India: two Christians and a baby among the dead in police shoot-out

Christians in India protest persecution.Reuters

Two Pentecostal Christians are believed to be among five Indian villagers including a five-month-old baby who were killed on July 8 during a shoot-out between security officers and Maoists in the eastern state of Odisha.

Reports said that the villagers were returning from a local market by car when it was hit by crossfire in a nearby forest, which was the site of a police operation.

Officials insisted the shooting was a mistake, but the website Crux said that Christian locals are sceptical because of a history of anti-Christian violence in the area.

In 2008, riots led by militant Hindu nationalists in Kandhamal left 100 Christians dead. Thousands of others were injured and left homeless, while hundreds of churches and other Christian properties were destroyed.

Of the incident last week, Pinak Mishra, the Superintendent of Police for Kandhamal said: "The local police had information that some Maoists would be passing on the route late in the evening. Along with the Central Reserve Police Force, the security personnel had positioned themselves for an ambush on the rebels. During an exchange of fire between the security personnel, the auto-rickshaw came under the firing line. Since the spot where the exchange of fire took place happens to be an inaccessible pocket and there is no mobile network, we are still not clear about the details of the casualties. Our men are in touch with the local villagers. We will surely probe if the people were killed in the firing by security personnel or Maoists."

Mishra added that a search operation was under way.

Ajaya Kumar Singh, a Catholic Priest and Director of the Odisha Forum for Social Action in Bhubaneswar, expressed fears over a "conspiracy". He said: "I feel it is a conspiracy to create terror and to keep...minorities under fear." He recalled that during the 2008 riots, "the state government also claimed it was intelligence failures". Sing added: "I believe the intelligence agencies as well as the state administration have succumbed to caste-communal forces, which feed well-calculated rumors of Maoists to ensure a security presence, so they can continue to reign in the area without being challenged...For the intelligence agencies, it's [a matter of] pay and perks, while for the state it is huge business."