A holy war in India has left tens of thousands of Christians crammed into relief camps, too scared to return home following weeks of clashes with Hindu mobs in which at least 35 people have died.
More than 40,000 Christians have had to flee their homes in Kandhamal district, one of India’s poorest, in the eastern state of Orissa. Their homes have been systematically attacked, looted and burned down by Hindu mobs since the end of August as the local police have looked on helplessly.
“Villagers have threatened to kill me because I am a Christian. They have said I will be welcome back only if I change my religion and become a Hindu,” said Jibit Kumar Digal, 30, who has spent over a month in a relief camp at Baliguda, 200 south west of the provincial capital Bhubaneswar.
Aligned to the radical Hindu Opposition Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), the marauding mobs supported by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad or World Hindu Council, are alleged to have killed Christians by burnign them alive, gang-raped a nun and destroyed over 140 churches and orphanages across Kandhamal.
Following growing criticism of the provincial government for failing to curb the violence, police on Monday claimed to have arrested the man accused of the nun’s rape, but he is yet to be charged. Several human rights and non-governmental organisations have accused the predominantly Hindu police of conniving in the attacks, a charge the authorities reject.
Violence in Kandhamal erupted on Aug 23 following the killing of a local Hindu leader, who was heading a campaign to reconvert the Christian tribal people back to Hinduism.
Over 20 per cent of the mainly 650,000 tribal inhabitants in the Kandhamal area had converted over decades to Christianity under the influence of missionaries.
Police blamed the Hindu leader’s murder on local Maoist rebels, some of who even confessed to the crime on a local television news network, but Hindu organisations blamed the Christians and began attacking them.
Christians and their organisations have been periodically attacked in other parts of Orissa and across India by Hindu mobs particularly during the six-year rule of the BJP that ended in 2004.
They accused missionaries of using coercion and bribery to produce conversions, a charge they deny.
In 1999, a Hindu mob killed an Australian missionary, Graham Staines, and his two children by burning them alive as they slept in their car in Orissa, allegedly for his proselytising activity. The crime shocked India.
Christians constitute around 2.5 per cent of India’s population of over 1.2 billion, the majority of whom are Hindu.
By Rahul Bedi in New Delhi
Last Updated: 5:00PM BST 09 Oct 2008
Source: The Telegraph