ANTI-CHRISTIAN riots in Orissa State, eastern India, have left Christians dead and their homes and churches destroyed.
On Christmas Day, a Roman Catholic convent at Bramunigam was reportedly destroyed by bombs. Many churches were said to have been unable to hold Christmas Day services.
Hundreds of extra police have been drafted into the area after complaints that they had not taken the violence seriously. Congregations were reported to be keeping a watch on their churches overnight to prevent further damage.
A human rights organisation, International Christian Concern (ICC), said that the bodies of six Christians had been found, and that 60 churches and 400 homes had been destroyed. The reports were based on an investigation by Dr John Dayal, the secretary general of the All India Christian Council. Dr Dayal said that the lives of people who were unable to flee were in danger.
The ICC also said it had been told that 600 Christians had sought shelter in a Baptist church in Udaigiri village in the Mallikapur area of the Kandhamal district, as they feared their homes would be attacked.
The chairman of the Derbyshire Churches’ North India Partnership Council, the Rural Dean of Ashbourne, the Revd Christopher Harrison, said he had learned that the Bishop of Phulbani, the Rt Revd Bijay Nayak, had had to leave his house because of threats.
Dr Dayal said that a demonstration and candlelit vigil in New Delhi had been held on 27 December to pressure the government into doing more to prevent the attacks.
There was confusion about who had started the conflict, and how much damage had been done.
The news agency Associated Press (AP) reported that police had shot and killed at least three people after their police station was attacked by Hindus who said that they were not given protection. The Hindus said that Christians had burned down several Hindu homes in apparent retaliation against the attacks on churches.
AP says that 19 churches have been burned since Christmas Eve, and the home of Radhakant Nayak, a Christian leader and a member of India’s parliamentary upper house, had been destroyed.
Members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad group said that Christians had tried to attack one of its leaders, Laxmanananda Saraswati, who headed its anti-conversion movement. But Christians said that the fighting began when Hindu extremists objected to a show that marked Christmas Eve, as they felt it was likely to encourage conversions.
A retired judge has been asked to investigate the causes of the violence.