September 19, 2008 – Salvationists have been caught up in violence against Christians in the Indian state of Orissa. Latest reports indicate that two prayer halls, an officers' quarters and a boys' home have been destroyed as well as the houses of approximately 100 families from three corps.
More than 100 Salvationist families are thought to still be hiding in the nearby forest. At least 20 people are known to have been killed, but it will be impossible to determine how many Salvationists have been killed or wounded in total until the situation returns to normal.
This persecution of the church, which appears to be well planned and managed, follows the murder of a Hindu extremist religious leader, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, and four of his workers on August 23. While a Maoist group has claimed responsibility for the attack on the Hindus, the identity of the killers is unknown and Christians have been accused of the crime by extremist Hindu organizations.
Gangs of Hindu extremists have been attacking Christians, looting and setting fire to their homes and places of worship and social care. This violence is now extending to other states, causing great concern to Salvation Army leadership.
The Salvation Army boys' home in Paburia housed 40 young boys who study in a nearby government school. The boys, ages 6-15, lived at the home due to poverty and other family reasons. After the Sunday meeting on August 24, a group of 2,000-3,000 people entered the compound shouting and carrying weapons.
As the mob destroyed the home, officer-in-charge Major Paul Kumar Sahani gathered his family and the boys together and ran to the forest. From the woods they saw their home and all their possessions destroyed by fire. All Christian-owned houses in the area were torched and a number of people were killed.
The Sahani family and boys from the home hid in the forest without food or shelter for three days in heavy rain. On the fourth day, they succumbed to the elements and surrendered themselves to leaders of the Hindu community. They were then allowed to stay in a nearby school where a teacher provided food. Following contact with the district magistrate, the group was taken to a relief camp that had been established by the government and the children were reunited with their parents.
Major Sahani and his family are now being housed in The Salvation Army's Angul Divisional Headquarters compound where they are safe for the time being. Life has not yet returned to normal in Orissa and curfew restrictions are in effect.
The Salvation Army has provided clothing for more than 400 people and is offering other forms of assistance. Discussions about the rehabilitation of affected soldiers and the reconstruction of their houses are underway, but these efforts can only begin when the violence stops.
The situation in the area is still very tense and there have been other reports of violence against Christians in other states. The Chief Secretary of the India Northern Territory, Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Peter Christian, thanks Salvationists around the world for their prayer support for the people of Orissa at this time.