Sunday, 19 October 2008

Convert or we will kill you, Hindu lynch mobs tell fleeing Christians

Hundreds of Christians in the Indian state of Orissa have been forced to renounce their religion and become Hindus after lynch mobs issued them with a stark ultimatum: convert or die.

The wave of forced conversions marks a dramatic escalation in a two-month orgy of sectarian violence which has left at least 59 people dead, 50,000 homeless and thousands of houses and churches burnt to the ground. As neighbour has turned on neighbour, thousands more Christians have sought sanctuary in refugee camps, unable to return to the wreckage of their homes unless they, too, agree to abandon their faith.

Last week, in the worst-affected Kandhamal district, The Observer encountered compelling evidence of the scale of the violence employed in a conversion programme apparently sanctioned by members of one of the most powerful Hindu groups in India, the 6.8-million member Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) - the World Hindu Council.

Standing in the ashes of her neighbour's house in the village of Sarangagada, Jaspina Naik, 32, spoke nervously, glancing towards a group of Hindu men watching her suspiciously. 'My neighbours said, "If you go on being Christians, we will burn your houses and your children in front of you, so make up your minds quickly",' she said. 'I was scared. Christians have no place in this area now.'

On her forehead, she wore a gash of vermilion denoting a married Hindu woman, placed there by the priest at the conversion ceremony she had been obliged to attend a day earlier, along with her husband and three young children. Read more
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