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Protect Christians or step down, India's top court instructs officials in Orissa January 06, 2009

In a searing criticism of the Hindu-nationalist government leadership in Orissa, India's top federal court has said that state leaders should resign if they cannot stop violence against the Christian minority there.

"We will not accept the persecution of minority. If the state government is unable to protect them, it should resign," declared the federal court. The court was responding to a petition for protection entered by Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Bhubaneswar. The petition cited the lack of security especially in the Kandhamal district, where thousands of Christians have fled from their homes to escape roaming Hindu mobs.

"It is the duty of the state government to protect the minority community," the federal court stated. Addressing their criticism directly to government leaders, the judges said that officials in Orissa had offered protection to Christians "only after 50,000 people of the minority community fled to the jungles."

The orchestrated violence against Christians in Kandhamal was let lose by Hindu groups following the murder of Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati-- the foremost figure among the Hindu nationalist groups in Orissa-- who was shot dead on August 23. Although Maoist rebels claimed responsibility for the murder, Hindu groups said the murder of the Hindu leader was a Christian conspiracy. In the aftermath of the killing, Hindu mobs attacked Christians in dozens of locations over a period of several weeks, with local police doing little to curb the violence. More than 70 Christians were killed, and over 6,000 homes looted or destroyed along with 200 churches. Roughly half of the 100,000 Christians in the Kandhamal district were driven from their homes.