India's Christian Bodies Demand End to Orissa Violence

Several prominent Christian groups in India spoke out against the recent outbreak of violence in Orissa State, urging stronger government intervention to end the conflict between Hindus and Christians.

"Some people have called the violence 'Hindu-Christian clashes,'" said Dr. Joseph D'souza, president of the All India Christian Council, in a statement Wednesday. "But this is not accurate. Innocent Christians – mostly of Dalit origin – continue to be attacked by communal organizations which are mocking the rule of law.

"Governance in Orissa state appears to have disintegrated," he charged.

D'souza along with other Christian leaders have called for Christian educational institutions across denominational lines to participate in a non-violent protest against the violence by closing schools on Friday.

The initiative is supported by church networks, including the Evangelical Fellowship of India, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, and the National Council of Churches in India.

"We call for all church and Christian educational institutions of Catholic, Protestant, Independent, and unaffiliated Christian denominations in the service of society to close for one day," said Sam Paul, AICC national secretary of public affairs.

Violence broke out in the eastern state of Orissa after the murder of a Hindu leader by unknown assailants last week. Police have blamed Maoist rebels for the attack, but a Hindu leader has accused "Christian militants" of the act.

On Monday, Hindu hardliners in retaliation torched a Christian orphanage, killing a nun and seriously injuring a priest, according to Evangelical Fellowship of India. Twenty children, who were in the orphanage, were reported to have escaped.

Extremists also torched believers' homes as the violence spread, burning to death Rasananda Pradhan in his house at Rupa village in Kandhamal district.

Other violent acts against Christians include attacking churches, shops, buses, and offices.

According to EFI, a World Vision India office was also ransacked forcing a staff to flee into the jungle for safety. Moreover, the Mother Teresa Brothers' residence and hospital in Srasanada was attacked by mobs.

Currently, many poor Christians, now homeless, are taking shelter in the forest out of fear of being attacked by the Hindu militants.

Critics have said the government did not do their part to protect the mostly low-caste Christians.

But on Wednesday, a group of lawyers won an important appeal in the Orissa High Court that will provide relief and increased protection – including the deployment of more security forces to the area – for the victims.

Furthermore, government workers will help victims to return safely from the forest to their homes, according to the order of the judge.

"We hope parents become aware of the implications of the incidents in Orissa," read the letter by the church networks that plan to shut down Christian schools across India on Friday.

"We also request all our people to pray for the victims of violence in Orissa and other places and their near and dear ones. We also pray for the misguided perpetrators of violence that they may mend their ways and become responsible citizens."