By Santosh Digal, BosNewsLife Asia Correspondent
NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)– Authorities in India’s state of Orissa have forced nearly 100 survivors of anti-Christian violence to leave a local market complex where they stayed since the closure of refugee camps, Christians and officials told BosNewsLife, Thursday, February 4.
The move in G. Udaigiri town of Kandhamal district came just hours before a European Union delegation was to arrive in the area to investigate attacks against Christians in Orissa, which killed over 100 people since August 2008.
More than 90 Christians, comprising 21 families from nearly a dozen villages, were seen setting up make-shift homes of plastic sheets along the road near the New Hatupada, or ‘Weekly Market’ complex, in G. Udaigiri town.
Christians there told BosNewsLife that they fled late Wednesday, February 3, after the market leadership “and uniformed men” began locking up the pump of a well that provided water and told them “to get out.”
Only the family “of a man whose thighs are fractured and who cannot move” remained behind in the market complex, they added.
A stand-off continued early Thursday, February 4, after police reportedly asked the refugees to also break up “their shanties” along the nearby road and move out of sight of the expected EU-delegation.
Christian women protested the removal. A blackout of the mobile phone system in Kandhamal also prevented security forces to implement the removal order given by local authorities, witnesses said.
Naib Tehsildar, the civil officer in charge of the G. Udaigiri area, was not immediately available for comment. The secretary general of advocacy group All India Christian Council (AICC), John Dayal, condemned the removal of refugees.
Dayal, who is also a member of India’s National Integration Council, said he was “deeply distressed” about the “forcible evacuations” of Christian refugees.
“It is a cosmetic operation on the eve of the visit of the European delegation which will go to the district on February 4 and 5,” he added.
The 12-member delegates include diplomats from Hungary, Poland, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Britain, Finland and Sweden.
“It is a matter of regret that a drive has been launched to ensure that visiting fact finding teams, and in particular the EU delegation, do not see the real magnitude of tragedy,” Dayal said. “Much worse, the inhuman trauma of the children, women and men who have been thrice displaced, has not even been taken into official consideration.”
He said authorities so far refused to provide land or rehabilitate “this group of 91 human beings.”
Tens of thousands of other refugees are also struggling to start new lives and roughly 5,600 destroyed homes still need rebuilding, according to Christian leaders. “Contrary to the claim of government sources, normalcy has not returned in Kandhamal,” said Raphael Cheenath, archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar area.
“Many Christians are leaving in fear and intimidation from Hindu radical groups, who continue to threaten Christians and missionaries,” including with forced conversions to Hinduism, the bishop added.
Dayal said the AICC has pressured authorities to “ensure just punishment for all those who are threatening this group with forcible conversion. The authorities must also take disciplinary action against the erring officials.”
Violence in Orissa began in August, 2008, when Hindus accused Christians of murdering a Hindu leader, charges they strongly denied. When Hindu mobs began to attack Christians on August 23, 2008, thousands were forced to flee their villages and their houses and churches were burned down, witnesses said.
The EU has made clear it wants Christians to be able to return to their villages and authorities to end sectarian clashes. Christians make up just over two percent of India’s mainly Hindu population of more than one billion people. (With BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).