Hindu nationalists began burning churches and Christian houses in the east Indian state of Orissa on Christmas Eve. The violence continues, although today it seems to have abated somewhat.
Dozens are injured, many buildings have been destroyed, and the death toll is at 4 (three Hindus killed by police as they burned down the police station, and one Christian killed in the riots).
Compass Direct is reporting higher numbers than those confirmed by the police:
Jacob Pradhan, a Christian leader in Kandhamal district, told Compass that at least four Christians have been killed and more than 50 churches and 200 houses razed or damaged.
Telephone outages and VHP roadblocks made confirming reports "extremely difficult."
The Associated Press reported that,
On Thursday a mob of Hindus defied a curfew and burned down the house of Radhakant Nayak, a member of India's upper house of parliament and a Christian leader in the area, Nayak told the CNN-IBN news channel.
Also, 11 churches were ransacked and burned in Kandhamal district of Orissa state, the Press Trust of India quoted unnamed police officials as saying.
Meanwhile, in the village of Brahmangaon, a group of Christians burned down several Hindu homes in an apparent retaliation for the attack on churches. Angry Hindus then burned down the village police station, complaining of a lack of protection, a local police official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
At least 25 people - both Christian and Hindu - have been arrested so far, and the federal government has announced that it will send in paramilitary troops.
The perpetrators claim that they were defending a Hindu leader who heads an anti-conversion campaign; Christians in Orissa say the attacks were to prevent a Christmas Eve performance that could have led to conversions; AP says it boils down to controversy over thousands of conversions to Christianity in the past few years, "Hindu groups have long charged Christian missionaries with trying to lure the poor and those who occupy the lowest rungs of Hinduism's complex caste-system away with promises of money and jobs."
The Orissa government has ordered a judicial probe into the attacks, in response to claims that the violence was not spontaneous but sponsored by saffron activists.
Time warns against chalking it all up to religion:
As with most communal violence in India, this latest explosion of hatred is the result not only of religious differences but of a tangled intersection of political power, communal prejudice and the injustices of Hinduism's archaic caste system.
However, in a place where religion permeates everything, it's not helpful to try to separate religion from political power, prejudice, or the caste system - especially as the hard-line Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is gaining power. Orissa is currently governed by a BJP ally.