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Police raise presence in Kandhamal

Security stepped up for riot anniversary

<p>The ruins of a Christian church in Sikoketa in the Raikia block of Kandhamal district</p>

The ruins of a Christian church in Sikoketa in the Raikia block of Kandhamal district

  • Ritu Sharma, New Delhi
  • India
  • August 20, 2013
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Officials in Orissa state’s Kandhamal district have stepped up security in sensitive areas ahead of the anniversary of sectarian violence in 2008 during which more than 100 Christians were killed by Hindu mobs and many more were injured or sexually assaulted.

“We have deployed police … to avoid any untoward incident," N Tirumala Nayak, the district collector, told ucanews.com.

Nayak, the highest government official in the district, said no specific threats have been made against Christians and that the increased deployment of police was only a precaution.

The district endured seven weeks of violence that broke out on Aug 25, 2008, in which Hindu extremists targeted the Christian community, assaulted several women including a Catholic nun and burned homes, churches and orphanages owned or run by Christians.

Christian residents say they fear for their safety, despite reassurances from authorities.

“We are living in fear all the time. According to the rioters [in 2008], anybody who wants to live here has to be a Hindu or has to become one by converting,” said Kartik Nayak, a Christian youth leader in the Barakhama area, home to a large Christian community.

“Police have also started patrolling in our area and asking if there is any trouble from the other community,” he added.

Several others in Barakhama said they fear attacks from Hindus on the anniversary, which also commemorates the murder of Hindu leader Laxmanananda – an event that triggered the violence.

Maoist rebels subsequently claimed responsibility for Laxmananada’s killing, but the blame was pinned on Christians.

“The Hindu fundamentalists want to kill us. They threaten us day and night,” said Nayak, adding that the smallest provocation could lead to violence.

Barakhama was hard hit during the 2008 violence. Two people were killed and all 322 Christian homes in the settlement were burned.

“We fear them. They killed my husband just because he was a Christian. We cannot do anything. They are in the majority,” said Loorma Digal, whose husband was shot dead by the rioters.

However, district collector Nayak said he had not received any information on specific threats to the Christian community. “We also have sources on the ground that update us about the situation and everything is peaceful,” he added.

Despite their fears, Christians say they will observe the anniversary with peaceful programs including workshops, rallies and demonstrations in the state capital of Bhubaneswar, said Fr Ajay Kumar Singh, chief coordinator of the commemorative events and an advocate who works on behalf of victims of the violence.

Fr Singh added that a rally has been scheduled for August 30 in Phulbani town in Kandhamal to demand justice for the victims of the 2008 violence, which will include participants from civil society, the Church and human rights organizations.

Few suspects have been convicted in the five years since the riots broke out, and those that have received only minor sentences. Thousands more, say victims, have escaped justice.

“We will submit a memorandum of our demands to the district head and the governor of the state,” Fr Singh said.

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