Over 700 Indian Christians Move to Relief Camps to Avoid Attacks

Over 700 Christians in India have taken shelter in government-run relief camps, fearing attacks by Hindu extremist groups.

According to the latest update on the Hindu-Christian violence in Orissa state, authorities were providing food, medicine and security to Christians who moved into the four relief camps on Friday in the rural district of Kandhamal in eastern Orissa state, said Pradeep Kapoor, the inspector-general of police.

"Nearly 800 police and paramilitary forces were trying to restore calm." Kapoor said.

"No fresh incidents of violence were reported Saturday for a second day in Kandhamal, nearly 200 kilometers (125 miles) west of Bhubaneshwar, the capital of Orissa state," he added.

Meanwhile, the state government has transferred the top district administrator, Bhabagrahi Mohapatra, for failing to stop the violence that broke out Christmas eve and carried over the several days following.

According to a national fact-finding team of six led by Dr. John Dayal, secretary general of All India Christian Council, close to 60 churches have been damaged and desecrated as a result of the attacks reportedly led by Hindu activists.

"Young and healthy Christians have left their villages to flee for their lives, children, women, old and sick, who could not flee for their lives, are in great danger," reported Dayal, who is also a member of National Integration Council and president of All India Catholic Union.

"Those who are left have been starving for last four days, and the sick are suffering without medical attention."

A victim reportedly told the team that they were forced to convert to Hinduism in order to get food, medical attention and shelter.

"The fundamental rights provided by Indian Constitution to provide security protection has failed to reach the minority Christians in the state of Orissa," stated Dayal.

A memorandum was submitted to Justice Shri Rajendra Babu, chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, and the Christian delegation was scheduled to meet him on Dec. 31, 2007, to setup a special enquiry into the violence.

Furthermore, Bangalore-based Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) on Sunday appealed to the Shankaracharya (Hindu monastery head) of Puri, Swami Nischalananda Saraswati, to call upon the people in Orissa to restore peace in the riot-torn Kandhamal district.

"We draw attention of his highness Shankaracharya of Govardhan peeth towards the Kandhamal incident," GCIC stated. "The Christians are sure that Shankaracharyaji will rise up to the occasion and ask his fellowmen to shun violence."

Last Monday, the day before Christmas, a mob allegedly led by activists affiliated with the Viśva Hindū Pariṣad (World Hindu Council) had reportedly killed at least two and damaged 12 churches in the Kandhamal district, where at least 100,000 of 650,000-person population are reportedly Christian. All Catholic institutions in the area, including a convent and seminary, were attacked. Rioters also targeted two church-run hostels and high schools as well as a few shops managed by Christians in the small town of Bamunigam.

The violence continued through Friday, with arson attacks killing at least nine more Christians.

Tension reportedly continued to simmer in the riot-hit Kandhamal district as the world welcomed the New Year.