By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
The recent assassination of a radical Hindu leader in northeast India has set off a rash of anti-Christian violence in the area that has left several dead and churches and homes in ruin.
In the latest attack, a Catholic woman was burned alive and a priest suffered serious burns when Hindu fundamentalists stormed an orphanage in a rural area in the state of Orissa in northeast India.
Police said a group of Hindu fundamentalists converged on an orphanage in Khuntapali, nearly 250 miles west of the state capital of Bhubaneshwar, and asked nearly 20 residents to leave the complex. They then set the orphanage on fire with a lay woman and a priest locked inside. The woman died and the priest was hospitalized with serious burns. A nun working in the nearby Social Centre was gang raped by groups of Hindu extremists before the building was set on fire.
Violence has racked the area for the past two days following the assassination of radical Hindu leader Swami Laxanananda Saraswati. Even though a Maoist group is thought to have been behind the killing, Hindu extremists are accusing Christians and using this as an excuse to attack them.
As a result, mobs shouting “Kill the Christians” destroy their institutions” have gone on a rampage, attacking Christian churches, community and pastoral centers, convents and orphanages. Elsewhere, members of the Sisters of Charity were attacked by stone-throwing Hindu militants leaving one nun seriously injured.
Christian homes are also being pillaged and torched, forcing many people into hiding in the surrounding forests.
Father Dibakar Pariccha from Bubaneshwar described the urgency of the situation to AsiaNews, saying that “throughout the state, especially in the district of Kandhamal, many families are without food, shelter and in some cases even clothing. Last night many people were hiding in the forests out in the open as heavy rain poured out of the sky. Conditions for children and women are indescribable: children cannot go to school and are traumatized by the violence; women are exhausted by the destruction of their homes and families.”
Police forces and the army are trying to restore order, but raids are ongoing. An indefinite curfew was imposed on the district of Kandhamal and anti-riot units have been deployed around sensitive targets such as Christian institutions, schools and colleges.
The Holy See reacted to news of the attacks by expressing its “solidarity with all local churches and religious congregations involved,” and rejecting “these actions that hurt the dignity and freedom of the people and compromise a peaceful civic coexistence.”
The Vatican also called on “everyone to put an end, with a sense of responsibility, to any over-reaction and help rebuild a climate of dialogue and mutual respect.”
The Orissa region has long been marked by religious tensions between Christian missionaries who work with mostly poor tribes in the region and Hindu fundamentalist groups who claim the Christians are forcing or bribing people to convert. However, Christian churches deny that any resident has been pressured or bribed to change their religious beliefs.
While Indian law accepts missionaries, it bars forced conversions. Nevertheless, any missionary activity generally provokes controversy.
Hindus account for 84 percent of India’s more than 1.1 billion population and Christians about 2.4 percent.
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