Laxmanananda Saraswati, 85-year-old VHP leader who had been working among tribals against religious conversion, was gunned down at an ashram for girls at Jalespeta in Tumudibandh block. A small thatched structure used as a prayer house was set afire by unidentified persons late last night at Tentulijhari in Sundergarh district. Four of his associates were also killed along with him. The swami was a member of the central advisory committee of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).
Activists of VHP and other saffron outfits staged demonstrations, blocked roads and stopped trains at several places. Prohibitory orders were clamped in communally-sensitive Kandhmal district and security tightened across Orissa. Police deployed more than 3,000 personnel in the streets and shoot-on-sight orders have been issued in Kandhamal district in Orissa state. Maoist guerrillas and/or Christian missionaries are allegedly behind the killings. Maoists reportedly claimed responsibility for the killings. [Ref]. Christian organizations are suspected as they target Swami Saraswati for anti Christian violence in the past. The outbreak of violence, it said, follows widespread attacks on Christian targets beginning in December 2007. Swami Saraswati, it said, was "widely implicated" in the incitement of those attacks and in "stirring anti-Christian hatred in Orissa state, but he was never prosecuted by the State authorities. [Ref]
Hindu mobs ransacked churches and clashed with Christian villagers yesterday in violence that has left at least 11 people dead. . Mobs have destroyed more than a dozen churches and attacked Christians this week after the murder of a Hindu leader in Kandhamal. Television pictures showed mobs armed with rods putting up road blocks and attacking churches. Other mobs armed with bows and arrows and axes attacked Christian homes, dragging out women and children. Hundreds have fled to forests and nearby hills [Ref]. [Pic]
Hundreds of Christians were fleeing their homes in India’s eastern Orissa state after Hindu mobs defied curfew, blocked roads and attacked churches, homes and orphanages following the killing of a Hindu leader. At least 11 people, mostly Christians, have been killed so far in clashes between Hindus and Christians as violence spiralled for a fifth successive day in Kandhamal district, 180km south-west of the state capital, Bhubaneshwar. Officials said at least one church was burnt yesterday, while television pictures showed mobs armed with rods putting up road blocks. Local television channels and newspapers, however, put the death toll at between 17 and 20. In the underdeveloped regions of Orissa, though, the security situation was deteriorating, with hundreds of residents fleeing their homes for the safety of nearby hills and jungles. [Ref]
An eight-member delegation of representatives of various religious organizations, led by noted filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, met Maharashtra Governor S.C. Jamir here Thursday to condemn the attacks on Christians in Orissa and requested him to convey their sentiments to the centre. The delegation included AICC general secretary Abraham Mathai, Father Anthony Charanghat on behalf of the Archbishop of Bombay, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Raza Academy general secretary M. Saeed Noori and Sikh Association office-bearer Sardar Rajinder Singh. [Ref]
Meanwhile, Italy's Foreign Ministry said it will summon India's ambassador to demand "incisive action" to prevent further attacks against Christians. Italy will also ask France, the current EU president, to take up the issue at a foreign ministers' meeting.[Ref] [Pic]
Expressing anguish over the continued violence against Christians in Orissa, a Muslim organisation demanded a ban on the Hindu outfit Bajrang Dal for allegedly attacking minority communities. The All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, an umbrella body of Indian Muslim organizations, said the Bajrang Dal was also involved in the gruesome killing of Australian Graham Staines and his children in 1999. Demanding deployment of army to control the situation, the Muslim body said the state government should be removed as they had failed to protect the Christian community from attacks by people connected to the Bajrang Dal.
The Sacred Heart Cathedral here held an inter-religious prayer service Thursday in memory of those who died in Orissa. On Friday, the Christian community in Delhi will hold a demonstration in front of the Orissa Bhavan. The All India Confederation of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes Organizations, the national body of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe government employees, demanded immediate action to check the violence. "Home Minister Shivraj Patil must act now to stop the VHP sponsored violence over Dalit and tribal Christians before the situation goes out of control," said Udit Raj, the chairman of the Confederation and also of the Indian Justice Party. Christian schools and other educational institutions across India were to stay closed today to protest against the violence. [Ref]
Human Rights Watch, Christian Solidarity Network, Dalit Freedom Network and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty have appealed to foreign ministers in the EU and the US to immediately call for an end to the sectarian violence in India's Orissa. "Mobs have been attacking minority Christians in retaliation for the killing of local religious leader Swami Lakhmananda Saraswati," says the letter, adding as of August 27, at least nine people have been killed, a nun gang-raped, and churches and houses have been destroyed in at least 12 districts. Condemning the murder of Swami, allegedly by Naxalite (Maoist) insurgents, the letter said: "the fact that Christians have been made the scapegoats and victims of a Vishwa Hindu Parishad backlash is deplorable and calls for urgent intervention." [Ref]
Pope Benedict XVI has appealed to India's religious and civil authorities "to work together" to restore "peaceful coexistence and harmony" in the wake of anti-Christian violence in Orissa state. The pope strongly condemned the violence and expressed his personal solidarity with the suffering Christians. He termed the murder of the Hindu leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati as deplorable but expressed spiritual closeness and solidarity to the brothers and sisters in the faith so sorely tried. [Ref] [Pic]
Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, had called on the international community to pressure the Indian government to ensure that the provisions in the Indian Constitution on religious freedom are fully respected. Apostolic Nuncio to India Archbishop Pedro Lopez Quintana, in comments to Vatican Radio, said Hindu fundamentalists are trying to impose a Hindu state on the entire population. Archbishop Lopez Quintana told Vatican Radio: "Behind this violence (against Christians) there are fundamentalist groups linked to ideologies of a Nazi matrix. Their scope is to impose a fundamentalist state, and in certain states they have found a favorable situation, and it is from there that the violence spreads." Still, Archbishop Lopez Quintana does not see any change in their activities in the future; he is confident this crisis too will be overcome.