Orissa Christians are 'Prisoners' in India, Says Ministry

Indian Christians in the eastern state of Orissa live as if they are prisoners, reported a co-worker of a ministry supporting persecuted churches.

More than 4,000 Christians in Orissa still are seeking refuge in relief camps and are unable to return to their villages for fear of death or forcible conversion to Hinduism.

Though this number is down from about 50,000 displaced persons earlier this year, it is still an unacceptable figure given the government has had a year to ensure security for the Christian community in Orissa.

"These people are prisoners on their own land," reported a co-worker of Open Doors who recently visited a village in Orissa.

The worker recalled a local Christian man pointing to the edge of a neighboring Hindu village and saying, "Look, there is our border, like the border between Pakistan and India."

"I can understand the illustrations," commented the ministry worker. "Two communities in confrontation, fraught with violence and suspicion."

One year ago, Hindu extremists carried out the worst religious persecution in India's 60 years of democracy. At least 120 people were murdered, 250 churches destroyed and over 50,000 individuals displaced.

The anti-Christian riots began after a Hindu leader was assassinated in August 2008. Hindu nationalists accused Christians of orchestrating the murder, but Maoist rebels had publicly claimed responsibility for the swami's death while Christians vehemently denied any involvement in the incident.

Despite evidence defending Christians from any wrongdoing, Hindu mobs set fire to at least 74 homes and destroyed others.

Those affected by the violence have filed more than 750 cases in various police stations, but thus far, only six people have been convicted in two cases.

Recent reports indicate witnesses in court cases are the target of death threats by Hindu extremists. Some of the witnesses, as a result, have run away out of fear.

"The situation is still bleak for Christians in Orissa," said Open Doors USA President/CEO Carl Moeller in a statement issued Wednesday. "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 and support."

This year, India jumped from No. 30 to No. 22 in Open Doors' World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom added India this year to its watch list for frequent outbreaks of violence against minorities, especially Christians.

USCIRF has recommended that the Obama administration urge the Indian government to take new measures to promote communal harmony, protect religious minorities, and prevent communal violence.

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