4,000 Still in Orissa Refugee Camps, One Year Later

A year after the worst anti-Christian violence in India's democratic history, more than 4,000 Christians are reportedly still stuck in squalid refugee camps, too scared to return to their villages.

If they return to their homes, these Christians risk death or forcible conversion to Hinduism by extremists, reported persecution watchdog Open Doors.

The government, even after one year, has failed to establish security in the eastern state where last fall at least 120 people were murdered, 250 churches, destroyed and over 50,000 individuals, displaced.

Moreover, out of the more than 750 cases filed by Christians against Hindu attackers, only six people have been convicted in two cases.

"The situation is still bleak for Christians in Orissa," said Open Doors USA President/CEO Carl Moeller in a statement Thursday, ahead of the one year anniversary this Sunday. "Many of our brothers and sisters remain homeless. The area simmers with tension and fear that major violence could resume at any time. Christians are still being persecuted. They need your prayers."

On Aug. 23, 2008, Hindu extremists began attacking Christians in Orissa after the murder of Hindu fundamentalist leader Laxmananda Saraswati. Maoist rebels later publicly claimed responsibility for the assassination, but the militants adamantly accused Christians of the murder. Indian church leaders have claimed that the mobs were just using the murder as an excuse to attack the minority Christian population.

The mobs burned Christian homes, shops, churches and orphanages.

In June, a delegation from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom attempted to visit India to investigate the state of religious freedom, particularly in Orissa, but was denied visas for entry.

USCIRF, an independent, bipartisan federal agency that monitors religious freedom in the world, has criticized the recent deterioration of religious freedom in India and in August placed it on its Watch List. Other countries on USCIRF's list include Afghanistan, Somalia and Cuba.

Indian political leaders, minority groups and, surprisingly, Christian leaders have rejected India being placed on the Watch List. They argued that India is a secular country with sectarian problems occurring only in a few places.

This year, India jumped from No. 30 to No. 22 in Open Doors' World Watch List, which ranks countries according to the severity of Christian persecution.

On Sunday, India's church leaders will commemorate the anniversary of the Orissa attacks by holding "Peace Day" which will include marches, fasting and prayer vigils.

There are an estimated 25 million Christians (about 2.3 percent of the population) in India. The majority of India's population is Hindu.