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2005-09-09 12:37:00
Consulate Kolkata
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091237Z Sep 05
						UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 CALCUTTA 000320 




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary: During CG's August 23-25 visit to Orissa,
he met with Christian representatives to discuss developments in
the January 1999 murder case of Australian Christian evangelist
Graham Staines and his two sons. CG also inquired about
communal relations in the State. The Christian representatives
expressed frustration with legislation that made evangelizing
and conversions difficult, such as the Orissa Freedom of
Religion Act (OFRA), which requires converts to register with
district authorities prior to conversion. The representatives
also objected to the legal provisions that resulted in scheduled
caste Dalits converting to Christianity losing their protected
status and government preferences. The Christian leaders felt
that communal relations had improved in the last few months,
engendered by the more tolerant views of the national governing
United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition and a reduction in
Christian evangelizing. The reduction in tensions being partly
attributable to the lessened evangelizing reflects that in
general, religious communities in Orissa co-exist peacefully,
but that conversion efforts can spark violence. End Summary.

2. (SBU) On August 25, CG met with President of the Orissa
chapter of the All India Christian Council Reverend P.R.
Parichha, General Secretary of the Orissa United Christian Forum
B.K. Muduli and High Court Lawyer Pratap Chhinchani to discuss
recent developments in the murder case of Australian missionary
Graham Staines and his two minor sons. Staines ran a leprosy
home in Orissa. On January 22, 1999 in Manoharpur, Staines and
his sons were burnt to death when the vehicle they were sleeping
in was set on fire by a mob, reportedly upset with Staines'
evangelizing in the area.

3. (U) A year later, police arrested principal suspect Dara
Singh and 12 others, with links to rightwing Hindu groups. A
Sessions Court sentenced Singh to death and 11 others to life
imprisonment. However on May 19, 2005, the Orissa High Court
converted Singh's death sentence to life imprisonment and
acquitted the other 11. The High Court held that there was no
evidence or record to show that Singh's individual act alone
killed Staines and his sons. On August 16, Singh challenged his
conviction and appealed to the Supreme Court. The Central
Bureau of Investigation (CBI) also appealed to the Supreme Court
on August 29, challenging the High Court's judgment reducing
Singh's conviction to life imprisonment and urging re-imposition
of the Sessions Court's capital punishment sentence.

4. (SBU) Parichha, Muduli and Chhinchani were concerned with
the developments in the Singh case. They stated that the

reduction of Singh's punishment to a life sentence was not
justified, because the available evidence indicated he was
involved in the crime. They also felt that the death sentence
was important as a deterrent to other Hindu fundamentalists.

5. (SBU) In addition to developments in the Staines case, the
Christian representatives were also dissatisfied with the OFRA
or "anti-conversion law" as they characterized it. The law
requires converts to a religion to register with district
authorities prior to their conversion. The Christian
representatives felt that this exposed converts to pressure and
reprisals from Hindu fundamentalists, like members of the
Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. As an example, they
mentioned that in May more than 500 Christian tribal converts
had been "reconverted" to Hinduism in Bargarh district. Echoing
these comments, a week later the "The Asian Age" newspaper
reported that on September 4 police in Kendrapara district
arrested two people for assaulting and forcibly tonsuring 10
Dalits who had converted to Christianity the previous year.

6. (SBU) The Christian representatives saw the fact that Hindu
Dalit converts to Christianity lost their protected status and
various preferences under the legal system as another
discriminatory issue. The GOI has a program of affirmative
action and preferences for Dalits or scheduled castes that
historically faced extreme discrimination. However when the
Dalits convert to Christianity, these preferences would be lost.
The Christian leaders noted that Dalit converts to other
religions such as Sikhism or Buddhism would not lose these
advantages; therefore, creating a disincentive for conversion to
Christianity. The Dalits and tribal communities, marginalized
from mainstream culture and economic opportunities, have been
the focus of Christian evangelical efforts.

7. (SBU) On a positive note, the three contacts believed that
communal tensions in Orissa have been less in recent months.
They felt that the improved situation was partly attributable to
the recently elected national UPA coalition which was more
sensitive to communal issues and that this had helped to
minimize conflicts, even at the State level. They also noted
that Christian groups had reduced their level of evangelizing,
which meant fewer reprisals by Hindu fundamentalists.

8. (SBU) Comment: The Staines murder demonstrated how
religious tensions in Orissa's poor rural areas can explode into
violence. Evangelizing in these areas serves to spark the
tinder of resentment felt by Hindu fundamentalists and groups
like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal. These
groups then attempt to counter the efforts of the Christian
evangelists as evidenced by the regularly reported incidents of
harassment and intimidation against converts. The Christian
evangelists approach of targeting the disenfranchised Dalits and
tribal communities places them in more remote areas and
sometimes away from the protections of law enforcement. The
Christian representatives conceded that overall, religious
communities in Orissa co-exist without violence. However,
religious conflict arises when Christians attempt to evangelize
in the communities in Orissa's geographic and social "Outback."