Christians under attack in Karnataka, Kerala, Orissa violence toll 24 (Roundup, combining different stories)

September 15th, 2008 - 7:39 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Sep 15 (IANS) Attacks on pastors and prayer halls were reported from different parts of the country Monday as one more body was found in Orissa’s volatile Kandhamal district taking the death toll in the state to 24. Schools and shops remained shut and vehicles kept off the roads in the coastal Karnataka city of Mangalore Monday following group clashes and demonstrations by Christian groups to protest attacks on them Sunday by right wing Hindu groups.

In Kerala, a missionary school that doubled up as a temporary church was attacked in Kasargod district, police said Monday.

In Uttar Pradesh, two pastors were allegedly attacked in Kanpur district, while a Bajrang Dal leader accused them of beating his supporters, police said.

In Orissa, a dead body was recovered from Krutamgarh village in Kandhamal district where security forces fired at a mob Saturday evening to prevent them from attacking Christian residents.

The police had initially said that two people were killed in the firing, a figure that has now been revised to three. With this, 24 people have been killed in communal clashes that broke out last month after Swami Laxmananda Saraswati, a central advisory committee member of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), and four others were shot dead by unidentified gunmen at his Jalespata Ashram in Kandhamal district.

Police suspect Maoist rebels killed them but some Hindu groups blamed Christians for the murder and went on the rampage. Christian groups have repeatedly denied the allegation.

Speaking about the situation in Karnataka’s coastal city Mangalore Monday, a senior police officer said: “The city is tense. Groups of people are indulging in throwing stones at each other at a few places.

“We are trying to control the situation and at one or two places we lobbed tear gas shells to disperse the crowds,” he added.

Christians gathered at prayers halls in the bustling commercial centre, about 350 km from Karnataka capital Bangalore, to protest attack on churches and prayer halls.

The police official said stones were pelted at police personnel from inside a prayer hall complex in the city.

There have been attacks on a couple of Christian prayer halls in the rich coffee plantation district of Chikmagalur and the central Karnataka district of Davangere earlier this month, the attackers alleging that the churches were enticing Hindus to convert to Christianity.

The Kerala incident follows attacks Sunday on 10 churches by suspected Bajrang Dal activists in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts in Karnataka that neighbour Kasargod.

“The attack must have taken place Sunday night or early Monday morning,” the vicar of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church Punnoor Antony told IANS.

The church authorities found the windowpanes of the school smashed apart from some other damage.

As the church was under renovation, regular mass was being offered at Jayamatha School nearby.

“We closed the school after prayers Sunday evening. It was this morning we noticed the damage,” Antony said.

“It could be the act of some mischief mongers, who wanted to create panic here,” said Ramdas Pothan, Kasargod district superintendent of police.

In Uttar Pradesh, the two pastors and the Bajrang Dal leader had both complained to the police, who were investigating the matter.

“The pastor of the New India Church of God, Jitendra Singh, approached us late Sunday night and submitted a written complaint against Ram Babu Bajpai, a local leader of the Bajrang Dal,” inspector N.K. Singh of the Govindnagar police station in Kanpur district told IANS on telephone.

Jitendra Singh said Bajpai, along with a large number of his supporters, attacked him in the church compound. His wife, Helena Singh, and fellow pastor Anil Gilbert were also present, he added.

“However, Bajpai also registered an FIR against the pastor making and made similar allegations,” N.K. Singh stated.

The Bajrang Dal has alleged that the church was involved in converting Hindus to Christianity by offering them money and the pastors attacked them when its activists opposed the practice, according to its complaint.

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