More than 600 churches have been demolished in India

India, Sep.1, 2008 - One week after the beginning of the violence in Orissa, thousands of people, most of them Christian, are still hiding in the forests or have found refuge in the shelter camps set up by the government.

According to the latest figures, there are at least 6,000 people in the refugee camps, and 5,000 hiding in the forests around Kandhamal, but the number of refugees could soon reach 10,000. Today, in Bhubaneswar, a protest demonstration is planned in front of the state government headquarters in Orissa, organized by the activists of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), following the closing of Catholic schools yesterday all over India. About 25,000 institutes closed their doors, while the students and teachers marched peacefully through the streets of the country calling for an end to the violence against Christians.

Meanwhile, the number of victims of the violence continues to increase: "We have received authentic information that the death toll is 100", says Dr Sajan George, national president of the GCIC, "and more butchered bodies and burnt corpes are being found". The Christian activist is also calling for the resignation of the entire government of Orissa, which is incapable of stopping the massacres against the Christian community. He provides an example: "In Bakingia,  two families of seven Christians - Daniel Naik and Michael Naik and their families - were tortured and killed, their bodies were found with their heads pulped and smashed, they were recognised by their clothes. Bakingia is about 8 kilometers from Raikia police station".

The decision to close all of the Catholic schools yesterday and call for demonstrations - although peaceful - has raised attention, with serious new accusations being issued by the Hindu side. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the leading opposition party in India, heavily influenced by the fundamentalists, has condemned yesterday's school strike and accused the Catholics of "forcing non-Christian students to participate in the protest marches". Some institutes used "coercive means" - according to the BJP - against the "non-Christians, who were obliged to march with their classmates".

Meanwhile, raids continue outside of Orissa as well. Yesterday, in Madhya Pradesh, fanatics attacked five schools and a church, in retaliation against the closing of the buildings. The attacks took place in the districts of Gwaliar (three schools and a church) and Barwani (two schools), and only the swift intervention of the police was able to prevent serious damage to the buildings, or new victims. Security forces have, on the other hand, blocked a peaceful demonstration of the students from the school of St. Francis, for unspecified reasons of "public safety", although they were informed about the demonstration beforehand.

The Indian bishop of Vasai, Thomas Dabre, a member of the pontifical council for interreligious dialogue, confirms instead the "total paralysis" in the activity of the schools of his diocese. "Thousands of young people", the prelate emphasizes, "ended their march in front of the buildings of the bishop's residence. I told them to promote interreligious dialogue, and to and trust themselves completely to the protection of the Virgin Mary".

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