09/13/2008, 00.00
INDIA
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Orissa, the drama of the refugees: forced conversion to Hinduism or more violence

by Nirmala Carvalho
According to the government, the situation is "under control", but it has delayed the elections, and has barred entry to the district of Kandhamal. A Christian activist denounces new violence against the refugees, while Hindu fundamentalists have drawn up a list of 140 Christians "guilty" of the murder of the Swami.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) - Despite the reassurances issued by the government of Orissa, which in a document submitted to the Indian supreme court calls the situation "under control", Hindu fundamentalist violence continues against Christians. According to Sajan K George, head of the Bangalore-based Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), there is a climate of "tension" in the area, so much so that the local government has prohibited any "entry into the district of Kandhamal", and has "delayed the administrative elections".

The Christian activist denounces the drama of the refugees, who are caught between a rock and a hard place: "Many Christians", says Sajan George, "are leaving the relief camps and returning to their villages because of terror of the Hinduvata extremists at the camps; intimidation to reconvert to Hinduism is just one of the many fears of the Christians. However, residents of Rupa village in Raikia area of Kandhamal where one Rasananda Pradhan had been burnt to death during the riots are reluctant to go back, fearing further attack".

According to the leader of the GCIC, the heads of Sangh Parivar - an association of nationalist Hindu groups, including paramilitaries connected to the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) and to the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) - have prepared "a list of at least 140 Christians guilty of the assassination of Swami Laxamananda Saraswat and five of his followers", but without providing "any proof of their involvement". The list has been distributed among the Hindu fundamentalists, who have been asked to "punish the Christians" in case the government "does not provide justice". The threat has contributed to increasing the "panic" within the Christian community, already crushed by the violence in recent weeks and now facing the concrete possibility of new violence.

On Thursday, September 11, during a meeting at which some of the leaders of the main fundamentalist Hindu organizations, including the VHP, took part, there was a discussion of the future strategies to adopt after the assassination of the Swami and the spiral of violence that this led to. One of the groups present at the meeting is proposing a "social boycott" of those who work for peaceful coexistence among minorities.

Meanwhile, the list of violence against Christians in Orissa is growing longer. According to the Global Council of Indian Christians, four more corpses have been found, and Hindu fundamentalists are believed to have attacked six more villages in the area of Kurtamgarh, near Balliguda. The situation of tension is thought to have induced the government of Orissa to delay the elections. Ashok Singhal, president of the VHP, is also demanding, under threat, an end to the activity of proselytism on the part of Christians in India, and a return to the practice of Hinduism on the part of those who have embraced Christianity. On the night of September 11, some Christian families were attacked by groups of fanatics: they were able to save themselves, but their homes and possessions were destroyed.

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