Hindu-Christian Clashes Kill 11 in Eastern India

Aug 27, 2008 08:18 AM EDT

BHUBANESHWAR, India - Security forces were ordered Wednesday to shoot on sight protesters defying a curfew meant to end clashes between Christians and Hindus that have left 11 people dead in eastern India over the past three days.

Violence has rocked Orissa state since Monday when Hindu hard-liners set ablaze a Christian orphanage, killing a Christian woman and seriously injuring a priest, and has spread to include mob attacks on churches, shops and homes.

Pope Benedict XVI condemned the violence. During his weekly audience Wednesday in the Vatican City, the pope said he was "profoundly saddened" by news of the attacks on Christian communities in eastern India and was against "any attack on human life."

The pope also said the killing of a Hindu leader and four others in Orissa state on Saturday was "deplorable." Police have blamed Maoist rebels for the attack, but Subhash Chauhan, a World Hindu Organization leader, said "Christian militants" were responsible.

Police imposed a curfew in the Kandhamal district of Orissa state on Tuesday after attacks by radical Hindus seeking to avenge their leader's death. But the attacks have continued and on Wednesday authorities issued a shoot-on-sight order for anyone defying the curfew, said Satyabrata Sahoo, a top state official.

Sahoo would not say if the 10 killed since the orphanage was torched were Hindus or Christians.

He said the dead included one person trapped in a home that was set on fire Wednesday in the village of Phiringia, about 170 miles (280 kilometers) west of Bhubaneshwar, the capital of Orissa state.

Another person was doused with kerosene and burned to death by a mob Tuesday night in the nearby village of Mukandpur, Sahoo said.

He said another four people were killed in the region Monday night, including two people burned alive when their hut was set on fire.

The state's top elected official, Navin Patnaik, said four people were killed Tuesday in an exchange of gunfire between rival groups in the nearby village of Barakhama.

Relations between majority Hindus and India's religious minorities — such as Christians, who account for 2.5 percent of the country's 1.1 billion people, and Muslims, who make up 14 percent — are for the most part peaceful but can flare from time to time.

Orissa has a long history of Hindu-Christian clashes, usually sparked by Hindu suspicions over missionary work.

Thousands of poor and lower caste Hindus have converted to other religions, including Christianity, often in an attempt to escape the rigid confines of Hinduism's complex caste system.

That has long embittered Hindu groups who say Christian missionaries try to lure the poor and those on the lowest rungs away with promises of money and jobs. Churches deny that the converts were pressured or bribed.

Last year, four people were killed and nearly 20 churches destroyed in similar clashes in Orissa. An Australian missionary and his two sons, aged 8 and 10, were burned to death in their car in Orissa following a Bible study class in 1999.

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