November 8th is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. More information can be found here: www.persecution.com/idop. The following is a video from Voice of the Martyrs on the day of prayer:
For the past five months, an underground campaign of violence directed against Christians has erupted in Orissa (one of the poorest states in India) and spread to several surrounding states as well. According to a London online newspaper as of November 20, 2008, there have been 67 Christians killed, thousands of homes burned, hundreds of places of worship destroyed, and there are now around 11,000 displaced Christians in refugee camps. The leaders of several Christian organizations in India have said that Hindu militants are offering rewards to those who commit violence against Christians. Allegedly the reward offered for killing a pastor is $250, and rewards of food, fuel, weapons, and money are being offered to those who hurt or destroy Christians or their property. They have also said that the Hindu extremist group, Bajrang Jal has set up training camps for training women to use weapons in order to kill Christians in rural areas. The Hindu groups have denied these claims, but according to the Times of India, the Indian government has found enough evidence to indicate a planned conspiracy of violence against Christians by the militant Hindu groups.
This string of violent activities was triggered by the assassination of Hindu extremist leader Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati. Despite the Maoist party claiming responsibility for the assassination, the militant Hindu group has continued to blame the murder on Christians. Following is some of the story and quotes from the interview with Maoist leader Azad by an Indian newsgroup:
“We killed Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati to avenge his villainous role in Kandhmal,” said Azad, a leader of Maoist outfit, People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army, in an interview to a leading Oriya daily on Friday.
Azad said ever since the December 2007 riots in Kandhmal, a predominantly tribal area, Laxmanananda and VHP secretary general Pravin Togadia portrayed Christians as Maoists and attempted to defeat the revolutionary movement. “Laxmanananda was taking the lead in Hindu fascist activities,” he said in the interview. “We appeal to the public to join us to fight exploitative organizations.”
According to this Maoist leader, the militant Hindu group (VHP) has portrayed Christians as Maoists, even though they are not, thus allowing them to shift the blame and focus for the murder onto the Christians rather than those who claimed responsibility themselves. Hindu extremist groups have a deep-seated hatred of Christians for converting Hindus from their religion, and claim that the Christians use coercion, bribery, and force to win converts, and it appears that they have been waiting for just such an excuse to justify a concerted attack on Indian Christians. Here is what one Hindu leader has to say to the Times of India on the subject:
‘People are bound to react when their leaders like Swami Laxmananda Saraswati are killed and fellow neighbours and friends brazenly converted.” … He was chillingly forthright when he said he will continue seeing the killers of Laxmananda as ”Christians”, not Maoists. Incidentally, three men, now arrested and calling themselves Maoists, have claimed responsibility for the murder of the Hindu leader on August 23 this year. ”Conversions have to stop, only then will violence (against Christians) cease,” he warned darkly… He went on, ”Tribals are being threatened, coerced, and cheated into becoming Christians. Even otherwise, the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act (1967) prohibits it.”
All the leaders of Christian organizations in India have condemned the killing of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, and assert that violence is never an acceptable way to solve their problems. However, the Hindu leaders promise that Hindus will react with violence whenever they are attacked, and it seems they reserve the right to decide who the attackers are without recourse to actual evidence. According to the London Newspaper covering the story, “Extremists said that if Mr Lakshmanananda’s killers were not caught by December 15 they would begin a day of violence on December 25.” The men who were ALREADY arrested by the Indian government for the killing freely claimed responsibility for the attack, but that has not satisfied the Hindu extremist groups who insist upon blaming Christians instead.
In Kandhmal (a region of Orissa), Hindu families have been flying saffron flags over their houses to distinguish themselves from the Christians, because houses without these flags have been vandalized or destroyed by angry Hindus. This seems very similar to the Nazi Germany’s identification of the Jews using yellow stars of David, albeit the other way around. All those without the “safety” of the saffron flag are in danger of violent attacks on their person or property.
In the next article, we will look at some of the reactions of the Indian government, as well as international reactions to this campaign of violence. As the threatened day of violence approaches on December 25th, let us not forget to pray that this violence will be averted, and the glory of God manifested in great power within India! Pray for our brothers and sisters, many of whom have suffered violence for the name of their Savior, and pray that they will be peacefully restored to their homes and not have to suffer through the winter in refugee camps. Pray for those who have been blinded by fear and/or hatred, that they would encounter the love and reality of our Messiah Jesus and live transformed lives, devoted to the Lord. He is our great God, able to do so much more than we can ask Him! Pour out Your Spirit, Father!