Some 4,000 Christian and Hindu women rallied on Tuesday for peace and development in the strife-torn district of Kandhamal in Orissa, eastern India. Nearly 75 percent women participants were Hindus and the organizers claimed this was the first meeting in four years where women from the two religions came together. They walked four km through the streets of Phiringia, 30 km from the district headquarters of Phulbani. The small town had witnessed violence, including burning of a police station and killing of a police officer during the 2008 anti-Christian violence. The women carried placards and shouted slogans for equality, dignity and livelihoods. Devendra Kanhar, who represents Phulbani in the state legislative assembly, asked the women to work for equality and dignity. He urged the gathering to treat boys and girls as equal. Saila Behera, a woman activist, said women should approach the government with dignity and demand for their rights. She urged women to make use of their rights for development. She also asked government officials not to exploit women but assist them to obtain government programs. Sandhya Barik, another activist, said that women should not succumb to societal pressures and shun dowry culture prevalent among dalit (former low caste) and tribal groups. Sister Justine Senapati, one of the organizers, said women have managed to unite the two communities. Women, she told the gathering, are symbols of unity and reconciliations and they should forget the past and work for future.
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