NEW DELHI — In an embarrassing development for the Indian government here, the homes of between 150 and 250 Christian families were burned on Tuesday in Orissa - the same state where on Jan. 22 a mob of Hindu nationalists set fire to and killed an Australian missionary and his two sons as they slept in their car.
The latest attack - which according to India's Star TV was preceded by days of building tension - involved a crowd of a reported 500 pro-Hindu activists who burned the homes of Christians in the village of Ranalai, about 150 miles south of Bubaneshwar, the state capital. Several hundred newly homeless villagers are reportedly roaming the countryside in a 110 degree F. heat wave that claimed several lives in the past week.
The violence comes as the pro-Hindu government of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is trying to present a moderate face of the right wing of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Officials for 24 hours put the number of homes burned at between 10 and 25, trying to downplay the attack's significance.
Next week India's Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh is scheduled to address increasing international pressure over what has been an anti-Christian campaign in rural villages - a campaign that seemed to start with the election of the BJP one year ago. Mr. Singh will speak at the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva in an attempt to play down the attacks, which have included the rape of nuns, burning of Bibles, and intimidation of locals by strong-arm Hindu groups. India is 2 percent Christian.