Hindu nationalists clash with Christians in India's Orissa state

By staff writers
December 27, 2007

Officials in the Indian state of Orissa have imposed a curfew in the Kandhamal district and appealed for calm after clashes involving Hindu nationalists and the minority Christian community.

The violence, which began on Monday 24 December 2007 with a dispute over public Christmas decorations, has left at least 10 churches burned or vandalized, news agencies report.

On Christmas Day, a member of a Hindu nationalist group that has campaigned against conversions to Christianity was stoned to death.

Christians accuse hadline nationalists of stirring up trouble and hatred. Hindus say that Christians were being provocative in seeking to publicise their festivals and beliefs.

India has a long trdaition of tolerance and open secularity, which allows space for all beliefs, but fundamentalists and hardliners have in recent years been seeking to exploit differences for political ends, using religion as a pretext, say analysts.

Authorities deployed 450 police and imposed a curfew to quell the violence in the remote district of Orissa state where the churches — most nothing more than mud-and-thatch houses — were attacked, said Bahugrahi Mahapatra, a government official.

Six of the village churches were torched on Christmas day, and two more were attacked Wednesday along with 10 houses belonging to Christians, Mahapatra said.

India is overwhelmingly Hindu and religious minorities, such as Christians, who account for 2.5 percent of the country's 1.1. billion people, and Muslims, who make up 14 percent, often coexist peacefully. Some have risen to the highest levels of government and business.

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