Twelve people have been arrested in India’s eastern state of Orissa after an attack on Our Lady of Charity Catholic Church. The Hindu News Service reported that those arrested included Christians as well as Hindus, although that has yet to be confirmed.
At least six people were injured on Thursday, Aug. 26 when Hindu militants attacked the church as well as homes of some of the members. The door of the church was knocked down to allow the vandals to enter. They destroyed musical instruments, furniture, fixtures, and literature. Windows were smashed on several homes.
“They barged into the Church by force, brought down the Tabernacle, burnt the Holy Bible and Vestments, and destroyed the pews and the paintings,” said Bishop Thomas Thiruthalil, Bishop of Balasore and Chairman of the Orissa Bishops’ Regional Council.
News reports indicated as many as 300 people were involved in the mob action. In an attempt to ease the tense situation, several platoons of armed police were called in to protect the church property.
According to local police, the attack came in retaliation to violence perpetrated a few days earlier by some Christians who set on fire a motor truck parked nearby and pelted local merchants with stones.
However, Bishop Thiruthalil told Italy-based AsiaNews that it was “another planned attack against the Church by Hindu fundamentalists and not an act of revenge against some prior offense.”
Thiruthalil forwarded a petition to Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil calling on the government to look into the matter with urgency. “Catholics in Orissa are very worried,” the bishop added. “Unfortunately, attacks against the Church and Christian activities are not isolated episodes.”
Kandhamal is now under curfew, and people fear that violence might spread to neighboring districts.
Orissa is a Hindu fundamentalist stronghold. Several acts of violence have been perpetrated against religious minorities and Christian communities for the purpose of reconverting Christians back to Hinduism.
In 2003, leaders of different Christian denominations belonging to the All India Christian Council call on the National Commission for Minorities to put a stop to the ongoing forced re-conversion campaign and to investigate cases in which people were re-converted back to Hindus under pressure and intimidation.
According to the Voice of the Martyrs, the introduction of anti-conversion laws in the states of Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Arubachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu has given support to militant groups, resulting in increasing violence against Christians. Other persecution faced by Christians is more subtle, as converts to Christianity are often cast out of their families and face poverty and ostracism.