Orissa in Ruins
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Continued violence against Christians in Orissa, India, has caused India's federal government to issue official warnings to government officials in Orissa and Karnataka. The federal warnings were invoked under Article 355 of the Indian Constitution, which requires state governments to honor India's constitutional freedoms and protections, including freedom of religion. The federal government's warning sets up a potential showdown between the federal and state governments over control of the two states, which are both led by Hindu nationalist parties.
The next step for the federal government would be to implement Article 356, which would authorize direct presidential rule of the two states, effectively dissolving the state governments. Radical Hindu leaders have made veiled threats against the central government should it make such a move. Some of these radical Hindus are the same ones carrying out the rampage against Christians.
Flooding, more violence in Orissa
The move by India's federal government came last week just as another disaster began unfolding in the state. Monsoon rains triggered flooding, which killed at least 17 people and affected more than 2.4 million others.
The floods, the worst in the state in more than 50 years, swept across roads and made travel between the state capital of Bhubaneswar and surrounding districts impossible.
In the midst of this natural disaster, the persecution against Christians continues unabated. On September 25, attackers rampaged through six villages, killing one man and injuring a second, who is now in the hospital. One church and 109 homes were destroyed in the rampage.
Attacks on September 20 and 24 saw 55 homes burned in villages near the beleaguered Kandhamal District.
This church in Orissa was destroyed by extremists.
Gospel for Asia officials in Orissa received credible reports that a Bible college in the state is a main target for attack. As a precaution, school officials placed the campus under lockdown and brought in extra security, even calling missionaries from the field to come help.
Right now, there are 400 people total staying on campus. The school is located in an area of the state that has not yet come under heavy attack in the Hindu war on Christianity. Bishop Juria Bardhan, who oversees GFA's work in Orissa, expects that the school is in the sights of the persecuting mobs.
"This district was free from any major violence during the first phase of attacks unleashed by the fundamentalist groups," Juria said. "But now they are planning their second campaign of hate. They are emboldened by the large victory of the BJP (nationalist political party) in the recent municipal elections in Orissa. We have heard that our church, Bible college and office are some of their main targets."
The people who fled to relief camps are suffering from disease and the effects of the floods. Six people in the camps have died from what is believed to be dysentery. Many are leaving the camps, but finding they have no where to go.
Persecution Spreads to Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand
Unrest continues in other Indian states plagued by anti-Christian violence as well.
A GFA girl's Bible college in Haryana has received threats of violence. Members of the Bajrang Dal, a radical Hindu group responsible for many of the recent attacks, showed up at the campus earlier this week. They left without incident, but are expected to return at any time. Because of the specific nature of the threats, the local police are providing extra security at the Bible college.
The Bajrang Dal, along with two other Hindu extremist groups, had a meeting in Haryana. Reports on the outcome of the meeting indicate that the groups are planning a joint effort to attack churches, Christian organizations and Bible colleges throughout the state.
Many people have lost their homes and become separated from their families during the rampage.
On September 22, a Gospel for Asia missionary in Uttar Pradesh was arrested and charged with forcing people to convert to Christianity. He was held in jail for two days before being released.
In Uttarakhand, a Catholic priest and a female volunteer were murdered in a prayer hall they operated in Chotta Rampur village.
More Protests, Pleas for Peace
Critics of the violence against Christians staged a dharna (a sit-in protest) September 23 at the site where Mahatma Gandhi's ashes are entombed in India's capital city, Delhi. A former prime minister was among the protestors. They were calling for an immediate ban on the Bajrang Dal.
GFA leaders in India ask for continued prayer for a resolution to the tense situation. Pray specifically for:
- The government to provide adequate security to GFA's Bible colleges and churches that have been threatened with violence.
- The students and missionaries on both campuses to be bold and not live in fear.
- The Lord to change the heart of the extremists and to stop their evil plans.
- The Christians in the relief camps, that they would be safe from contagious diseases.
- Peace in Orissa.
- The Christians, that they would not lose their faith in Christ, but rather that they would stand for the Lord and bear witness to his name.