Orissa's Christians still fear for their lives in the face of attacks

By Ecumenical News International
September 18, 2008

Christians in Orissa, India, still fear for their lives and security, feeling 'helpless' in the face of persistent attacks from militant Hindu nationalists - writes Anto Akkara from Bhubaneswar, India.

Motilal Pradhan and two of his younger brothers look fit enough to take on any challengers. Still, the three men, two of whom are soldiers in the Indian army, say they were able to do little to save their 35-year-old disabled youngest brother, whom, they assert, a militant Hindu mob burnt alive while they could only watch helplessly from a distance.

When the 1000-strong crowd, armed with swords and other weapons, descended on the brothers' village of Gadragam on 24 August 2008, in the troubled Kandhamal district of Orissa state, in eastern India, Christians in the village began running for their lives, Pradhan said.

He added that his younger brother, paralysed due to a stroke eight years ago, could not flee and the mob caught hold of him.

"In cinema style, they challenged us to come forward and save him if we were bold enough. We had to watch him being burnt alive. We could not even go near to get his body," Pradhan, a Baptist church member, told Ecumenical News International on 10 September.

Pradhan has now taken shelter at a makeshift relief camp opened for Christian refugees fleeing assault, and run by the YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association) at its premises in Bhubaneswar.

Christians in Orissa, especially in Kandhamal, 250 kilometres (150 miles) from Bhubaneswar, say they have been facing what they describe as orchestrated attacks by Hindu mobs, since the killing of Hindu leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati in August.

A Maoist leader is reported to have claimed responsibility for the killing but some Hindu groups say it was a Christian conspiracy, as the 85-year-old slain monk had been campaigning against conversion to Christianity in Kandhamal, where he was based.

More than half the 100 000 Christians in Kandhamal are reported to have been made homeless as a result of Hindu extremists roaming villages, and trying forcibly to convert Christians to Hinduism, and looting and torching Christian houses.

"This is the sad plight of our people," Sudhanshu Nayak, general secretary of the YMCA in Bhubaneswar, told ENI.

Nayak pointed out that the YMCA had opened the relief camp on 28 August at its office premises after Christians fleeing Kandhamal began reaching Bhubaneswar.

"Now the government is asking us to close the camp and send the people to [refugee] camps in Kandhamal. We are helpless," said Nayak.

"This is the price our people have to pay for being Christians," added Nayak, whose mother, two brothers and one sister with two children have also been made homeless, and have taken shelter in a refuge camp in Raikia town in Kandhamal.

The government has posted security personnel at the 13 refugee camps in Kandhamal, but many Christians do not feel safe in them, and have fled to live in the surrounding jungles.

Still, Ranjit Nayak, a Christian social worker, who opened a refugee camp at his home in Cuttack, 35 kilometres (21 miles) from Orissa's capital, Bhubaneswar, said he had received generous support from local Hindus to feed the 130 Christians taking shelter in his camp.

"Though our people are being hunted out in Kandhamal, there are many good Hindus," said Nayak.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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