India: Mobs attack Christians after leader's death

|PIC1|As Hindu radicals go on the rampage in India's Orissa state, Christians are "running for their lives", says one Gospel for Asia worker.

One woman was killed when a mob burned down a Christian orphanage during widespread violence triggered by the killing of a radical Hindu leader over the weekend.

The mob cleared the orphanage of children but beat up a priest. The woman, reportedly a cook, became trapped inside when the mob set the building alight.

Gospel for Asia (GFA) said that at least one of its missionaries had been attacked in the violence that has erupted since the killing of Swami Laxmananand Saraswati, leader of radical Hindu group Vishwa Hindu Parishad, on Saturday night.

GFA missionary Jeebaratna Lima was attacked by a mob whilst on his way to conduct a Sunday service, said GFA. When the mob tried to set him on fire, police intervened and took him into custody, where he remains.

Mobs have also attacked churches, convents and parish houses.

The Bishop of Sambalpur Lucas Kerketta told the Hindustan Times, "We are afraid to move out. Some Christians staying in institutions or bungalows are hiding in jungles or villages. We have two to three policemen, and they can't control a big crowd ... we have asked for more security."

Saraswati was killed in an attack by around 20 men during a religious celebration. Although the Indian Government suspects that the attackers are Maoists, Gospel for Asia says that Hindu radicals are using the death as an excuse to attack Christians in Orissa.

Last December, hundreds of Christians in Orissa were forced to flee from their homes when they were hit by a wave of attacks by Hindu radicals. A number of Christians were killed and houses and churches were destroyed.

Police are standing guard at one GFA Bible College and have advised Christians not to venture outside.

GFA President KP Yohannan said, "We thank God that the government officials are protecting our campus and our people. That is a true blessing."

GFA missionaries are continuing their work with more than 30 churches and mission stations across Orissa in spite of the violence.

"The fundamentalist groups have always opposed us," noted one GFA worker, "and now there is great tension prevailing, and Christians are running away for their lives."

Yohannan urged Christians to pray for believers in Orissa.

"Having ministered in Orissa, I can only imagine the plight of these tribal believers, forced to run for their lives into the jungle," he said. "My heart goes out to the missionaries and believers. We must pray with all earnestness for the suffering church in Orissa at this time."