By BosNewsLife Asia Correspondent Santosh Digal
BHUBANESWAR, INDIA (BosNewsLife)– About 100 survivors of anti-Christian violence in India’s Orissa state have been ordered by the local government to leave a local market complex where they stayed since the closure of relief camps.
News of the order to leave the complex in G. Udaygiri town of Kandhamal District, came just shortly before a European Commission team was to visit the region. Christians said Friday, January 15, it seems an attempt by authorities to ‘show’ to the outside world that the government “has brought back normalcy in” the area, where over 100 people are believed to have died in attacks since August 2008. The violence broke out after Hindus accused Christians of murdering a Hindu leader, charges they strongly denied.
“The local government has ordered to vacate people immediately and if we refuse police force will be used,” worried survivors told BosNewsLife. When Hindu mobs began to attack Christians on August 23, 2008, they were forced to leave their villages and their houses were burnt down, Christians said.
They apparently had to take shelter in relief camps, but were forced to leave from there after the new Biju Janata Dal party government and its hard-line Hindu ally came to power. The Christians moved towards a market complex where, they said, they have been living as “beggars”. There was concern Friday, January 18, that the Christians will have to leave by Sunday, January 17. “Where can we go with these two babies?” asked a crying mother, Menaka Nayak, who is 25.
Her youngest baby was born in the relief camp, before she was forced to leave to the market. “We cannot go back to our village, because they will not allow us to live there if we do not convert to Hinduism,” she said. “The government is not prepared to provide security and necessary helps. “On top of it they are trying to throw us out from here also.”
Moses Nayak, who said he had been prevented by “Hindu fundamentalists” to come back to his village Ratingia, refused to change his religion: He currently depends on daily wages of hard labour work. An elderly couple from R.Padikia village said they are also “debarred to come back” to their “ancestral land” because they refused to produce their two sons in front of an angry Hindu mob, who described their children as “pastors”.
They are among an estimated 20,000 people who have left Kandhamal, where most clashes occurred. Another 5,000 people are trapped inside the district and live as wondering refugees because have no money to leave, but are not allowed to return to their villages.
The district administration says it has “ensured security, peace and rehabilitation” to the survivors, but Christians on the ground view that differently. Survivors BosNewsLife spoke to at the market complex, said they came from seventeen villages and are “virtually landless” and “legally not entitled to claim” house damage compensation provided by the government because they do not have records or rights over the lands they used to have their houses since generations.
Hindu militants also do not allow them to return, Christians said. Very few people have been given compensation of roughly 10,000 Indian Rupees (roughly $220). “Even after seventeen months, there is no indication of justice for the survivors of communal violence in Khandamal,” said priest Ajay Kumar Singh, Director of Jana Vikas, or ‘People’s Welfare’ a leading Non Governmental Organization in Kandhamal.
MANY CHURCHES DESTROYED
“There were 295 churches and 6,000 houses burnt down apart from schools, hospitals and other institutions. The victims are none other than poor [Christian] tribals and Dalits,” the lowest caste in India’s ancient system of Hinduism. “Urgent action is needed from the government to take care of the needs of the refugees of communal violence who have been reduced to the level of beggars and second class citizens,” he added.
“This is not a matter of charity, but a fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution of India,” he said. The office building with all accessories belonging to Jana Vikas was destroyed on 25 August 2008. “It appears that the existence of refugees of communalism is threatening to the image of the Orissa Government,” added Dhirendra Panda, a human activist from Orissa.
“That is the reason why they are trying to remove them instead of facilitating their security and rightful restoration.” Sarat Nayak from Dakedi, a landless labour who cannot go back to his village, complained of the “indifference of school authorities” to get his child admitted in any other school. Many children within age group of 5-14, who are staying in a non-official camp, had to discontinue their studies and there is no visible action by the local administration to bring back these children to schools again, Christians said.