‘Over 42,000 converted to Christianity in Kandhamal, only two followed law’ (Lead)

October 26th, 2008 - 11:58 am ICT by IANS  

Kandhamal (Orissa), Oct 26 (IANS) There has been a 66 percent growth in Christian population in Orissa’s Kandhamal region, which has seen attacks on Christians and churches. Of the 42,353 who adopted Christianity between 1991 and 2001, only two followed law to change religion.According to data available with the district collectorate, the Christian population in Kandhamal was 117,950 in the 2001 census, up from 75,597 a decade earlier.

“The Christian growth rate in the district is 66 percent as against 18.6 percent for the overall population growth in the district,” District Collector Krishan Kumar told IANS.

Kumar said that the Orissa Freedom of Religious Act, which came into action in 1989, allows people to change or adopt any religion but all such individuals need to submit a form to the district magistrate.

“We have received just two applications not just between 1991 and 2001 but between 1989 and 2008. We must understand that every one must follow law,” Kumar explained.

However, he did not specify what action the district administration has taken to punish those who have violated the law.

Asked if he attributes the growth of Christian population to conversions, he said: “It could be because of two reasons - conversion and migration.”

Of the over 650,000 people in the troubled district, at least 53 percent are tribals, less than 20 percent Christians. Of the nearly 118,000 Christians, a majority has converted from Dalit families.

Kumar said that conversion, longstanding caste conflicts between tribals and Dalits, poverty and growing influence of Hindu groups among the tribal population had led to several communal clashes in recent years.

Ever since the killing of Swami Laxmanananda, a Hindu religious leader, and four of his supporters by unidentified gunmen Aug 23, anti-Christian violence has been boiling in Kandhamal.

While Maoists have claimed responsibility for the murders, the Hindu leader’s supporters have insisted that Christians were behind the murder. The Orissa Police are investigating the case.

At least 38 people including a Central Reserve Police Force trooper lost their lives in clashes. While over 3,000 houses, mostly belonging to Christians, were gutted or vandalized in Kandhamal, over 23,000 people fled from their villages fearing death.

“Yes, there is a growth in Christian population but that does not mean fanatics from organisations like Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad can kill people,” Hemant Naik, a rights activists from Udaygiri town, told IANS.

“While talking about conversion, we must also talk about reconversion. While no one has complained about their change in faith to Christianity, 62 people have registered complaints about forced reconversion to Hinduism,” said another activist, Issac Digal.

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