02/06/2009, 00.00
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Orissa: Hindu temple being built atop rubble of Batticola church

by Nirmala Carvalho
Hindu radicals had previously tried to destroy it in 2000. The situation remains tense. Christians are humiliated and marginalized, unless they convert to Hinduism.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) - The foundations have been laid for a Hindu temple on the rubble of the church in Batticola, in the district of Kandhamal (Orissa). And the Christians returning to their villages are being pressured to convert to Hinduism. This information comes to AsiaNews from Sajan George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, who has received eyewitness testimonies from the northwestern state.

The church in Batticola was rased to the ground and burned last August, at the beginning of the violence against Christians. Now, a foundation about one meter high has been laid in order to build a Hindu temple there. "On Feb 2nd around 12 noon, about 17 people, mostly men, left the G. Udaygiri relief camp to check on conditions at the Dokewadi hamlet in Jhimangia village before returning there. These Christians were surrounded by the Hindu villagers and given a dire warning: if they wanted to come back to the village, they had to convert to Hinduism."

Batticola is one of the primary targets of the anti-Christian campaign. Sajan Geogre says that last October, a Hindu fundamental group released a falsified document purported to be the minutes of a Batticola Catholic parish council meeting on May 25 that allegedly conspired to assassinate 85-year-old Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati. The killing of the swami last August 23 was the spark that ignited the series of attacks that killed at least 500 people, destroyed thousands of homes, burned hundreds of churches, and made more than 50,000 Christians flee.

The text of the minutes falsified by the extremists depicted the Christians as wanting to "offer sacrifices" against the "Satanic activities that stand opposed to the expansion" of the parish. The only problem is that the ritual words used in the document - in the Oriya language - belong entirely to the Hindu tradition, not to the Christian tradition, leading to the suspicion that the document is a complete fake.

This news from Batticola is a sign that the situation on the ground is not calm, although the government continues to give assurances that the danger has passed, and is closing the refugee camps, sending Christians back to their ruined homes.

Other sources say that some Christians who have gone back to Batticola have faced constant humiliation and discrimination. The Hindus in the village have instituted 15 unwritten rules against the Christians. One of them is that Christians should always give way to Hindus in the street; that in the public baths, the Christians should bathe last; etc.

All of this - the sources say - is very strange, because until recently "these people have lived together, celebrated festivals together, and basically a communitarian spirit prevailed, and yet there is a perverted sense of superiority and crushing the dignity of the Christians."

The Catholic church in Batticola was inaugurated in 1995. The Hindu radicals, under the leadership of Swami Laxamananda, tried to rase it to the ground in 2000.

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