The Indian state of Orissa, in the east of the country, is the theatre of a religious war that few people talk about, the traditional religious flashpoint in the country being between Hindus and Muslims. But FRANCE 24's reporting team came here to hear the horrific stories of people who say they are the victims of a new kind of profound religious bigotry.
The hatred stems from the extremist teachings of a Hindu guru named Swami Laxmananda Sarazwahti. Since his murder in August, attacks on Christians have multiplied. Sarazwahti claimed that Christians, backed by the USA and Europe, were trying to take over India. Extremist Hindus blame Christians for the guru's murder.
These Hindus and Christians have lived side by side for 20 years, but due to the poisonous words of Sarazwahti and the fervour of his followers, violence soon followed his death. His organization, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, lives on and Indians who have converted to Christianity are especially targeted. Christians in Orissa have seen their churches vandalised and, their villages razed to the ground; 32 people have been killed. Some have even been burnt alive.
Most of these Christians have left their ruined villages altogether and have gone to refugee camps for shelter. But they do not feel safe there, and for good reason: Hindus armed with sticks and knives have been trying to steal their food. In this climate of fear, conversions to Hinduism are on the rise.
Some say the violence can be traced back to the nationalist Hindu party BJP coming to power in 2000. They say the BJP is orchestrating and encouraging the violence. The situation is unlikely to improve soon, since the BJP is hoping for a third mandate in elections in Orissa early next year.