Four years: shadow of anti-Christian pogrom lingers

By September 5, 2012

India (MNN) — Four years after the anti-Christian pogrom in India's Orissa State, 10,000 remain displaced.

Dave Stravers, president of Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Mission India, explains that in the wake of the violence, "Promises were made to these tribal villagers by government officials, but really not kept. People are afraid to go back because there are still threats of violence and even continuing violence in the area."

Justice has been slow in coming, so nearly 5,000 victims and survivors of the 2008 communal violence in Kandhamal district, Orissa, lent their voices of protest at a public rally marking the fourth anniversary of the violence and call for justice, peace, and harmony.

The attacks, led by Hindu extremists, caused 55,000 Christians to flee their homes. They have little recourse, Stravers says, because "these tribal Christians would be considered the bottom of the social ladder, so they don't have much political clout. They're discriminated against anyway, so they're just basically being ignored by the powers that be."

Asia News reports bear that out. Of the 3,232 complaints filed by victims and their families, district police accepted 48% of the cases. A scant 828 were registered as a first information report (FIR).

The numbers from Asia News also show that out of 245 cases dealt with by the Fast Track Court, convictions were obtained in 73 cases. Another 267 cases are still waiting to go to trial. Of the thousands accused in the pogroms, only 452 have been convicted; all the others were acquitted of the charges. Six have been sentenced to life in prison out of the 30 cases involving murder.

Despite the slow journey to justice, the work of Mission India continues, notes Stravers. "We still continue to work in all of Orissa, in all the different districts, including the tribal districts–all those places where you have these incidents of violence and our partners continue to work."

However, teams have had to be more careful in the days since the 2008 riots. "Obviously in those places where there has been this violence and continuing threats, there are many Christian workers that just don't feel that it's safe to carry on ministry. For us, that's the big prayer request."

Then, this news came: the Himachal Pradesh High Court struck down two provisions of the anti-conversion law. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reported the decision on August 30.

Stravers says, "The changes that the Himachal Pradesh High Court delivered are really good for Orissa because they struck down a section of the law which makes it mandatory for any person seeking to convert to go and give prior notice to local authorities before he actually would be baptized."

On the other, "The court decision of Himachal Pradesh did not strike down the entire law, and people are unhappy about that." Stravers goes on to add, "The prayers are that these anti-conversion laws will continue to be struck down piece by piece, if necessary."

Yet, because the legal precedence has been set, they're hoping for a similar response to follow in neighboring states. "Orissa has the same law. Technically, in Orissa if you become a believer and you want to be baptized, you have to go to the chief of police and receive their permission first to do this. Of course, this sets you up for all kinds of intimidation/threats of violence."

Stravers knows their team. Regardless of what happens with the anti-conversion laws, the Gospel will still go forward. In fact, so far, "People are baptized, usually en masse, without first seeking permission because they're going to do it whether they get permission or not. So this section of the law is not routinely enforced."

Disruption their partners endure isn't on the same scale as the anti-Christian violence of 2008. However, it comes regularly. One of their literacy class teachers and his mother were recently assaulted and warned to stop their work or be driven out of the village. Stravers says what happened next is a near-daily occurrence throughout India. "They were both told, 'Convert back to Hinduism within a week or else leave the village and stop your work.' They're praying. They don't know quite what to do. It's a real situation of severe persecution for anyone who is aggressively bringing good news to people."

Pray for patience in this situation. Once the villagers learn to read, they will see the benefits of finishing this class. Pray for patience and wisdom for the teacher and his family. It's only a matter of time before something good comes from the Gospel seeds planted.

Stravers sums it up this way: "Jesus said repeatedly to His disciples, even when He was predicting persecution, 'Do not be afraid. Speak boldly because Jesus reigns.' So that's what we pray for."

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