Churches vandalized, attempts to spread fear on Easter Sunday in Odisha

Written by Sabrangindia Staff | Published on: April 6, 2018
Two Catholic parishes in Odisha, Rourkela were attacked and the shrines were vandalized by unknown miscreants on the night of April 1. The attacks seem to be “premeditated and planned” and took place in the Diocese of Rourkela.

Church Attacked 

While one attack took place in Bihabandh village in Sundergarh district in Odisha, where the parish room adjacent to the sacristy was burnt to the ground, the other took place in Salangabahal, also in Sundargarh, where a Marian Grotto near the entrance gate was broken into and the statue of Mary was stolen.
As per a press release by The Catholic Diocese of Rourkela, Odisha, the people staying close to the gate of Salangabahal Parish heard sound of “something being broken” on April 1, 2018, around 10.30-11 pm. In the early morning hours of the next day, people allegedly saw the fibre glass of the small shrine of Vellankani broken, Mother Mary’s statue missing and the head of the Baby Jesus broken and fallen apart.

Reportedly, the Priests of the Parish were then informed, who in turn informed the Raiboga police. Police arrived immediately and security personnels were deployed at the site.

Later, on April 3, Mother Mary’s statue was spotted flowing in the nearby Sankh river by villagers from Dalki village who had gone there for fishing.
In another village, Gyanpali of Bihabandh Parish of Kutra block, a similar incident took place on April 1. As per the release, a woman was woken up by the sound of something breaking down. When she peeped through the door, she reportedly saw a man busy breaking the shrine of Mother Mary. Frightened, she tried to wake up her fast asleep family members. When they didn’t wake up, she called another woman from the neighbourhood and both of them allegedly saw that the man had broken down the shrine and moved to the road going towards Bihaband Parish. The people who gathered around the shrine on hearing the calls of the two women, then sought help from a truck driver who was passing by in his truck. The truck driver informed them that he indeed saw a man walking towards the Bihaband Chowk, which is just beyond the Parish Church.
As the people went after looking for this man, they witnessed that the Bihaband Church was burning. Immediately, they woke up the priests, the gardener and the cook who were sleeping and all of them extinguished the fire together. By then the adjacent room of the church had already completely burnt.

The press release said that the ADM of Sundargarh, Superintendent of Police, Sub-Collector and the Local Tahsildar and the local MLAs visited the place and assured the people of their support and told them not to panic.
Bishop Kishor Kumar Kujur who signed the press release, said, “Never in the past had occurred such an attack on Christian worship place in the locality not even in the district. The people of different religion, cultures and the language have been peacefully coexisting in the place for years. The Christians have bene known in the district for the education of the people especially of the poor, care of the sick and the charitable works. We are known for peace and harmony in the society.”
Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar noted grimly that 2018 marks the 10th anniversary of the Kandhamal riots and there was a need for everyone to make “concerted efforts to uphold the secular fabric of India.”
A series of riots led by Radical Hindutva groups in Kandhamal, east Odisha in 2008 left about 100 people dead, thousands injured, 300 churches and 6000 homes destroyed, and 50,000 people displaced and many were compelled to hide in nearby forests and died of hunger. People are yet to recover from the trauma of these riots.
There is a need to protect the Christian community in Odisha who comprise only 3% of the population as compared to the Hindus comprising 93% of the population. The incidents of vandalism clearly look motivated to spread fear in the peace loving people of the community who have lived in harmony with other communities so far.

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