Shoot-on-sight orders have been enforced in Orissa, where the authorities have imposed a curfew in several towns in the rural Kandhamal district in an effort to end three days of violence. Tensions are still high in the state where Hindu extremists are being encouraged by their leaders to target Christians in revenge attacks for the recent murder of a radical Hindu leader.
Volunteers of radical World Hindu Council take an oath
Shouting “Kill Christians and destroy their institutions,” hundreds of Hindus from the militant Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) or World Hindu Council stormed the Pastoral Centre of the diocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar, laying it to waste.
The same fate was visited upon a social institute, a church and a parish residence in Kandhamal, and a chapel in Sundergarh. In Udayagir, a van owned by the Sisters of Mother Teresa was attacked while another that belonged to the Daughters of the most Precious Blood was burnt.
At the epicentre of this frenzied violence is the district of Kandhamal, where at least 11 people have been killed in the last three days.
Stirring up anti-Christian sentiment
The wave of violence and destruction began at the weekend and has continued with Hindu leaders haranguing crowds, stirring up anti-Christian sentiment, urging people to destruction, accusing Christians of assassinating Hindu fundamentalist leader Swami Laxanananda Saraspati and five of his followers.
Laxanananda, who was behind a wave of anti-Christian violence last year, was killed when 20 armed gunmen entered his house during a yoga session, shooting indiscriminately at those present and throwing grenades.
Although Maoist rebels claimed responsibility for the attack radical Hindus took advantage of the situation in order to blame Christians and unleash the current wave of violence.
India’s junior home minister Sriprakash Jaiswal led a delegation to Bhubaneshwar, the state capital, to get a first hand account of the situation. He said: “We have come to Bhuwaneshwar to conduct an on-the-spot assessment to find out why the situation has deteriorated so rapidly in the last three days.”
Stronger police deployment
Meanwhile, strengthened police forces have been deployed in the state’s sensitive areas -- with little success.
For their part, several Christian organizations called for a shutdown of all educational institutions on Friday and organized their own protest against the violence.
Oswald Gracias is the Bishop of Mumbai and the President of the All India Catholic Educational Institutions. “This is certainly not intended to fan any more communal disharmony. The idea is to show protest against what is happening in Orissa, protest against the killings, to protest against those who are fanning communal disharmony. It’s also in solidarity with those who are suffering there. We really do not want to cause any inconvenience to the children and staff. It is just a one-day protest, a token solidarity move.”
The National Commission for Minorities, a government organization set up to safeguard the constitutional rights of minorities, has sought a comprehensive report from the state government on the recent chain of events.
Orissa has often witnessed clashes between the Christian and Hindu communities. In January 1999, an Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two young sons were killed when a mob set fire to the vehicle in which they were sleeping outside a church in Manoharpur, a tribal village in the Keonjhar district.
Hindus account for 83 percent of India's more than 1 billion population, while Christians make up 2.4 percent.