Bhubaneshwar (AsiaNews) - Three Christian houses, were set on fire by Hindu extremists in Sirsapanga village of Kandhamal, (Orissa). The episode took place on May 31st in the evening, the very day the Central reserve police force (Crf), sent to the area to protect the Christians, began their phased withdrawal as mandated by the central government. The incident seems aimed at stopping from Christians returning to their villages.
The three houses belong to Manoj Pradhan, Lankeswar and Sunil Digal and lie only 3 km from the headquarters of the Crpf. Eyewitnesses report that the extremist group celebrated the police withdrawal by attacking the homes. Deployed for months across the region to halt assaults and another pogrom of the Christians, the New Delhi government decided to withdraw the Crpf. The Orissa governor, Naveen Patnaik, has however asked the Minister for Internal Affairs Chidambaram to leave the last 10 companies - circa 1000 men – at least for another three months.
The withdrawal coincides with the closure of the refugee camps and the Orissa governments appeal to the Christians to prepare for their return to their home villages. On June 5th the district administration in Kandhamal organised a peace meeting between the Christians in the camps and the communities of their local villages. Fr. Bijay Pradhan, parish priest in Raikia, sees in the burning of the three homes in Sirsapanga “an attempt to stop this”.
Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (Gcic), explains that “The Christians from Sirsapanga village have not returned to the village, they are still in the Refugee camps. The administration is keen that the people go back to the villages and be resettled, so occasionally, the Christians go to their homes and try to make some temporary repairs. This is being objected to by the dominant community, and the burning of the three Christians homes is an attempt to control our people”.
The situation is still unstable. The three owners of the burned houses in Sirsapanga have presented official reports to the police. According to Fr.Ajay Kumar Singh, Director of Jan Vikas, Social Action Initiative “the gang was led by Dilu Mohanty, who is mastermind behind attacks against Christians in Raikia and G.Udayagiri”. The victims identified him in First Information Report. “But the police – continues Fr. Singh – asked them to change tehir report ommitting the extremist agng leaders name”.
“Culprits [of the violence] continue to roam about freely, - concludes Fr. Pradhan - and some of them threaten our people that if they don’t withdraw their police reports against them, they will not be able to return to their villages”.