Bhubaneshwar (AsiaNews) - Groups of Hindu radicals have burned a number of homes belonging to Christians over the night of October 19, in the district of Kandhamal (Orissa). The government of the state says that the situation "is returning to normal," but the bishops of the region, in a statement published today, say that "the Christians of Kandhamal have lost faith in the state government, and they feel that their fundamental right to live has been totally taken away by the constitutionally elected government."
Fr. Manoj Digal, head of rural affairs for the social center of the diocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar, tells AsiaNews that "every night, defying the curfew imposed from 10 o'clock until 5 in the morning, extremist Hindu groups roam around the villages in these remote areas with flashlights, bringing destruction everywhere they go. On the night of October 19, a number of homes belonging to Christians were burned in the area of Ratingia and Kurmingia. The few homes that were spared from the destruction in August were razed to the ground."
"After the physical destruction and human casualties," the priest continues, "now it is the turn of the animals. Hens, goats, buffalo and oxen are being stolen. In various villages, after the destruction of the homes belonging to Christians, the extremists are killing the goats and hens, and celebrating amid the ruins of the Christian village."
Similar raids have taken place at the hospital of the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa's order) in Srasananda. The facility served leprosy and tuberculosis patients, and had already been destroyed by Hindu extremists last December. After being partially rebuilt, it was attacked again last August.
In recent days, Oscar Lete, the superior of the house, was able to visit the village and the remains of the hospital. "This time," he tells AsiaNews, "the extremists really did destroy everything: mattresses, pillows, shutters, doors, everything was destroyed. The domesticated animals were stolen, and so was our food. Everything has become desolate and despoiled."
The ransacking and destruction of farming resources makes the return of Christian to their land increasingly unlikely. "At least 12,000 Christians," says Fr. Manoj, "have abandoned the refugee camps set up by the government, and have migrated to neighboring states, where they will have to begin a new life with absolutely nothing, not even an identification document. It is a tremendous human tragedy, an extremely serious violation of human rights."
The government of Orissa continues to give assurances that the situation is returning to normal, but this is not convincing.
In a joint statement published today, the bishops of Orissa and the Indian bishops' conference instead say that "after 54 days of attacks on Christians in Kandhamal, the situation in the district and in other parts of Orissa is still tense and insecure. Christians are afraid to return to their villages as threats of death have forced many of them to flee in to the forest or to live in dehumanizing condition in state-run relief camps. The camps have become half-sized - not because the people have returned to their respective villages, but because they have migrated to other districts and other states in search of safety. Christians of Kandhamal have lost faith in the state government and they feel that their fundamental right to live has been totally taken away by the constitutionally elected government.
The bishops are urgently calling for the opening of investigations into the violence, the killing of 60 Christians, the rape and destruction, and demand "just and adequate compensation" for the people and institutions affected.
In recent days, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has met with representatives of the World Council of Churches. He has promised them that the government is concerned about rebuilding the damaged or destroyed churches, and has decided to send a commission to preparer a reconstruction plan. Its members will include Christians.
Singh's statement has been criticized by extremist groups. The group for tribal affairs in Kandhamal, connected to the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), has immediately come out in opposition to the proposal. "Not a single church on the lands of Kandhas would be allowed in Kandhamal," says Laxmikant Das, secretary general of the group.