11/20/2008, 00.00
INDIA

Orissa authorities admit more anti-Christian attacks possible

by Nirmala Carvalho
Chief Minister acknowledges that not every block in state has been pacified despite the authorities’ best efforts. Farmers’ flight into the forest has jeopardized this year’s harvest. Christian leaders prepare memorandum, laying out necessary emergency steps, for Union cabinet’s consideration.
Bhubaneshwar (AsiaNews) – Three months after anti-Christian violence broke out in Kandhamal, Orissa’s Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik admitted that at least three of the district’s 12 predominantly Tribal blocks “are not yet calm”. Previously for weeks he had repeated that “everything was under control”. His change of heart coincided with the arrival of three Union ministers in the state.

“Raikia, G Udaygiri and Tikabali blocks are not yet calm as it should be,” the chief minister said a few hours after Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar described the situation in Kandhamal as “tense” though efforts were on to restore normalcy.

Patnaik did never the less say that peace and harmony had to be restored to make it easier for refugees to come home.

Government officials are in fact complaining that economic activities could come to a complete halt in the district as land lay uncultivated following owners’ flight, general insecurity and persistent fear of new attacks.

Farming stopped in late August as farmers took to the forests. Harvest has not yet started and if there is no change to the situation, most of the produce is bound to be lost.

Orissa Christian leaders handed the three visiting Union minister a memorandum, highlighting what they believe are the priorities of the situation.

The delegation from the central government included Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Meira Kumar and Tribal Affairs Minister Paty Ripple Kyndiah. In the document handed to the ministers, bishops and human rights activists describe some of things they would like to see addressed in the next Union cabinet meeting.

Christians want local elections in some Kandhamal districts to be postponed, an end to physical and verbal violence against the Christian community, and the condemnation of the bandh (general strike) called by Hindu fundamentalists against last year’s Christmas celebrations

Christians demand the right to celebrate Christmas free of any threat of new violence or attacks. They want displaced people to be able to come home and resume their work as usual, ‘Peace Committees’ to be established in every block with adequate representation from all religious groups, temporary offices set up to issue legal papers and an end to forced conversions.

Mgr Raphael Cheenath, archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar, Swarupananda Patra, chairman of the Orissa Minority Forun, and Sajan K. George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, are among those who signed the petition presented to government representatives.

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