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Latest news > Worst anti-Christian violence in India for 60 years hits Orissa at Christmas

Worst anti-Christian violence in India for 60 years hits Orissa at Christmas

17 January 2008

Hindu extremists launched a spate of violent but meticulously planned attacks on Christians in Kanhdamal District, Orissa State, on 24 and 25 December 2007. A total of 95 churches were burnt to the ground, as well as 730 homes of Christians. In cases where a Christian ministry operated from rented premises owned by a Hindu, the attackers were careful not to damage the building, but took all the contents outside and set them on fire. The death toll is unknown at the time of writing, but taking into account all known cases of “arson, murder and assault” the violence was, in the words of the All India Christian Council, “the largest attack on the Christian community in the history of democratic India”.

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The attackers - members of the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Panishad) - were armed with guns, knives, trishuls (trident-like spears), home-made bombs and other weapons. They shouted slogans including: “Only Hindus to stay here – no Christians to stay here”, “Christians must become Hindu or die” and “Kill Christians”. At least nine Christians were killed. The reason the complete death toll is proving hard to ascertain is partly because the VHP have been assiduously hiding/destroying the bodies of their victims in order to prevent numbers being known. Another reason is that many Christians fled into the forest or to other villages, so some of those missing may still be alive. Those who have emerged from the forest already have spoken of the hardships and dangers they faced there, such as cold (5C at night), lack of food and especially water, and wandering tigers and bears. Most of the Christians were Dalits, a very low status group in Indian society.

Many Christians have reported how the police stood by, watching the carnage without trying to intervene. The only exception was a Christian police officer in Balliguda town who warned church leaders in Barkhama village on 24 December to run for their lives. The next day he was transferred.

In several places the VHP attackers were at pains not just to destroy but also to desecrate. At a church in Bamunigaon, they carefully took out the communion cups and all associated materials and crushed them under their feet. In Barkhama, where seven congregations had joined together for a combined open-air Christmas Eve service on church land, the VHP cremated the body of an elderly Hindu (who had died of natural causes) in front of the open air pulpit.

In Kutikia a small church was attacked and its minister and 12 church members taken to a field where their heads were shaved because they refused to deny Christ. Then they were ordered to eat raw rice mixed with goats’ blood so as to become Hindus.

Please help our Indian brothers and sisters in Orissa at their time of need

Barnabas Fund is helping the victims of the Orissa Christmas attacks with food, clothes and temporary shelter. This is an immediate and urgent need for thousands of Christians who have been made homeless or lost their means of earning a living.

At a later stage it will be necessary to rebuild houses and churches, and to enable those who lost their livelihood to set up small businesses to support themselves. Initial estimates indicate that the average cost of building a village church will be around £3,000 (US$6,000; €4,200) and the average cost of building a village house will be around £1,400 (US$2,800; €1,960).


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