Relaymedia

Indian Christians hiding in forest to escape further attacks

( [email protected] ) Jan 04, 2008 08:04 AM EST

The Evangelical Fellowship of India has been informed by locals in the eastern state of Orissa that Christian families are still hiding out in forests and hills for fear of further attacks by Hindu extremists that started over the Christmas period.

Around ten people are thought to have died in the string of attacks in the Kandhamal district that started on Christmas Eve. On the first day of violence alone, at least five shops were gutted and more than 10 houses torched in one of the worst affected areas, the Christian-majority village of Gadapur near Brahmanigaon.

The violence escalated over the course of Christmas and Boxing Day, with at least 400 houses and six churches set on fire in the village, local sources reported to EFI.

According to EFI, the Christian families fled to the surrounding forests and hills after their homes were destroyed, or their property in some way vandalised. They continue to face hardship with no access to food or water, and cold temperatures, the group added.

More than 700 Christians have sought shelter in government-run relief camps, where they are being provided with food, medicine and security by Orissa state authorities.

The EFI was part of a delegation of Christian agencies that met Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Vice President Mohammad Hamid Ansari to discuss a solution to the communal tensions. The Christian groups demanded that the Central Bureau of Investigation launch an independent inquiry into the violence and that compensation be paid to families who have lost their homes and property as a result of the attacks.

The government has agreed to provide a new home for each of the families whose houses were burned down by attackers, while those with partially damaged homes will receive 10,000 rupees (around £650) in compensation.

In a press conference on Wednesday, the Director General of Police, Gopal Chandra Nanda told reporters that 80 people had been arrested over the attacks and that cases had been registered against 40 of them.

The General Secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, the Rev Dr Richard Howell, said: “EFI requests you to continue remembering the Christian brothers and sisters who have been affected by the violence in Orissa.”

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