Indian Christians appeal to Vice President over continuing attacks on believers

Dec 29, 2007 11:58 AM EST

A delegation representing millions of Christians in India met the Vice President of India on Saturday to appeal for action by the Indian Government to halt ongoing attacks on Christians in Orissa.

Reports coming from rural Orissa indicate that radical Hindutva groups continue to destroy churches and attack Christians. Large rallies across India on Thursday and meetings with central and state authorities have produced little if any actions to protect Christians in the eastern state, the All India Christian Council said.

The All India Christian Council is a coalition of thousands of Indian denominations, organisations and lay leaders that was birthed in 1998 to protect and serve the Christian community, minorities, and the oppressed castes.

Its delegation met Vice President Mohammad Hamid Ansari and submitted a memorandum of confirmed attacks and proposed government actions to re-establish the rule of law and justice in Orissa.

Ansari became Vice President of India in August 2007 and was previously the Chairman of India’s National Commission for Minorities.

The delegation included representatives from India’s largest Christian Organisations including the All India Christian Council (aicc), Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) and Christian Legal Association (CLA).

“We told his Excellency that, in spite of assurances from the Orissa state government and the Union Home Minister, the situation remains very tense, especially for Christians in rural Orissa,” said Rev Abraham Sahu, aicc Delhi Chapter President.

“Many are tribals or Dalits and are not only poor, but unaware of their freedom of religion and legal rights under our constitution.”

The delegation also included relatives of the victims. Their parents and other family members have been missing in the affected areas of Orissa for several days.

“Reports from Orissa indicate that sick people aren’t getting medical attention," reported Madhu Chandra, aicc Regional Secretary. "Many rural Christians have run away from villages into the forests and don’t have enough food. Radical Hindutva activists continue to freely roam the countryside and are forcing people to embrace Hinduism if they want food and shelter. Many Christians are being forced to shave their heads and then bow down in Hindu temples.”

A Christian delegation is to meet the National Human Rights Commission of India Justice Shri Rajendra Babu and, in cooperation with other groups, is arranging a candle-light vigil on Sunday at the Catholic cathedral, Gol Dakhana, in New Delhi.

On Thursday, a delegation of Christians met the National Commission for Minorities and Union Home Minister. Also, on the same day, an Orissa Christian delegation met with the Orissa Chief Minister. Officials continue to promise protection of Christians and compensation for victims.

According to media reports, NGO press statements, and calls from aicc leaders on the ground in Orissa, dozens of churches, Christian schools, and convents have been damaged or destroyed since Christmas Eve.

Four Christians were reported killed and many roads are blocked by radical Hindutva activists to prevent police and fact finding teams from reaching victims.

The violence allegedly began when Christians in a village 150 kms from the district headquarters of Phulbani began to celebrate Christmas Eve. Local Hindu fundamentalists opposed the event and a fight ensued. Also, a Hindutva leader, Swami Saraswati, was attacked by unknown assailants - allegedly Christians - near Daringbadi while he was travelling. The next day the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) called for a strike and its members began attacking Christians across the state.