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Christmas in Orissa Heralds Glimmer of Hope for Reconciliation

February 4, 2009

Christian Aid received a report from the India Evangelistic Association (IEA) indicating an end to the year-long violence in Orissa.

IEA workers help persecuted victims with food and clothing.

In the midst of continual strife and turmoil, a small glimmer of hope shined in one area: "It is reported that the Deberi Sahi Church (under the jurisdiction of the Daringbadi police station), was able to celebrate Christmas this year without incident. Even more remarkable, hundreds of Hindus joined to celebrate with us! This is a good sign of reconciliation between these two communities," writes Missionary Pran Ranjan Parichha.

It has been over a year since the infamous "Black Christmas" of Orissa on December 24, 2007. Hindu fanatics attacked Christians, burning their homes and churches, and forcing them out of their villages into the surrounding jungles. Over 5,000 lives were affected and 50 lives were lost.

On August 23, 2008, a Hindu nationalist group once again attacked Christians in Orissa. They accused Christians of killing their leader, Swami Laxmananda Saraswati, and four of his associates "in retaliation for Black Christmas." Fanatics rampaged through 300 villages in 14 districts, burned 6,000 homes, and killed over 60 people. Thousands of people once again fled their homes with only the clothes on their backs.

IEA provided medical care for those who have become ill due to poor living conditions.

Soon after that, the same Hindu radicals made another threat: A strike was declared, which was to take place on Christmas Day, 2008. This caused panic in the Christian communities.

"But it is a miracle that the strike was called off – and just before Christmas. Also, there was a heavy deployment of police forces (5,000 in Kondhmal district alone), in Orissa, and other districts as well. In some areas, however, no Christmas services were conducted, just as a precautionary measure," said Parichha.

Government officials feel the need for a continuation of central forces, realizing that withdrawal of paramilitary forces at this time might throw cold water on their efforts to bring back and maintain peace.

Restoration Still a Work-in-Progress

Parichha gave this report concerning urgent needs, "We have reached nearly 1200 families in three different relief camps, but were unable to enter the Kondhmal camp until the end of 2008. We are providing for their basic needs while they remain in these camps. We are planning for more relief distribution in more camps.

"IEA church buildings at Adasapanga, Gandagaon, Dudukagaon, Murgiguda, and Borikia in the Kondhmal district have been badly damaged. Each church building will require at least Rs. 50,000 for repairs (about $1,063). In addition, the homes of nine of our workers were destroyed. Two of them are afraid to return to their villages because activists are still targeting missionaries and other Christian leaders.

Over-crowded relief camp in Orissa, India

"Victims living in over-crowded relief camps have become ill due to unhygienic conditions. We have been able to conduct medical camps exclusively for them. About 200 victims have been seen by a doctor and provided the necessary medications."

More Work is Needed

One of Parichha's workers wrote, "We heard about the godman, Swani Laxmananada Sarswati, being killed by the Maoists. The next day his dead body was taken in procession through my village, Murgiguda. During the procession, the crowd attacked churches and houses along the roadside. We ran into the jungle and stayed there for a week. On September 1, 2008, at 9:00 a.m., nearly 200 people came to Murgiguda, vandalizing and destroying homes and church buildings. Later, we were found in the jungle by other Christians and taken to Tikabali Relief Camp. But this was not a safe place either. Hindu activists tried to attack the camp at a time when there were not enough police deployed. So we had to move to Cuttack, where IEA met our urgent needs. Our whole congregation is scattered now."

Parichha says, "Peace is not only the responsibility of the Indian government, but the Christian community as well. Christian leaders, particularly in Orissa, but India in general, need to be aware of the situation and answer these many needs. We are sincerely grateful to friends from overseas who also stood with us in prayer and provided financial support through Christian Aid."

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