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Christian Prisoners In Their Own Land - India

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(RSD) -- On the night of Sept. 29, 2008, Hindu extremists attacked Christians in the village of Rudangia in the hills of the Indian state of Orissa.

The extremists came with axes, machetes and homemade guns. They set fire to 74 houses. One woman was killed and a dozen hospitalized. A total of 230 families were left homeless.

The Christians living there are still suffering...one year after the horrible violence in Orissa, which was started when Hindu leader Swami Laxmanananda was assassinated. Hindu nationalists wrongfully blamed it on Christians and used his murder as an excuse to attack them.

The outbreak of violence resulted in at least 120 Christian deaths, 250 churches destroyed and over 50,000 individuals displaced. It has been claimed that this was the worst case of religious persecution in India since the partition of Pakistan and India in 1947.

What makes Rudangia special is that the Christian community refused to be sent to a refugee camp far from home, but instead insisted on being able to return to an encampment on their own land. Three denominations -- Catholic, Baptist and Church of North India -- worship in the only church with a roof still standing. Persecution has brought these believers together.

An Open Doors co-worker who visited the village a few months ago says: "These people are prisoners on their own land. A man showed me the edge of a neighboring Hindu village. He said 'Look, there is our border, like the border between Pakistan and India.' I can understand the illustrations...two communities in confrontation, fraught with violence and suspicion."

More than 4,000 Christians in Orissa are currently seeking refuge in relief camps and are unable to return to their villages for fear of death or forcible conversion to Hinduism. Recent reports state that Christians remain targets of violence and persecution by Hindu extremists.

This year India jumped from No. 30 to No. 22 on Open Doors' World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most severe persecution. Last month the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) placed India on its watch list for frequent outbreaks of violence against minorities, especially Christians. The report sharply criticized the Indian government for failure to protect the rights of religious minorities.

"The situation is still bleak for Christians in Orissa," says Open Doors USA President/CEO Carl Moeller. "Many of our brothers and sisters remain homeless. The area simmers with tension and fear that major violence could resume at any time. Christians are still being persecuted. They need your prayers and support."

In response to this outbreak of violence, Rep. Trent Franks and Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver have co- sponsored a Congressional letter to the Chief Minister of Orissa Navin Patnaik to express their concern about the violence against religious minorities.

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