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Churches attacked in India's sensitive Odisha state

Armed police patrol Rourkela Diocese after Marian statues are destroyed and sacristy is set ablaze

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Churches attacked in India's sensitive Odisha state

A broken Marian statue inside the grotto of Bihabandh Catholic Church in Odisha state after unidentified people attacked it on April 1. (Photo provided by Rourkela Diocese)

Vandals have destroyed two Marian statues and set fire to the sacristy and storeroom of a parish in Rourkela Diocese of India's Odisha state.

Sundergarh district administration has deployed armed police in the area because of the religious sensitivity of the two separate incidents on April 1, said police inspector Bijay Kumar Singh.

The eastern state witnessed anti-Christian violence a decade ago that claimed more than 100 lives. Christians fear attacks over Christmas but Easter seasons have been peaceful.

Church people have not linked the attacks with Hindu radical violence. "We have no clue who was behind the attacks," Bishop Kishore Kumar Kujur of Rourkela told ucanews.com on April 3.

Police have not been able to identify the culprits but the investigation is progressing and they hope to arrest the offenders soon, Singh said.

The attacks happened within a radius of seven kilometers.

A Marian statue from St. Thomas Catholic Church in Salangabahal was removed and thrown into a nearby river and a statue of the infant Jesus was destroyed, said Father Petrus Joseph Barwa.

His parish of 6,000 Catholics has "never had any history of communal disharmony" in its 46 years. "We live in peace and celebrate festivals of all religions," Father Barwa told ucanews.com.

Father Bipin Kishore Majhi, priest of Bihabandh Catholic Church, said people sleeping after Easter Sunday celebrations were woken by a commotion and saw a storeroom close to the church in flames.

The fire soon spread to the nearby sacristy and destroyed vestments and other items, said the priest of the 18-month-old parish. A Marian statue close to the church was later found in pieces.

The area witnessed a similar attack on March 4 when unidentified persons destroyed a grotto of the Immaculate Conception in Aligonda parish of Gajapati district of Berhampur Diocese. Police have yet to arrest anyone.

Church officials have accused the state, run by a coalition of pro-Hindu parties, of apathy in dealing with such cases. They also point to the tardy process of justice for victims of riots, even after a decade.

The 2008 riot claimed the lives of 101 Christians. More than 600 villages were attacked and 6,500 houses were looted and burned, displacing 54,000 people. Several women including a nun were raped. The violence also partially or fully destroyed 395 Christian places of worship.

The worst anti-Christian riot in Indian history began in Kandhamal district after Hindu leader Swami Laxmananada was shot dead on Aug. 23, 2008, along with three others.

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