In Kandhamal, residents display saffron flags to save life, property

October 29th, 2008 - 11:47 am ICT by IANS  

Kandhamal (Orissa), Oct 29 (IANS) Madhuri Dalbehara was stringing flowers under a saffron flag quite assured that no one would torch her house in anti-Christian violence-hit Kandhamal - a telling indication of the fear that Hindu fundamentalists have spread across the district.”We have displayed these flags to ward off any attack on us,” said Dalbehara, who is a Christian.

“There is Hindu-Christian violence in our region. This flag is an indication that we are Hindus. No one has attacked our house so far,” she smiled, asking a visiting IANS correspondent if he had “come from abroad to do research in the district over the violence.”

“It is a sensitive area and by hoisting the flag, we have made sure no one does any harm to us,” she added.

Thousands of houses across the district display saffron flags to give the impression that the residents are Hindus while, in fact, they are Christians.

“It’s better to protect your house and if a flag can save our lives then there is nothing wrong in displaying it,” said Nabghan Chinara, a resident of the G. Udaygiri neighbourhood, pointing to the tiny flag fluttering on the roof.

“There is no animosity between tribals and Christians here. We were all living happily but outsiders are spreading hatred. They might have some political motive,” said Rajesh Pradhan, another resident.

Anti-Christian violence has been boiling in Kandhamal ever since the Aug 23 killing of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, a Hindu religious leader, and four of his supporters. While the Maoists have claimed responsibility for the murders, Hindu fundamentalists insist that Christians were behind the murder.

“I am not branding Hindus as criminals or fundamentalists but activists of Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad are trying to bring in fascism in Orissa. We won’t allow Orissa to become another Gujarat,” said Swarupanand Patra, president of the Orissa Minority Forum, while referring to the anti-Muslim pogrom in the western Indian state following the Feb 27, 2002, Godhra train burning.

“They are asking our Christian brothers to convert into Hinduism or else face death. Is this democracy? Why is the state government so slow in punishing the culprits?” asked Patra, who is also president of the Orissa YMCA.

True to his allegation, there are posters and wall writings in Kandhamal asking Christians to convert to Hinduism. One such in Gadar Gaon read: “If Christians want peace, then they must adopt Hinduism…if you will not adopt Hinduism then the district will continue to boil”.

“This is a Hindu country and only Hindus will stay here,” said a message inscribed on a torched house.

At least 38 people, including a Central Reserve Police Force trooper, have lost their lives in communal clashes in the district following Saraswati’s killing. While over 3,000 houses, mostly belonging to Christians, have been gutted or vandalized in Kandhamal, over 23,000 people have fled from their villages, fearing death.

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