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Worst anti-Christian violence in India for 60 years hits Orissa at Christmas

ICC Note

“Only Hindus to stay here – no Christians to stay here,”

By Michael Ireland

January 17, 2008 India (ANS) — While most Christians in the West celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ with the singing of Silent Night, believers in the Indian state of Orissa faced a spate of violent but meticulously planned attacks by Hindu extremists.

The Barnabas Fund says that in attacks launched on Christians in Kanhdamal District, Orissa State , on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, a total of 95 churches were burned to the ground, as well as 730 homes of Christians. In cases where a Christian ministry operated from rented premises owned by a Hindu, the attackers were careful not to damage the building, but took all the contents outside and set them on fire.

The death toll is unknown at the time of writing, but taking into account all known cases of “arson, murder and assault” the violence was, in the words of the All India Christian Council, “the largest attack on the Christian community in the history of democratic India ,” Barnabas Fund reports.

In its report, obtained by ANS, Barnabas Fund says: “The attackers — members of the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Panishad) — were armed with guns, knives, trishuls (trident-like spears), home-made bombs and other weapons.”

Barnabas Fund says the attackers shouted slogans including: “Only Hindus to stay here – no Christians to stay here,” “Christians must become Hindu or die,” and “Kill Christians.”

At least nine Christians were killed in the violence.

The report continues: “The reason the complete death toll is proving hard to ascertain is partly because the VHP have been assiduously hiding/destroying the bodies of their victims in order to prevent numbers being known. Another reason is that many Christians fled into the forest or to other villages, so some of those missing may still be alive. Those who have emerged from the forest already have spoken of the hardships and dangers they faced there, such as cold (5C at night), lack of food and especially water, and wandering tigers and bears. Most of the Christians were Dalits, a very low status group in Indian society.”

Barnabas Fund says many Christians have reported how the police stood by, watching the carnage without trying to intervene. The only exception was a Christian police officer in Balliguda town who warned church leaders in Barkhama village on December 24 to run for their lives. The next day he was transferred.

The Barnabas Fund says that in several places the VHP attackers were at pains not just to destroy but also to desecrate.

The group adds: “At a church in Bamunigaon, they carefully took out the communion cups and all associated materials and crushed them under their feet. In Barkhama, where seven congregations had joined together for a combined open-air Christmas Eve service on church land, the VHP cremated the body of an elderly Hindu (who had died of natural causes) in front of the open-air pulpit.”

In Kutikia a small church was attacked and its minister and 12 church members taken to a field where their heads were shaved because they refused to deny Christ. Then they were ordered to eat raw rice mixed with goats’ blood so as to become Hindus.

Barnabas Fund is helping the victims of the Orissa Christmas attacks with food, clothes and temporary shelter. This is an immediate and urgent need for thousands of Christians who have been made homeless or lost their means of earning a living.

The group says that at a later stage it will be necessary to rebuild houses and churches, and to enable those who lost their livelihood to set up small businesses to support themselves. Initial estimates indicate that the average cost of building a village church will be around £3,000 GBP (USD$6,000; €4,200 Euros) and the average cost of building a village house will be around £1,400 GBP (USD$2,800; €1,960 Euros).

Barnabas Fund asks for prayer for the victims of this violence, especially those injured and bereaved. Pray for those who have lost their homes and the means to support themselves. Ask that the Lord will comfort them and increase their faith at this time of trial. Pray that they will have grace to forgive their enemies.

Pray too for the Hindu extremists who planned and carried out these attacks, that the Lord will touch and change their hearts. Pray also for the Indian police to act impartially and to protect all Indian citizens equally whatever their religion or caste status.

Pray also that emergency aid will quickly reach all who need it, and for wisdom in planning the large rebuilding program which will be necessary.

If you can help, please click this link https://secure.barnabasfund.org/ to donate online -­ using their secure server. (Please quote project reference 21-723).

If you prefer to telephone, dial: 0800 587 4006 from within the UK or +44 (1) 672 565031 from outside the UK . (Please quote project reference 21-723)

If you prefer to send a check by post: see below for addresses of their regional offices. (Please quote project reference 21-723)

United Kingdom Barnabas Fund, 9-10 Priory Row, Coventry , CV1 5EX

Tel: +44 (0) 24 7623 1923, Fax: +44(0)24 7683 4718, email: info@barnabasfund.org

USA Barnabas Fund, 6731 Curran Street, McLean , VA 22101

Tel: (703) 288-1681, Fax: (703) 288-1682, Toll Free: 1-866-936-2525, email: bfusa@barnabasfund.org

International Website: www.barnabasfund.org