At least four people are dead following sectarian clashes that broke out over Christmas celebrations in Kandhamal district of the eastern Indian state of Orissa. Hindu and Christian residents put each other’s homes to the torch in the Christian-dominated village of Brahmanigaon. When Hindu residents took refuge in the police station, a group of some 500 besieged the station house—some reportedly firing on it. When police returned fire, four residents were killed. Three police were also reported injured. More may have been killed in clashes, but all communication to the village has been cut.
Hindustan Times reports Dec. 28 that the violence began when Christians attacked the vehicle of local Hindu leader Swami Laxmananda Saraswati near Daringbadi when he was on his way to perform a yagna in Brahmanigaon. Local Hindus attacked Christian homes and churches in retaliation, sparking days of clashes.
The Catholic-oriented Asia News reported Dec. 26 that three Christians were killed in the initial violence, with tens injured, 13 churches set on fire, two parish houses destroyed, a Christian orphanage vandalized, and police cars torched. Calling the violence “a full scale onslaught by the Viśva Hindū Parişad [Hindu World Organization] (VHP),” Asia News writes:
The spark that ignited the wave of violence was a visit on Christmas Eve to Bramunigam in Phulbani District (Orissa) by Swami Lakhananda Sarswati, an 80-year-old local VHP leader. Surrounded by his bodyguards, he came to a Christian area where local worshippers had put up again tents to celebrate Christmas that some 300 VHP members had previously destroyed. A quarrel followed which the media reported as “an attack against Swami Lakhananda Sarswati.” The VHP reacted to the incident by calling for a day of “national strike” in Orissa.
According to the Asia News account, the violence spread throughout the district, with VHP militants attacking Christians homes and churches, and the police failing to intervene.
Gujarat pogroms rewarded —again
Meanwhile in Gujarat state, the Hindu nationalist Chief Minister Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been re-elected, with the BJP taking 117 out of 182 seats in the local assembly—despite new claims that Modi had been complicit in the killing of at least 2,000 Muslims in the 2002 Gujarat pogroms. Emphasizing his national ambitions, Modi said in his victory speech: “This historical verdict of people of Gujarat will bring qualitative change in the prevailing Indian politics.” (The election was essentially a replay of the December 2002 Gujarat race, in which Modi and the BJP similarly won—on the very heels of the pogroms.) The London Times Dec. 24 provides the following compilation of what it calls Modi’s “fighting talk”:
“What would an Italian know about Ram?” – speech in September criticising [Congress Party leader] Sonia Gandhi’s lack of understanding of Hinduism
“Sister Sonia is a guardian of terrorists” – election rally in December, complaining that a death sentence had still not been carried out on Mohammed Afzal, despite his conviction for an attack on India’s Parliament in 2001. “I want to tell her ‘If you don’t have the courage, send him to Gujarat. We will hang him here’,” he said
The Gujarat government admitted that police had shot dead Sohrabuddin Sheikh, a Muslim, on the pretext that he was conspiring to kill Mr Modi. At a rally in December Mr Modi asked what should have been done to a man who was found in possession of weapons and had relations with Pakistan. When the crowd shouted “Kill him! Kill him!” he replied: “Does my government need Sister Sonia’s permission for this?”
“If you have the guts, Manmohan Singh, arrest me tomorrow morning” – rally after the Prime Minister suggested reopening an investigation into the 2002 Gujarat riots
“If the BJP loses there will be celebrations in Islamabad” – election campaign in 2002
The Rama Wars, Pt. II: Ayodhya’s sequel
The diss of Italian-born Sonia Gandhi’s supposed ignorance of Hinduism comes in a violent controversy over the central government’s Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project—a plan to dredge a navigable canal across Palk Strait, which separates India from Sri Lanka. In addition to legitimate ecological objections, Hindu fundamentalists claim the canal’s construction will damage a shoal popularly called Ram Setu (Rama’s Bridge)—which is claimed to be the bridge built by Lord Rama’s army of monkeys to rescue his abducted wife from Sri Lanka in the Hindu epic The Ramayana. (Muslims call the same structure Adam’s Bridge.) The BJP, VHP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Self-help Organization, or RSS) have been campaigning to halt the project on religious grounds. (Asia Times, Sept. 24)
When Tamil Nadu state Chief Minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi questioned the historical existence of Rama, Hindu nationalists held protests in many parts of the country, with militants launching arson attacks on the offices of his party, the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, or Dravidian Progress Conference), and even attacking his house in Bangalore. West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya added fuel to the fire earlier this month, commenting that “Ram was born in the imagination of poets and Ram Setu is a natural formation.” (IANS, Dec. 8)
As at Ayodhya, the science itself has become politicized. BBC reported Sept. 14 that in reaction to widespread protests, the Indian government had withdrawn a report submitted in the court battle over the dredging project, which had questioned the historical existence of Rama. Subsequently, Sify News reported Dec. 8, the Hyderabad-based National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA), part of India’s Department of Space, released a study finding the shoal could be the remains of a man-made “ancient bridge between India and Sri Lanka in Palk strait.”
See our last post on India.