Systematic and brutal attacks on the
Christian community in Orissa
Brutal attacks on the Christian community by Hindutva
forces ravaged Orissa’s Kandhamal district during Christmas week 2007. As
an unconcerned and partisan administration looked on, a coordinated and
well-planned series of attacks was launched on Christians and Christian
institutions across the district. While official figures claim that three
people were killed, independent estimates state that the number of those
dead is much higher, with several people still missing and many more
injured. Over 500 homes, more than 70 church institutions and property
worth lakhs of rupees was destroyed. More than 3,000 victims of the
violence were housed in refugee camps where they are subjected to further
torment and denied access to justice and equitable relief.
A preliminary report by the independent fact-finding team
led by Dr John Dayal, member, National Integration Council (NIC) and
national president, All India Catholic Union, which visited Kandhamal
district, Orissa in December 2007 and January 2008. Excerpts:
A tragedy that was waiting to happen
and a tragedy that could repeat itself: Urgent conclusions
Ø The events in the
Kandhamal hill district of Orissa during Christmas week from December 22,
2007 to January 1, 2008 are a story of a tragedy foretold, of political
and official condoning if not actual support to the activities of
criminals and political activists spreading bigotry, the ideology of hate
and violence. It is also a painful narrative of police and administrative
indifference, repeated complicity and consistent incompetence. And
finally, it is the documentation of an utter collapse of the law and order
machinery on December 24, 25, 26 and 27, 2007. So much in a state where
Christians number about two per cent, less than the national average.
Ø There is an urgent
caution and a warning in the Kandhamal developments: Unless everyone – the
union government, the Orissa government and its agencies, and religious,
social and development agencies – wakes up and acts in concert, there is
more tragedy waiting to happen. Like a coalfield fire, passions and
tensions are simmering, wounds are suppurating. Only a judicial inquiry by
a Supreme Court judge, assisted by the findings of a criminal
investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), meets the ends
Ø It is beyond doubt that the violence was premeditated, pre-planned
and the work of a well-disciplined group to ensure simultaneous eruption
across the Kandhamal district within hours of the first incident and to
sustain it for five days despite the presence of the highest police
officers in the region. It is clear that the attackers were, in the main,
upper caste non-tribals and non-Dalits who had migrated from other
districts of Orissa and other states although some youth of the suppressed
communities had also been persuaded to join the mobs. The role of the
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP),
the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram and their extension organisations must be the
subject of an intensive investigation by the CBI.
sequence of events is quite clear. The Christian community and its
institutions were targeted for more than 48 hours with the police looking
on and being physically present at the spot in many cases. The
anti-Christian violence continued until December 27, 2007. The anti-Hindu
violence in Brahmanigaon (Bamunigaon) took place more than 60 hours after
the first church was burnt down.
Ø There are unique, unprecedented and possibly dangerous
elements to the Kandhamal violence of Christmas week 2007 although the
state has an unhappy history of recorded and unrecorded persecution of
Christians, including the burning alive of Australian leprosy mission
worker Graham Stuart Staines and his sons Philip and Timothy, and Fr Arul
Das, in 1999, and attacks in the Raikia block of Kandhamal and other parts
of the hill tracts of Orissa.
Ø This is the first time at least one Hindu Oriya
non-tribal house cluster has been destroyed by arsonists, affecting
perhaps a total of 97 families in the villages of Brahmanigaon and Godapur.
Ø This is the first time that there has been a reported
incident of an exchange of fire between the police and a mixed group of
tribals, non-tribals and outsiders in Brahmanigaon on December 27, 2007.
It is in fact a dubious first for India in which Christians’ involvement
is alleged. This by itself must be subjected to close study by academics
and state organisations as also by the Christian leadership.
Ø This is the biggest recorded case of such a large number
of Christian houses being burnt, in Brahmanigaon and Barakhama, other than
churches, convents and hostels which have been targets of violence
in other states, most notably in Gujarat 2002, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh,
Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka and occasionally even in New Delhi,
Haryana, Punjab and Kashmir. We have recorded over 200 cases of violence
across the country before the outbreak in Kandhamal in Orissa.
Ø The burning of medical centres and hostels speaks of a
criminal disregard for humanity and the welfare of the people. We were
told of several instances where nuns said they and their patients were in
need of food and medicines.
Ø This is the first time in history since independence
that about 3,000 Christian men, women and children are forced to live in
two refugee camps, eating boiled rice not fit for human consumption
because of the quantity of sand and grit, and living in the cold with no
toilets, precious little medical care and no woollens. In the camp in
Brahmanigaon they share this misery with their Hindu brothers and sisters.
The irony is not lost. In the super cyclone and other natural disasters
that have devastated the state of Orissa in the past, Christian NGOs and
church groups were almost always among the first to set up relief camps
and rehabilitation projects for the common people irrespective of religion
and ethnic identity.
Ø The quality of violence against the Christian faith must
be recorded so that lessons can be learnt. It has to be seen to be
believed. Hate so deep and pungent does not augur well for the country
and, of course, poses an immediate threat to the ideals of secularism and
freedom of faith, the right to life and the right to dignity enshrined in
the Constitution of India. Church buildings are broken, nuns manhandled,
priests chased away, convent cows killed as their straw is set afire.
