Orissa Christians Forced to Choose Between Faith, Homes

Christians in the eastern Indian state of Orissa, which has been plagued with sectarian violence in recent weeks, are reportedly being coerced into converting to Hinduism in order to save their homes.

Hindu militants behind the deaths of dozens of believers as well as the torching of churches and Christian-owned homes and businesses are demanding Christians sign papers renouncing their faith and convert to Hinduism. If they refuse, the Christians are reportedly threatened with having their property destroyed or face social ostracism, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

"[T]he onus is now very much on the state government to protect Christians who are still facing attacks and coercion to renounce their faith," said CSW advocacy director Alexa Papadouris.

Papdouris called for those responsible for the violence in Orissa to be brought to justice and said if they were not there would not be genuine peace in the state with a long history of sectarian violence.

"We continue to urge world leaders to voice concern about the attacks and their aftermath," the human rights advocate said.

Many political and religious leaders have already voiced their concerns about the persecution in Orissa over the past week.

Seven members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter on Thursday to India's ambassador in the United States expressing concern about the anti-Christian rampage and urging the Indian government to investigate and grant justice to victims.

Similarly, the Italian government, the Vatican, and human rights groups have also condemned the violence and called for its immediate end.

"The global community is alarmed at the breakdown of law and order in Orissa, and rightly so," said Dr. Joseph D'souza, president of the All India Christian Council. "The widespread, continuing attacks on innocent Christians and violations of their human rights are unprecedented in India's history.

"We welcome the concern of U.S. politicians and all global citizens who believe in freedom of religion," he said. "As a proud Indian, I'm grieved that our democratic ideals are being hijacked by religious extremists."

The violence in Orissa is in its 16th day despite emergency deployment of law enforcement troops to end the violence and help displaced Christians return home.

India's central government has condemned the violence and ordered the Orissa state government to report what it has done to curb the attacks.