Church builds new homes for Christians and Hindus in Orissa
by Santosh Digal
Following the devastating religious and ethnic violence of 2008, Catholics are building about 5,550 housing units in Kandhamal District. Some 700 Hindu families are among the beneficiaries. Local priests warn that sectarian tensions remain high. “We work for everyone, without hiding anything,” they say.
Bhubaneswar (AsiaNews) – The Catholic Church in Orissa has launched a plan to build 5,550 housing units in Kandhamal, a district in the state devastated by violence caused by radical Hindu nationalists in the summer of 2008. Local Hindus and Christians who lost their homes will be eligible under the plan.

Local Catholic sources said that the official death toll from the violence stood at more than 90 people, mostly Christians. About 50,000 residents were also forced from their homes. Religious intolerance but also local politics played a role in the violence. Since then, no credible rehabilitation plan has been introduced in the area.

“Thanks to donations from Christians, some 1,360 low-cost houses were completed by the end of April,” Fr Ajaya Kumar Singh told AsiaNews. “Our goal is 5,550 homes. Some 700 Hindu families will benefit; the rest will go to Christians.”

“The Church serves all,” he explained. “Religion is not a barrier for our service and development. Since many Hindus and Christians lost their homes in the recent violence in Kandhamal, we are building houses for everyone, without any vested interest. We hope that it will make our Hindu neighbours understand that the Church is for all religious communities.”

According to Fr Singh, who has been involved in social action for quite some time, “almost two years after the violence, religious tensions remain high in 15 villages in Kandhamal District, including Bodimaha, Tikbali, Mondakia, Budringia, Gudrickia, Chanchedi and Sishapanga”.

“In ten other villages, for example Raikia, Batticola, Gudrikia, Beharanga and Takabali, Christians are not allowed to come back,” said Fr Manoj Nayak who supervises housing projects in the district.

For him, this atmosphere “helps no one. For example, we are not allowed to use local material in our projects. Hindus are not cooperating in the construction and Hindu villagers are trying all possible ways to segregate and ostracise Christians. This is not a healthy sign. We are trying to motivate everyone to live in peace and harmony, but we face many challenges every day.”