Orissa Christmas Will Be 'Extremely Fraught' with Fear, Says Minister

Christmas for Christians in the Indian state of Orissa will be "extremely fraught" with fear this year, said a minister working with persecuted churches.

When Christians should be celebrating the birth of their Savior, those in Orissa will instead be facing uncertainty and fear in a "very threatening environment," said Dr. Carl Moeller, president of Open Doors USA, on Monday.

He said that Hindu nationalists have called for a shutdown of the state on Christmas day in alleged protest against the lack of progress in capturing the murderer of their swami.

The government, meanwhile, has said the call for a shutdown is illegal and ensured safety for Christians.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said on Monday, "No shutdown will be permitted Dec 25. The government will come down heavily on those who try to create any trouble."

Despite assurances, Moeller predicts that the shutdown will likely occur and Christians that leave their homes to attend church on Christmas could be attacked for violating the unofficial shutdown.

Christians in Orissa have been in a state of constant fear after a Hindu fundamentalist leader was killed in mid-August and his followers blamed Christians for the murder.

Thousands of Christian-owned homes and properties have been burned or destroyed and tens of thousands of believers have been forced to hide out in the jungle or take shelter in refugee camps since August.

While Moeller resisted from stating that Hindus are using the swami's death as an excuse to attack Christians, he did point out that if their main objective is going after the killer then they would invest more time into investigating the Maoists, who had already publicly claimed responsibility for the murder.

Rights groups and Indian Christian leaders have charged the government for not doing enough to stop the violence.

Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, Orissa, recently accused the state government of having done "nothing to protect the Christians."

"The persecution of Christians in Orissa, continues amid the indifference of authorities," he charged last week.

Cheenath said at least 11,000 Christians remain in refugee camps in the hard-hit district of Kandhamal, and thousands are still in camps in other districts due to anti-Christian violence.

He lamented that Hindu fanatics continue to be active in the state and thousands of Christians cannot return to their villages because of fear of attacks, he told L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.

Like Moeller, he also believes attacks will take place on Christmas day, noting that some Hindu extremist groups have already declared their plans to do so.

"Our persecutors have announced there will be new attacks against us by Christmas," Cheenath said. "Therefore, the message of the extremists for those who hope to come back and those who live in uncertainty is clear: only conversion to Hinduism will save them."

He added, "Everyone fears new acts of violence if they were to return to their cities."