Death Toll Rising In Orissa Refugee Camps; Violence Spreading

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

By BosNewsLife Asia Service with Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife

NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)-- An elderly pastor in India's Orissa state, who fled the deadliest Hindu-violence against Indian Christians there in recent memory, has died in a government-run refugee camp, a well-informed rights group confirmed Tuesday, January 22.

"Pastor Hari Digal from Baliguda refugee camp died," late Monday, January 21, said the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), which represents churches and missionaries. Digal was the second believer known to have died in as many days in one of the apparently overcrowded and unhygienic Orissa refugee camps.

Relief workers have complained that local authorities have not given enough access to the Christian refugees in Orissa, where at least 5,000 Christians are believed to have been impacted by the crisis. On Saturday, January 19, a 60-year-old devoted Christian, Kajuru Digal, whose house was destroyed in the violence, died in the Barakhama refugee camp apparently "because of unhygienic conditions in there," GCIC President Sajan K. George told BosNewsLife.

Pastor Digal had a similar experience, according to GCIC investigators. "Hari Digal was living like a destitute after his house and church were destroyed by Hindu radicals," on December 26, the GCIC said in a statement. "He died with a broken heart from the trauma and agony inflicted on him by the radical Hindus," the GCIC said, adding that he leaves behind a son, Naresh Digal, who is also a pastor. "The persons who destroyed his life are still at large, challenging the constitution and rules of democracy," the organization complained.


Besides the two Christian refugees, some nine Christians have died in the recent Orissa violence, which broke out on Christmas eve, December 24, and lasted till early January, in several areas of the state, churches and rights groups say. Over 70 churches and other Christian institutions as well as hundreds of Christian homes were destroyed by Hindu-hardliners and activists of Hindu groups opposed to the spread of Christianity in India, investigators said.

Despite the tensions, up to 10,000 people managed to march to the Orissa State Assembly building in the state capital Bhubaneswar to protest the attacks on Christians and demand justice for victims, one of the organizers, the All India Christian Council (AICC) told BosNewsLife. Thousands of security forces have however been deployed in the troubled state, where first church services resumed around New Year.

Clashes in Orissa also spread to other states, including neighboring Chhattisgarh, some 80 Christians were injured when up to 100 Hindu militants armed with sticks and petrol (gasoline) bombs attacked a prayer meeting led by Pastor Mohan C Thomas and Jose Kajur in Bothli village of in the Durg district, said the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI).


"The innocent Christians and Christian workers were targeted" Wednesday, January 16, "on the pretext of forceful conversion," said EFI, an umbrella group of evangelical Christians, churches and organizations. "In 10 minutes of the brutal attack, the attackers beat them mercilessly and burnt down the huge tent where they were assembled."

The violence was followed by an attack on a Christian health camp run by missionaries Thursday, January 17, in Dhamtari district, injuring at least a dozen Christians, local believers said. Activists of Hindu organization Dharamsena allegedly reportedly attacked the camp, while some 500 people gathered there apparently for treatment and worship.

Copycat attacks have also continued elsewhere in India, including in Madhya Pradesh state’s Rewa district where two Christian missionaries were kidnapped early Thursday, January 17, before being released the next day after being beaten by Hindu militants in the jungle, the GCIC and other sources said.


Activists of the hard-line Hindu Bajrang Dal group allegedly abducted Vijaya Kumar Maurya and Keera Lal of the indigenous Christian organization Gospel Echo Mission Society after attacking a house church meeting attended by the two men. The activists, arriving on motorbikes, "attacked with swords, sticks, knives and other instruments," the GCIC said, adding that two believers were "critically injured" and underwent treatment in a local hospital.

The activists later allegedly also planned to "sacrifice" the two missionaries they abducted to a Hindu god on nearby mountain Sahaki Pahar. They were reportedly prevented from killing them, after receiving a mobile phone call, warning that a police complaint had been lodged.

The GCIC and other rights groups have urged the Indian government to end the violence against Christians in this mainly Hindu nation, saying 2007 was the deadliest year for the Christian minority since the country gained independence in 1947.

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