By Santosh Digal, BosNewsLife Asia Correspondent
BHUBANESWAR, INDIA (BosNewsLife)-- Over one thousand Christians, including priests, nuns, women and children, have fled to the jungles of India’s Orissa State where deadly anti-Christian violence entered its seventh day, a church official told BosNewsLife Sunday, December 30.
"The situation is still under tension," in Orissa’s communal clash-stricken district of Kandhama, said Leena Joseph a missionary nun of the Catholic St. Joseph order in Orissa, after Hindu extremists’ attacks killed at least nine Christians this week and injured many more.
"Church leaders and minority Christians have lost faith in the government and police for having failed to protect the minority community," she added, referring to the Christians hiding in jungles. “The government has always passive, inactive and apathetic when it comes to Christians and their welfare," the nun added.
It came as police on Sunday, December 30, apparently expelled a national fact-finding mission of Christian officials from the tense Kandhamal district, some 336 kilometers (210 miles) southwest of Orissa’s capital Bhubaneswar, BosNewsLife established.
In a statement obtained by BosNewsLife, team-leader John Dayal, a member of the National Integration Council advising the government, said he and five other officials were prevented from entering violence affected areas.
Police Chief Pradeep Kapoor, who supervises security forces in the area, reportedly denied the reported death toll of at least nine Christians, and expressed doubts that dozens of churches and other buildings were burned down. It was not immediately possible to verify those reported comments immediately, but several church sources have spoken of widespread destruction in Orissa.
The All India Christian Council (AICC), a major advocacy group coalition of thousands of Indian denominations, organizations and lay leaders. said so far six dead bodies had been recovered while about 400 Christian homes and 60 churches were torched by angry Hindu mobs.
"Young and healthy Christians have left their villages to flee for their lives, children, women, old and sick who could not flee for their lives are in great danger of their lives,” said Dayal. Christians, he said, "are starving for the last four days, sick are suffering without medical attention."
Meanwhile in statements obtained by BosNewsLife, victims said they “are forced to convert to Hinduism” if they are to get food, medical attention and shelter and their “heads are shelved off.”
There has been international concern about the situation.
On Sunday, December 30, a US-based human rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) joined in the debate, saying clashes in Kandhamal district, some 336 kilometers (210 miles) southwest of Orissa’s capital Bhubaneswar, was carried out by Hindu groups who were conducting an "anti Christian" campaign for several years.
HRW alleged that authorities looked the other way and urged India’s government to “act immediately” to end the violence between Hindus and Christians in Orissa.
It said it was important that an independent inquiry was launched to identify those instigating the riots. "The Orissa government should have addressed this problem before it became violent," added HRW Asia Division’s Senior Researcher Meenakshi Ganguly, in comments monitored by BosNewsLife
"The authorities are still failing to react quickly enough, and now ordinary people are being attacked," the researcher added. "Unless there is a vigorous attempt by the national government to investigate such activities promoting religious hate, India's secular identity will be seriously jeopardized," Ganguly said.
Earlier Sunday, December 30, a delegation claiming to represent millions of Indian Christians met Indian Vice President Mohanmad Hamid Ansari, urging him to protect the Christians in Orissa and help villagers to return to their homes.
The violence began Monday, December 24, when Hindu mobs interrupted Christmas celebrations and vandalized Christmas decorations in several areas of Kandhamal district. The violence soon spread, with reports of nine deaths and hundreds injured.
Local Hindus claim the violence began after Christians attacked a Hindu leader. Christians say the attacks — the latest in several bouts of religious violence that have plagued the state over the past few years — were sparked by church plans for a performance to celebrate Christmas.
Orissa is predominantly Hindu, with a small Christian minority of less than one million people. Over the past few years, though, thousands of Hindus have converted to Christianity, adding to anger among nationalist organizations who church officials say are behind the latest violence.
"They want to convert people to Christianity and convert the country into a Christian land," said Swami Laxmananand Saraswati, head of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) or ‘World Hindu Council’, one of India's biggest Hindu nationalist groups.» We are opposed to that and that is the source of all disputes and fights," the official told reporters.
In addition, as with most communal violence in India, the latest explosion of hatred is also the result of a tangled intersection of political power, communal prejudice and the “injustices” of Hinduism's archaic caste system, analysts and church officials say.
Orissa has a history of religious tensions. In one of the most publicized cases, in 1999, right-wing Hindu activists burned alive Australian Protestant missionary Graham Stuart Staines and his two minor sons in their car in Orissa following a Bible study class. The killing of a Catholic priest, Father Arul Doss of Balasore diocese, occurred the same year by same Hindu activists.
There have been hundreds of attacks against Christians across India in the last two years alone, according to human rights watchers, who fear an increase in anti-Christian violence. Christians comprise less than three percent of the country’s mainly Hindu population of 1.1 billion people. (Stay with BosNewsLife for Continues Coverage on the Crisis in Orissa).
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