These are heinous crimes. The ravishing of statues of Mary, grinding her
face underfoot until nothing remains but shreds, desecrating the Host
which Catholics hold to be the body of Christ and vandalising of ritual
holy material before setting everything on fire speaks of an ideologically
cultivated venom that has percolated deep and will need deep political and
social activism to quell, defeat and eliminate.
Ø The police force of the district failed on all counts.
The government must ensure that in future police action is not thwarted by
roadblocks (however big the tree that has been felled), communication
failure and lack of mobility. It is a matter of regret for the people of
the state and shame for the Orissa police authorities that several
incidents of grave violence and heinous crime were committed while the
police looked on. This happened in more than one block headquarters.
Ø It is a matter of regret that until January 3, when we
spoke to the last police officer before leaving the district, we recorded
extremely partisan, even bigoted, behaviour in senior field police
officers of the rank of circle inspector and subdivisional police officer.
Senior development officers of the rank of commissioner, in their language
to the victims and to us, displayed a condemnable cynicism and bias
against a minority community. We are happy to record that junior and young
tehsildars (administrative officers), rushed in the last days, show
a more humane nature.
Ø There is a continuing reign of terror. Many villages are
now villages of women. The men are in hiding. Elsewhere, entire villages
are deserted. Steps must be taken to create a situation in which the
people can return to their homes and not live in terror.
Ø Despite four days of extensive investigation, we have
not been able to speak authoritatively of the number of dead killed by
arsonists, in clashes, in police firings, or of injuries. Two dead in
Brahmanigaon and two dead in Balliguda are confirmed by the police – the
one person killed in police firing remains unidentified. Any one dead body
just confirms a single death but does not tell how many others may have
died whose bodies have not been recovered by the authorities.
Ø Similarly, only major church buildings, particularly of
the Catholic church, the Church of North India (CNI) and the Baptist
church can be easily counted because they are along the roadside at major
crossroads and towns. Independent Evangelical churches and mission
stations of major denominations exist in villages that have still not been
Ø The state government’s claims of an overlay of the
issues of Maoist activities in the region, the agitation of the Kuis and
the Christmas week violence is not tenable. The presence of Maoists or
Naxalites and the Kui movement are real in some blocks but the nature of
the violence against Christians is in a group by itself. Whatever overlay
does exist could have been overcome and much violence prevented if the
authorities had not given permission for the hartal, or closures, on
Christmas day, a date with which they are, and ought to be, familiar as
Attempts are also being made to present the incidents as a tribal versus
Christian conflict. The evidence is to the contrary. The relations between
Christian tribals and Christian non-tribals, Christian Dalits and Dalits
of other faiths, as well as between Christians belonging to the tribal and
Dalit communities remain cordial, as they have been historically.
The issue that remains pertinent is the targeting of Dalit and tribal
Christians by political-religious fundamentalists.
Ø It is clear that Christians, both tribals and Panas, and
Dalits of various religious persuasions, are particular victims of
violence. Persons opposed to the demand by a section of the community to
seek scheduled status have mobilised and hijacked some of the youth of
their followers to join the mobs in various hamlets and towns. The issue
of scheduled tribe status must be amicably resolved with the help of a
judicial or similar commission and through appropriate inquiry without
Ø The government must also sympathetically consider the
classification of a group of people who are being discriminated against
twice over because of their religion. This is a group which was listed as
a scheduled tribe under the British government and then listed as a
scheduled caste by the state administration. Those of them professing the
Christian faith are denied protection of the law and access to affirmative
action programmes of the government on both counts. They do not get
scheduled caste reservation and other privileges because they are now
Dalits. And they do not get the privileges their Dalit brothers and
sisters get because as Christians they are no longer supposed to be even
Dalits. They remain in an inhuman, unconstitutional limbo, discriminated
against just for their religious beliefs. This discrimination must end
forthwith if the guarantees of freedom of faith under the United Nations
Charter and the Indian Constitution are to have any meaning.
Ø The Government of India, the Supreme Court of India and
other state agencies must take notice and learn their lesson. Peace
committees as being constituted are not the answer. They have lost
credibility. Victims have lost faith in committees constituted of their
persecutors. Truth and reconciliation and an entirely unbiased state are
the answer. Everyone has a role to play in this.
Ø Keeping in view the deep distrust that victim
communities have of local police officers, central police forces must
remain in the area until confidence is restored.
Ø Peace and reconciliation will be possible only with
justice and truth. The guilty must be identified and prosecuted with all
the might of the state. Biased officials, as much as corrupt officials,
are responsible for the lack of development in the Kandhamal region. They
must be identified so that they are never again in command positions where
they can join with communal political elements pursuing their agenda of
hate. There are many wise suggestions contained in the Justice Wadhwa
Commission report that inquired into the murders of the Staines family, as
also in reports by other commissions set up in the aftermath of communal
incidents in other states. They need to be implemented, especially those
relating to the police and the administration, and fundamentalist
organisations, if Orissa is to remain peaceful.
Ø Orissa does not have forums such as a State Minorities
Commission that can move fast to restore confidence. A State Minorities
Commission, as recommended by the National Commission for Minorities, must
be set up soon with statutory powers.
Ø Relief too must consist of materials and compensation
according to national standards set in states that see communal violence
and persecution, and it must also contain compassion, fairness and
Ø Irrespective of the sloganeering by Swami Lakshmanananda
Saraswati who has made Kandhamal his home in recent years with the avowed
objective of purging the region of every Christian presence, Christians
are not enemies of the people of India or of the state. To say, as he says
repeatedly even in the presence of the police, ‘Whosoever converts
to Christianity becomes an enemy’, is a crime under the law of the land.
