On New Year’s Eve in Karnataka state, 15 church-attenders were arrested by police “to calm tempers” after Hindu extremists surrounded their place of worship and attempted to halt their New Year’s Eve prayer service. And Christians in Kandhamal district of Odisha (formerly Orissa) state were prevented from travelling to celebrate Christmas at their local churches by road blockades and a general strike encouraged by Hindu radicals.
The New Year’s Eve prayer service at a church in the parish of Bannur Jodukatte Puttur, Karnataka state, attended by more than 15 people, was surrounded by Hindu extremists who attempted to stop the ceremony by entering the church. They were unable to gain entry because the doors were locked.
The police arrested 15 churchgoers, saying that it was necessary to protect them from the large group of Hindu radicals that had surrounded the church and to “calm tempers”. The believers were taken to the local police station but released a few hours later. The following day, religious leaders were summoned by the authorities to testify that they had not attempted to proselytise and were told that they must alert the police to all further prayer services and celebrations.
Sajan K George, the president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reports that no action had been taken against those who “disturb social peace.” He added, “The police should have only dispersed the mob that had gathered outside the church…they [instead] acted against people who were praying in a private place.”
In Odisha state, Kandhamal district, the Hindu group Kui Samaj Samanwaya Samity(KSSS) which is an affiliate of the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) and the RSS (Rastriya Sevaka Sangh), called a general strike, or “bandh”, during the Christmas period which lead to transport and commercial disruptions. It prevented Christians from reaching their churches to attend Christmas services.
In the village of Barkhama, trees were felled and heavy boulders were used to prevent people from going to church. Christian villagers in Odisha state are afraid of a repeat of the 2008 sectarian violence in which 35 Christians were killed and over 15,000 displaced from their homes.
A local church leader commented on the incident, “Christians have filed a complaint but the police refused to register the case…now [Christians] live in fear and insecurity.”
Elsewhere in Kandhamal district, the final hearing of the seven Christians who were sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of senior Hindu leader Laxmananda Sawaswati began on 6 January. They have been held for seven years for his murder although there is no incriminating evidence and Maoist rebels have twice claimed responsibility for the murder of the Hindu leader and his four followers.