After Two Years, Full Horror of Orissa Attacks Emerging; Christians Still Under Siege
first published: Dec. 30, 2009 – Gospel for Asia
Two years after the first mass attacks on Christians in India’s Orissa state, the full horror of the events are just now beginning to emerge. The violence against believers in December 2007 and August 2008 left physical and emotional scars that survivors will bear for a long time.
And while the smoke from burned-out churches and homes has long since dispersed, the threats and danger to Christians remain.
Today, at least 4,000 believers are still unable to return to their home villages because of death threats, and most are totally homeless after the government shut down the refugee camps where they were living. There had even been violence and a bomb attack in the camps themselves.
Other Christians continue to hide in the jungles for safety. An unknown number of believers have also been forced to flee their home state.
The first wave of organized attacks against Christians occurred in Orissa in December of 2007. This aggression was followed by even more widespread violence in August 2008 following the murder of a well-known religious leader. What these outbursts had in common was that both assaults were orchestrated by anti-Christian elements within fundamentalist Hindu political parties. And in both cases, neither local, state nor national governments intervened to stop the killings.
In the 2007 Christmas attacks, Gospel for Asia correspondents reported that 12 Christians were killed, 2,000 homes were looted and destroyed, and four GFA-supported churches were damaged or destroyed.
Massive 2008 Attacks
In the 2008 attacks, more than 500 Christians were killed and some 50,000 were driven into the jungles. At least 5,000 Christian homes were destroyed, and dozens of churches were ransacked or burned out. There were also reports that several dozen Christian women were sexually assaulted and more than 40 shops owned by Christians were looted.
“Most of the victims of these attacks were Dalits, formerly known as Untouchables,” noted Gospel for Asia President K.P. Yohannan.
But as terrible as these statistics are, it is the individual stories that reveal the true depravity of the anti-Christian radicals.
Stories of Depravity
In December 2007, Pastor Bidra Nayak was serving as pastor of a church in Orissa. When the first wave of violence against Christians hit the state, his congregation’s church building was completely destroyed. Every brick was taken away—even the foundation stones were dug up and removed by the radicals.
With death threats against him, Pastor Nayak’s wife and two children escaped into the jungle in the middle of the night—only to be confronted by a bear! God protected them from an attack, and they huddled together in the jungle that night in the midst of a snowfall. Eventually, they made their way to her parents’ village some 15 miles away.
Days later, Pastor Nayak went back to check on his house, but two men began chasing him. Fleeing for his life, he escaped into the jungle. He joined his family at his in-law’s house, and this became the new hub of his missionary work.
Then that summer, accusing believers of killing anti-Christian religious leader Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati, the Hindu extremists launched an all-out attack against Orissa’s Christian community.
When the radicals reached Nayak’s new home, wielding axes and other weapons, he thought all was lost. Again facing certain death, Nayak and his family ran to the jungle during a rainstorm.
As the extremists destroyed his house and all its belongings and attacked the Christians of the village, Nayak and his little family hid in the jungle for five days. Their two children cried with hunger until, at last, they reached the relative safety of a refugee camp.
But not all believers fared so well.
The day after the swami was killed, Bikram Naik, a Christian layman who was known for being active in his church, was approached by a mob of Hindu radicals who demanded that he deny Jesus Christ.
Even though Bikram knew that some of his friends had already died for the sake of Christ, he refused. Immediately, someone in the mob attacked him with an axe, and Bikram collapsed. Thinking he was dead, the extremists left.
When the radicals learned that he was still alive and in a coma at a hospital, they planned to come back and finish the job. But Bikram died before they could act.
His wife and son lived in a refugee camp for several months before she was able to find a job as a nurse. Today she is raising their son as a single mother.
Dr. Yohannan boiled the attacks down to one word—genocide.
“Basically, what we were facing was genocide—ethnic cleansing—against Christians,” the GFA founder explained. “And today we need to continue to pray for this situation, that justice will be done.”
Latest news reports indicate that despite huge mobs of anti-Christian extremists involved in the attacks, only 24 people have been convicted for any crimes related to the massacres, while an astonishing 95 participants have been acquitted, usually for lack of evidence.
“One reason evidence is so hard to come by is that witnesses are being threatened with death if they testify,” said one correspondent.
A court in New Delhi has sentenced one person to life in prison for the murder of a pastor, but most sentences for the few who have been convicted of any crimes have ranged from only three to six years.
“We take neither joy nor dismay at what the courts may do,” Dr. Yohannan said. “But we are called to pray for those who persecute us, and we do pray that those who committed these acts will find true peace and forgiveness in the One they oppose so violently.
“In the meantime, Gospel for Asia will continue to minister, bringing God’s love and hope to those who have suffered so much, and going forward with efforts to rebuild 1,000 homes in the strife-torn state.”