Security up at churches in Orissa’s Kandhamal district

December 24th, 2008 - 1:19 pm ICT by IANS  

Bhubaneswar, Dec 23 (IANS) Security has been beefed up at around 30 churches in Orissa’s communally sensitive Kandhamal district to ensure that Christmas celebrations pass off peacefully, police said Wednesday.“Security has been beefed up at around 30 churches. We are doing intensive patrolling across the district,” District Superintendent of Police S. Praveen Kumar told IANS.

“There are some people who want to create trouble and they are spreading rumours that the situation is tense, but let me tell you the situation is absolutely normal in the district,” he said.

“The leaders of the Christian community have given to me in writing that they will celebrate midnight mass in the district,” Kumar said, refuting reports that people in remote forested areas of the region had been told to skip midnight mass.

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

Security has also been tightened in all the relief camps where preparations are underway for Christmas celebrations, an official said.

Three companies of the Rapid Action Forces (RAF) and two units of the Orissa Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF) have also been deployed at strategic locations, he said.

A delegation led by Cuttack-Bhubaneswar Archbishop Raphael Cheenath had met Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik Saturday and asked him to provide adequate security to churches and Christian organisations in the state.

Hindu groups had given a shutdown call on Christams day Thursday, demanding immediate arrest of all the people involved in the murders of Saraswati and his aides. On Friday, they called off their proposed shutdown after assurances from the government. Seven people have already been arrested for the killings.

But the Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati Shradhanjali Samiti, an organisation linked to VHP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), said instead of the shutdown, it would organise prayer meetings across the state on Christmas.

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