HYDERABAD, INDIA (ANS) -- Seven United States members of the House of Representatives sent a letter on Sept. 4, 2008, to India’s Ambassador to the U.S., Ronen Sen, expressing concern about attacks on Christians in Orissa state. Also, on Sept. 3, 2008, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom called for action to stop the violence and accountability within India.
 
There are still sporadic reports of anti-Christian attacks from the eastern state of Orissa. The violence has entered its 15th day despite the emergency deployment of Central law enforcement troops. Attacks began on Aug. 23, 2008, after the murder of a controversial Hindu swami by unknown assailants.
 
Dr. Joseph D’souza, President of the All India Christian Council (aicc) said, “The global community is alarmed at the breakdown of law and order in Orissa, and rightly so. The widespread, continuing attacks on innocent Christians and violations of their human rights is unprecedented in India’s history. We welcome the concern of US politicians and all global citizens who believe in freedom of religion. As a proud Indian, I’m grieved that our democratic ideals are being hijacked by religious extremists.”
 
The seven American legislators were: Trent Franks, Chris Smith, Bill Sali, Robert Aderholt, Bob Inglis, Mark Souder, and Joseph R. Pitts. Excerpts of the letter:
 
“We unequivocally condemn the murder of the Swami, yet we are also appalled to see how mob violence has taken root so quickly once again… The reports of brutal killings and the widespread destruction of property…are extremely disturbing and we strongly urge the Government of India to maintain a strong security presence to guarantee the protection of vulnerable communities which are facing the immediate risk of violence and death. …We urge the Government of India to take immediate steps to investigate these events and bring justice for the victims of the violence. In order to prevent future attacks, it is imperative that the government also address the climate fostering these attacks. India, with its great religious diversity, faces considerable challenges with communalism, but a democratic government must work to ensure the security and freedom of all its citizens.”
 
Past international condemnation includes last week’s statement by the Italian government and the Vatican as well as a joint letter by Human Rights Watch, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, and Dalit Freedom Network to the U.K. Foreign Secretary, U.S. Secretary of State, French Foreign Minister, and European Commissioner for External Relations.
 
“We also welcome the condemnation of the riots by civil society Hindu leaders like Swami Agnivesh, President of the World Council of Arya Samaj, and Mahesh Bhatt, noted Bollywood film producer, and others,” said D’souza. On Friday, Sept. 5, 2008, Swami Agnivesh returned from a fact finding trip to Orissa and told reporters in Delhi that the attacks on Christians were “very similar” to the 2002 violence against Muslims in Gujarat.
 
On Thursday, Sept. 4, 2008, India’s Supreme Court instructed the Orissa government to control the violence, and the Orissa authorities promised to halt a procession by the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad or World Hindu Council) on Sept. 7, 2008. However, VHP leaders told Indian journalist they still planned to hold the “Shraad Yatra” on the 16th day of the swami’s death, a traditional funeral rite performed by Hindu sadhus. Previously, Christian leaders from all major denominations and church networks called for a day of prayer and fasting across India on Sunday, Sept. 7, 2008.
 
The Supreme Court was hearing a case filed by Roman Catholic Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar seeking a Central government investigation into the riots. The Central government publicly approved the idea, but the Orissa state government must initiate a request for the probe and has, so far, declined. The only other way to start an investigation is through a court order.
 
On Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2008, Minister of Home Affairs Shivraj Patil visited the epicenter of the violence, Kandhamal District, and promised compensation for the victims.
 
Lakshmanananda Saraswati, a Hindu swami and VHP leader, was killed by unknown assailants on Aug. 23, 2008. VHP leaders publicly blamed Christians and mobs attacked Christians in at least 12 of 30 districts in the eastern state of Orissa. Christian leaders reported, as of Sept. 3, 2008, at least 4,014 Christian homes destroyed in 300 villages, an estimated 50,000 people displaced, two pastors and 24 other Christians killed, one nun gang raped, and over a hundred churches burned. See dedicated webpage at: http://indianchristians.in/news/content/view/2332/45/
 
From Dec. 24, 2007-Jan. 2, 2008, attacks in Kandhamal district killed at least four Christians and destroyed over 100 churches and 730 Christian homes. Most of the victims were Dalits, formerly known as untouchables.
 
The All India Christian Council (www.aiccindia.org), birthed in 1998, exists to protect and serve the Christian community, minorities, and the oppressed castes. The aicc is a coalition of thousands of Indian denominations, organizations, and lay leaders.

Source: ASSIST News
Date: September 6, 2008

Evangelical Fellowship of India