To say ‘Christians will not be tolerated’. And to say it on national
satellite channels is equally a crime. Action must be taken in the
interests of justice and protecting the Constitution. This saintly
gentleman is obviously not just above the law but is the law in the
area, judging by the attitude of the police and local administrative
officers towards him.
Ø National TV
channels and segments of the local media need to introspect on whether in
their reportage of the Kandhamal developments they have observed the code
of ethics of the Editors Guild of India and practices observed in their
reporting. Secularism, fairness and truth must remain part of the training
of media persons in media institutions as well as in print, television and
cyber media organisations as an ongoing process. It is interesting
to note that video interviews of Lakshmanananda Saraswati were filmed by a
private videographer, a known activist of the RSS, within the premises of
a medical centre belonging to another RSS activist, and the tape was then
telecast without further corroboration. In the tape Lakshmanananda
Saraswati repeatedly said, "When people become Christians they become
enemies, they become enemies of the nation. I will not tolerate
this" (translated from the Hindi/Oriya). This statement, assiduously
propagated, went a long way in fanning the fires.
Statistics of the violence
Deaths: Police confirm three deaths – One in police
firing (unidentified but unofficially listed as Christian by the police)
and two (one Hindu, one Christian) in Barakhama and Brahmanigaon. Human
rights activists understand that six persons have died in the police
firing in Brahmanigaon. The bodies have not been found, and are presumed
to have been taken away by the mob. There have been no deaths reported in
the arson although several priests and nuns had a close encounter with
Missing: There are persons reported missing from
almost every hamlet. This is the subject of long-term investigations. Many
have fled out of fear of the police. Some are safe with relatives. Others
are in police custody with the police not admitting or confirming this. It
will take many weeks before a count becomes possible.
Arson: Fire was the instrument of choice. The
arsonist mob was well motivated, well armed and had come prepared with
weapons and sharp iron implements.
Preliminary list of properties/places destroyed and
Church institutions destroyed (Total: 71)
Balliguda; Brahmanigaon; Sankharakhole; Pobingia; Padangi
Ø Village churches (48):
Bodagan–Balliguda; Balliguda town; Kamapada–Balliguda;
Mandipanka–Godapur; Jhinjirguda–Brahmanigaon; Ulipadaro–Brahmanigaon;
Goborkutty–Kattingia; Kulpakia–Nuagaon; Dohapanga–Balliguda; seven
churches in Sirtiguda–Balliguda; four churches in Phiringia; seven
churches in Phulbani; four churches in Ruthungia; four churches in
Kalingia; two churches in Tikabali, four village churches in Nuagaon;
three other village churches; Boriguda (Padangi); Bakingia (Raikia);
Dalagaon; Iripiguda. (This list of village churches is not exhaustive for
reasons of topography and accessibility.)
Ø Convents (five):
Balliguda; Pobingia; Phulbani; Brahmanigaon;
Ø Presbytery (four):
Balliguda; Pobingia; Brahmanigaon; Padangi
Ø Hostels (seven):
Pobingia – two; Balliguda – two; Brahmanigaon – two;
Minor seminary (Balliguda)
Ø Others (two):
Vocational Training Centre (Balliguda); Sarsananda,
leprosy centre (Pobingia)
Houses looted and destroyed/burnt (Total: over 500)
Ø 400 houses looted and destroyed in Barakhama;
Tractors, cycles, motorcycles, shop goods, burnt
Ø 31 Christian houses burnt in Brahmanigaon
Ø 67 Hindu houses burnt in Brahmanigaon Oriyasahi
Ø 30 Christian houses burnt in Ulipadaro (Brahmanigaon)
(Arson in Phiringia, which continues (beyond the
initial phase of violence), is political, involving supporters and
opponents of former Orissa minister Padmanabha Behera and the caste
Shops /other properties destroyed (Total: 126)
Ø Brahmanigaon – 81
Ø Godapur – 25
Ø Barakhama – 20
Vehicles and other properties destroyed: Survey not
Animals killed: One cow, black Jersey milch cattle,
Balliguda convent, consequent to arson
Violence affected revenue blocks, Kandhamal district
Daringbari block; Balliguda block; Phiringia block;
Phulbani block; Tikabali block; Khajuripoda block; Nuagaon block; Gumsar
Udaigiri block; Tumudibandha block; Kothaghar block
Relief camps: The Government of Orissa has set up two
relief camps, in Barakhama and in Brahmanigaon, in school buildings. The
conditions in both camps are inhuman and shameful, particularly the utter
lack of regard for the needs of women, children and the ill. Despite its
experience of natural calamities, the government has not learnt lessons in
immediate succour and assistance to the distressed and needy. We find it
incomprehensible that the union home minister and the Orissa chief
minister came to Barakhama in a helicopter, came to the relief camp and
chose to sit under a shamiana, or tent, and talk to the people
across a rope. They did not walk down a few metres to the classrooms where
the injured and the ill lay. Nor did they even bother to look at the
cooked rice, full of grit, which the people had to eat for want of
Calendar, chronicle and narratives of the violence
Ø Brahmanigaon, December 9, 2007
Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati, commonly referred to as
Swamiji, visited Brahmanigaon and had a secret meeting with the
Bighneswaro Banika Sangh who are members of the RSS and VHP. The situation
was tense in and around Brahmanigaon from that day onwards.
