04/20/2009, 00.00
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Elections in Orissa rigged as extremists force Christians to vote for Hindu parties

by Nirmala Carvalho
In Kandhamal villages BJP supporters kept an eye on polling stations, threatening Christian voters. Global Council of Indian Christians Chairman Sajan George says no violence took place but “these elections cannot be said to have been peaceful and calm.”
Bhubaneshwar (AsiaNews) – “Mark the lotus!” Christians in the village of Gujapanga, northern Kandhamal District, were repeatedly told on 16 April, first day of India’s election, or else. The lotus is the symbol of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its supporters have kept villages in this Orissa district under a watchful eye in order to intimidate Dalits and Christians.

Global Council of Indian Christians (GCII) Chairman Sajan George told AsiaNews that he received reports from villages like Gujapanga with similar stories of intimidation.

“Extremists standing outside polling stations told Christians to vote for the ‘lotus’ if they wanted to avoid threats to their life.” Although no incident was recorded, “these elections cannot be said to have been peaceful and calm.”

Fr Ajay Singh, who heads Jan Vikas, a social organisation in the diocese of Bubhaneswar, visited several polling stations to “see the situation in person.”

“I left Gajapati District early morning for Kandhamal. Along the road trees had been uprooted to block the road. No one was around. When I got the polling station in my village I found out that I was the first voter to show up. Two hours after it had opened no one had come to cast a ballot. Only later, when villagers heard that someone had actually gone to vote, did a few others come out to vote.”

In light of the tense situation Father Singh decided to travel around some villages in the district.

“In the villages of Kattingia and Lingagada, anyone who dared to vote got threats. In Nulungia where a tribal Christian was killed a few months ago, people told me that at least 40 Christians (who fled last year’s violence) did not vote for fear of being beaten,” the clergyman said.

Many displaced people dared not go back to their villages. “All you have to do is visit Phirigada, Gunjibadi, Badabanga, Dodingia, Raikola, Chanchedi. In the area near the market at G Udayagiri 43 families (who abandoned their homes) are living in pitiful conditions, but do not dare go home,” he added.

The same is true for thousands of displaced people who left for the States of Maharastra and Gujarat.

Another case the clergyman cites is that of Betticola, a village where Hindu extremists want to build a temple on the ruins of a church that was destroyed in last August’s pogrom.

“Not one of the 38 families from the village is living in its own home,” Father Singh said.

“Not one of the seven Christians who went to vote was allowed to cast a ballot because they did not have the right papers,” he said. “Their explanations were of no avail even when they told election officials that their identity papers and certificates were lost to fire during the violence.”

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