India violence highlights global problem of religious extremism

By agency reporter
17 Oct 2008

The World Council of Churches' (WCC) general secretary, the Rev Dr Samuel Kobia has said that "one of the greatest problems facing the world today is religious extremism" - and that all faiths must be fully engaged in tackling it.

Dr Kobia expressed his concern over the recent outbreak of violence against Christians in the eastern India state of Orissa during a visit to the national headquarters of the Church's Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA) in New Delhi, India.

The meeting with the staff of CASA, the charity wing of a grouping of 24 Orthodox and Protestant churches in India, was the first activity in a 16-23 October 2008 visit to India and Sri Lanka.

Anti-Christian violence in Orissa was sparked off by the killing of Hindu leader Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati on 23 August. Though Maoist rebels have claimed responsibility for the killing, Hindu groups said it was a Christian conspiracy as the slain leader based in Kandhamal had vigorously campaigned against conversion to Christianity.

In the unabated violence that continues into the eighth week now, at least 54 Christians have been killed, more than 5,000 Christian houses along with 142 churches and dozens of Christian institutions have been looted and torched by Hindu fundamentalists in Kandhamal.

With marauding Hindu groups forcibly converting Christians to Hinduism, more than two thirds of the 100,000 Christians in Kandhamal have become refugees in jungles, relief camps run by the government or have fled to cities like Bhubaneswar, the state capital.

India had been a good model of "harmonious co-existence" of diverse faiths. But this image of India, Kobia said, had been dented by a "few fundamentalists" in Orissa although the majority of the population was peace loving.

Kobia reminded the 40-odd CASA staff - a majority of whom are Hindus - that "it is time for people of all faiths to come together". " What needs to be done is to help people live together upholding the dignity of each other irrespective of their faith," Kobia stressed.

In welcoming Kobia, CASA executive director Sushanto Aggarwal said that "much more than a religious issue, the orchestrated attacks on Christians are a question of fundamental rights".

Kobia urged the organization "to help the victims of the current sectarian violence as it did with those of the partition". More than two million people were killed on both sides of the new border during the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent into Hindu majority India and Muslim majority Pakistan.

The WCC general secretary hailed the "tremendous and dedicated service" of CASA during the last 61 years. "Belated congratulations to you," Kobia said referring to the 60 years that CASA marked in 2007. "I know what it means to you as we at the WCC, too, are celebrating our 60 years now," he added.

The Indian church charity was born in 1947, simultaneously with the independence of India from colonial British rule. Today, it has over 500 staff across the country.

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