Ø Brahmanigaon, December 19, 2007
Permission for Christmas celebrations was obtained from
the subcollector and CI office, Balliguda.
ØChurch youth and the Dr BR Ambedkar Banika Sangh took
permission for Christmas celebrations. Officials approved it. The police
circle inspector and subdivisional police officer (SDPO) inspected the
site and approved it. They promised protection from December 23.
Ø Brahmanigaon, December 21, 2007
The SDPO visited Brahmanigaon. Christian elders met the
SDPO and apprised him of the situation; he also assured them of his
participation in the celebrations. The SDPO had called leaders of both
communities, Hindus and Christians, for the meeting but the Hindus did not
Ø Bhubaneswar, December 21-23, 2007
The Arya Samaj of Bhubaneswar organised a three-day Baba
Ram Dev yoga programme at Capital High School, Unit III, Bhubaneswar.
Twenty-five to 30 busloads of people were brought in from Kandhamal for
On December 22, all RSS presidents from every panchayat
of Kandhamal district attended a secret meeting held from 11.00 a.m. to
6.00 p.m. at an unknown location.
On the evening of December 23, once the yoga programme
concluded, attendees returned to their respective homes. And from the
morning of December 24, attacks began on the various church communities.
Ø Kandhamal district headquarters, December 22, 2007
The Christian Jana Kalyan Samaj of Kandhamal met the
collector and Kandhamal district SP (superintendent of police), Narasingh
Bhol. They handed over a written statement protesting the bandh
called on December 25 and 26 at Kandhamal and asking that Christians be
allowed to observe Christmas.
Ø Brahmanigaon, December 22, 2007
The SP visited Brahmanigaon to inquire into the situation,
saw how matters stood but did not station any additional police forces
Ø Brahmanigaon, December 23, 2007
Hindu youth told church women and youth not to put up
Christmas decorations. The Christians showed them their government
Ø Brahmanigaon, December 23, 2007, 1.30 p.m.
The Dr BR Ambedkar Banika Sangh of Brahmanigaon together
with six sarpanches of the area assessed the situation and sent a
fax message to the district SP in Phulbani and then met him at
Brahmanigaon. The Ambedkar Banika Sangh went to the police station and
discussed the tense situation in the area. They also discussed the
likelihood of a secret plan by Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati and VHP
leaders to perform a yagna (offering/sacrifice, puja) in
front of the church.
Ø Brahmanigaon, December 23, 2007
6.30 p.m. – A member of the Ambedkar Banika Sangh phoned
the district SP, requesting additional police forces in the village.
Ø Brahmanigaon, December 24, 2007, 6.00 a.m.
The sarpanches of six gram panchayats
together with village heads went to the police station and asked them to
allow the weekly haat market to be opened, which RSS and Bajrang
Dal activists were opposing.
Ø Brahmanigaon, December 24, 2007, 7.00 a.m.
The ASI (assistant subinspector) came to the market and
ordered that the market be opened.
Ø Brahmanigaon, December 24, 2007, 8.30 a.m.
The weekly market was under way. All of a sudden, RSS
leader Bikram Rout, Dhanu Pradhani and others came and threatened vendors
and customers, warning them to stop trade. They also ordered shopkeepers
to close down their shops and there were tussles between them. A customer
was beaten up by the Bikram Rout group. Christians needed to shop for some
important articles as December 25 was Christmas day.
Some Christians were putting up Christmas decorations, a
big pandal (temporary structure) with a crib, sound system, etc,
for night worship. The same miscreants also went to them and asked them to
stop the decorations, even warning the Christians not to have any
celebrations. Here too there were tussles between both groups.
At around 10 a.m. Bikram Rout and others, RSS, VHP,
Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, Bajrang Dal members, came armed with guns, swords,
iron rods and other lethal weapons and attacked the Christians. The
Christians, who were unarmed, fled to the nearby forest to save their
lives. In the process, two Christians (Sillu and Avinash) sustained bullet
injuries. Some others were wounded by other weapons.
The local police were inactive and did not take prompt
action against the miscreants; these events all took place in the presence
of the police. The police station is just 400 yards from the church.
All the Christians, including the priest and nuns, fled to
the forest, leaving all their belongings behind.
Ø Dasingbadi, December 24, 2007, 10.45 a.m.
Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati, known as Swami, at
Jalespatta, Tumudibandha PS in Kandhamal district, was travelling to
Brahmanigaon in his vehicle when a private bus that was in front of his
vehicle on the narrow road encountered some technical trouble and had to
stop on the road at Dasingbadi, near the Dasingbadi upper primary school.
There is a small village church in Dasingbadi, not far
from the road, where Christian youth were busy putting up decorations for
Christmas. Christmas music was being played.
Hearing the sound, Lakshmanananda Saraswati apparently
asked his bodyguards and his driver to go and have the music stopped. The
security guards and the driver (who are government security men) went to
the spot, got into an argument with the Christian youth and at some point
pulled down the decorations and the sound boxes, etc even as the Christian
youth confronted them.
There is no evidence of a physical assault on
Lakshmanananda Saraswati. Because of the controversy surrounding this
incident, there is need for a CBI inquiry specifically into this as part
of a general probe.
