Indian Christians in Kandhamal, Odisha, protest Aug. 27 to mark the eighth anniversary of the country’s worst anti-Christian violence. (Photo by Santosh Digal)
Over 10,000 people protested in Kandhamal district of the eastern Indian state of Odisha to mark the eighth anniversary of the country’s worst anti-Christian violence.
Carrying placards and banners, protesters on Aug. 27 demanded justice for the victims of the violence
The 2008 anti-Christian violence engulfed more than 600 villages and killed about 100 people, including disabled and elderly people, children and women.
Some 350 churches and 6,500 houses were looted and burned down, making 56,000 people homeless. Several rapes were reported, including that of a Catholic nun.
The anti-Christian rioting was sparked by the gunning down in Aug. 23, 2008, of a Hindu spiritual leader, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, 85, and four of his associates.
Hindu extremists blamed Christians for the murders even though Maoists at that time had claimed responsibility for the deaths.
The killings unleashed a reign of terror the following day that lasted for four months in the tribal-dominated Kandhamal district in Odisha (formerly Orissa) state. The state had also witnessed an earlier round of anti-Christian violence during Christmas 2007.
"People are in fear. There have been subtle expressions from right-wing activists that anything can happen anywhere. The hatred has not been fully rooted out," Father Santosh Digal who was part of the protest told ucanews.com.
He said that the state government is supposed to ensure security and safety of Christians but "reality and expectations are two different things."
The protesters demanded reopening of cases of violence and a thorough and independent inquiry by impartial police officers and prosecutors.
Father Ajay Singh, who has been fighting for the rights of the Kandhamal victims, told ucanews.com that the state government needs to implement a recent judgment of the Supreme Court of India to provide additional compensation to the victims.
The court on Aug. 2 called the compensation granted to victims of communal violence in Odisha’s Kandhamal district "inadequate."
He said that even though the court had asked for the re-opening of 315 cases of violence, "there is no direction as to how to go about it."
He said that about 40 churches and 52 NGOs and other voluntary organizations that were burnt or damaged in the violence have not been listed for compensation.
"The situation is still not very good. The victims are suffering and some are still in rehabilitation camps and not able to return home even eight years after the violence," he said.