Date: August 26, 2013
Hindu radicals burned hundreds of vehicles used by Christian individuals and ministries. (Image courtesy Global Council of Indian Christians, caption courtesy GFA)
India (MNN) ― It was five years ago this weekend that Christians in India's Odisha (formerly Orissa) state faced mass genocide.
"I witnessed the beatings and abuse and suffering of so many people," he says.
Radical Hindu swami Lakshamananda Saraswati led an assortment of militant Hindu groups in Orissa. One of them was the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), or World Hindu Council.
"This is the Taliban in Hinduism," Yohannan explained in 2008. "These people believe India must be a Hindu nation. All else must go."
When Saraswati was assassinated by Communists on August 23, 2008, his death was quickly blamed on Christ-followers. Hundreds of Christians were killed, and over 1,000 homes and nearly 30 large churches were destroyed when radical Hindus went on a rampage.
Fast-forward five years.
"The government promised they would find the culprits and punish them and do whatever it takes to help," recalls Yohannan. "Still, it's a long, long wait.
Anti-Christian sentiment is still thriving. Believers who survived the 2008 violence continue to face harassment and assault. In 2012 alone, Yohannan says, between 30 and 40 young girls were raped.
"There is really no closure to this thing," he says. "Thousands of people are living in the slums in the capital city Bhubaneswar."
GFA teams are showing them Christ's love in practical ways.
"Some of our missionaries go there and work with them and care for them, and do what we can," says Yohannan. "I think that is the part, the job, of the Body of Christ no matter where we are."
Why isn't more being done to help them?
"The answer is very simple," says Yohannan. "Jesus said, 'I am sending you as sheep among wolves.'
"In any of these communities where Christian faith is seen as the enemy…, there's lots of persecution, suffering, and there's no justice."
According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, the conviction rate in Odisha is around 30%, much higher than the national average. However, most of those convicted for 2008 violence are now on bail.
"We cry out to the government and officials, and the courthouses, but justice is never given to the followers of Christ," says Yohannan.
In the face of such persecution, Yohannan says GFA's direction is clear.
"Our job is to keep on talking to the government and file reports to the government and the police stations," he says. "The judicial system is the only thing there is if there's going to be any kind of protection."
Yohannan has spoken with some of the new government leaders in Odisha and says their intent to help is sincere.
"In some places, yes, they are helping us," he says. "But the anti-Christian communities and the fundamentalists still continue to create problems."
Ongoing anti-Christian sentiment, anti-conversion laws, and the continuation of radical Hinduism point to a bleak future for Christ-followers in Odisha.
"We do not think persecution is going to be going down," says Yohannan. "No, I think it will be more in the days to come."
He's calling on believers in free nations to act.
"We need to understand this and be praying, and sympathize and do everything we can to relieve the suffering [in] whatever way we can," says Yohannan.
"Learn what is going on and be engaged in prayer," Yohannan encourages. "We are always looking for brothers and sisters not only [to] pray, but to share their resources so that we can continue [to] help bring hope and relief for the suffering.
"Information should never satisfy us, but it must drive us to do something about it."