Lakshmanananda Saraswati then went to Daringbari in his
vehicle and took his security men to the medical officer, Dr Pradhan, at
Daringbari Community Health Centre, claiming they were injured. He spent
two days there, at the family planning office, looked after by Dr Pradhan
(who is also a Bajrang Dal member) while the inspector in-charge (IIC) of
Daringbari, Mr Pradhan, provided eight or 10 policemen to guard him. The
IIC advised Lakshmanananda Saraswati not to go to Brahmanigaon.
From the afternoon of December 24, rumours of
Lakshmanananda Saraswati being attacked in Dasingbadi spread across the
Dharmendra Pradhan and Surendra Sahoo, local residents
from Daringbari, went to meet Lakshmanananda Saraswati on hearing about
the incident, that there had been a tussle between his security men and
Christian youth at Dasingbadi. They were saddened by events and proposed
to have a peace meeting to resolve the issue. But there, in the presence
of the IIC and other local leaders, Lakshmanananda Saraswati said, "Kranti
no thile shanti nahi, Mote kichhi mado hoi nahi (Without revolution no
peace, I am not hurt)".
At about 1 p.m. on December 25 Lakshmanananda Saraswati
left the Daringbari community hospital by an official jeep via Soroda
An RSS youth, Muna Sahoo, who owns a video camera, filmed
the statement and interview with Lakshmanananda Saraswati, which was then
telecast on satellite television channels in the media.
Ø Barakhama, December 24, 2007, 4.00 p.m.
The Christian community, aware that some untoward incident
could well take place, started their Christmas worship at 4 p.m. itself.
A group of hoodlums, about 2,000 people with red tilaks
on their foreheads, armed with swords, axes, pharsas (hoes),
etc and chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’; ‘Christian manonku mari
diyo (Kill the Christians)’; ‘Girija dhansa koro
(Destroy the church)’, etc, destroyed the Pentecostal church that lies in
the eastern part of the village.
Seeing the mob and the flames, Christian villagers started
running towards the forest to save themselves.
Those whose houses were burnt belong mainly to the
Christian community and they are now taking shelter at the Barakhama high
Frightened for their lives, the men are still living in
the jungle and yet officials demand that the women bring their menfolk
with them else they will not receive relief materials. On the other hand,
when the men do leave the jungle to come to the camp, the police book them
on false cases and arrest them. Moreover, the officers in charge refuse to
accept the victims’ FIRs (first information reports) pertaining to the
Ø Balliguda, December 24, 2007, 7.30 p.m.
At about 7.30 p.m. more than 400 miscreants, likely
Bajrang Dal and RSS members, kumkum on their foreheads, chanting ‘Jai
Shri Ram ’ and bearing guns, swords, axes, pharsas and other
lethal weapons in their hands, broke open the main gate of the church,
abusing the few Christian youth who were busy adding the last touches to
their decorations before Christmas worship. There was stone throwing.
The mob charged towards the youth shouting, ‘Salle
Christian manonku jeevan re mari diyo’; ‘Girija dhansa koro’.
Faced with the barbarity of the crowd, the youth together with priest,
nuns, hostel boys and seminarians all fled to the jungle to save their
The mob then collected all the furniture, material for
worship, the contents of the hostel godown and various personal belongings
and set them afire, burning them to ashes within minutes.
The school, hostel and sisters’ residence, which is in
another compound, were also ransacked and set on fire. It was only with
great difficulty that the sisters and the hostel girls managed to escape
to safety. One of the sisters was caught and badly manhandled by the mob.
A cow died as a consequence of the arson.
All this took place in the presence of police officials,
including the tehsildar, the BDO (block development
officer), the subcollector, the IIC and others.
No police action was taken. No curfew was imposed in the
Pobingia, December 25, 2007, 9.00 a.m.
A mob entered the church compound at Pobingia and burnt
the church, presbytery, boys’ hostel, convent and girls’ hostel.
Ø Brahmanigaon, December 25, 2007
10.00 a.m. – A mob first entered the village church of
Ulipadaro, then destroyed and burnt 30 Christian houses and severely beat
11.45 a.m. – A mob entered the main gate of the church,
breaking down the grills, houses, church, the priest’s residence and other
properties and setting them on fire.
Ø Brahmanigaon, December 25, 2007, 2.00 p.m.
Miscreants gathered once again, entered the market and
burnt shops and houses belonging to the Christian community.
Ø Kalingia, December 25, 2007, Day
Village church was burnt.
Ø Tikabali, December 25, 2007, Day
Village church was burnt.
Ø Sarsananda, December 25, 2007, 10.00 p.m.
Church was attacked and burnt in the presence of a
magistrate and 22 police personnel.
Ø Bodagan, December 25, 2007, Night
Church was attacked.
Ø Kamapada, December 25, 2007, Night
Church was attacked.
Ø Kulpakia, December 25, 2007, Night
Church was attacked.
December 25, 2007, Night
Seven churches were burnt.
Phiringia, December 25, 2007, Night
Church was attacked.
Ø Ruthungia, December 25, 2007, Night
Eight village churches were burnt.
Ø Nuagaon, December 25, 2007, Night
Nine village churches were burnt.
Ø Dalagaon, December 25, 2007, Night
Village church was burnt.
Ø Iripiguda, December 25, 2007, Night
Village church was burnt.
Ø Krutumgarh, December 26, 2007
Non-Christian tribals of Krutumgarh collected Rs 50 from
each family and had a yagna in the village. After the puja they
were dancing with weapons like swords, sickles, pharsas, etc.
