By Joseph C. DeCaro, BosNewsLife International Correspondent
NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)– Two years after losing relatives and property in anti-Christian violence that killed over 100 people, survivors in India’s Orissa state are still being pressured to “return” to Hinduism, according to a human rights investigation.
A preliminary report of a fact-finding team seen by BosNewsLife said that “Despite the state administration’s claim of normalcy, a state of lawlessness and utter fear and sense of insecurity” is prevalent among the Christians in Kandhamal district where anti-Christian violence broke out in 2008.
The team, composed of prominent attorney Nicholas Barla and rights activists Jugal Kishore Ranjit and Ajay Kumar Singh, visited four villages in three blocks of Kandhamal in early November. (Pictured Hindu violence against Christians in Orissa).
In Bodimunda village in Tikabali, the team met a pastor who said he was closely watched after Hindu extremists forced him to become a Hindu, the report said. The pastor, whose name was withheld, was quoted as saying he had to convert to Hinduism to spare his aged mother, who could not escape as she was not able to walk.
In the same village, “Hindu nationalists” also banned any vehicle used to transport Christians or their belongings while prohibiting Christians from obtaining food, medicines and other basic needs, rights activists said.
“We are not allowed to bring in provisions or medicines,” added a local Christian speaking on condition of anonymity. “Nor are we allowed to buy anything from local shops, since we do not have any shops of our own, we are struggling to survive,” the Christian explained.
The team said it also found pictures of Hindu idols that Christians were forced to publicly display to protect their families from retaliation. “Many Christians complained that local administrators did little to protect them and suspect these same officials colluded with local Hindu nationalists against them,” they said.
Violence in Kandhamal and other districts in Orissa broke out in August 2008 after the assassination of Hindu nationalist leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati.
Although Maoist rebels reportedly claimed responsibility, Hindu militants blamed Christians for the murder, prompting violence that killed over 100 people.
Some 4,640 houses, 252 churches and 13 educational institutions were destroyed, according to estimates by human rights groups.
According to a 2001 census, of the 648,201 people living in Kandhamal district, 117,950 are Christians, most of whom are Dalit, formerly referred to as “untouchables” under India’s ancient system of Hinduism.