NEW DELHI, India — After police in India’s state of Orissa confirmed Oct. 6 that a key Hindu nationalist was killed by Maoists, a Hindu extremist group allegedly circulated forged documents in an attempt to implicate a local church in the Aug. 23 murder.
The Hindu Jagaran Samukhya (Society for Revival of Hinduism or HJS) circulated documents saying that Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati’s killed in Orissa’s Kandhamal district was planned at a meeting at Bethikala Church on May 25 attended by 17 people following a briefing and order by religious leaders, the Press Trust of India news agency reported Oct. 9.
Local Christian leaders responded by saying they will file defamation charges.
“We will file both civil and criminal defamation cases against the person who made such allegations,” Joseph Kalathil of the Catholic Archbishop in Bhubaneswar and Prafulla Ku Sabhapati, president of the Bethikala Parish Council of Kandhamal, said in a statement. “Not only our signatures were forged, the contents of the documents were also fabricated.”
Orissa state police confirmed that Maoists killed Saraswati after a communist leader told NDTV 24X7 news that his organization was behind the murder, targeting Saraswati as a key leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP).
“We left two letters claiming responsibility for the murders,” said Sabyasachi Panda, chief of the Orissa unit of the banned Communist Party of India-Maoist.
Panda said the government of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik “suppressed those letters.”
The Orissa government, which is affiliated with the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), will support the World Hindu Council, Panda said. “The state government made it look like Christian groups were responsible for the attack. The Christian community in Orissa does not have any Maoist organization supporting them here,” Panda said.
In another development, The Indian Express reported that the Orissa police had arrested three tribal Christians in connection with Saraswati’s murder and obtained confessions of their involvement.
A representative of the Christian Legal Association told Compass Direct News that, according to Orissa sources, the police had tortured the three Christians to pressure them to confess to a crime they did not commit.
After the assassination of Saraswati, Hindu extremist groups blamed local Christians and began attacks on them, their houses and their churches in spite of the Orissa police and media stating on the day of the murder that suspected Maoists had killed Saraswati.
According to the All India Christian Council, more than 60 people have been killed, more than 18,000 injured and around 4,500 houses and churches destroyed in the “retributive” violence.
Two Christian women, including a nun, reportedly were gang-raped. The violence, which later spread to at least 14 districts of Orissa, has left more than 50,000 people homeless.
In Kandhamal and other districts, the violence continues seven weeks after the violence began.
About 15 houses were burned down Oct. 9 by a mob in the Lansaripalli village in the neighboring Boudh district, The Hindu reported. The attackers allegedly came from the Gochhapada area of Kandhamal district.
“Thursday’s was the third incident in Boudh district,” the daily added. “More than 100 houses were burnt down in two separate attacks in the past few days.”
On Oct. 8, a mob burned and looted at least 25 houses of Christians in the Balligada village in Kandhamal, Ajay Singh of the Catholic Archdiocese of Bhubaneswar told Compass.
On Oct. 7, five or more houses were torched in Jalespanga area of Kandhamal. Another house was burned in the Sujeli village.
The Hindu said the more than 16,000 Christians living in various relief camps were not returning to their villages, fearing attacks on them if they refused to convert to Hinduism.
Singh, of the Bhubaneswar Archdiocese, told Compass that more than 12,000 Christians from various relief camps had moved out of Kandhamal to other districts and states, as they feared more attacks.
The president of the VHP, Ashok Singhal, told India’s Zee News channel on Oct. 5,
“What Hindu organizations including the VHP, the Bajrang Dal and the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, India’s chief Hindu nationalist group) are doing in Orissa is all legal and is the reaction of the murder of VHP leader Saraswati, who was like Jesus Christ to us.”
In an interview with The Week magazine published the same day, Singhal said Hindu youth are “ready to die and, if necessary, to kill. (Their) patience is ebbing.”
Singhal added that a “Hindu uprising” had begun, “and the political parties will have to rethink and reinvent themselves, for their own existence. If there is no arrangement for Hindus’ security, they’ll do it on their own. … If that self-defence is militancy, so be it….”
In addition, a leader of the Bajrang Dal in the southern state of Karnataka admitted to supporting recent attacks on churches while speaking to The Week magazine.
“We supported those who attacked the churches, as it is a justified fight,” Bajrang Dal convenor Mahendra Kumar said.
The violence in Orissa spread to several other states, including Karnataka, where around 20 churches were destroyed and 20 Christians were attacked in the recent weeks.
As many political parties and rights groups have demanded a ban on the Bajrang Dal for attacking Christians and churches in Orissa and other states, the federal government ruled by the United Progressive Alliance has mandated that the National Integration Council give its recommendations, the Times of India reported Oct. 10.
The Bajrang Dal, however, warned that any such move would have “grave consequences” for the government politically, saying there was “no legal ground” for such action.
There are some 900,000 Christians in Orissa, which has a population of 36.8 million.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Compass Direct News, based in Santa Ana, Calif., provides reports on Christians worldwide who are persecuted for their faith.)