Ø Padangi, December 26, 2007, Night
Boriguda village church was burnt.
Ø Sankharakhole, December 26, 2007, Night
A mob entered the church compound at Sankharakhole and
attacked the church, convent and priest’s residence.
Ø Brahmanigaon, December 27, 2007, 12.15 p.m.
There are differing accounts, even from victims, as to how
the Oriyasahi (non-tribal, non-Dalit, Oriya-speaking Hindu) houses were
burnt. Some say villagers from the local area burnt houses in Paikosahi.
Others say it was outsiders, even from outside the district.
The police have still not provided a coherent account
about the direction from which the mob came, to the walled area where
civilians had taken shelter or were being kept, and to the premises of the
police station nearby. This is not an open area and involves rough ground,
a narrow road and many houses. Police forces opened fire on the mob when
two persons were killed and the crowd dispersed.
Because this is in the nature of an encounter between a
mob and the police, with an exchange of fire, this needs a separate
inquiry under the law.
There is also need for a thorough probe as to what
happened to the civilians injured in police firing, as several rounds were
fired. The police admit to one uniformed person being injured.
Illustrative testimonies of key witnesses/victims
Oral testimony by Father Rabi Sabhasundar, Catholic parish
priest, Brahmanigaon, a native of the district
"The Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, Brahmanigaon,
Kandhamal district, Orissa consists of around 1,630 members belonging to
217 families. Like any other year, this year, 2007, the people of
Brahmanigaon were getting ready to celebrate Christmas. So they had put up
a Christmas pandal and crib in front of Christian shops as they do
every year. The Christmas pandal was adorned with lights and other
decorations and had a sound system. A committee (Ambedkar Banika Sangh)
had already received permission for the pandal-making and
celebrations from the collector, subcollector and SP. As they proceeded
with these preparations, with prior permission, on the eve of Christmas
celebrations, the Banika Sangh committee of Hindu groups along with RSS
president Bikram Rout, 40, son of Kishore Rout, Nuagaon, Brahmanigaon PS,
and Dhanu Pradhani, son of Bainath, Jhinjirguda, Brahmanigaon, in order to
disrupt these celebrations, went to the police station and complained
repeatedly to the ASI telling him not to allow the weekly market at
At around 10 a.m. on Monday, December 24, the RSS
president Bikram Rout along with his RSS members and Hindu traders went to
the marketplace and forcibly stopped people from holding the market that
day. Earlier, the ASI of Brahmanigaon police station along with five or
six sarpanches from the area and most market-goers from the village
had come to the marketplace and convinced Bikram Rout and his group to
allow the market to continue. However, soon after the ASI’s departure,
Bikram Rout and his group assaulted several villagers who had come to the
market, some of whom were severely beaten with sticks and iron bars. The
group brandished their weapons, threatening to attack the market-goers.
Not long after this, a mob of about 200 people came
running to the pandal with guns, spears, axes and many other
traditional weapons and completely destroyed the beautifully decorated
crib. They also broke, looted and burnt Christian owned shops. Some of
them poured petrol on and burnt three motorcycles belonging to Christians.
The angry mob also burnt a generator, the light and sound system and other
articles of decoration belonging to people from Digapainy, Gajapati
district, which had been hired for the Christmas celebrations.
During the attack on the pandal, a 15-year-old boy
was shot. Another young boy of about 12 was brutally attacked and
sustained sword wounds to the head. When the boy’s parents rushed to his
rescue, both of them were also beaten, receiving injuries from iron bars
and traditional weapons. Following this fearsome attack, many Christians
from the locality and many market-goers who had come to Brahmanigaon from
nearby villages ran for their lives. Taking advantage of their helpless
dispersal, Bikram Rout and his RSS members along with Hindu traders and
many other Hindus set out to destroy the Christians’ shops one by one.
On December 24, 2007, instead of celebrating midnight
mass, most Christians, their babies and young ones in tow, took shelter in
the nearby forest where they spent a bitterly cold, dark and sleepless
night. On December 25, believing that the attacks would have stopped, many
of those who had taken shelter in the forest returned to their houses. But
the atrocities continued on that day as well. At 10 a.m. around 400-500
RSS activists, Hindu traders from the locality with many other Hindus from
nearby Hindu villages marched towards the Christian street, shouting
slogans like ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and ‘Jai Hanuman’, and hurling
abuse, using all sorts of vulgar and threatening words like ‘Magyasala’,
‘Padry manonku jail diyo’, ‘Semango Church ebang anustano pudi
diyo, Christian manonku hatao’, and then looted and burnt most
of the houses.
After having completely destroyed the houses and their
contents, they forcibly entered the church campus with guns, petrol,
diesel, kerosene, bombs and traditional weapons and broke and burnt the
doors, windows, statues, altar, several musical instruments, the lights
and sound system, furniture and many other church and religious articles,
including the Bible, and completely desecrated the church. Meanwhile, some
of them entered the presbytery and burnt the father’s residence as well as
two motorcycles, a generator, steel and wooden almirahs, all the
documents and furniture after looting several lakh rupees worth of
After completely destroying the church and the presbytery,
the angry mob went around in search of priests and nuns to harass and burn
alive. Confronted with the ravaging mob of RSS activists, three priests, a
deacon, a regent, two brothers, five sisters of the Holy Cross Convent,
Brahmanigaon and four domestic workers ran to the nearby jungle together
with many other Christians to save their lives.
