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India: First conviction for sectarian attacks

  • Story Highlights
  • Chakradhar Mallik jailed for two years on charges of rioting
  • About 38 people, mainly Christians, died in violence last year in state of Orissa
  • Riots, violence broke out after death of Hindu leader Laxmananda Saraswati
From Harmeet Shah Singh
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NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- An Indian court has handed down the first conviction in a series of attacks on Christians in an eastern state last year, authorities said Wednesday.

The first person convicted is Chakradhar Mallik, who has been jailed for two years on charges of rioting, said Praveen Kumar, the police chief of Kandhamal district in the state of Orissa.

Some 800 cases have been filed in courts in connection with anti-Christian assaults that broke out in Kandhamal last year after the murder of a Hindu religious leader, top district official Krishan Kumar told CNN.

About 38 people, many of them Christians, were killed in that violence, he said.

Riots and violence broke out after the deaths of Hindu leader Laxmananda Saraswati and four others, who were killed on August 23, 2008, in Kandhamal after dozens of gunmen barged into a Hindu school and began shooting, authorities said.

Hindus blamed Christians for Saraswati's death and rampaged through predominantly Christian neighborhoods, ransacking shops and torching houses.

Christian residents fought back, and the clashes spread, lasting for weeks.

Both sides said the violence left Christian churches and Hindu temples in ruins.

It was not the first time violence between religious groups has occurred in Orissa.

In 1999, a Hindu mob burned to death an Australian missionary, Graham Staines, and his two children while they slept inside their car.

And in December 2007, clashing groups killed four people and burned several churches in the same Kandhamal district of Orissa.

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