Christmas may be low a key affair in Kandhamal (Lead)

December 22nd, 2008 - 11:17 pm ICT by IANS  

Bhubaneswar, Dec 22 (IANS) Christmas celebration this year may be a low-key affair in the forested Kandhamal district where communal violence killed at least 38 people in recent months, officials and Christians leaders said Monday.”We have told people to perform midnight mass as per their convenience. Some churches are located in remote forested and hilly areas,” Swarupananda Patra, general secretary of the All Orissa Baptist Churches Federation, told IANS.

“It may not be safe for some people to return home after performing midmight mass at those churches,” he said, adding: “We have also advised people to perform midnight mass at relief camps.”

The federation runs around 3,440 churches in Orissa and of them 1,000 are in Kandhamal district alone.

Fearing communal violence during Christmas celebrations, authorities in Kandhamal district have sought more security forces from the state government.

“We may have violence. We have sought three companies of the Rapid Action Forces (RAF) and two units of the ODRAF (Orissa Disaster Rapid Action Force),” District Collector Krishan Kumar told IANS.

Around 4,000 policemen and security personnel have been deployed after Kandhamal witnessed widespread communal violence in August and September following the killing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his aides at his ashram Aug 23.

At least 38 people were killed in the state and thousands were forced to flee their homes after their houses were attacked by mobs in retaliation for the murders.

About 8,000 people are still living in government-run relief camps in Kandhamal, about 200 km from here. Hindu extremist groups blamed Christians for Laxmanananda’s murder, though Christian groups have denied this repeatedly.

“We don’t want to take any chance. We have organised more than 150 peace rallies across the district and have intensified patrolling on the roads. Every vehicle coming to the district is being checked,” said Kumar.

“We are also identifying possible trouble-makers on the basis of intelligence inputs and asking them to give in writing that they will not create any disturbance,” he added.

Christian leaders in Orissa Saturday met Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and requested him to provide necessary security to churches in the state to ensure a peaceful Christmas celebration.

A delegation led by Cuttack-Bhubaneswar Archbishop Raphael Cheenath told Patnaik that the community members were apprehending trouble even if Hindu groups have called off the state-wide shutdown earlier announced for Dec 25.

The state government said it has beefed up security around churches across the state.

Hindu groupscalled for Dec 25 shutdown demanding immediate arrest of all the people involved in the murders that triggered communal violence in the state.

On Friday, they called off the proposed shutdown after assurances from the government. The police have already arrested seven people and charged them with the murders.

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