The persecution of a Baptist layman in India’s state of Orissa provided the focus of an Oct. 13 article in The New York Times about the oppression of Christians by Hindu militants in the region, reports Baptist Press.
Solomon Digal symbolized almost two months of suffering inflicted by the violence, which has claimed more than 30 lives and seen 3,000 homes and 130 church buildings destroyed.
The persecution began in the aftermath of the Aug. 23 murder of a revered Hindu teacher in the area. Although police have said communist rebels committed the killing, Hindu extremists blamed Christians and began inciting violence against them in retribution.
Digal, a Christian since childhood, told The Times that his family was forced to turn over their Bibles, hymn books and images of Jesus to village leaders in Orissa’s volative Kandhamal district. The family was forced to kneel and watch as the symbols of their faith were burned. Family members were told that if they did not convert to Hinduism, their house would be destroyed and they would be killed or driven from the village.
Later, a stiff fine of 501 rupees was levied against the family for telling a reporter about their circumstances.
Although India’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion, Hindus in at least six Indian states are forcing Christians to convert under threat of violence. Christians account for only about 2 percent of India’s 1.1 billion people. The religious problems are heightened by long-running ethnic and economic tensions between the Pana and Kandha people groups, according to the Times article.
Other stories of persecution abound, ranging from five men who were forced by machete-wielding neighbors to submit to a conversion ritual to the story of a Catholic priest and nun who were paraded naked in the streets before she was gang-raped.
When The Times reporter asked the leader of a Hindu radical group in the state to respond to the rape allegation, he described the violence as “a spontaneous reaction” and said the nun had engaged in consensual sex.
Report from the Christian Telegraph