By BosNewsLife Asia Service with BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife) -- New clashes between Hindus and Christians in India's eastern state of Orissa has left at least one woman dead and more than a dozen people injured, some critically, police said Tuesday, September 30.
The pre-dawn violence broke out out at a village in Kandhamal district after Hindus attacked Christians, setting fire to their houses and burning a church, according to the chief administrator of the district Krishan Kumar.
One woman was seriously injured in the clashes and died on her way to the hospital, police said. "She was stabbed to death and there were several injury marks," S. Praveen Kumar, a senior police officer told reporters.
Police said a priest's son retaliated by firing on the crowd, leading to further clashes between the two groups. Security forces reportedly intervened and opened fire to disperse the mob, killing one Hindu woman. That report was not immediately confirmed by higher ranking police officials.
DEATH TOLL RISING?
Five of the 12 injured in the clashes were in a serious condition, with some of them suffering gunshot wounds, and there were fears the death toll could rise, according to police. Close to 4,000 federal police have already been deployed in the area, news reports said.
In a first reaction, India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condemned the renewed violence, saying in a published statement that Orissa "must ensure that adequate protection was provided to the lives and property of all citizens."
The prime minister, currently on a visit to France, reportedly urged the state government to maintain law and order.
Security forces already struggled to ease religious tensions in the western state of Rajasthan where at least 147 people died Tuesday, September 30, in a stampede during a Hindu festival at a north Indian temple, officials said. The victims, most of them men, were suffocated as they rushed down a narrow path from the Chamunda Devi temple at the southern edge of the 15th-century Mehrangarh fort in Jodhpur, witnesses said. Last month, 148 people died in Himachal Pradesh in similar circumstances.
PREVIOUS ATTACKS REPORTED
Tuesday's anti-Christian violence in Orissa, followed several attacks on Christians in three Indian states which left dozens of people dead and dozens of churches damaged in recent weeks. Thousands have been forced to flee the region, church groups have said.
Thousands of Christians now live in government camps because their homes are destroyed or they are too fearful to return, advoacy groups and churches said.
Fighting began last month following the August 23 killing in Orissa of Hindu religious leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his followers, who are linked to the main opposition Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. Police suspected Maoist rebels, but Hindu militants blamed Christians.
MISSIONARIES UNDER PRESSURE
Hindu nationalists have accused Christian missionary groups of "forcibly converting" 'lower caste' Hindus in Orissa's poor tribal region, charges churches have strongly denied. Religious clashes have also been reported in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka states which are both headed by a Hindu-nationalist governments.
The attacks on Christians in India have been condemned by Pope Benedict, and Roman Catholic bishops and rights groups have urged the European Union to treat persecution of Christians as a humanitarian emergency.
Christians comprise some 2.5 percent of India's mainly Hindu population of 1.1 billion people, but missionaries say Christianity is spreading in rural areas, a development that has upset Hindu groups.
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