- (Photo: AP Images / Saurabh Das)
More than a week after the outbreak of violence in Orissa, the situation is getting worse with no sign of subsiding, reported a Christian ministry working in India.
Religious violence between Hindus and Christians in this remote and poor state in eastern India has killed at least 16 people – most of them Christians, according to Reuters on Thursday.
Thousands of Christians are forced to take refuge in government buildings, makeshift camps, and forests in Orissa state after Hindu mobs torched churches, Christian-owned homes and businesses, as well as an orphanage following the murder of a Hindu leader.
Christians have denied involvement in the death of the radical leader, who ran a campaign against Christian conversion, but Hindus in the region have insisted “Christian militants” were behind the death.
Police, however, have blamed Maoist rebels for the murder. Moreover, the rebels themselves have claimed responsibility for the death. But despite the evidence, Hindu mobs maintain Christians are to blame for the incident.
Many Christian leaders have responded that Hindus are just using the death as an excuse to attack Christians in the historically sectarian violent-prone state.
In total, hundreds of homes have been burnt and looted as the state government was said to initially turn a blind eye to the violent Hindu mobs and then later only reluctantly curbing the militants’ actions.
“I thought that this was going to subside,” said JP SunderRajan of Audio Scripture Ministries, according to Mission Network News, “but it has shown no signs of subsiding, and in fact, has gotten worse and worse.”
The ministry has a team currently working in India.
India’s Supreme Court ordered Wednesday that the Orissa state government report what it has done to stop the anti-Christian attacks.
Moreover, the Supreme Court on Thursday ordered four more police battalions to be deployed to protect Christians in the state, according to Reuters.
A mob of some 1,000 Hindu men and women had attacked a Christian relief camp on Thursday, injuring nearly 40 people, according to local media reports.
The Orissa state violence has drawn international condemnation, including that of Pope Benedict and Archbishop Rowan Williams.
In a joint letter Thursday, the World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation called on India’s prime minister to intervene and stop the violence in Orissa.
It called on its member churches to hold a Day of Prayer and Fasting for peace and goodwill on Sunday for the Christians in India.
As "religious fanaticism has once again broken the lives of the poor, who are largely Dalits and Adivasis," WCC general secretary the Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia wrote, "Let us pray for harmony among religious communities and let us work together to build trust and mutual respect."
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, meanwhile, called on the U.S. State Department to urge the Indian government to take immediate steps to quell the violence against religious communities in Orissa, and to investigate and hold accountable those responsible for the attacks.
“The reported acts of violence represent a troubling pattern of severe abuses in Orissa,” stated Commission Chair Felice D. Gaer. “Both the state and central governments have a responsibility to protect every person’s right to religious freedom, including members of religious minorities, as guaranteed in international human rights instruments.”
The sectarian violence in Orissa is said to be the worst in decades in the Hindu-dominated nation.