Orissa Christian couple suspected shot dead by Indian paramilitary forces

A Christian couple who have not have not been seen since 26 July are thought to have been killed by members of India’s Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in the Kandhamal district of India’s Orissa state.

Barnabas is rebuilding homes for Christian families in Orissa who lost everything
Barnabas is rebuilding homes for Christian families in Orissa who lost everything

Around 4 pm on Sunday 26 July, just after their prayer meeting, Dhubaleswar and his wife went up onto a hilltop in order to make a telephone call to their children who work in Kerala state. They were accompanied by three other villagers, who also wished to make calls from the hilltop, where it is possible for villagers to get network coverage.

Once the other three villagers had finished their calls, they left Dhubaleswar and his wife on the hilltop. On their return home, they met two members of the CRPF, India’s largest paramilitary force, who questioned the villagers on what they were doing. After they explained that they had been making calls, and that two others were still on the hilltop, the officers let them go.

Half an hour later, the three returning to the village heard gunshots from the hilltop. A group of around 20 villagers wanted to return to the hilltop to find out what had happened, but were too frightened of the CRPF to find out.

When Dhubaleswar and his wife failed to return home to the village, villagers returned to the hilltop on 28 July to look for them but found only bloodstains, a man’s vest and two pairs of slippers, according to AsiaNews.

Local media falsely reported that the couple were Maoists, a chilling reminder of the underlying motives for anti-Christian violence in the same district seven years ago this month.

On 23 August 2008, Swami Laxmananda Saraswati, a local leader of radical Hindu group Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) who had campaigned against the conversion of Hindus to Christianity, was assassinated along with four of his associates. Despite the fact that Maoist groups claimed responsibility for the 2008 attack, Hindu extremists blamed Christians for his murder.

The accusations sparked horrific violence against innocent Christians. Scores of church buildings were demolished and hundreds of homes destroyed; sometimes entire villages were razed to the ground. Church leaders were beaten up and women raped. At least 35 Christians lost their lives in the attacks, some of them burned alive.

These attacks in Orissa left around 15,000 Christians homeless. Even in 2011 an estimated 2,000 Christian families were still without a proper permanent home. Since then, Barnabas has been rebuilding homes for the families who lost everything. Each new home currently costs around £650 (€820; US$1,000; AUS$1,220; NZ$1,300). This provides a simple, one-room property with a cement floor, a tin roof, and a veranda at the front for cooking. So far, we have provided over 1,300 houses for homeless families.

But Christians continue to be blamed for the attack against the VHP leader. In October 2013, seven Christians were handed life sentences for his assassination.

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