Government needs to act in tinderbox Orissa

August 26th, 2008 - 6:24 pm ICT by IANS  

Bhubaneswar/New Delhi, Aug 26 (IANS) The barely suppressed memories of the gruesome murder of Australian missionary Graham Staines have come back to haunt Orissa with the killing of a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader unleashing a communal frenzy that has claimed the lives of at least two people burnt alive by revenge hungry mobs.On Jan 22, 1999, Staines and his two sons - 10-year-old Philip and six-year-old Timothy - were torched to death by Hindu radical mobs in their vehicle in Orissa’s Manoharpur district. Almost a decade later, the state simmered with the same tensions following the killings of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, a member of VHP’s central advisory committee, and four others by suspected Maoist guerrillas in the volatile Kandhamal district Saturday evening.

On Monday, a woman was burnt alive after mobs torched an orphanage in Khuntpali village in Bargarh district, about 300 km from here, and a paralytic patient was lynched and also burnt in Rupa village in Kandhamal, about 340 km from here.

Two more people were believed to have been killed in another village in Kandhamal but the police could not confirm the incident because they just couldn’t access the area blocked by huge wooden logs.

Several churches were burnt and rail and road traffic impacted during the VHP statewide shutdown that has left the state a virtual tinderbox waiting to explode.

Worried intellectuals, religious leaders and businesspersons are hoping the government will step in and restore peace.

“It is unfortunate that our state which is known for peace and harmony is witnessing communal clashes over past some years,” said Ranjan Mohanty, convenor of the Jana Adhikar Abhiyan, a network of civil society groups.

“All political parties and religious leaders should come forward jointly and appeal for peace,” Mohanty told IANS.

“The killing of an 82-year-old man is a heinous crime and we condemn it. But the Sangh Parivar is getting maximum benefit out of it,” added Sudhir Patnaik, a social scientist.

The Sangh Parivar, as the assortment of groups headed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and including the VHP and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are known as, got activated after the killing.

“It appears that the government (headed by the Biju Janata Dal with the BJP as coalition partner) has given a free hand to Hindu groups,” Patnaik said, urging immediate intervention.

As Biswajit Mohanty, chartered accountant and green activist, sees it: “Killing an 82-year-old harmless religious leader who has rendered enormous service to the tribals in Kandhamal is a very heinous crime. Every community should condemn this.”

He said the government was “duty bound to ensure that the conversion efforts of missionaries is stopped completely to ensured that such incidents are not repeated”.

There are also worries that the communal situation would send the wrong message to investors.

The concerns are not limited to Orissa alone.

In New Delhi, Babu Joseph, spokesperson of Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI), said the state government had “failed to a great extent to control the violence by the VHP”. Police officials, he added, took no steps to control the mob.

Leaders of the CBCI along with other Christian organisations in the National United Christian Forum are meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Wednesday to seek the central government’s intervention. They have already met Home Minister Shivraj Patil and spoken to BJP leader L.K. Advani.

All India Christian Council (AICC) secretary general John Dayal asked Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and Patil to take “whatever steps are required to maintain peace and harmony in all areas of Orissa, to prevent further attacks on Christians, and to arrest those responsible for the deaths of Saraswati and his associates”.

Condemning the “inhuman attack” on the church-run orphanage, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) politburo said: “It is a reflection of the fascistic mindset of these organisations that they could attack a place housing innocent unprotected children.”

Former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda alleged that the current violence was part of the Sangh Parivar’s “larger conspiracy” to turn Orissa into a Hindutva laboratory.

“The current spate of violence against Christian clergy, religious institutions including Churches and service organizations such as orphanages is part and parcel of the Sangh Parivar’s larger conspiracy to turn state after state into a Hindutva laboratory,” Gowda said in a statement.

While Hindu groups in the state blamed the church for the crime and alleged that Christians had killed Saraswati because he was opposing religious conversion in the Kandhamal, Christian leaders denied the charges.

“It is a blatant lie and calibrated disinformation propagated by the organizations whose contribution to the nation was just chaos and destruction,” Joseph said.

“Christians have been living in Orissa for the last 200 years. Still they constitute less than two percent of the population. Where is the evidence for these allegations. But we want to know what is the contribution these organisations have given to India’s social sector?” he asked.

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