After two months, violence still grips Orissa

Anti-Christian attacks continue, believers forced to reconvert to Hinduism

October 31, 2008

Many believers in Orissa are worshipping in secret, fearing for their lives after two months of nonstop violence.

In one village, small groups armed with knives and clubs return repeatedly to threaten believers with the message "convert or die," according to a recent Associated Press news story.

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According to one report, at least 700 Christians in the Kandhamal region of Orissa have been forced to take part in "reconversion ceremonies," often at gun or knifepoint. The ceremonies typically involve ritual shaving of the head and drinking of cow urine or diluted cow dung, which is believed by Hindus to be purifying.

A Times of India news article quotes a Christian being threatened: "You either embrace Hinduism or you die." Soon after, the man was forced to participate in a reconversion ceremony.

"We know we are not Hindus. We never were, because we are tribals, worshipping nature and animals before we took up Christianity when the missionaries came here years ago," he told the newspaper. "But because of forced conversions, our brothers think we have let them and our faith down. Now, we are in the middle, nowhere."

What is a 'reconversion' ceremony?
Some Christians in parts of Orissa are being forced to take part in Hindu reconversion ceremonies or threatened with death. During the ceremony Christians must:
  • Burn their Bibles
  • Break a coconut symbolizing the death of Christianity
  • Swear to remain a Hindu for life
  • Shave their heads
  • Be 'purified' by drinking cow urine (considered sacred by Hindus)
  • Wear the vermilion mark on their foreheads
  • Perform a sacred chant and pray to Hindu gods

To complete their reconversion, Christians are required to perform ritual sacrifices to Hindu gods. If they comply, they are allowed to return home and to find work to support their families.

Source: "In the name of God," Tehelka magazine, Sept. 13, 2008)

The reconversion ceremonies are just part of an overall climate of fear and violence that has gripped the Kandhamal region of Orissa since late August. Christian leaders in India say that in Orissa:

  • 50,000+ people are left homeless
  • 10,000 people are in relief camps
  • 4,300 homes were burned or destroyed
  • 400 churches and prayer halls have been destroyed
  • Up to 57 people were killed

Compass Direct News reports that conditions are troubling in government camps where thousands of Christians have sought refuge. Public health is at risk, with malaria epidemics reported and other water-borne diseases reported in the crowded camps. Pregnant women are giving birth with little or no medical attention.

One local source told Compass Direct that some people are being turned away from the camps and are forced to return to their villages, where they may face further violence and have no food or shelter.

Thousands of believers are still living in squalid conditions in refugee camps following two months of nonstop anti-Christian violence in Orissa.

Mission India's ministry in Orissa has been severely impacted by the ongoing violence. Church Planters in approximately one-third of the state are unable to minister openly and face frequent threats. Dozens of Adult Literacy programs were forced to suspend classes and many year-round Children's Bible Clubs are not meeting due to safety concerns.

The persecution has not been confined to Orissa. According to recent reports from EFI and Compass Direct News, churches have been burned in the southern state of Karnataka and a pastor in Madhya Pradesh was falsely accused of forcibly converting people to Christianity.

Pray for India's believers

Believers in Orissa and across India need your prayers as they cling to their faith in Jesus during this frightening ordeal. Your gifts will also help support Mission India's three outreach programs: Bible-based Adult Literacy Classes, Children's Bible Clubs, and Church Planter Training.

For more information or to make a donation over the phone, please call us at (877) 644-6342.