02/17/2004, 00.00
India
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Forced reconversions in Orissa

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Six women villagers from Kilipala (district of Jagatsinghpur, Orissa, in eastern India) who had converted to Christianity were attacked last Feb. 6 by a gang of Hindu fundamentalists seeking their "reconversion" to Hinduism.

The 6 women, 2 of whom were 15 years of age, were dragged from their homes, beaten and then 'tonsured' in a violent head-shaving ceremony. Some of them even had their clothes stripped off after resisting the attacks.

The women's tonsure was meant to symbolize their reconversion to the Hindu religion. 

Various Christians, including 2 victims of the attacks and 2 children, left the village in fear of even greater retaliations following the incident.

"The inhabitants of the village tortured and humiliated me before shaving my head. They wouldn't even leave my daughter alone," said Sanjukta Kandi, one of the victims.

Sanjukta Kandi said in addition that "the village's Christian families are afraid to go back home and have found refuge at a church in Bhubaneshwar. A list of 35 names was compiled by those organizing the attacks. Some of the organizers are Hindu relatives of the victims."

The recent assault is a part of series of attacks led by Hindu fundamentalists against converts to Christianity. Such anti-Christian groups often receive backing from the Bharatiya Janata Party which currently holds power in India.

John Dayal, chairman of the All Indian Christian Council (AICC), sent an official letter to the president of National Human Rights Commission. A copy of the letter was also sent to AsiaNews.

Commenting on the violent happenings in Orissa, Dayal writes: "This is not the India we're proud of.  Orissa is becoming synonymous with Christian persecutions. The state, victimizing and marginalizing the Church and Christian communities in tyrannical ways, does nothing about it and is often conniving in its willful passivity toward anti-Christian violence. During the last 5 years the central government has turned a deaf ear to the cries of the Christian community and has nourished a campaign of hatred against Christ and Christianity."    

He continued: "We now turn to you as the ultimate arbitrator of civil society and respect for law (together with the Supreme Court) to guarantee peace and justice to our community. The state must wake up to the facts. The hate campaign must finish. Violence must stop. The guilty must be punished. Otherwise we fear a great tragedy will ensue."

Since 2003 Christian Church leaders involved in AICC asked the national minorities commission to put a stop to the reconversion campaign being waged against converts from Hinduism and to investigate the so-called "home-comings" that occur under violent and intimidating conditions.  

In recent years violent episodes against religious minorities and Christian communities have erupted in Orissa –one of the states with the highest fundamentalist Hindu populations.

In Jan. 1999 an Australian Protestant missionary, Graham Staines, was burned alive in his car together with his 10 and 8 year-old children.  

In March 1999 exactly 157 homes were seriously damaged and 13 people killed during violent clashes with Christians.  

In April of 2000 Orissa's Catholic Church hierarchy signed a petition against a state directive decreeing that citizens could only convert to another religion after obtaining permission from the government. The government also has asked the heads of various Churches to supply information on conversions which have occurred in the last 5 years. Should the directives be ignored, fines and imprisonment may result. In  Nov. and Dec. of 2000 violence escalated against Christian communities.  (MR)
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