It is especially tragic that all these atrocities, this
destruction, took place in the presence of police forces. Till today,
priests, nuns and others are hiding out in forests and nearby villages in
sheer terror. Though the government has promised to provide relief to
people of both communities, unfortunately only one community, Hindus, are
given relief while Christians are neglected. When Christian women go to
ask for relief materials, government relief officials harass them and tell
them to bring their husbands. Having experienced atrocities at the hands
of the Hindu community and then harassment by government officials,
Christians continue to live in fear and trepidation. We don’t know how
long this violence and cruelty will persist."
Statement by Sister Zerina, principal, Carmel School,
"The school is situated only about two kilometres from the
superintendent of police and collector’s offices in Phulbani. There are
550 students in our school, which was started in 1989. Ninety-eight per
cent of the students are Hindu, there are only two per cent Christians in
the school. There are four sisters, four Christian teachers, 13 Hindu
teachers, two Christian staff and one Hindu accountant at the school. I
have been principal here for the last two years.
I received news on December 23 that something would happen
and also heard about the bandh called on December 25 and 26. I
wanted to go to Bhopal for a meeting the same evening but a local
shopkeeper advised me not to go that night or the next day. We then
decided not to go to Bhopal at all. At 6.30 p.m. on December 24, some
locals came and met us; they reported that automobile tyres were being set
on fire at Madiguda chowk, just 200 metres from the school. At
about the same time, the parish priest, Fr Mathew telephoned to say there
would be no holy mass at the Christ Jyoti parish church. I also received a
phone call from Sr Christa in Balliguda, saying the problem was
escalating. The deputy collector, Arun Parichha rang to tell us that there
was some trouble in Brahmanigaon. He said the vehicle of an RSS leader had
been attacked and there would be more trouble and that he was monitoring
the law and order situation. At about 8 p.m. Sr Christa from the convent
in Balliguda rang me to say the convent in Balliguda had been set on fire.
She asked us to pray for them. The sisters and I panicked. At about 8.30
p.m. we received news from Sr Christa in Balliguda saying they were safe
but acutely suffocated because their premises were filled with smoke. That
was the last connection we had with our sisters from Balliguda that day.
At around 9.30 a.m. on December 25, a Hindu teacher, Mr
Sarangdhar came to the school to ask about my travel plans. Fr Bijya Nayak
from Krutumgarh also rang up and warned us of a possible attack on the
school, convent and parish. We rang up a neighbour, Mr Paul Raj from
Sadhan, to ask for help from the police. Meanwhile, Sr Christa also rang
and advised us to leave the premises and take all our important documents
with us. There were a total of four sisters, two maidservants and two
hostel girls who were also with us at the convent. At 11.00 a.m. I went
for prayers. That was when Sr Rohine shouted, "They’ve come inside!" The
mob was shouting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and ‘Kill the
Christians’. They all carried swords and other weapons. On seeing
the crowd, Sr Rohine and Sr Hemanti jumped over the convent wall and ran
for their lives. One of them sprained her leg in the process. About
fifteen minutes after the attack began some policemen came to our school.
There has been damage to the school and the school bus."
Statement by Fr Laxmikanta Pradhan, Catholic church,
"At around 7.30 p.m. on the evening of December 24 a huge
group of Hindu fundamentalists with kumkum on their foreheads and carrying
lethal weapons like swords, guns, iron rods and axes in their hands,
rushed to our church, abusing the priest and sisters in very filthy
language. They broke the main gate and entered the church compound,
started breaking all the Christmas decorations, pandal and worship
materials. They then wanted to kill some of the Christians who were busy
preparing for Christmas celebrations. We ran for our lives and took refuge
in the jungle. From the hill we could see the flames rising up from our
church, residence and hostels. Later, we found that the church and all the
worship materials had been burnt down. In the residence and hostels too we
found that everything had been burnt."
Setting up the fact-finding committee
The first act of violence took place on the morning of
December 24, 2007 in the small town of Brahmanigaon, which has a police
station, the office or the revenue office and other institutions. This is
a major entry point to the entire Kandhamal hills region and an important
marketplace. Some Christians own shops and are comparatively better off
than others. They have mobile phones, as does the parish priest whose
church was the first to be burnt down. They informed Archbishop Raphael
Cheenath and his office, and they in turn informed others, including Dr
John Dayal in New Delhi. Dr John Dayal and others immediately informed the
national media in New Delhi and Mumbai. But it was Christmas Eve and news
planners were focused on the celebratory and commercial aspects of the
holiday season. The event did not get the coverage it deserved.
Church and civil society groups however were alerted, in
swift order, the offices of the prime minister, president and union home
minister were informed, as was the office of the chief minister of Orissa.
The prime minister was not initially available but a delegation called on
union Home Minister Shivraj Patil on December 27, 2007. President Pratibha
Patil was met by the bishop of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and
eventually Archbishop Cheenath and Archbishop Vincent Concessao of Delhi
met the prime minister. Two public rallies and candlelight vigils were
taken out in New Delhi as also in Mumbai, Bhubaneswar and other cities.
At those rallies it was decided that the facts of
Kandhamal had to be ascertained in detail and without bias.
At a meeting of Christian and other activist groups in
Bhubaneswar the fact-finding group was set up. The fact-finding team
1. John Dayal, member, National Integration Council,
Government of India, senior editor and political columnist and well-known
national human rights activist with experience in many people’s tribunals
and fact-finding missions.
