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On Christmas Eve, violence broke out against Christians in the Kandhamal district of the eastern Indian state of Orissa, which has become well known for poor governance and class tensions. Hindu fundamentalist groups led by the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP, the World Hindu Council) have attacked Christians and their institutions at will in rural areas. Over 90 churches and Christian institutions have been burned and vandalized, over 700 Christian homes destroyed, and the number of pastors and Christians killed is yet to be known, according to a report by my colleagues in the All India Christian Council. A pastor in Chennai told me that 11 pastors have been killed and thousands of Dalit (formerly known as untouchable) Christians displaced. Compass Direct reports that the death count is at 9. Many people are missing, and others have vanished in the nearby forests.

Human Rights Watch and others have decried the present carnage in Orissa and have recognized that freedom of religious choice — especially in a democracy like India's — must be respected. The Prime Minister promised immediate action to restore peace in the state. But the affected areas are still reporting sporadic violence over two weeks since the attacks against Dalit Christians began.

Despite reports that Christians retaliated in some places, so far Dalit Freedom Network investigations and statements by the Orissa government indicate that Maoist rebels — called Naxalites — were behind the revenge attacks that left dozens of Hindu families homeless. Most Naxalites are armed Dalits, and their involvement gives evidence of the root problem: ancient caste divisions.

My colleagues and I have condemned all forms of extremism and violence, whether Hindu ...

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