Christians in India Mark 8th Anniversary of Country’s Worst Anti-Christian Violence
Many Victims Remain Refugees in Their own Country
08/23/2016 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) and India’s Christian community are marking the eighth anniversary of the 2008 anti-Christian Orissa riots, widely considered to be the worst incident of Christian persecution in India’s independent history. Despite the passage of eight years, lives of many of the Christians affected by the violence remain shattered and searching for justice.
On August 24, 2008, anti-Christian mob violence swept across the Kandhamal District of India’s Odisha State, then known as Orissa, after Christians were wrongly blamed for the assassination of Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Lakshmanananda Saraswati. After three months of violence, more than 100 Christians were killed, many hacked to death by axes and machetes, and at least three Christian women were gang raped. Additionally, nearly 56,000 people were displaced and forced to flee into the forests as mobs burned down more than 5,600 houses, 300 churches and Christian institutions.
“It was [the] most terrifying day of my life,” Pastor Raj Kishore, a Christian who survived the violence, told ICC. “I saw big flames and thick smoke coming out of a neighboring village. We had to run away knowing that the next target [was] our village. We walked 40 kilometers through the thickest forest in the dark night with my 20-days-old son and my wife to reach a town nearby.”
Kishore, another survivor from Tiangia village of the Kandhamal District, said, “Even after eight years, we still live in fear. Many [Christians] do not dare to [go] back to their village.”
“[For] the Kandhamal Christians, most have lost their livelihood, their fields, and much remains to be done for them,” Dr. John Dayal, a Christian human rights activist in India, told ICC. “A feeling of safety is still lacking in many areas [of Kandhamal] and many [Christians] are working as landless laborers in towns and cities across the country. They survive as refugees of a sort.”
“A recent Supreme Court order that increased the monetary compensation paid to some of the 6,000 Christian families whose homes were destroyed in the 2008 is some help,” Dr. Dayal continued. “There is hope that the Supreme Court will go on to order fresh investigations into over 300 cases of anti-Christian violence where the police have been either incompetent or complicit with the perpetrators causing these cases to never be brought to trial or summarily closed.”
William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager, said, “It has been eight years since Christians in India experienced the worst anti-Christian violence the country has seen in its independent history. Despite the passage of time, many of the victims of this terrible violence have yet to receive any form of justice, due to discrimination and poor police work following the riots. Still, in many cases, Christians driven from their home by mobs in 2008 are still unable to return to their villages unless they agree to convert to Hinduism. The Indian government must do more to provide justice to these victims and must take greater steps to rebuilding the lives that were devastated eight years ago.”