- (Photo: AP / Saurabh Das)
Violence broke out Thursday as India's monthlong election process got underway. Seventeen people were killed in eastern and central India after attacks on 14 polling stations.
The attacks were committed by Maoist rebels who kidnapped voting officers and fought with security forces. The victims of the violence included both securitiy personnel and civilians.
Overall, however, the first phase of voting for parliamentary and assembly seats was hailed by Indian newspapers as a success with a 58 to 62 percent average turnout.
Over 3,000 Christians in Kandhamal relief camps were able to cast their votes peacefully amid tight security. More than 90 percent of the voters living in relief camps exercised their franchise, a source told Christian Today.
Election Commissioner SY Qureshi told BBC News that the first phase of the election was deliberately held in Maoist-affected areas so that security forces could concentrate their resources.
While voters were being offered protection, Christians in other areas were forced to postpone their recovery and rebuilding efforts.
KP Yohannan, founder of Gospel For Asia said that the violence and the threat of violence forced them to postpone their Orissa State house rebuilding project.
"With the election and the unfavorable situation with the bureaucrats that are very anti-Christian in Kandhamal and several other districts, they didn't want to give us protection," he said, according to Mission Network News.
Praying for a change in the government, Yohannan stated, "I think they're going to hear the voice of people that they're not in favor of this kind of abuse and hurting the minorities, especially the Christians. This election is going to bring some changes to the state of Orissa, and we're praying for that."
He noted that all Hindus are not anti-Christian. But added that "the extremist minority ... is going about causing so much destruction, killing people, and inflicting suffering on Christians."
GFA is currently working on building 1,000 homes at a cost of $2,000-$3,000 per unit. With threats of violence, however, the work cannot continue until after the election.
"We may have greater protection and help from the changed new government in the state of Orissa to rebuild these houses and help the people who lost everything," Yohannan said.
Thousands of Christians in Orissa are living in government relief camps following last year's anti-Christian violence which killed dozens of people. Many had their homes destroyed and are still being threatened with death if they return home without converting to Hinduism.
Yohannan said that those who persecuted Christians had made a tactical mistake in their actions. "Persecuting Christians is not a way to stop the Christian faith. Even today, in spite of all the persecution, people are coming to Christ."