At least 20 houses burned and 70 Christian families forced to become Hindus in one day.
NEW DELHI, September 9 (Compass Direct News) – The spate of anti-Christian violence that began following the killing of a Hindu leader on Aug. 23 in Orissa’s Kandhamal district continued yesterday despite a stream of meetings by Christian and rights groups with high government officials.
At least 20 houses were burned last night and 70 Christian families were forcibly ‘reconverted’ to Hinduism yesterday in separate incidents in the eastern state.
According to the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), more than 20 houses belonging to Christians from the Orissa Follow-Up ministry (OFU) in Khajuripada village in Kandhamal were set on fire last night. The Rev. Dr. D.B. Hrudaya of the OFU told EFI that the whereabouts of the 20 families whose houses were destroyed were unknown and that he was “deeply concerned.”
Earlier in the day, around 70 families in four villages – Bogapada, Boriguda, Kuttiguda and Danniguda – in Kandhamal were forcibly ‘reconverted’ to Hinduism by Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP) extremists.
On Sunday (September 7), a mob of around 2,000 people attacked a church during the morning worship service in Bhudainjal village in another district, Kalahandi, reported EFI. While the church members were able to flee, the attackers caught hold of two church workers and assaulted them.
“When the three-months pregnant wife of one of the men tried to rescue her husband, one person in the mob kicked her in the stomach,” EFI reported. “She was admitted to the Kathiguda Government Hospital.”
In the afternoon, the mob burned a daycare center in nearby Bamnichatra village. The crowd also stole items worth around 10,000 rupees (US$225) from the center before setting it on fire.
There were also reports of Hindu extremists poisoning the water at relief camps in Kandhamal.
“An attempt to poison the drinking water source of the relief camp in Habaq High School in G. Udayagiri village, Kandhamal was foiled by an alert security guard at 9 p.m. on September 2,” EFI said in a statement.
The water of another relief camp in Vijay High School in Raikia, Kandhamal was reportedly poisoned last Wednesday (September 3). Six Christians fell ill from the toxicity and were taken to hospitals, according to EFI.
The violence in Orissa began following the killing of a VHP leader, Laxmanananda Saraswati, and four of his disciples on August 23 in his ashram (religious center) in the Jalespeta area of Kandhamal district. A Maoist group claimed responsibility for the killings, but the VHP continues to blame Christians.
The Global Council of India Christians has recorded at least 56 deaths thus far, and the rights group believes the toll could cross 100. Hundreds of houses and churches have also been burned or destroyed in the violence, forcing thousands to hide in jungles or take shelter in relief camps set up by the state government.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of India said in a statement yesterday (September 8) that relief camps needed more facilities and protection for the people who were “still in the grip of fear and loss.”
“In some villages people continue to live under threat,” the conference said in a statement. “They think they could be attacked any time.”
Representatives of the Christian community in India have met with the president, the federal interior minister, the leader of the ruling United Progressive Alliance Sonia Gandhi, Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, and several other political leaders to urge them to ensure protection of Christians in Orissa.
At the same time, the VHP defied a government ban to organize a gathering at Saraswati’s ashram in Jalespeta to pay homage to its slain leader over the weekend, reported The Telegraph newspaper.
The VHP was planning to take the ashes of Saraswati in public procession from village to village in the whole of Orissa on Sunday (September 7), but the state government banned it after the Supreme Court on Friday (September 5) ordered it to take all measures to protect the lives and property of Christians.
Yesterday the state government banned all rallies and processions in connection with Saraswati’s killing, as it has to inform the Supreme Court about the security measures taken to end the violence on Thursday (September 11), reported the Press Trust of India agency.
Saraswati allegedly incited the attacks on Christians and their property in Kandhamal last Christmas season. The violence lasted for more than a week beginning December 24, and killed at least four Christians and burned 730 houses and 95 churches.
The 2007 attacks were allegedly carried out by VHP extremists under the pretext of avenging an attack on Saraswati allegedly by local Christians. Hundreds of Christians were displaced by the violence in Kandhamal, and many are still in various relief camps set up by the state government.
Orissa is ruled by a coalition of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and the Biju Janata Dal party.
Christians make up 2.4 percent of Orissa’s population, or 897,861 of the total 36.7 million people.
Report from Compass Direct News