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Violence Against Christians in Orissa Threatens to Spread Through India

11 September 2008

Attacks on Christians in India and their homes and church buildings are raising fears that Hindu extremists are targeting them in advance of a general election.

Debris in a ransacked Christian house

As we reported on 1 September, an upsurge of anti-Christian violence in Orissa state in eastern India has claimed several lives and caused extensive damage to Christian homes, churches and other property. Hindu extremists are threatening Christians with dire consequences unless they re-convert to Hinduism. At least 15,000 people displaced by the mobs are gathered in relief camps, where attempts have been made by Hindu extremists to poison the water. The death toll is now estimated as at least 35, some of whom have been burnt alive.

The crisis in Orissa is the worst anti-Christian violence in India since independence 60 years ago. It began over the murder of Swami Laxmananda Saraswati, a local leader for the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a radical Hindu group. Saraswati had campaigned against the conversion of Hindus to Christianity. Hindu extremists have dismissed a claim of responsibility from Maoist militants for his murder and have blamed Christians. They have also refused to condemn the killings of Christians.

A Christian girl reads the Bible in one of the camps


But this violence must be set in the context of numerous incidents of anti-Christian persecution in India. For example, on 4 August in Uttarakhand, north India, a group of Indian missionaries were attacked by Hindu activists in the supposed safety of a police station. On 20 August in Karnataka, south India, an evangelist was beaten up by Hindu radicals. On 5 September in Chhattisgarh, central India, four young children were being escorted to a Christian orphanage when they were taken away by a group of Hindus, who also beat up two staff from the sponsoring organisation. On 7 September in Madhya Pradesh, also in central India, an 86-year-old church was burned down.


It is feared that hard-line groups are seeking to mobilise support before the election that is due by May 2009. Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, said, “The shocking outbreak of violence against Christians in Orissa draws our attention to the persecution faced by many Indian Christians. There is a grave danger that this will intensify in various places as the national elections approach. We pray that Christ will give peace and strength to believers throughout the country and enable them to respond to hostility with love and forgiveness.”

Please help our brothers and sisters in need:

Barnabas Fund has been providing aid for Christians in Orissa since the first campaign of violence against them last Christmas. Their need for the basics of life and the rebuilding of their homes and churches has once again become immediate and urgent. Please help us to support them in their distress.

This girl suffered facial burns in the violence


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