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Orissa government urged to contain violence against Christians

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orissa_map.gifFORUM-ASIA is gravely concerned over the violence allegedly perpetrated by activists of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) against Christians in the Indian state of Orissa on the pretext of the murder of a Hindu leader since 24 August. According to media reports, at least 20 persons have been killed so far along with reports of sexual assaults of nuns and pastors killed in their homes.

There were also reports that many properties belonging to Christian individuals were burnt down. The attacks on the community and churches began following the murder of VHP or World Hindu Organisation vice president Lakshmananada Saraswati (89) and his four supporters by an unidentified group in the district of Kandhamal on 23 August 2008.

Violence against community members continued until after 30 August, forcing thousands of people from the minority community especially those from rural districts of Kandhamal, Bargarh and Koraput Deogarh among others to flee their homes to the safety of forests and shelters that the government recently opened.

FORUM-ASIA condemns the murder of Lakshmananada and questions the slow action by the government to quell the violent situation between Hindu and Christian groups. It was brought to our attention that only on 27 August did the state government impose a curfew to check the violence.

The local, national and international human rights organisations and Christian organisations have expressed disappointment over the state government's inability to take precautionary actions to protect the community while VHP continues to accuse Christians of being involved in the murder.

FORUM-ASIA regrets the failure of the coalition state government of Biju Janata Dal and Bharatiya Janata Party to take prompt action against perpetrators of violence, especially, when similar clashes had occurred in December 2007 and when the deceased leader Swami Lakshmananada Saraswati was attacked by an unidentified group. During this time, the state witnessed some of the worst attacks against Christians.

FORUM-ASIA urgently urge the Government to accelerate the peace process between the two groups by immediately investigating the murders of Swami and his supporters and put the killers behind bars.

The government should also immediately start a process of rebuilding destroyed houses and places of worship and devise a long term programme to resolve the differences between the two groups considering the history of religious tension in the state.

FORUM-ASIA call upon the state government to provide urgent compensation to the kin of the dead and the injured, relief and rehabilitation to the persons displaced.

Note: This statement was endorsed by two FORUM-ASIA members in India – People's Watch and Adhikar.