The violence was not a mere reaction, but a staged violent assertion. Hindus have felt themselves loosing followers in India to Christianity. In this case, the protesters were backed by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council). They set fire to six of the ten churches and ransacked the other four in the heart of the Orissa state. Some 500 policemen were deployed to restore peace.
The Catholic Bishops Conference called the aggression “well-planned attacks on innocent Christians and their leaders” and declared that the actions had “completely shocked” them. “We are deeply pained at a time when we are celebrating peace and harmony of Christmas. It is most important that the tiny minority community of Orissa feels safe and secure to carry on with their normal life and activities.”
The local police could not deny the fact of church burning and looting, but would not specify that the violence was Hindu on Christian, refusing to identify the religion of the casualties.
Curfew was imposed in the region near the capital of Bhubaneswar. The state’s chief minister appealed for peace in a televised speech saying that “Orissa is known for its long tradition of communal amity. Let’s maintain it.”
The church violence came after a Hindu leader Swami Laxmananand Saraswati was attacked the day before. Saraswati has campaigned against what he calls the “forced” conversion of low-caste Hindus to Christianity. The conversion of these low-caste Indians is not an easy matter. Government authorities, in the hands of Hindu leaders, have made conversion difficult.
Orissa has a four-decade old “Freedom of Religion Act.” But that so-called “freedom” requires every change of religion to be cleared by the authorities.
This is not the first time Hindu on Christian violence has erupted in the region. One Hindu man is serving a life sentence for burning alive an Australian Christian missionary and his two sons as well as a Catholic priest in Orissa in 1999. Graham Staine, who had worked for three decades with lepers, and sons aged eight and 10 died when a Hindu mob torched a jeep in which they were sleeping.
Approximately 2.3 percent in the region are Christians.