NEW DELHI (AP) — Hindu extremists ransacked and burned eight rural churches in eastern India, marring Christmas celebrations in a corner of the country with a history of violence against Christians, officials said Wednesday. One person was killed in the violence.
Authorities deployed 450 police and imposed a curfew to quell the violence in the remote district of Orissa state where the churches — most nothing more than mud-and-thatch houses — were attacked, said Bahugrahi Mahapatra, a government official.
Six of the village churches were torched on Christmas day, and two more were attacked Wednesday along with 10 houses belonging to Christians, Mahapatra said.
India is overwhelmingly Hindu but officially secular, a fact India's leaders often point out. They note that 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, often coexist peacefully. Some have risen to the highest levels of government and business.
But throughout India's history, both communities have faced repeated attacks from hardline Hindus, with violence against Christians often directed at foreign missionaries and converts from Hinduism.
Orissa has one of the worst histories of anti-Christian violence. In one of the most brutal incidents, an Australian missionary and his two sons, 8 and 10, where burned to death in their car following a Bible study class in 1999.
Orissa is also the only Indian state that has a law requiring people to obtain police permission before they change their religion. The law was intended to counter missionary work.
26 December 2007
Hindus burn churches in India
Christians face continued persecution, as Hindus burn several churches in India. From AP: