Worse Than Ever
Christians knew the attacks were coming, but no one knew they would be this deadly.
OCTOBER 101, 2008 (www.christianitytoday.com) - Like many people in the eastern India state of Orissa, Nikhil Kumar Kanodia knew an attack on Christians was imminent. But unlike others, Kanodia was a police superintendent. When he declared that Hindu attacks on Christians in his district of Kandhamal would be prosecuted, he was immediately transferred. Soon afterward, Kandhamal became the epicenter of massive anti-Christian violence. Nationalist Hindus have killed, raped, and otherwise assaulted Christians, burned Christian schools, churches, and houses, and left tens of thousands homeless.
Nina Shea, vice chair for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said the attacks are essentially pogroms "to rid the state of the Christian minority." The World Christian Database says active Christians make up about 3.3 percent of the state's population.
Christians are often warned by fliers or friends when an attack is being staged, said Sam Paul, secretary of public affairs at All India Christian Council. Still, some are unable to get out of their homes or flee to the jungle for safety. Paul told CT he had the names of 36 people killed in the violence by mid-September. Since then, there have been several more fatalities throughout India. The Times of London called it "the worst anti-Christian violence in India since Independence [in 1947]."
Militant Hindus also attacked Christians in other states, particularly Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Jharkhand.
Orissa made international headlines on Christmas Eve 2007 for a similar string of attacks on Christians, as well as 10 years ago, when Australian missionary Graham Staines and his children were burned to death in their car.
Anti-Christian violence "could happen anytime, anywhere" in India, said Stephen David of the Centre for Contemporary Issues in Bangalore. "There is increased opposition and increased hatred toward Christians because the messengers of hate with the Hindu community have become more articulate and better organized."
But in most areas of the country, the violence does not enjoy the level of support it has in Orissa. While mobs usually set up roadblocks to keep police and fire departments away, the local police and the state government are widely considered accomplices in the violence, said Paul Swarup, pastor of Christ Church in Noida, Delhi.
Shea said the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that governs Orissa and the militant Hindutva groups have "a symbiotic relationship," though "there's a separation between the terror and the political rule." Both the party and the groups say that India is for Hindus, even though the secular democracy has a millennia-long legacy of religious pluralism.
Many Christians are participating in protests against the ongoing violence across India. Some groups, such as All India Christian Council, are calling for the state government to be ousted under an article of the Indian Constitution.
The latest violence began after the murder of Hindu leader Swami Lakshanananda Saraswati, who advocated anti-conversion laws, and of several of his disciples. While a militant Communist group known as the Naxalites took credit for the murder, the BJP and affiliates blamed Christians.
That claim is ridiculous, said Swarup. "Christian militant groups just don't exist. [Christians in Orissa] are the poorest of the poor. They probably struggle to put their meals together. It's impossible for them to purchase grenades and AK-47s" (the weapons used to kill Saraswati).
But while they are not as well funded as the Naxalites, "some of the Christians are violent, too," said David. News reports said Christians retaliated against police in Karnataka state after several weeks of anti-Christian violence. Hindutva groups attacked police as well.