Christians Still Being Attacked in Orissa, Says Archbishop

Attacks against Christians in the Indian state of Orissa are continuing despite reassurances from the Indian Government of greater security, says the Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar.

According to Archbishop Raphael Cheenath, Catholic priests returning to their parishes after last year's violence "are still not free to move about and the police themselves have recommended they request police escorts ahead of time [when traveling]," reports the Catholic News Agency.

The Archbishop said that Christians were still being persecuted and moreoever Hindu extremists are "not allowing them to use public restrooms when extremists are using them."

People can be punished if they enter churches and men are often kidnapped while women are forced to wear degrading outfits, he said.

He also noted that the state government has still not determined how much economic compensation to give for buildings destroyed by the extremists. So far, the government has only offered compensation considerably below the actual value of the destroyed properties, many of which were churches and Christian homes.

Last year, after Hindu extremists launched a series of attacks against the Christian community in Orissa that left more than a hundred people dead.

Hindu campaigns against Christians began last August after the assassination of a Hindu fundamentalist leader in Orissa. His followers accused Christians of being the masterminds behind the murder and maintained this position despite a public statement by Maoist rebels claiming responsibility for the Hindu leader's death.

Around 8,000 Christians were forced to seek shelter in makeshift government camps, with many more hiding in surrounding forests. The violence left more than a hundred people dead.

Around half of the refugees are believed to have returned home, but with the murder of a Baptist priest in February, many of the Christians there remain fearful of extremists.

Following the priest's murder, Father Prasanna Singh, a parish priest in Kandhamal district in Orissa, warned that many more Christians could die if the government failed to protect them.

Since the attacks, many church leaders have criticized the government for not taking action to stop the violence. Earlier this year, India's Supreme Court ordered the Orissa government to do everything within its power to protect its Christian citizens from being attacked. However, the latest murder has left little convinced of the government's claims of "safety" for Christians.

"If the government cannot take stern steps to control this violence, [the Hindu radicals] will finish off all priests and Christian leaders," Singh said.