The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) spokesperson Ram Madhav told CNN IBN yesterday that Christians were behind the killing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Laxmanananda Saraswati and four others in Orissa's Kandhamal district on August 23. Madhav pointed out that Orissa police had arrested workers of the Christian organization World Vision for the killing. He should have had his facts right before making a statement on a national channel.
Madhav's statement may have been based on a report in a newspaper (The Pioneer, August 25): 'The police have arrested Pradesh Kumar Das, an employee of the World Vision, a Christian Charity, from Khadagpur while escaping from the district at Buguda. In another drive, two other persons Vikram Digal and William Digal have been arrested from the house of Lal Digal, a local militant Christian, from Nuasahi at Gunjibadi, Nuagaan. They have admitted to having joined a group of 28 other assailants.'
The newspaper report, which is being circulated by email and on the Web by supporters of the Sangh Parivar, is not only inflammatory, but also factually incorrect.
Disturbed by the report, I spoke to Deputy Inspector General (Southern Range) R.P. Koche in Bhubaneshwar, who categorically denied it. 'No one has been arrested in 'connection' with the attack on Swami's Ashram. We have merely made some preventive arrests for interrogation,' he said.
Then, Jayakumar Christian, the executive director of World Vision India, narrated how his organisation's employees landed up in a police station. 'Two of our workers were fleeing sensitive areas on a motorbike to escape attacks. They started from Daringbari and were going to Bhubaneswar. However, when they reached Behrampore (Ganjam district), security personnel deployed there asked them to take shelter in a police station for their safety. The police informed us that our employees are in the police station, and asked us to take them to a safer place. And they came back safely the following day.' He spoke to me on the phone today.
One wonders what is the source of the newspaper's report, which claims that those arrested also confessed to the crime - when the police have denied it. God alone knows how many false reports could be taking the rounds.
It is unfortunate that at least nine people, mainly Christians, have been killed or burnt alive and hundreds of homes belonging to Christians have been destroyed by mobs allegedly led by the VHP in the name of retribution. And the violence is carrying on. This is in spite of the fact that a Maoist group, the People's Liberation Revolutionary Group, has claimed responsibility for the killing. A leader of the group, who identified himself as Azad, reportedly called up a newspaper office and said they killed Saraswati because he mixed 'religion with politics'' That Kandhamal is a Maoist-affected district is also common knowledge. Further, the police found a threat letter in Saraswati's ashram that was sent prior to the attack. Furthermore, the attack was launched with sophisticated weapons, which also indicates Maoist involvement.
Does the VHP not know that the culprits are most likely to be Maoists? Perhaps they do, but it is typical of the VHP and other members of the timid Sangh Parivar to attack soft targets. They raise the issue of Islamist terrorism, but kill and beat common Muslims - as they did in the post-Godhra violence in Gujarat in 2002. And now, in Orissa, they are killing Christians and destroying their property when there are clear indications that Maoists launched the August 23 attack. All that is needed is a lie to target the minority community, and thanks to sections of the media, there is no dearth of falsehoods being propagated.
(Vishal Arora is a Delhi-based journalist, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)