Tuesday, September 09, 2008

More violence in Orissa: Barnabas Fund (Direct Post)

India: Renewed Upsurge of Anti-Christian Violence by Hindu Extremists in Orissa

We have to report a shocking new outbreak of violence against Christians in the Indian state of Orissa, which has continued for several days.

On Saturday August 23, the Hindu leader Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his associates were assassinated. Saraswati, who was a senior figure in the nationalist VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad), had called for India to become a Hindu nation, and strongly opposed the conversion of Hindus to Christianity. The police and state officials have blamed the attack on suspected Maoist rebels, and Christian leaders in India have clearly condemned it. But the VHP and its allies alleged in inflammatory speeches that Christians were responsible, and they called a protest that rapidly escalated into violence.

The media have very limited access to Orissa at present, and reports from the region are still somewhat confused. But it is already clear that damage to property is extensive. Scores of church buildings have been demolished, and hundreds of homes destroyed. Other Christian institutions, including schools, offices and prayer houses, have been vandalized, looted or burned. Buses and other vehicles have been torched.

Many Christians have been attacked, especially in rural areas where mobs are attacking whole villages. Church leaders have been beaten up and women raped, and as many as 10,000 believers may have fled into the jungle for safety, without food or protection from the monsoon rains. Current reports of the death toll range from 12 to 36.

Some of the stories emerging from the area are truly horrific. A young woman attempted to stop the extremists from attacking the children at a Christian orphanage, and was thrown alive into the burning building, where she died. A paralyzed man in another village was unable to escape from a fire and was burned to death. A pastor was killed and his body cut in pieces.

The response of the state government appears to have been patchy at best. At first the rioters blocked roads to hinder the progress of government forces. Later it was reported that curfews had been imposed, but these have not been consistently enforced. Additional protection has been provided in the towns, but not in the countryside. Christian leaders have appealed to the national government for help, and thousands of Christian schools and colleges have been closed in protest.

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