th hours after the first attack the force reached the places of attack in Bamunigam. Distance form Bhubaneswar to the area of trouble is 300 kilometer. From District Head Quarters, Phulbani (Kandhamal) to the troubled area is over 85 kilometer.
3. Either the deployment of the Force was insufficient or the Force did not have the power to take necessary action on the spot.
4. The fundamentalists moved freely in trucks and other vehicles shouting slogans “Jai Shri Ram” “Jai Bajrang Dal” etc. Destruction went on unabated.
5. So far no one has been apprehended even though most of the attacks took place before the police.
6. Most of the priests, pastors and religious sisters in Kandhamal District have taken shelter in the forest. In fact the fundamentalists are in search of finding their hide-outs.
7. The Christians who are already attacked and those who are in great fear of being attacked feel with sufficient reason that they are left to the mercy of the fundamentalists.
In general I would say that the administration miserably failed to take necessary and effective steps to prevent such unprecedented destruction of establishments of Christian community in Kandhamal District.
7. A delegation met the Hon’ble Chief Minister and made the following demands:
1. That a CBI inquiry may be ordered for proper and impartial investigation for justice.
2. That Central Para Military Forces are deployed in adequate strength at all the affected and sensitive places to prevent any further recurrences as the local police has not been able to control the situation.
3. That impartial and proper assessment of the property damaged, caused to various Churches, Christian institutions and other establishments may be made and adequate compensation be provided as early as possible to restore confidence of the people in the administration.
4. That proper compensation is given to the deceased family and injured persons.
5. That the culprits responsible for creating communal disharmony and caused damage to people and properties should be severely dealt with and the Govt. officials be given exemplary punishments for their gross negligence, inaction, apathy amounting to connivance with the perpetrators
6. A Fact Finding Committee consisting of various Church leaders and representatives proposed to visit various affected sites and personnel of the Kandhamal District and other affected places of the state to take stock of the situation and to console the victims and families. Therefore, we request to provide police protection to the team during their visit.
Archbishop Raphael Cheenath, SVD
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