Another victim in Orissa

Print edition : September 11, 1999

The hate campaign against minorities in Orissa leads to one more killing, the victim this time being a Christian priest.

THE sustained hate campaign against Christians in Orissa has assumed diabolic proportions with the killing of a Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Arul Doss, by a mob of non-Christian fanatics at Jamabani, a remote village in Mayurbhanj district, on the night of September 1. This is the third such incident involving minorities in the State this year: Australian missionary Graham Stewart Staines and his two sons were burnt to death at Manoharpur on the night of January 22, and a Muslim trader, Sheikh Rehman, was killed at Padiabeda village in Mayurbhanj district on August 26. Fr. Arul Doss died in a mob attack on him and other Christians who were participating in festivities after a prayer meeting. (Jamabani is not far from the spot where Graham Staines and his sons were killed.)

The 35-year-old Fr. Doss, a native of Tamil Nadu, had been the priest of the Anandapur Roman Catholic church in Mayurbhanj district for the past five years. He had been visiting villages in the area since August 31.

The spot where Sheikh Rehman, a trader, was burnt to death on August 26.-EASTERN PRESS AGENCY

Fr. Doss arrived at Jamabani on September 1 along with two other church workers, Darsan Birua and Kate Singh Khuntia, and organised a prayer meeting there the next day. According to some reports, they were watching a cultural programme after a prayer mee ting when a group of 10 to 15 persons, who were armed with lathis, bows and arrows, attacked them. As the participants in the celebrations, including Fr. Doss, tried to escape, the attackers reportedly pierced his body with arrows. The attackers set fire to local church before leaving. Khuntia is in a critical condition.

Fr. Jose Thundiyil, a fellow priest, said that Fr. Doss used to make weekly visits to Jamabani. The journey involved a 32-km scooter ride followed by a 19-km trek. "He had been in our diocese for five years, and he was a very good missionary," Fr. Thundi yil said. "He led a simple life. He wanted to be with the poor all the time. He was not interested in conversions. He was keen on organising the poor people and educating them about their rights so that they could lead better lives," he added.

Condemning the killing, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee urged the Orissa Government to arrest immediately the perpetrators of the "heinous crime" and of previous such incidents, irrespective of their political or other forms of affiliation. "It is ex tremely distressing that such murderous attacks on representatives of the minority community should be taking place unchecked and with alarming regularity in Orissa," he said.

The body of Fr. Arul Doss, who was killed on the night of September 1, being taken for post-mortem.-EASTERN PRESS AGENCY

Orissa Chief Minister Giridhar Gamang blamed "non-secular forces" for the killing. The incident occurred in the "area of operation" of Dara Singh, who is wanted in connection with the murder of Graham Staines and his sons and of Sheikh Rehman. "Any killi ng on the eve of the elections can only be the handiwork of non-secular forces, aimed at creating confusion in the minds of voters," Gamang said.

On September 3, Opposition parties organised a Statewide bandh, calling for the Chief Minister's resignation in the light of the latest act of violence against members of minority communities.

The killing of Fr. Doss came barely a week after Dara Singh, the prime accused in the Staines murder case, allegedly killed Sheikh Rehman in Padiabeda. Dara Singh and his men allegedly chopped off Rehman's hands at a crowded market before burning him to death. The ghastly attack came as a shock to the State police and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), who have been searching for Dara Singh for months. One of Sheikh Rehman's neighbours, Madina Bibi, alleged that Dara Singh had announced his inte ntions in advance. Padiabeda's 20-odd Muslim families, who are terrorised, made similar allegations. They said that Dara Singh had been visiting the area and that he had been spotted at the weekly markets. They wondered why the CBI and the State police h ad not arrested him. They alleged that Dara Singh had a history of attacking Muslim traders, especially cattle dealers.

The State Government was non-committal on whether Dara Singh was involved in the killing of Fr. Doss. "We will neither confirm nor deny it," State Home Secretary Ajit Tripathy said. However, police sources in Mayurbhanj said that the Jamabani attack had the hallmarks of Dara Singh's modus operandi; for instance, the way in which the victims were attacked and churches burnt. They said that Dara Singh's involvement could not be ruled out as the four organised attacks on Christians and Muslims that had taken place over the past eight months in the villages of Keonjhar and Mayurbhanj districts in north Orissa had occurred within 30 km from Thakurmunda, which is believed to be his stronghold. Dara Singh, an alleged religious fanatic, is believed to b e a Bajrang Dal activist who is on a "mission to take out the minorities". He carries a reward of Rs.5 lakhs on his head.

The Wadhwa Commission which inquired into the Staines murder case has stated in its report that Dara Singh did not act at the behest of any political organisation. This observation has, however, been rejected by many people who say that evidence indicate s otherwise.

The National Council of Churches in India and associated Christian missions have called for a fresh inquiry into the Sangh Parivar's alleged links with Dara Singh. The NCCI president, K. Rajaratnam, and the India Missions Association's vice-chairman, Ebe Sunder Raj, said that the continued killings of members of minority communities necessitated a fresh probe with wider terms of reference that would implicate the abettors of the crime. They said that the Wadhwa Commission report was full of contradictio ns as an overwhelming number of affidavits and documents that were placed before the Commission pointed to Dara Singh's links with the Bajrang Dal/Bharatiya Janata Party/Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. They alleged that statements made by various Sangh Pari var leaders, which appeared indirectly to justify the killing, were further pointers to the involvement of the Bajrang Dal.

The CBI, which has identified Dara Singh as the prime suspect in the Staines case, is yet to track him down; he is believed to be operating from a dense forest in tribal-dominated north Orissa. The CBI has filed a charge-sheet against 18 accused in the S taines murder case. The charge-sheet, filed at the Designated Court of Justice E. Vasudev Rao in Bhubaneswar, sought permission to conduct further investigations and issue warrants against the absconders. Altogether, 46 persons are believed to have been involved in the killing: nine have been arrested; nine, including Dara Singh, have been mentioned as absconders; the others are yet to be identified. The CBI is reported to have conducted nearly 500 raids to arrest Dara Singh. Police sources conceded tha t the State Government had "washed its hands of" the Staines murder case by handing it over to the CBI in March. The number of raids conducted by the State police on Dara Singh's suspected hideouts in Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar districts came down drastical ly. Dara Singh's decision to lie low for six months after the murder of Graham Staines misled the police into believing that he was "cornered" and that he may have taken refuge in Uttar Pradesh, his home State. "Just when we thought he was gone, he came out of nowhere and struck again," one official said.

Dara Singh, who is believed to be involved in the killing of Fr. Arul Doss.-

Officials of the CBI said that Dara Singh had become a prominent figure in the area bordering Keonjhar and Mayurbhanj districts. His name entered the police records after he launched a series of attacks on Muslim cattle traders in the area. It has been a lleged that villagers with whom Dara Singh shared his loot, harbour him.

Evidence collected by the CBI so far reveals that Dara Singh instigated his supporters by saying that Christian missionaries spent a lot of money trying to "convert poor tribal brothers and sisters". According to investigating officers, Dara Singh is bot h respected and feared by the local people. The CBI has decided to start booking cases against those who have been harbouring him.

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