The death and destruction in the outbreak of violence against Christians in the North-East Indian state of Orissa has far exceed official figures according to reports by a Bishop of the Church of North India.
Bishop of the Diocese of Amritsar Rev Pradeep Kumar Samantaroy said the people of Orissa have not forgotten how their loved ones were axed, beheaded, torched and then blown up with gas cylinders.
“Those who survived claim that hundreds of bodies are still rotting in the forest because no search operations were conducted,” the Bishop said.
“These killings are not mentioned in official figures because there was no proof of these murders.”
One of the survivors, Chiranjan Digal, said, “How can we offer proof when we couldn’t even go back to collect the ashes?”
His brother Akbar Digal, a pastor, was allegedly beheaded because he refused to become a Hindu.
Reports suggest at least eight other pastors were killed.
The current tensions in Orissa were sparked by killing of Hindu leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati.
Although left wing Maoist guerrillas claimed to have been behind the murder, violence from Hindu fundamentalist groups has been directed at Christians.
Bishop Samantaroy said several churches and prayer halls were torched, police outposts were attacked, about 100 vehicles damaged, more than 150 churches ransacked and more than 1000 houses have been burnt
The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) reports around 13,000 Christians in relief camps while others are taking refuge in jungles or their whereabouts not yet known.
The EFI claims 35 Christian denominations have been affected by violence, 11 schools attacked and 42 people confirmed dead.
Church of North India leaders have met with the Governor of Orissa and the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who has described the violence as a "national disgrace".
Church sources claim police numbers have been inadequate to deal with the situation and have called on the central government to deploy the Army to prevent further violence.
The Church of North India has asked that those responsible for the damage to people and properties should be severely dealt with and Government officials should be punished for their gross negligence and inaction which the church says amounts to “connivance with the perpetrators”.
Bishop Samantaroy said Christian victims are exhibiting extraordinary courage.
“Many of them were able to say, ‘Kill us if you want but we will not change our religion.'”
The Church of North India which is a partner church of the Uniting Church in Australia has called for prayer support for Christians in Orissa and asked Australians to write to the Prime Minister of India to register their protest.
For protest letters:
Dr Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister of India
Room No. 152
New Delhi 110001
Fax: +91 11 2301 6857
Photo : In earlier violence in Orissa, a brave Christian believer Banadei stayed in the Church while other fled to save their lives. Photo by Bishop Pradeep Kumar Samantaroy