Christmas Eve Mobs Thwart India Church Celebrations

At least 15 to 20 churches were attacked and three churches burnt down by Hindu fundamentalists in India's Orissa state on Christmas eve.

Indefinite curfew was imposed in several towns in the Kandhmal district of Orissa and twenty people arrested following attacks on churches.

According to news sources, at least a dozen churches were attacked by a mob allegedly led by activists affiliated with the Viśva Hindū Pariṣad (World Hindu Council). One person was killed and 25 hurt in the ensuing violence.

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Violence broke out at several places as activists ransacked churches in the Baliguda area and Bandh supporters disrupted Christmas festivities with pickets outside chapels, police said.

''They want to convert people to Christianity and convert the country into a Christian land," alleged Swami Laxmananand, a VHP leader who has been campaigning against the minority community for the past 30 years. "We are opposed to that and that is the source of all disputes and fights."

However, the Orissa branch of the All India Christian Council (AICC) held the state responsible for the attacks on churches and Christian organizations, saying the action initiated by the administration was "inadequate."

''The government does not appear to have taken the matter seriously and the slackness on the part of the administration is evident,'' commented AICC Orissa's president, the Rev. Pran Ranjan Parichha.

"This is the first time in Orissa's history that church services could not be held on the Christmas Day despite police presence,'' Parichha added.

The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) has approached senior government officials and urged them to protect the lives and properties of the minority 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 – a move designed to counter missionary work.

It is often noted as the site of the 1999 slaying of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his sons – Philip, 10, and Timothy, 8 – who were burned to death as they slept inside their vehicle after a Bible study class.

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