Police in Orissa state have arrested an official of the Hindu
nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for allegedly leading an attack
that ended in the rape of a Catholic nun during last year’s anti-Christian
mayhem in Kandhamal district.
Officers in the
eastern state of Orissa had been searching for Gururam Patra, identified by
local residents as the general secretary of the BJP in Kandhamal district, for
more than 14 months. Arrested on Saturday in Balliguda, Patra was
charged with leading the attack but not with rape.
Mohanty, an investigating officer, told Compass that a non-bailable warrant had
been issued against Patra, accused of being “the main organizer” of the attack
on Aug. 25, 2008, in which then-28-year-old Sister Meena
Lalita Barwa said she was
Mohanty said he
had gathered “sufficient evidence” against Patra.
“He is the one
who went into the house where the nun was staying and took her out, along with
his associates who outraged her modesty,” Mohanty said.
police had arrested 18 associates of Patra.
The Rev. Ajay
Singh of the Catholic Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar told Compass that Patra
had become a “terror” for local Christians, as “he was threatening against
[those] identifying the accused in numerous cases.”
Kandhamal took place in August-September 2008, killing more than 100 people –
mostly hacked to death or burned alive – and incinerating more than 4,500
houses, as well as destroying over 250 churches and 13 educational institutions.
The violence began after a VHP leader, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, was killed
by Maoists (extreme Marxists) on Aug. 23. Hindu extremist groups wrongly blamed
local Christians for the assassination.
Christian from K. Nuagaon village, where the nun said she was raped, told
Compass on condition of anonymity that Patra was the general secretary of the
BJP for Kandhamal district. But the BJP and its ideological mentor, the Hindu
nationalist conglomerate Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer
Corps or RSS), were reluctant to admit association with
president of the Orissa state BJP, told Compass that he did not know if Patra
was a member of his party.
“I have heard
his name, but I have never met him,” he said. “The BJP is a big organization,
and I cannot know everyone.”
Manmohan Vaidya told Compass that Patra was a block president (a local
government position) in Balliguda during the violence.
“He may have
attended a few meetings of the RSS, but he was never associated with the
organization officially,” he said.
officer Mohanty said police have yet to establish his affiliations, but “it
appears that he was from the RSS group.” Mohanty said Patra was not accused of
rape but of being the main leader of the attack.
On Nov. 11,
Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, told the state assembly House that 85
people from the RSS, 321 members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World
Hindu Council or VHP) and 118 workers of the Bajrang Dal, youth wing of
the VHP, were rounded up by the police for the attacks in
Asian News (UCAN) agency reported Patra attended a Catholic school, Vijaya High
School, in Raikia town in Kandhamal district.
The news agency
quoted the Rev. Mathew Puthyadam, principal of the school when Patra attended,
as saying that he was a good student and respected the priests.
“I really wonder
how he changed,” Puthyadam told UCAN.
that Puthyadam said right-wing Hindu groups commonly recruit people educated at
Christian schools and indoctrinate them against Christians. There were a few
other former students of Catholic schools who also led mobs that attacked
Christians in Kandhamal, he added.
reportedly said that when Patra’s mother brought him to the school, she said he
lost his father in early childhood and they had no money to continue his
studies; the priest arranged sponsorship through a Christian aid agency to cover
his fees and lodging at Bishop Tobar Hostel.
It was during
these attacks that Barwa of the Divyajyoti Pastoral Centre in K. Nuagaon area in
Balliguda, said she was attacked and raped.
At an Oct. 24,
2008, press conference, the nun said 40 to 50 people attacked the house in which
she and priest Thomas Chellantharayil were staying; he also was attacked in the
Aug. 25 incident. She said the assailants first slapped and threatened her, then
took her out of the house.
three men who first threatened to throw me into the smoldering fire,” she said.
“Then they threw me on the veranda [which was] full of plastic pieces. One of
them tore my blouse and undergarments. While one man stood on my right hand, the
other stood on my left hand and the third man raped me.”
tried to rape her as she got up, she said, and when a mob arrived she was able
to hide behind a staircase. But the mob pulled her out and threatened to kill
her while others wanted to parade her naked in the street.
“They then beat
me up with their hands,” she said. “I was made to walk on the streets wearing my
petticoat and sari, as my blouse was torn by one of the attackers. When we
reached the market place I saw two policemen there. I asked them to help me, but
When the nun
filed a complaint at the Balliguda police station, she said, police made no
arrests until The Hindu newspaper highlighted her case on Sept. 30,
John Dayal, a member of India’s National Integration Council, said the
government has yet to fully address violence against
administration, civil and police, have to act with their full strength to stop
the hate campaign that has been unleashed in the last one year, and which has
penetrated distant villages, creating schism and hatred between communities,” he
On Sunday Christians and rights activists formed a new organization, the Association of
Victims of Communal Violence in Kandhamal in Phulbani to deal with the growing
communal divide in Kandhamal.
“The major task
of the new association, working closely with clergy and civil society activists
irrespective of religion, is to restore public confidence and to ensure that the
victims and witnesses felt safe enough to depose in court,” said
Christian leaders hope this grassroots initiative will also help in the process
of reconciliation and allow people to go back to their villages, where
right-wing groups are threatening them with death if they do not convert to
Dayal also said
there were rumors of human trafficking in Kandhamal, and that the new
association felt special projects for women and especially young girls were
“I pray they
remain rumors,” he added.