By Santosh Digal, BosNewsLife Asia Correspondent reporting from India
NUAPADA, INDIA (BosNewsLife)– Police in India’s eastern state of Orissa say they have detained five suspected Hindu militants for their alleged involvement in attacking a devoted young Christian boy and threatening to kill him and his family.
The June 8 attack in the city of Nuapada was the latest of several attacks against minority Christians in Orissa, where over 100 people have died in anti-Christian violence since August 2008, church groups say.
The boy, identified only as Bivar, was dragged to a nearby Hindu temple where the militants tried to force him to deny his faith in Jesus Christ, Christians told BosNewsLife, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“They threatened to kill him and his parents if they do not convert to Hinduism,” a source said.
Bivar was also beaten up in the temple and militants burned four of his Bibles, according to witnesses. Additionally, he was allegedly forced to eat food offered to Hindu idols. They later pushed him towards a road, forced him to wear traditional Hindu clothes, and shouted that he had “returned to Hinduism,” residents said.
Police reportedly moved the five suspects to the regional Phawani Patna jail, but it was not immediately clear when and if they would face a trial.
The attack was no isolated incident. On June 9 Hindu activists of the nationalist Bajrang Dal group attacked two church leaders and another Christian who they accused of “forceful conversion” in the Deogarh area.
The incident took place when Pastors Lamuel Panaik and N.Philemon and another Christian, Sudhir Kumar, were invited by a father to celebrate the healing of his son, Christians said.
The father, Biranchi Kistotta, claimed his son was healed after Pastor Panaik had prayed for him.
However a group of Hindu extremists, accompanied by media, broke up the celebration meeting, which was attended by people of different religions, witnesses said.
When a pastor refused to end the worship meeting, “seven extremists rushed in and forcefully pulled out the three Christians and manhandled them,” saying they forced Hindu to become Christians.
Police intervened for their safety, but later arranged their trip home, Christians said.
Authorities have been under international pressure to step up protection for minority Christians in Orissa, where thousands of people have been displaced by previous wide spread fighting.
No police complaint was lodged “as the Christians chose to forgive the attackers,” local Christians said.
There is concern however that attacks against Christians in Orissa are also spreading to other area, including the southern Karnataka state, often with the alleged support from local police.
In one of the latest incidents, two Christian women were detained and sent to Hassan jail on charges of “deliberate and malicious acts to outrage religious feelings,” residents said.
The arrests on June 7 came shortly after Hindu activists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh group disrupted a Sunday worship meeting in the town of Chickmagalur in which Pastor Lalathamma and church member Kadaur Devaki participated, according to witnesses.
The militants reportedly accused the women of “creating communal disharmony and disrupting the peace.”
Two days later, witnesses said, Pastor Vasanthe Kathedar from New India Church (NIC) was detained amid pressure from Hindu militants.
Hindu extremists from Sri Rame Sena, or ‘Lord Rama Army’ Kathedar interrupted a prayer meeting and accused the pastor of “of creating communal disharmony and disrupting the peace on June 9” in the Okkere area of Belgaum District, Christians said.
Police only arrived after Pastor Kathedar was assaulted for an hour, church members added.
He was detained under controversial legislation punishing communal disharmony. It was not immediately clear when and if the pastor would face trial following his release.
Hindu groups have become increasingly active in India, targeting especially devoted Christians, missionaries and church leaders for their alleged involvement in converting Hindus to Christianity.
Christians comprise less than three percent of the country’s population of nearly 1.2 billion people.