Hindu extremists are being blamed for the beheading of a Seventh-day Adventist pastor in Orissa, India late last week, local church leaders reported. Since then, at least 15 Adventists have been reported killed.
Samuel Naik, pastor of the Phulwani Adventist Church, and his mother were killed during anti-Christian violence sweeping the region of India, said Gordon Christo, communication director for the Adventist Church in Southern Asia.
The outbreak came after unidentified attackers killed a Hindu religious leader and four other individuals. Hindus are blaming Christians for the deaths, while the Indian government cited Maoist rebels.
One Adventist school in Jeypore was attacked last Sunday, and another school in Khurda was closed for several days, Christo said.
“They broke the gate and all the glass doors and windows of the children’s home, the cafeteria, the girls’ hostel ... and a few staff quarters,” said Arun Panda, principal of the Jeypore school.
Panda said the mob attempted to light several vehicles and some equipment on fire after pouring diesel on them, but nothing burned.
“We believe it is a miracle of God,” Panda said.
No deaths have been reported from either school, Christo said.
The Wall Street Journal reported that attacks continued over the weekend and into Monday, with Indian officials stating causalities at 13 and the Asian Center for Human Rights reporting as many as 50 deaths.
Thousands of Christians have fled for their lives, some hiding in the forest. Local church leaders are asking for help from the local government and media and the world-wide community.
“The media is not reporting the violence adequately,” Christo said. “International pressure must be harnessed.”
Christo said a group of Adventists in the south central India town of Hosur joined 2,000 Christian marchers protesting the violence. During the August 31 march, protesters met with the news media and handed out copies of a petition requesting intervention from the chief ministers of the states of Tamil Nadu, where Hosur is located, and Orissa.
The petition asks for the government to step in and end the violence, as “the Christians and their institutions are blamed, attacked and punished” whenever anything bad happens. The letter stated that Christians are “proud of India’s democracy and the religious liberty and tolerance guaranteed by our constitution ... but saddened by the current spate of atrocities directed against one group in the name of religion.”
Christian leaders also asked for the government to take steps to ensure future protection against such acts of violence.
In a letter to the Indian ambassador, John Graz, director for the Adventist Church’s Public Affairs and Religious Liberty department, called for the Indian government to restore law and bring justice.
“What is happening in the state of Orissa sends the wrong message to the world,” Graz said. “Religious intolerance and fundamentalism seem to have overcome the law and basic human rights.”
The Orissa state on India’s east coast has experienced previous violence against Christians by Hindus, including the death of a missionary and his two young sons in 1999.