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Stop forcible conversion of Christian victims of violence in Orissa, India

2/15/08 India (CSW) – According to fresh reports from our partners in India, Christians in Dalit and tribal communities who were the main victims of widespread violence in Orissa’s Kandhamal district during the Christmas week, are now facing pressure to ‘re-convert’ to Hinduism from the very Hindu extremists who incited the violence. Christian families are fleeing their villages, after extremists threatened to kill them and ordered them to leave.

In Badrikia village, a local member of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP, an extremist Hindu nationalist organisation) reported threatened to kill six families from a small Baptist church if they did not abandon their faith and ‘re-convert’ to Hinduism. The families left the village and took shelter in nearby Balliguda, but their cows and goats were stolen by the VHP member. Eleven members of the families have now complained to the district authorities at Balliguda.

Orissa has an ‘anti-conversion law’, which makes ‘forcible conversions’ a crime. Similar laws exist in six other states, and are often used by Hindu extremists to level unsubstantiated accusations of forced conversions at Christians. Such accusations are often accompanied by violent reprisals. However, the laws do not incorporate the terminology of ‘re-conversions’ (also translated ‘homecomings’), which Hindu extremists use to describe conversions to Hinduism. This results in an asymmetrical anti-conversion culture, whereby conversions to Hinduism are encouraged but conversions to Christianity are reviled and met with social opposition and violence.

Furthermore, the demands of the victims of the Christmas violence and their advocates for proper relief and compensation, for the activities of Hindu extremists to be curbed and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice, have yet to be adequately met. Recent NGO fact-finding visits to the Kandhamal district have strongly criticised the official response, saying that the perpetrators of the pre-meditated attack are yet to be brought to justice, and victims of the violence (including those in relief camps) are still not receiving adequate aid. Most NGOs are still being prevented from distributing aid.

We would like to request your urgent prayers and action for the Christians under threat in Orissa:

“Firstly, please pray for God’s protection for the Christians in Orissa, especially those being threatened to ‘re-convert’ to Hinduism. Continue to pray for the victims of the Christmas attacks, that their immediate needs and their demands for justice will be met soon.

“You could also write to Chief Minister of Orissa state, The Honourable Shri Naveen Patnaik, calling for the protection of the Christians in Kandhamal district, and the implementation of the recommendations made by the National Commission for Minorities. You can reach the Chief Minister at the following address: Shri Naveen Patnaik, The Honourable Chief Minister, Government of Orissa, Bhubaneswar-751 001, Orissa, India. Please do not quote CSW as the source of information.