In India's eastern Orissa State, spiraling violence between Hindus and
Christians has killed at least nine people. From New Delhi, Anjana Pasricha
reports on the religious tensions gripping the region.
Authorities issued shoot-at-sight orders and
police staged marches Wednesday in Orissa's Kandhamal District, the region
worst-hit by violence between Hindus and Christians.
Kandhamal is a
primarily tribal area, where Christian missionaries have worked for decades.
Almost 20 percent of the district's people are Christians.
erupted after the killing of a Hindu leader, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, and
four others on Saturday by unidentified armed men. The Hindu leader had been
leading a drive to reconvert local residents from Christianity to Hinduism.
Since then, angry Hindu mobs have attacked and damaged churches,
Christian homes and an orphanage. Some of the victims were burned to death, when
rioters set fire to their homes.
Police say rival groups from both
communities have attacked each other with axes, sticks and guns, despite a
curfew. New clashes occurred Wednesday.
Home Minister Shivraj Patil says
the federal government has asked state authorities to protect all
"We asked them to take stern action to protect the
properties, the churches, the life and limbs of people and properties and houses
of other people also," said Patil.
Police say the Hindu leader was killed
by local Maoist rebels. But Hindus blame Christians for his death. He belonged
to a hard-line Hindu group called the World Hindu Council.
This is not
the first time that tensions have run high between Hindus and Christians in
Orissa. In 1999, a Hindu mob killed an Australian missionary and his two sons by
setting fire to their car.
Hard-line Hindu groups accuse Christian
missionaries of trying to convert illiterate tribal or Hindu villagers by
alluring them with promises of free education and medical care, a charge denied
by the missionaries.
Christian organizations in India have asked the
government to end the violence. Christians make up about two percent of India's
population, which is predominantly Hindu.