The Hindu American Foundation is very upset with the New York Times because of its ongoing coverage of anti-Christian violence in the Orissa State in eastern India, leading to a series of three letters calling for coverage that focuses more attention on the role of Christian missionaries in that region. The latest letter makes the following comments about a recent Times article by Somini Sengupta that ran with the blunt headline, "Hindu Threat to Christians: Convert or Flee."
As Hindu Americans, we unequivocally condemn and repudiate all of the violence consuming Orissa today. That the New York Times would engage in blatant, inflammatory race-baiting with the front-page headline above is shocking. If the intention is to spuriously allege that marauding Hindus across India are contemporary actors emulating the Crusades or the Islamic conquests -- then mission accomplished! ...
The tragedy unfolding in Orissa state results from the venomous amalgam of the Swami's murder, and Hindu radicals in the area inflamed by evangelicals blaspheming Hinduism as they seek to meet quotas of new converts in a wild west battle for souls. Pluralism and respect for the tribals' indigenous Hindu traditions became the first casualty that opened the door to the madness seen today.
While the focus seems to be on the work of evangelical missionaries, Hindu wrath has hit Catholic leaders and churches as well. Here is the latest summary material from the Times coverage:
India, the world's most populous democracy and officially a secular nation, is today haunted by a stark assault on one of its fundamental freedoms. Here in eastern Orissa State, riven by six weeks of religious clashes, Christian families ... say they are being forced to abandon their faith in exchange for their safety. The forced conversions come amid widening attacks on Christians here and in at least five other states across the country, as India prepares for national elections next spring.
The clash of faiths has cut a wide swath of panic and destruction through these once quiet hamlets fed by paddy fields and jackfruit trees. Here in Kandhamal, the district that has seen the greatest violence, more than 30 people have been killed, 3,000 homes burned and over 130 churches destroyed. ...
Across this ghastly terrain lie the singed remains of mud-and-thatch homes. Christian-owned businesses have been systematically attacked. Orange flags (orange is the sacred color of Hinduism) flutter triumphantly above the rooftops of houses and storefronts.
Some facts are clear. In August, the popular Hindu leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati -- a leader in efforts to oppose Christian missionaries -- was attacked and hacked to death. Police blame Maoist guerrillas. Hindu leaders -- the Hindu American Foundation included -- insist that the Maoists were, in fact, converts to Christianity. As the Times article explains, the violence is also rooted in economic tensions between two tribes, the Panas (largely Christian) and the Kandhas (Hindus).
In one lurid event that has drawn worldwide news coverage, a nun said that she was repeatedly raped. The attack was also witnessed by a priest, who was severely beaten -- but gave interviews from his hospital bed. Police also, after medical examinations, have agreed with the nun's account.
This leads us to the other side of the story, as reported by the Times:
Given a chance to explain the recent violence, Subash Chauhan, the state's highest-ranking leader of Bajrang Dal, a Hindu radical group, described much of it as "a spontaneous reaction." He said in an interview that the nun had not been raped but had had regular consensual sex.
On Sunday evening, as much of Kandhamal remained under curfew, Mr. Chauhan sat in the hall of a Hindu school in the state capital, Bhubaneshwar, beneath a huge portrait of the swami. A state police officer was assigned to protect him round the clock. He cupped a trilling Blackberry in his hand.
Mr. Chauhan denied that his group was responsible for forced conversions and in turn accused Christian missionaries of luring villagers with incentives of schools and social services. He was asked repeatedly whether Christians in Orissa should be left free to worship the god of their choice. "Why not?" he finally said, but he warned that it was unrealistic to expect the Kandhas to politely let their Pana enemies live among them as followers of Jesus. ...
Besides, he said, "they are Hindus by birth."
There are many more sickening details in this report that are sure to upset the Hindu American Foundation and others who believe that their side of this story is being given short shrift.
There are, of course, factual questions that remain unsettled about these crimes. One can only hope that the Times and other publications (even Newsweek) will continue to follow the police investigation into the swami's murder and the crimes that followed it. But can they also find a way to protect India's tiny 2 percent Christian minority?
ILLUSTRATION: Hindu drawing depicting Christian missionaries "harvesting souls" of Hindu believers.