Several Christian families in a violence-stricken area of India's Orissa state are hiding in nearby jungles while seven teenage girls are reportedly missing.
Since Christmas Eve, mobs led by Hindu activists have attacked Christians in the Kandhamal district, reportedly killing nine people and damaged 60 churches, according to the latest official report from the state government. At least 100,000 Christians reside in the 650,000-person district .
Many Christian families are reportedly afraid to return to their homes due to fear of violence. Meanwhile, 142 homeless families are taking shelter at the relief camps set up in Baliguda, Orissa. The administration has urged all homeless victims of the communal violence to return to their villages.
Those reportedly missing include seven ninth grade Christian girls. A boarding school informed police about the missing students on Saturday, said Satyenbrata Sahu, a divisional commissioner.
"We suspect they have run away out of fear," he told The Associated Press, also reporting that police were searching for the girls.
All Christian 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.
According to Dadini, a victim of the violence, several families that fled Barkhama were hiding in the jungles within a range of six to seven kilometers from Baliguda.
Ludinga Digal, who had reached the Baliguda camp, had no news of his son and daughter-in-law. Digal said the people hiding in the jungle and hills were living without proper food and water since Dec. 25.
Tejeswar Nayak, a college lecturer, meanwhile alleged that he was getting threatening calls from unidentified persons because he had given shelter to pastors and the priests of ransacked churches and Christian establishments at Baliguda. Miscreants continued their threats to burn up his house as well.
Fr. Laxmikant Pradhan, parish priest of a ransacked Baliguda church, wondered how the victims of police and administrative negligence could return in a few days.
More patrolling sought
The local people reportedly want more patrolling by armed policemen. But Suresh Kumar Panda, Kalahandi's additional superintendent of police who is now camping at Baliguda, said it might not be possible to increase patrolling in the area now.
Many other families are believed to be hiding elsewhere.
This past Sunday, more than 1,000 Christians held protest in the capital urging the government to punish the attackers and protect the Christian community in the state.
Orissa is the only Indian state that has a law requiring people to obtain police permission before they change their religion. The law was intended to counter missionary work.
Christian Post correspondent Dibin Samuel in New Delhi contributed to this report.