2. Nicholas Barla, lawyer and human rights expert from
Rourkela with experience in police and social conflicts in the state.
3. Hemant Nayak, social scientist and human rights and
development activist, Bhubaneswar.
The team was facilitated by many persons at various
The team made two visits to the district. The first visit
was aborted at the Phulbani offices of the police superintendent on
December 29, 2007 after having visited affected churches and convents in
some of the areas. The second visit took place from January 1 to the night
of January 3, 2008 and covered almost every affected area barring one.
It is important to record the circumstances of the first
visit. We believe that truth must prevail and that facts, if unearthed
early, naturally quell doubts and ensure that rumours are not given
We noted in our press statement in Bhubaneswar on December
30, 2007: "I report with deep sorrow and anguish that I and a five member
fact-finding team that had gone to the Phulbani area of Kandhamal district
on Saturday, December 29, 2007, was forcibly expelled by inspector general
of police, Pradeep Kapoor, who ordered the Phulbani town police inspector
to ensure that I left the district that night. The town police inspector
then made us follow an armed police escort for a one and a half hour drive
in the dark of night until we reached the border of Ganjam district, where
he left us. We could return to Bhubaneswar by 4 a.m. today, December 30,
2007, deeply distressed and feeling very frustrated with the experience.
"The fact-finding team was set up at a meeting of
activists in the Swosti Hotel in Bhubaneswar on December 28, 2007, to get
an authentic first-hand account of the developments and the violence in
Kandhamal district because rumours, absence of authentic media reports and
often inaccurate government accounts of the casualties had left people
confused. There were also fears that lack of authentic information would
impact on the confidence-building measures and the peace process. I was
requested to lead the fact-finding team in view of my experience in
Gujarat, Nandigram, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, the North-east.
"As a matter of abundant precaution, I wrote to the
director general of police, Orissa, on December 28, 2007. I, inter alia,
said ‘I am a member of the National Integration Council, Government of
India, and the national president of the All India Catholic Union. I am
part of a fact-finding team set up by civil society and human rights
groups to assess the situation in the violence affected areas of Orissa
for us to be able to formulate a people’s initiative for
confidence-building and peace. The team, consisting of six persons
including me, intends to leave Bhubaneswar on the morning of December 29,
2007 and return on the evening of December 31, 2007. We will have a night
halt in Phulbani. We will appreciate any assistance and facilitation we
can get from the Orissa police and in particular from the police forces of
the district. I am sure your office will take the necessary steps and
inform the district police of the area.’
"We drove to Phulbani on December 29, reaching safely and
without any problems by about 5 p.m. En route we were able to assess the
damage done to the NISSWAS School of Social Work set up by Dr RK Nayak,
IAS retired, and currently a member of parliament, Rajya Sabha. We also
saw the damage done to the Carmelite convent and the Carmel English
School. Nuns we interviewed told us how attempts were made to set the
convent on fire even as the nuns were cowering in a room they had locked
themselves in. Two sisters who could escape injured themselves in the
"Later, we went to the offices of the police
superintendent to discuss with them our onward journey to Balliguda that
evening or early next morning and to see if there was need for curfew
passes which are normally given to media and other groups. The inspector
general of police, Mr Kapoor, the divisional commissioner and the deputy
inspector general of police were present in the room. I was questioned in
some detail, always very politely, by Mr Kapoor who wanted to know about
my membership with the NIC, my credentials as a journalist and the books I
had authored. He also photographed my colleagues and me with his mobile
telephone camera. I gave a patient reply to every single question. I also
pointed out that this was not a government inquiry but that I would
prepare a report I would submit to the authorities and which would also
help facilitate the National Minority Commission members who were
scheduled to visit the spot on January 6, 2008. I reminded the police we
were a peaceful group and our team included an advocate apart from
interpreters with expertise in ethnic studies.
"Mr Kapoor was ever polite but remained adamant. My
colleagues felt they were being interrogated in a police station. Mr
Kapoor said he would not allow me to proceed or even to remain in Phulbani.
He said it would not be safe for me or for the persons with whom I would
stay. He said the Rapid Action Force had been deployed in Phulbani town
and I had to draw my inference from this fact about the situation and
tension in the place. I told him there was no way we would be crashing
police barriers. It was not for fear of our lives but in deference to the
rule of law that we would go. He was apparently not satisfied. He called
the Phulbani police officers and ordered them to escort me out.
"The Kandhamal region needs not just media coverage and
government relief operations. The rescue, relief and rehabilitation
programme has to be done in a transparent manner. Already there have been
too many complaints of police and administrative apathy, complicity and
even aggressive force against one community, the victim community.
Independent fact-finding teams and the information they give help in
maintaining transparency and positively contribute to the peace process. I
hope we will be able to visit and record the situation in every affected
village as an important part of building long-term peace, harmony, and in
ensuring relief, compensation and rehabilitation. – John Dayal"
We are very happy the fact-finding team could visit the
Kandhamal region again from January 1, 2008, without police escort,
without police protection, without official cooperation and with no help
other than the goodwill of all people – Christians and Hindus alike.
(Non-government white paper on the violence in Kandhamal
district, Orissa: A preliminary report of the fact-finding team led by Dr
John Dayal, which visited Kandhamal district, Orissa, on December 29, 2007
and from January 1 to January 3, 2008. Released at Bhubaneswar, January 5,