Indian Evangelicals Condemn Hate Speech Against Christians

A Bharatiya Janata Party candidate in the eastern state of Orissa in India was arrested Tuesday for alleged hate speech against Christians.

Ashok Sahu, the BJP candidate in the Kandhamal constituency, was taken into custody just days ahead of Orissa's April 16 and 23 elections.

Sahu is being held over a speech he made at an election meeting at Raikia on April 5. The Election Commission had asked the district administration to press charges after reviewing the video recording of the speech.

The Evangelical Fellowship of India expressed outrage and condemned the use of hate speech by BJP candidates to fan communal feelings in Orissa. With the election just around the corner, the Christian group said the attempt to further polarize the voters is deeply disturbing.

Sahu had allegedly also accused Christians of the murder of a Hindu fundamentalist leader last August despite a public statement by Maoist rebels claiming responsibility for the leader's death.

Violent Hindu campaigns against the faith community since August left at least 60 Christians dead and displaced more than 50,000.

The evangelical body believes the BJP has made the killing of the Hindu leader its main poll plank.

"Elections are taking place at a time when 3,187 people are still in relief camps, and hundreds are believed to have fled the district. The district administration reportedly sent the people in relief camps back to the villages, sometimes forcibly, with dry ration which may last for a few days. The victims who returned have faced social boycott and threats to their lives and property," EFI lamented.

"Though over 2,500 criminal complaints have been filed in connection with the August-September 2008 violence, approximately 750 have been converted into formal complaints (First Information Reports). The main accused in many cases continue to roam free," the Christian body added.

According to the Rev. Richard Howell, general secretary of the EFI, "approximately 5,031 Christian homes, 150 churches, mostly in villages, and 90 institutions were destroyed, vandalized and torched."

The death toll is reported at 75, though many believe the actual toll is much higher, he said.

The Christian leader called on civil society to demand the state and central governments to restore the rule of law to ensure peace in riot-hit districts of Orissa. It also urged support for the victims in their struggle for justice and peace.

EFI also appealed to the faithful in the country to pray for peaceful elections in the state and for Orissa victims to be able to exercise their right fearlessly.

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