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Orissa Death Toll Rises To 52 As Anti-Christian Violence Continues

10/3/08 NEW DELHI (UCAN) — The death toll continues to mount in anti-Christian violence in Orissa, with the two deaths confirmed on Oct. 2 bringing the number of people killed in six weeks of violence to at least 52.

Two Baptist men were shot dead and five Christian homes set on fire on the evening of Oct. 2 in Sindu Pakali, a village in Kandhamal district, according to a priest of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar archdiocese, based in the state capital of Bhubaneswar, 1,745 kilometers southeast of New Delhi.

“They (radical Hindus) seem to have changed the strategy,” the priest said. He explained the latest attack occurred around 8 p.m., rather than the usual middle-of-the-night or early-morning attacks which begin with the houses of sleeping people being set ablaze.

“This time a crowd came. But before the attack they took the two men at gunpoint to the nearby forest,” the priest said, quoting survivors. He said the attackers allowed Christians to flee but burned down their homes.

Villagers found the bodies of the men late in the night in the forest with bullet injuries, the priest added.

The violence, however, is also spreading to neighboring Boudh district, where attackers on Oct. 2 night burned down about 250 homes, most belonging to dalit people, the priest said. He noted that only some 40 of these razed houses belonged to Christians. The term dalit denotes people belonging to the former “untouchable” groups in India’s traditional Hindu-based caste system.

“We have not much detail. We do not know why the dalits are attacked. Maybe it has now turned into a caste war” from violence based on religion, he said.

According to the Press Trust of India news agency, a mob of more than 200 attacked the villages of Uma, Phatamunda, Kunukutri and Mosinaguda in Boudh district.

“It is an ethnic problem in Boudh and not communal, as Hindu dalit houses are burnt,” the agency said, quoting Boudh’s Additional District Magistrate Mihir Chandra Mallick.

The killings of a Hindu leader who opposed conversions to Christianity and four of his associates on Aug. 23 sparked the Orissa violence, which began the following day. Even though a Maoist group claimed responsibility for the killings, Hindu radical groups blamed Christians.

During the past six weeks, they have burned down 4,500 houses, 100 churches and 20 convents, presbyteries other Church institutions.