October 4, 2008 1:34:18 am
As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was asked about the attacks on Christians in Orissa and Karnataka during his trip to the US and France, brought up the matter at the Cabinet meeting today and sought a report from Home Minister Shivraj Patil, the Orissa police, after taking 38 days to collect the medical report confirming the rape of a nun who was later stripped and paraded, arrested four persons in connection with the case and suspended the Baliguda police station Inspector-in-charge.
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik promised action, describing the rape of the nun as “a shameful and savage crime”. Within hours of the Cabinet meeting, Patil sent Patnaik a strongly-worded letter, asking him to take effective measures and provide security to Christians.
In Kandhamal, police recovered two more bodies — one of a Christian and the other of a Hindu — from Sundipakhalo village in Tumudibandh block, taking the official death toll in the communal violence to 34.
Juria Pradhan (52), his son Kartik Pradhan (22), Biren Sahu (35) and Tapas Patnaik (26) were arrested in connection with the assault and rape of a 29-year-old Catholic nun on August 25. The case was handed over to the IG, CID.
Baliguda police station Inspector-in-charge K Narayan Rao was suspended for the “callousness” shown in investigating the case but to the people there, it was too little, too late. The rape accused and others who had participated in the attack on the Divyajyoti Pastoral Centre in Kanjimendi had been moving freely in the area all these days.
Padmacharan Nayak, a Dalit Christian of Kanjimendi, said: “People who took part in the assault were on the streets, fully aware that police would not do anything. We saw it on August 25 when the Orissa State Armed Police stood by while the pastoral centre was being burnt and the nun raped.
They did not even fire a shot, saying they had no orders.”
And now a blame game of sorts is on between the doctors and police as to who was responsible for the delay in submitting the medical report confirming the rape.
In New Delhi, Information and Broadcasting Minister P R Dasmunsi told reporters: “The Cabinet took note of the latest situation prevailing in Orissa and Karnataka. The situation is very grave. The Government is quite concerned about it. Prime Minister has directed Home Minister to apprise the Cabinet about the situation.”
Sources said that as soon as the Cabinet finished discussing the day’s agenda, Manmohan Singh mentioned the attacks on Christians. He was quoted as having said that the attacks on Christians was being discussed abroad when he was there. Mines Minister Sis Ram Ola joined him, saying this was “harming the image of the country”.
Railways Minister Lalu Prasad, Heavy Industry Minister Santosh Mohan Deb, Labour Minister Oscar Fernandes too raised the matter. Saying that the Centre must take tough measures to stop the attacks on Christians, Lalu Prasad even demanded a ban on the Bajrang Dal. Dasmunsi said “we feel strongly that the Orissa government has to do more, what it is not doing”.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Vyalar Ravi raised the issue of attacks on Christians in Left-ruled Kerala. He had even written a letter to the Prime Minister last month, suggesting the Constitution be amended to enable localised intervention by the Centre in states to protect minorities. “As the trend of different political parties coming to power in different ideology gains ground, it becomes imperative to ensure that the minorities that live in those states are adequately protected and safeguarded,” he wrote.
In his letter to Patnaik, Patil stated that seeking additional forces every few days was no solution to the violence in the state. Pointing out that the Orissa government had used an Mi-17 helicopter provided to it by the Home Ministry only for reconnaissance and not for transportation of troops as was required, Patil said the state government had raised only one of the five sanctioned battalions of the India Reserve Battalion.
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