India Supreme Court Orders Protection for Orissa Christians

India's Supreme Court ordered this week the state government of Orissa to protect the tens of thousands of Christians being targeted by Hindu extremists in the worst sectarian violence since the country's independence from Britain.

The judges told authorities in the remote, eastern state on Monday to provide security for the displaced Christians in Orissa and barred it from withdrawing security troops from the area without the central government's permission, according to Reuters.

Based on the ruling, it appears India's top court agreed, to some extent, with Christian leaders who accuse the Orissa government of failing to protect the state's persecuted Christians.

A ministry leader working in India reported that Orissa authorities seem to be taking the court order seriously.

Ebenezer Samuel, founder and president of Serve India Ministries, said officials have issued a note "to the effect that they will do everything they can to protect Christians," according to Mission Network News on Thursday.

The outbreak in violence against Christians began in mid-August after the murder of a Hindu nationalist political leader. His followers blamed Christians for his death and used that accusation to mobilize Hindu mobs to attack unarmed Christians.

Orphanages with nuns and children inside were torched as well as the homes of innocent civilian Christians.

Unofficial reports say the number of deaths, overwhelmingly Christian, is more than 500. Numbers provided by the government are much lower, ranging from dozens to about 100 deaths.

In addition to deaths, tens of thousands of Christians have been forced to take refuge in camps or hide in forest, where they are in danger of wild animal attacks. Hindu fanatics have declared that the Christians can return to their homes only if they convert to Hinduism. If they return without accepting Hinduism, they will be killed.

Ministry leader Samuel assures that the Christians in Orissa are still maintaining their faith despite pressure to renounce Christianity.

"The Christians in Orissa are not going to abandon their faith," Samuel stressed. "The servants of God in Orissa are not going to stop preaching the Gospel. If anything, there's going to be more zeal for God and for the Kingdom."

Samuel noted that the Indian pastors his organization - which trains pastors to plant churches - is working with are currently helping victims of the violence.

"During Christmas we were able to reach out to [at] least 600 families," he said. "We distributed supplies, clothes, and met with a whole lot of people who needed all kinds of help – counseling and other needs."

India's population consists mainly of Hindus, who make up over 80 percent; 13 percent are Muslim, about 2 percent are Sikh, and a little more than 2 percent are Christian.