08/25/2017 Washington D.C.
(International Christian Concern
) – International Christian Concern (ICC) and India’s Christian community are marking the ninth anniversary of the 2008 anti-Christian Orissa riots, widely considered to be the worst incident of Christian persecution in India’s independent history. Despite the passage of nine years, the lives of many Christians affected by the violence remain shattered by fear and injustice.
On August 24, 2008, anti-Christian mob violence swept across the Kandhamal District of India’s Odisha State, then known as Orissa, after Christians were wrongly blamed for the assassination of Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Lakshmanananda Saraswati. After three months of violence, at least 91 Christians were killed, many hacked to death by axes and machetes, and at least three Christian women were gang raped. Additionally, nearly 56,000 people were displaced, forced to flee into the forests, as mobs burned down more than 5,600 houses, 300 churches, and other Christian institutions.
“We are still in terror, not feeling safe,” Pastor Pradeep Nayak, a Christian survivor of the 2008 violence, told ICC. “At every corner of the market we feel something is going against Christians.”
“It was [the] most terrifying day of my life,” Pastor Raj Kishore, a Christian who survived the violence, told ICC. “I saw big flames and thick smoke coming out of a neighboring village. We had to run away knowing that the next target [was] our village. We walked 40 kilometers through the thickest forest in the dark night with my 20-days-old son and my wife to reach a town nearby.”
“Kandhamal is peaceful, but there is no peace in Kandhamal,” Suranjan Nayak, General Secretary of the Christian Jankalyan Samiti Kandhamal, told ICC. “On the date Lakshmanananda was assassinated, all the churches were provided with security. This means there is still a threat to Christians.”
Many Christians displaced by the violence have been unable to return to their home villages due to threats and a lack of government assistance. “So many people are not able to return to their own homes as they are not able to build back their houses,” Suranjan Nayak explains. “During the government survey, many were still away from their villages and were not recorded, hence they were not able to get government compensation to reconstruct their houses.”
William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager, said, “It has been nine years since Christians in India experienced the worst anti-Christian violence the country has seen in its independent history. Many of the victims of this terrible violence have yet to receive justice due to discrimination and poor police work following the riots. In many cases, Christians driven from their homes by mobs in 2008 are still unable to return to their villages unless they agree to convert to Hinduism. The Indian government must do more to provide justice to these victims and must take greater steps to rebuild the lives that were devastated by this violence nine years ago.”