Violence against Christians spreads

India | Christian protesters clash with police in Mangalore following a weekend of attacks.
by Emily Belz
Posted 9/15/08, 12:00 am

Tensions mounted between Christians and Hindus in southern India Monday after at least six Christian churches and prayer halls near the western coastal city of Mangalore were attacked on Sunday.

Hundreds of Christian protestors in Mangalore clashed with police, who fired tear gas and swung batons into the crowds. The number of wounded from the protests has not been determined, said Satish Kumar, Mangalore's superintendent of police.

Sixty people have been arrested in connection with the attacks, according to the BBC. The radical Hindu group Bajrang Dal initially took responsibility for the attacks but later denied involvement.

Meanwhile, in the eastern state of Orissa, more than 20 Christian homes and a prayer hall were burned over the weekend, reported District Commissioner Kishan Kumar, bringing the death toll after three weeks of violence involving Hindus and Christians in Orissa to 20.

In weekend riots in Orissa, police fired into crowds, killing three protestors. The situation remained tense on Monday, but no violence had been reported in the last 24 hours, Kishan Kumar said.

Orissa has been plagued by religious tensions between Christian missionaries who work with mostly poor tribes in the region and hard-line Hindu groups who claim the Christians are forcing or bribing people to convert.

Churches deny anyone has been pressured or paid to change their religious beliefs.

The killing of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati on Aug. 24 sparked the recent violence in Orissa. At the time police blamed Maoist rebels active in the area for the killings, but right-wing Hindu groups blamed local Christians and set fire to a Christian orphanage. The violence then spread to include mob attacks on churches, shops, and homes.

As the violence has spiraled in the region some 18,000 people have been forced to flee their homes and move to 11 government relief camps in safer areas, Kumar added.

Last year, four people were killed and nearly 20 churches destroyed in similar clashes in Orissa.

Christians account for about 2.5 percent of India's 1.1 billion people.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Emily Belz

Emily is a senior reporter for WORLD Magazine. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and previously reported for the The New York Daily News, The Indianapolis Star, and Philanthropy magazine. Emily resides in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @emlybelz.

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