By Matters India Reporter
Bhubaneswar: A civil society fact-finding team that investigated attacks on churches and a Hindu temple in Odisha on Eastern Sunday sees evidence of conspiracy to divide Christian and Hindu tribal communities in the eastern Indian state.
“The attacks were highly planned and purposefully executed. It was well planned to create fear and tension among Christians and others,” the five-member team told a press conference on April 23 in Bhubaneswar, the state capital.
The team released its findings on the incidents after visiting Rajgangpur, Kutra and Kuarmunda block of Sundargarh district on April 11.
The team investigated the vandalism of church and temple and discussed the incidents with local people.
The team first visited Kuarmunda block of Salangabahal Church where they saw the broken Marian statue at the main gate of a church. The glass frame of the grotto was also broken. The statue was thrown into a river 2.5 km away.
The incident occurred on April 1, the Easter Sunday, and a fisherman found the statue on the river bank two days later. He informed the police and brought the statue back to the same place.
A woman in the neighborhood told the team that the incident took place at 11:30 pm. She heard the sound of glassware breaking but did not dare to get out of the house to check.
The team then visited a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva at Laxmiposh of Rajgangpur block where the head of a bull statue was crushed in the same night.
The team talked to Julia Minz, the woman priest of the temple, and Naveen Minz a member of the temple committee that later immerse the idol in the river.
Juel Oraon, a parliamentarian, and Mangala Kishan, the local legislator, had built the temple for Kishan Adivasis with government aid.
Some local people told the team that the incident occurred due to the opposition of George Tirkey, another legislator, to the Provisions of the Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act.
The team’s next stop was at Gyanpali village of Rajangpur block where some miscreants attacked a Marian shrine around 1 am on April 2. The attackers first broke the flower pots and the glass panel before vandalizing the statue.
Sasmita Tirkey, a neighbor, said she heard the breaking sound and came out and saw that a man holding a bag in the hand going away slowly.
She called out the neighbors and four young men with two motorcycles tried to follow the person. They then saw the church of Bihabandh burning and woke up parish priest Father Bipin Kishor Majhi and others sleeping in the church campus. They put out the fire first and looked for miscreants, but found none.
The parish then filed a complaint at the local police station. The police provided security to all attacked places but an atmosphere of suspicion prevails in the district, the probe team said.
On April 7, another Marian statue was found crushed in front of Mother Mary Church at Laphoorbeda, Dahijira of Kutra block.
The local police have detained a person but neighbors say he is mentally unsound.
Biramitra Minz, vice president of the parish committee, and other villagers say the incidents are aimed at to disturb peace, solidarity and brotherhood prevailing among both Hindu and Christian tribal people living in the area.
The visiting team too agrees and says the miscreants purposely attacked the temple to divide local community on the caste basis.
The team comprised Dhirendra Panda, a human right activist, Abhiram Mallick, vice president of an outfit for indigenous peoples, Father Ajay Kumar Singh, another human rights activist, Amiya Pandav, a journalist, and Anil Kumar Mallick, civil rights activists.
They suspect the involvement of corporate lobbies behind the incidents to break the unity among tribal people so that it becomes easy to implement the PESA Act of 1996 that ensures self-governance through traditional Gram Sabhas (village councils) for people living in the Scheduled Areas of India.