Nine people are dead and dozens of churches and hundreds of Christians’ homes have been torched during a surge of Hindu violence in India, according to reports from organizations working there.
Compass Direct News reports that the deaths and damage have been reported since Christmas Eve, when members of the extremist World Hindu Council launched their assaults on the faithful belonging to Christianity.
“Orissa state’s Kandhamal district remains tense 10 days after the series of anti-Christian attacks began, and thousands of Christians whose houses have been burned down are facing hunger and fear,” the Compass Direct report said.
Pastor Victor John, who was in the region during the attacks, said federal Indian troops have been deployed, but there still remain tensions and worries.
The nation’s Human Rights Commission this week reported nine deaths from the attacks, close to 90 churches burned, about 600 homes either torched or vandalized, and about 5,000 people forced to flee.
Swami Laxmananda Saraswati, a leader of the World Hindu Council (VHP), told local reporters that the violence was triggered by Hindus who converted to Christianity.
While John Dayal, general secretary of the All India Christian Council, told Compass the death toll remained unconfirmed, there appeared to be a number of such cases.
“Many people, including young women, are still reported missing,” Dayal told Compaass Direct. “We have no accounting, and neither do we know if the police have tried to search for them. Christians have been arrested, we learn, but there is no official word on it.
“Troublemakers seem to have a free hand in the entire district,” he said.
One of difficulties, he said, is that the government forces have prevented church groups from sending teams into the area of the attacks to assess damage and offer assistance.
The violence apparently erupted first in Kandhamal as members of the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes in one small village were preparing for their Christmas celebration.
A Hindu mob, upset with Christianity’s beliefs and the apparent choice by some Hindus to follow Christianity, attacked the Christians and their shops, the Compass Direct agency reported.
The blame, the report said, rests with Saraswati, who has opposed Christians and their work in India for more than a decade.
“It was Saraswati who instigated the mob to attack us,” one Christian villager told Compass Direct on condition of anonymity. “Later, Christians learned that Saraswati was coming to launch more attacks. Sections of Christians tried to stop him on the way, which resulted in a clash between the two groups, following which the VHP claimed that their leader was hurt and announced that now Christians would be attacked as revenge.”
The series of attacks earlier prompted Christians to stage a rally to demand government intervention to halt violence against members of the minority religion.
Protesters objecting to violence against Christians in the Indian state of Orissa
The recent rally in Delhi drew an estimated 1,000 Christians and was organized by the All India Christian Council.
A message was delivered to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after officials met with Union Home Minister Shivraj V. Patil, as well as the head of the National Commission for Minorities.
However, Compass Direct also reported that the very officials who are supposed to be keeping order sometimes apparently have contributed to the problems. Local police officers in Bangalore recently arrested and harassed five workers from the Indian Church of Christ, the report said.
“One man holding a video camera slapped me on the face while focusing the camera on us, while others held us by our collars,” Shaijus Philip told Compass. “A huge guy kept hitting and punching us, using abusive language against Christianity, the church and us. They caught hold of three more brothers who were there and called the police, falsely accusing us of various crimes.”
The Christians were jailed five days, while their attackers went free, the report said.
“The Christians were arrested for hurting religious sentiments of Hindus,” an officer in a police station said.
“The police, who are supposed to protect all citizens from criminal assaults, are often found to be conniving with the ruling government to organize religion-related violence or harass the victims hoping to get bribes,” a spokesman for the Christian Legal Association told Compass.
In just one incident alone, a mob estimated at 25 Hindu extremists attacked a troupe of Christians who had been putting on a play, cutting off one man’s finger and seriously injuring several others.
Earlier, Hindu extremists were accused of disrupting a prayer meeting, attacking a pastor and filing false charges of forcible conversion against the church leader in Virajpet town, Kodagu district, in Karnataka.
Another gang of Hindu extremists attacked a prayer meeting, pelting the building being used with stones and beating up Christians.
And the violence continues. According to Assist News Service, seven Christian church members were beaten on New Year’s Day, with two members admitted to a government hospital for treatment.
“More than 200 believers … were praying … when about 25 radicals entered the church with metal rods, knives and started to mercilessly attack on the peaceful worshippers,” the report said.
“Our leaders in Orissa and media reports both indicate that attacks on Christians were not spontaneous but preplanned by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other Hindutva groups. Also, the state government misled the people of India by making repeated statements that the situation was under control. It is tragic. Orissa burned while politicians talked,” said Dr. Joseph D’souza, president of the All India Christian Council and international president of the Dalit Freedom Network.
“Hindutva leaders say the violence is a response to conversions by Christian missionaries,” said Udit Raj, national chairman of the All India Confederation. “But this is a lie. Christian missionaries are targeted by Hindutva and upper cast forces because Christians truly provide education and social upliftment…”
Singh has responded with an announcement of a plan for compensation for Christian victims of the riots and attacks. According to the Global Council of Indian Christians, he’s proposed a payment of about $2,400 U.S. for the next of kin for the victims, and about $240 U.S. for those whose homes were damaged.
According to Gospel for Asia, another Christian ministry working in India, the violence has amounted to a virtual terror campaign against Christians.
“This violence against believers in Orissa breaks my heart,” said K.P. Yohannan, founder and president of GFA. “This is the same state where missionary Graham Staines and his two sons were martyred. The believers know they will face opposition, but this outburst of persecution at Christmas time is especially disturbing.”
GFA said a project on which its missionaries had worked in Orissa was destroyed, and its missionary leader Matish Junni attacked.
“The mob beat Matish and shaved his head. Then they mockingly paraded him around the village, shouting slurs against him and other Christians,” the report said. “They also forced Matish to go to their religious temples. When the mob finally released him, they warned him not to continue the construction.”
WND recently reported when religious radicals threatened to burn a Christian church’s pastor and his family, and the church building was vandalized with a Hindu “Om” symbol.
The wall of a Christian church in India vandalized by Hindus who object to the presence of Christians (Voice of the Martyrs photo)
Even within the United States, there have been attacks, although verbal instead of physical. As WND reported, the Hindu American Foundation has attacked Christian organizations ranging from the Southern Baptists’ missions board and Gospel for Asia to Olive Tree Ministries, which aims to teach Christians about their beliefs.
“The proliferation of websites promoting religious hatred is an unfortunate consequence of the universality of access to the Internet,” said Vinay Vallabh, the lead author of a report that attacked the Christian groups for their expression of their beliefs.
“We must vigorously identify, condemn and counter those who use the Internet to espouse chauvinism and bigotry over the principles of pluralism and tolerance,” Vallabh said.
Vallabh’s report, called “Hyperlink to Hinduphobia: Online Hatred, Extremism and Bigotry Against Hindus,” expresses his hope that Internet Service Providers will start censoring Christian postings of their beliefs, “a necessary step as we continue our balancing act between free speech and licentious speech that leads to violence in the electronic age.”
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