Christians in Orissa relief camps still afraid to return homeOctober 9th, 2008 - 12:28 pm ICT by IANS
Phulbani (Orissa), Oct 9 (IANS) Christians living in relief camps in Orissa’s volatile Kandhamal district, where communal clashes since Aug 23 have claimed at least 35 lives and rendered thousands homeless, are scared to return to their villages although officials claim that violence is on the wane. Jibit Kumar Digal, 30, has spent over a month in a relief camp at Baliguda, some 350 km from state capital Bhubaneswar, which houses more than 1,200 Christians.
Having seen Christians being killed and his house being burnt by an angry mob, he is terrified of returning to his village Barikia.
“Villagers have threatened to kill me because I am a Christian. They have said I will be welcome back only if I change my religion and become a Hindu. I don’t know what to do,” said Jibit Kumar.
Kaliamani Digal, 45, echoes the concern. “Of the 200 families in our village, only 45 are Christians. The Hindus have told us that we won’t be allowed to stay there unless we are ready to accept Hinduism. We are scared to return home,” he said.
Kaliamani has been living in the camp with his two daughters and two sons and wife since Aug 29, when their house was set on fire by a mob.
At least 35 people have been killed in the violence that erupted after the killing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four others at his Jalespata ashram on Aug 23.
Three men have been arrested and charged with the murders. Police officers claimed they were trained by Maoist rebels.
Officials Wednesday said there have been no reports of fresh arson or violence from any part of the district and Christians can return home and be safe.
“We will provide adequate security to Christians if they return home,” a police officer said.
However, there is deep fear in the hearts of the nearly 20,000 people living in relief camps in Kandhamal as well as in Bhubaneswar and Cuttack.
Many claim that they have been threatened by activists of the Hindu organisations such as VHP and Bajrang Dal although leaders of these organisations deny making any threats.
District authorities said they had received over a dozen complaints of forced conversions to Hinduism. Victims claim the administration has not taken action and in many villages people have put saffron flags at the top of their houses to escape attacks by Hindu mobs.
“The administration is just remaining silent. If you want to live in the village you have to become a Hindu and put a saffron flag atop of your house,” said Ashok Nayak, who has been living in a relief camp in Bhubaneswar with his wife and two children.
“I don’t want to go home. I want to spend my life here. I have started looking for a job,” he added.
Orissa is not new to communal violence between Hindus and Christians. On Jan 22, 1999, Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons, 10-year-old Philip and six-year-old Timothy, were burnt alive by a Hindu mob in their vehicle in Keonjhar district.