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India: Orissa - violence against Christians continues unabated

14 October 2008

Hindu extremist violence against the Christian community in Orissa State, India, which started on 24 August (see previous articles : 12/09/2008, 01/09/2008), has continued almost unabated since then.

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At least 50 Christians have been murdered, some cut to pieces and others burnt alive. Many fear that the death toll is even higher, with one estimate suggesting that 120 Christians have been killed. About 18,000 people have been injured, many of them severely; numerous Christian women have been raped; some 4,400 homes have been destroyed; 300 villages have been cleansed of all Christians; and several orphanages and hundreds of churches and church buildings have been torched and razed. Relief camps, where Christians have fled for safety and shelter, have been attacked and drinking water has been poisoned.

Over 50,000 Christians are thought to be homeless, and around 30,000, more than half of them children, are hiding in the jungle, many without any food and water. Starvation is a very real danger for many of them, especially for the children, the elderly and the sick. Christians wanting to return to their homes have been told by the Hindu extremists: “Come back as Hindu or don’t come back at all.” Many who dare to return to their villages are forcibly converted to Hinduism. Sometimes the Hindu extremists pour petrol over the Christians and then ask them to convert; if they refuse they will be burnt.

And still the government shows itself reluctant to act. Although there has been talk of banning the Bajrang Dal, one of the Hindu nationalist groups responsible for the gruesome acts, and of imposing presidential rule over Orissa, no action has been taken. Additional police and a helicopter have been sent to the area, which has helped to improve conditions in at least some districts, but officials still advise journalists and members of NGOs (non-governmental organisations) not to go into the affected areas as they cannot provide protection.

“The sheer scale of the ongoing anti-Christian violence in Orissa, and the reluctance of federal, state and local authorities to act and protect the Christians is a serious and deeply disturbing development in Indian society,” says Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund. “The Indian Christian community, not only in Orissa but also in other Indian states, is facing one of its worst crises. The attempt by Hindu extremists to turn India into a Hindu state and drive out Christianity by whatever means must be stopped. We must stand and pray with our brothers and sisters through this dark time, and offer them all the help we can.”

Barnabas Fund is helping

Barnabas Fund is currently helping to get emergency aid to the Christians worst affected by the violence. Thousands are in urgent need of food, medical help, clothes, blankets and temporary shelter. It costs £25 (US$43; €32) to provide one family with a food parcel of rice, lentils and cooking oil, which is sufficient for at least a month. A major concern is that winter is coming and Christians hiding in forests and refugees in other places are ill-equipped to face rain and cold weather. We hope also to provide temporary shelter of a reasonable standard. The next stage will be to help with rebuilding houses and churches and to enable Christians who have lost their livelihoods to become self sufficient.

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