Hindu Mobs in Orissa Torch Churches on Christmas

Curfews have been imposed in four districts in the Indian state of Orissa after rioters attacked churches, police stations and homes. VOA's Steve Herman reports from New Delhi that the violence started with a fight over Christmas decorations.

Officials in Orissa say hundreds of armed security personnel have been sent to the tribal-dominated Kandhamal district, following a rampage that saw the torching of about 12 churches, attacks on police and offices of charitable organizations. At least one person was killed in the violence.

Authorities say a prominent conservative Hindu figure, 80-year-old Swami Laxmananda Saraswati, was attacked on his way to a town where gunfire had broken out over the installation of public Christmas decorations. Hindu mobs took to the streets to protest the assault on the official of the VHP, the acronym for the World Hindu Council. The VHP is active in the area trying to convert Christians to Hinduism.

Media reports say a member of the Kui tribe was hit by a rock and killed when he was caught between clashing Hindus and Christians. About 25 other people have been injured in the escalating violence since Monday.

Vijay Kumar Nayak, who heads the Ashakiran organization, a volunteer group dedicated to conflict resolution in the troubled district, blames authorities for not doing enough to prevent violence.

"I feel really sorry about our government and our police department who cannot control the difficulties and problems. They don't take precautions," said Nayak. "When everything is finished, the destruction is done, houses have burned, churches have burned, Christians are killed, they implement the rules and all that."

On Wednesday, the national Hindu newspaper described the area as a "virtual war zone," which is now under indefinite curfew.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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