Security forces in Orissa can't stop arson, fear
by Nirmala Carvalho
Two shops and a Christian center have been burned. More than 10,000 refugees gathered in the camps have celebrated Christmas under the protection of the army. In the villages, the Masses were moved up to the afternoon in order to avoid returning home in the dark.

Bhubaneswar (AsiaNews) - Christmas celebrations in the district of Kandhamal have passed without violence, but the arson continues, Christians are still afraid, and the refugees are not leaving the camps out of fear of new violence.

On December 23, while Christmas preparations were underway in the parishes and refugee camps, two small shops in the town of Sugadabadi were set on fire. On the 26th, the same fate befell a Christian center in the village of Bakingia.

The Christians of Kandhamal, while acknowledging the massive deployment of forces to guarantee security during the Christmas season, continue to fear for their safety. As of today, the police have not taken any action over the violence that began at the end of August, and those responsible for the killings and violence are still roaming free. The situation is being made even more tense by the emergence of a new fundamentalist group, the Hindu Yuva Vahini, formed to fight the Maoist groups and Christian communities.

In the camps set up by the government for refugees from Orissa, Christmas celebrations took place with extensive participation from the more than 10,000 Christians staying there.

Fr. Nithiya, a Capuchin friar and the executive secretary of the justice and peace commission of the conference of Indian bishops, spent the holiday in Kandhamal. Interviewed by AsiaNews, he said: "Even though we find innocent joy in the faces of the children on Christmas day in the camps, one could notice a sense of emptiness, an expression of grief and a tremendous expression of loss in the faces of people at large."

The celebrations in the camps were made possible thanks to the joint activity of the local security forces and the Central Reserve Police Force, together with the efforts of the entire administration in the district. The various security forces controlled the situation the entire night, while the faithful gathered in the camps prepared the celebrations.

The police chief encouraged the parishes to hold their services as planned, but many priests preferred to move up the Masses to before sunset. In the village of Pobingia, about 30 policemen watched over the celebration scheduled for 4:30 in the afternoon, in order to permit the faithful to return home during the daylight. But only about 20 people attended the function, mostly religious of the order of the Missionaries of Charity, and volunteers. There were very few local Catholics there, who, fearing for their safety, did not risk going out in public, after suffering violent intimidation in the recent past on the part of fundamentalists intending to convert them by force to Hinduism.

Fr. Nithiya celebrated the Mass in the camps of Tikabali and G Udayagiri, and visited the village of Banunigam. After sleeping in one of the tents set up to host the refugees, he described their conditions for AsiaNews: "People live in small canvass tents in each camp. In each tent there are around 5 to 7 families living together. There is no privacy. There is neither electricity nor water facilities. Both young and old, men and women live in the same tent under various types of inconveniences. What next? What is to be done to ensure the safe passage of people from camps to their homes? Even if the people go back to their villages, how will they be received?"