About 100 people, holding signs protesting Hindu-on-Christian violence in the Indian state of Orissa, demonstrated in front of the White House on Thursday to get the attention of visiting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Although there was no sign that anyone in Mr. Singh’s motorcade even saw the drenched crowd of Indians and Americans clustered under a forest of umbrellas, several of those standing in Lafayette Park waved signs such as “Stop the Gang Rape of Nuns” and “Shame on India.”
“The government is taking no action,” said Christy John, an Indian pharmacologist with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration who clutched a sign saying “Stop the Killing of Priests and Nuns.”
“The police know beforehand of the attacks but they show up after the fact.”
At least 26 people have died and 3,000 Christian homes have been destroyed along with 134 houses of worship, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which on Monday asked President Bush to press Mr. Singh to stop the monthlong killing spree.
Bernard Malik, president of the Federation of Indian Christian Organizations of North America, put the number of dead at 58.
Several Catholic clergy attended the demonstrations, and retired Washington Auxiliary Bishop Leonard Olivier denounced the killings as “unbelievable carnage.”
“It is reported they force Christians to bow before Hindu gods and threaten them with death if they do not denounce Christianity and accept Hinduism,” he said.
The Indian Embassy and the Hindu American Foundation did not immediately return calls asking for comment.
The violence began Aug. 23, when Swami Laxmananda Saraswati, a member of the Hindu fundamentalist organization Vishwa Hindu Parishad, was killed along with four disciples. Although the Indian government fingered revolutionary Maoists as the killers, many Hindus blamed Christians, saying it was a revenge attack for widespread religious violence against Christians last December.
Within a week, Hindu extremists had attacked 35 Christian sites around Orissa, one of India’s most impoverished regions. The Catholic archdiocese of Bhubaneshwar’s pastoral center was attacked by a mob of 500, then bombed. A priest and a nun working there were beaten up, stripped and paraded naked. The nun was then raped, according to Catholic News Service.
Four other priests were severely beaten and one of them suffered severe burns and is now in critical condition. The mob also ransacked a church-run orphanage near Burgarh, and the caretaker, Rajni Maji, was set ablaze and burned to death, according to Asia News, an Italian Catholic news service.
The violence then spread to the neighboring state of Madhya Pradesh, where a convent of Carmelite nuns was attacked and the cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Jabalpur was set on fire.
Pope Benedict XVI condemned the attacks on Aug. 27. On Aug. 29, the Catholic Bishops Conference of India closed all 25,000 Catholic schools across the country to protest the government’s seeming inability to stop the violence.