Bhubaneswar (AsiaNews) – Two years after anti-Christian pogroms broke out in the Indian state of Orissa, Hindus in some 20 villages in Kandhamal District continue to treat more than 4,000 Christians as social outcaste, pressuring them with force to convert. Beside fears, threats and total banishment from the local economy, Christians are not allowed to use public fountains or collect wood in the forest.
“People are living in misery,” said Mgr Raphael Cheenath, SVD, Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, at a press conference in Bhubaneswar last Monday. “They need to live a dignified life. The Orissa State government has an obligation to do something about it and protect Christians from this inhuman treatment,” he added.
The prelate urged local authorities to compensate those who suffered losses during the pogroms and now find themselves homeless. He slammed the puny sums given out so far, US$ 1,000 for destroyed homes and US$ 400 for damaged homes.
“The Orissa State Government must raise compensation, from Rs. 5 lakhs (US$ 1,000) to Rs. 20 lakhs (US$ 4,000) to rebuild damaged Churches, religious and public institutions, NGOs, including the furniture and other fixtures that were destroyed with the buildings in the violence,” Archbishop Cheenath said.
At the start, the government made an “arbitrary” assessment to determine victims’ compensation, and did so without consulting them to find out their needs. Thus, “About 12,500 people have been resettled in their houses;” however, “About 17,500 people are still displaced and have a right to be resettled by the state government,” the archbishop added.
Between December 2007 and August 2008, Hindu extremists killed 93 people, sacked and torched more than 6,500 homes, destroyed 350 churches and 45 schools. The pogroms displaced more than 50,000 people.
So far, most of the perpetrators of these crimes are free. Many witnesses scheduled to appear at trials taking place at the Kandhamal courthouse have been silenced through threats and acts of discrimination.
Between 22 and 24 August, victims, human rights activists and religious leaders organised a people’s court in New Delhi to shed light on what happened and push India’s central government to intervene.