Fact-finding mission on Easter attacks in Odisha concludes conspiracy to foment religious division

Written by Sabrangindia | Published on: April 25, 2018
A fact finding team has unearthed an insidious attempt to spread communal disharmony in Odisha. On the night of Easter Sunday April 1, Catholic parishes in Odisha’s Sundargarh district were attacked, and the shrines were vandalised by individuals whose identities still remain unknown. In another attack on a temple the statue of a bull was vandalised. 

Church attack

A fact-finding team from Bhubaneswar comprising human rights activists Dhirendra Panda and Ajay Kumar Singh, journalist Amiya Pandav, Vice President of Mulnivasi Samata Parishad Abhiram Mallick, as well as Anil Kumar Mallick travelled to Odisha’s Sundergarh district to investigate the incidents and speak to locals.

According to a press release about the fact-finding mission, the team first traveled to the Kuarmunda block of the Salangabahal church, in the Sundargarh district, and saw the broken Marian shrine at the main gate. The shrine’s glass frame was broken, and the shrine itself was also broken and thrown into a nearby river; the statue was discovered by a fisherman who notified the police and brought it back. A local woman said that at 11.30pm on April 1, she heard the sound of glassware being crushed, but did not dare leave her home to see what was happening.

The fact-finding team also traveled to Laxmiposh in Rajgangpur block in the Sundargarh district where the head of a bull statue that was placed in front of a Shiva temple was crushed by unknown individuals in the same night, according to the press release. The release notes that there is "a conspiracy to create conflict between Hindu tribals and Christian tribals".

Early on April 2, at around 1.30am, "miscreants" broke flower pots, the glass panel, and the statue of Marian in Rajgangpur’s Gyanpali village, the press release says. A woman, Sasmita Tirkey, heard sounds of breaking and came out to see a man carrying a bag walking away slowly. She alerted her neighbours, and four men on two motorcycles attempted to follow the man. However, they saw the church of Bihabandh burning, and woke up the parish priest, Fr. Bipin Kishor Majhi and others to put out the fire. Police provided security at the locations where the incidents took place after a written complaint was filed, but the press release notes that "there was an atmosphere of doubt everywhere". It mentions Biramitra Minz, the church’s vice president and a former zilla parishad member and other villagers who it says believe that the incident was an attempt to break down peace in the village.

On April 7, the statue of Mary in the church of Laphoorbeda Dahijira in the Kutra block of the Sundargarh district was also broken, with an eyewitness saying that Kutra Police detained one individual but said that the person was mentally imbalanced without having conducted a medical checkup.

According to the press release, the fact-finding team has drawn the conclusion that the incidents that took place "to create differences, doubts and enmities between the Hindu Adivasi and Christian Adivasi the temple was purposely broken. The purpose also to bring the Caste based division." The press release adds that there was more than one person involved in the incidents that it calls "highly planned and purposefully executed". The release also says that the purpose was "to create fear and tension among" Christians and "create religion based" divisions.