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Specter of violence haunts Christians in Odisha

Christian leaders ask government to provide protection against Hindu mobs

Updated: January 08, 2016 03:22 AM GMT
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Specter of violence haunts Christians in Odisha

Indian Christians in this 2008 file photo hold placards as they shout slogans to draw attention to continued anti-Christian violence in Odisha. (Photo by Raveendran/AFP)

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Christian leaders have appealed to authorities for protection against Hindu hardliners who continue to threaten their communities in eastern Indian Odisha state that has witnessed major anti-Christian violence.

Father Manoj Kumar Nayak, director of Cuttuck-Bhubaneswar Archdiocese's social work department, said tensions continue in Kandhamal district, epicenter of violence seven years ago.

Christian leaders are now appealing to state authorities to act against anyone who block roads and tries to restrict the movement of local Christians and clergy.

Christian leader Amir Nayak said mobs have been blocking roads in the tribal-dominated district that witnessed several instances of violence against Christians, the worst being four-months of violence that broke out in September 2008. Rampaging Hindu mobs that month burned down Christian houses, convents and churches and raped women. At least 100 people were killed and some 50,000 were displaced.

Fearful 2015 Christmas

During the most recent Christmas season, mobs again blocked roads in the area. Using a strike that called for tribal rights as a pretext, the mobs blocked roads on Christmas morning with logs and stones in several villages.

Although police later cleared the roads, "Christmas was celebrated under trembling fear and sadness," Amir said.

Father Santosh Digal from Cuttuck-Bhubaneswar Archdiocese said the roadblocks always create panic among local Christians because of past experiences. Hindu hardliners mainly block roads to ensure that villagers were unable to get any help during an attack, he said.

Since the 2008 violence, similar acts have been regularly carried out.

During Christmas, Amir said that in Kellapada village there were around 200 people in open vehicles waving red flags and shouting slogans hailing Hindu lord Ram.

"But the presence of police at almost all of the churches ensured nothing happened," Amir said.

"We have heard that they made a route map to attack different churches but given the police presence any attacks were deterred,” he said.

"But at any time violence might break out in Kandhamal," said Amir.

In a further effort to get help to end the threats they face, Amir and other Christian leaders have written a report about the issue which will be submitted to state chief minister Naveen Patnaik and to the National Human Rights Commission.

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