11/09/2010, 00.00
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The daily persecution of Orissa’s Christians

by Nirmala Carvalho
Forced conversions, prohibition of buying goods in shops, the faithful have to live in half-ruined houses without roofs and dirt floors: in In Kandhamal violence against Christians is "normal". The authorities do not intervene. The report of a special fact-finding group.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) - Christians are persecuted, banished even from shops, left alone to die if they need to be taken by car to hospital. This is the everyday 'reality' 'in Kandhamal, the lawless and insecure region, described in the report published on 8 November by a group of activists. But the authorities of the state of Orissa have been saying that everything is "normal" after the violent persecution of recent years in which many Christians have been killed and tens of thousands forced to flee from home.

The Fact-finding group Group - which drafted the report - is composed of four prominent human rights activists: Advocate Nicholas Barla, a tribal activist leader, Advocate Brother Marcus, a social worker, Jugal Kishore Ranjit, a dalit human right activist and Ajay Kumar Singh, human right activist. On November 5, they visited four villages in the district of Kandhamal, each of which has a police station, to see if it is true that Christians are subjected to a social and economic boycott.

In the village of Gadaguda (jurisdiction of G. Udayagiri police station, Tikabali city) the anti-Christian violence lasted about two months first exploded in August 2008. There, an elderly couple were burned to death, many Christians injured and their houses destroyed. Some still live in tents. The Group was told that in Dakanaju village Christians are forbidden to take water from the public well. The sarpanch (elected leader) of Gadaguda, Sachindra Pradhan, replied that they "had no knowledge" of the problem and promised to inquire and report back. Gadaguda is a small village, inhabited by a few hundred families.

In the village of Bodimunda, Tikabali police, there are still destroyed buildings and houses, a clear sign of anti-Christian violence. Before the village, they visited the house of a Christian pastor, which has remained intact in the midst of the other ruins. The minister - whose is withheld for his protection - received them politely but with obvious concern and said that he was forced to convert to Hinduism to save his elderly mother, who was too old to run away during the violence on the streets.

A few minutes later, members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Hindu nationalist group linked to the violent fundamentalists of the Sangh Parivar, arrived. They asked the group who they were and the minister immediately replied that they were bank officials acquaintances of a relative of his who works in the bank. Soon after, the group left the house.

Bamadev Pradhan, a tribal Christian, lives in his dirt floor house, paralyzed an unable to walk. Family members have said that when he was struck by a severe fever, they tried to take him to hospital in Tikabali, about 8 km away. But no one was available and they almost had to force a Christian who had a car and rented it out, to bring the paralytic. On their return, the car was stopped and taken away by the followers of the RSS.

The owner got it back only after paying a fine of 1,051 rupees and promising that he would no longer transport Christians. The owner of the vehicle confirmed this and added that he had to pay the "fine" even though he had approached the police for help.

A few minutes after the arrival of the Group, Jesaya Nayak, a resident entered asking them to leave because the situation was "volatile." From information gathered, it appears that in the village RSS followers have forbidden anyone who has a vehicle to give lifts to Christians, even if sick.

At another house a group of Christians had assembled and reported being "in a state of shock. Those who could have left the village, the poor have had to stay behind. We are concerned that police and administration are hand in glove with the RSS. The administration, instead of helping us, has taken basic services from us. We are banned from using local vehicles, the only means of transport in the area. We are not allowed to buy anything in local stores, even stocks of food or medicine". "Here it is difficult to live as human beings."

They added that they have turned to Tikabali police only to be told "since you are a Christian you have to suffer, there is no alternative."

Birendra Nayak (name changed for security reasons) himself a Hindu told the group that he had to pay a "fine" of 5 thousand rupees to get his tractor back, because he had used it to deliver materials to rebuild a house destroyed during the anti-Christian violence.

"This - said the man - because the local police take a percentage and protect these anti-social elements. I informed the police, but nothing happened".

The Christians could not fix the destroyed house because then the materials were taken from them way, while at least 15 residents stood and watched without intervening. They do not have enough money to buy materials, they say they live in a hut with walls made of polyethylene, roofless and with dirt floors.

In Keredi village, an area of Phulbani, the Group found a large portrait of the Hindu god Krishna in the house of a Christian. The owner explained that they must "live like Hindus, as well as all four Christian families who have a house in the village. The environment is hostile enough [against Christians] and the authorities do not help us". He told the group that members of the RSS have destroyed the house of other Christians and the police did nothing.

In Gandapadar village in Phiringia, a Christian woman took them home. On one wall was a large picture of the god Shiva and she explained that "the RSS gave us a portrait and a devotion to tulasi plant [Krishna welcomes the offer of fresh flowers and leaves of the tulasi, so Hindus grow the plant for this very reason]. We kept them and they often come to check if we have converted to Christianity. Almost all [Christians] in the village have two portraits in the house: Jesus and Shiva.

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