Image: India police
Biswaranjan Rout  /  AP
Police personnel stand guard in front of a church in Bhubaneswar, India, Monday, during a strike called by the World Hindu Council to protest Saturday's killing of a Hindu religious leader and four others by suspected communist rebels in another district of the state. 
updated 8/25/2008 5:42:50 PM ET 2008-08-25T21:42:50

Suspected Hindu hard-liners set fire Monday to an orphanage run by Christian missionaries in eastern India, killing one woman and seriously injuring a priest, police said.

Ashok Biswal, superintendent of police, said the woman was a 21-year-old teacher giving computer training to children at the orphanage. Initial reports that the woman was a nun were incorrect, he said

The attack occurred in Khuntapali, a village in Orissa state, during a strike called by the World Hindu Council to protest the killing Saturday of a Hindu religious leader and four others by suspected communist rebels in another district of the state, Biswal told The Associated Press.

Biswal said on Monday a group of Hindu hard-liners converged on the orphanage in Khuntapali, nearly 250 miles west of the state capital of Bhubaneshwar, and asked nearly 20 residents to leave the complex.

They then set the orphanage on fire with the woman and priest locked inside, he said.

The woman died and the priest was hospitalized with serious burns, Biswal said. He added that doctors now said the priest was "out of danger."

In 1999, an Australian missionary, Graham Staines, and his two sons were killed by a Hindu mob that set their car on fire.

The region is marked by religious tensions between Christian missionaries who work with mostly poor tribes in the region and hard-line Hindu groups that claim the Christians are forcing or bribing people to convert.

Churches deny that residents have been pressured or bribed to change their religious beliefs.

Indian law accepts missionaries but bars forced conversions. Nevertheless, any missionary activity generally provokes controversy.

Hindus account for 84 percent of India's more than 1.1 billion population and Christians about 2.4 percent.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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