A NUN was burned to death on Monday in a series of attacks by Hindu extremists on Christians in eastern India.
A priest was also seriously injured after the orphanage in which he and the nun worked in Orissa was torched. Twenty children managed to escape. The attack was part of a wave of violence after a Hindu leader, Swami Lakhmananda Saraswati, and four of his associates were murdered by, it is thought, Maoist guerrillas.
The Bishop of Phulbani in the Church of North India (CNI), the Rt Revd Bijay Nayak, sent a graphic account of the events in his area by email on Wednesday. He writes: “Situation is very critical. More than 15 people are killed, among them seven are from our church from Barakhama and Udayagiri. Many church buildings are destroyed and still going on. Many many people are in jungle out of fear. Balliguda hostel, Udayagiri boys and girls hostel children were in the jungle last night. Continuously they are destroying the people’s houses.
“Mr Mathew Naik is killed at Kritangia village near Raikia. He was boys’ hostel superintendent for many years and at present he was Diocese executive member. They caught and put him in the water and cut into pieces and burnt in front of the Church. They have also targeted the Christian leaders of the district. All the leaders are hiding. I request you with tears kindly organize the prayer for us.”
Violence spread after Mr Saraswati’s extremist VHP party called a 12-hour strike in protest at his killing. Another man, Rasananda Pradhan, was burnt to death in Kandhamal district. Churches have been burnt all across Orissa state, buses and vehicles have been set alight, and, after a police camp at Barakhama was attacked, Christians fled into the forest.
A young nun was gang-raped in the Social Service Centre in Kandhamal before the building was destroyed. The Diocesan Pastoral Centre in nearby Kanjimendi was set on fire, and a senior priest and nun were badly injured there. Christian boys have been seized and their heads tonsured. Mobs have attacked the Mother Teresa Brothers’ residence and hospital in Srasanada and beaten up the patients. Houses have been attacked in forest hamlets. Christian schools have been damaged or destroyed, and shops looted and burned.
Mr Saraswati and his followers were widely implicated in anti-Christian attacks in Orissa in December (News, 4 January). The swami routinely criticised missionaries for conversion activities and sought to “re-convert” Dalits. Many have found in Christianity a refuge from caste-related discrimination.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has denounced VHP’s actions as “sickening”. Its advocacy director, Tina Lambert, described Orissa as under mob justice. “The killing of Saraswati is an ominous warning that if justice is not done and seen to be done, the people may take matters into their own hands.”
Dr Joseph D’souza, president of the All-India Christian Council (AICC), said that the government must now act to restore order, protect those who were most vulnerable, and secure rapid convictions of the perpetrators.
The AICC’s secretary general, John Dayal, said: “Today hardliner Hindu nationalists say they cannot control their followers, who are simply unleashing their frustration with unethical missionaries. Police say they cannot put officers in every village to protect Christians. Behind all the excuses, the reality is that there is a complete collapse of governance in Orissa.
“It is the duty of the President and Prime Minister of India — as well as state governments — to protect the life, liberty, and property of every citizen. We hope and pray they will act before more innocent people are killed.”
The Revd Enos Das Pradhan, CNI’s general secretary, appealed to the chief minister of Orissa, as well as the Indian federal government, “to immediately provide protection to the minority Christians”. The CNI, the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, the AICC, and the Evangelical Fellowship of India have all publicly deplored the murder of Mr Saraswati.
The Vatican has condemned the attacks and called for “an end to bullying” and a return to dialogue.