06/07/2005, 00.00
INDIA
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Authorities to tear down 109 homes belonging to Christian Tribals in Orissa

A Hindu fundamentalist group is behind the measure. "Fundamentalists are continuously plotting schemes to instil terror in the minds of these poor folks," says Bishop Bilung. With the monsoons on their way, evicted Tribals do not have time to find shelter.

Rourkela (AsiaNews) – Koraput district authorities in the state of Orissa (eastern India) have ordered the demolition of the homes of more than 100 Christian Tribals. This could further fuel inter-religious tensions in the city of Jeypore, where many fear a 'cleansing' campaign by Hindu fundamentalists.

Although district collector Shubha Sarma ordered the immediate demolition of 109 homes belonging to Christians, the victims of the decision are certain that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu extremist paramilitary group, is behind it. Recently, the RSS set up a training camp in Jeypore that hosted Orissa Finance Minister Manmohan Samal and Water Resource Minister Rabi Nanda.

Local Christians believe that Nanda, backed by Samal, is responsible for the demolition—both, they fear, intend to 'cleanse' the town.

"It is a very, very tragic situation," said Mgr Alphonse Bilung, Bishop of Rourkela. "These houses are inland, in a semi-forested area, largely inhabited by very poor Tribal people."

"They are receptive to Christianity and this make the fundamentalists angry since the children of these Tribals like those of all faiths and caste now receive an education so they cannot be exploited to the extent they were exploited before," he explained.

As soon as the order was posted, Christians tried to delay the demolition but district collector Shubha Sarma rejected their request. Instead, he ordered the deployment of police forces given the rising tensions. He also refused to speak to press.

"Fundamentalists are continuously plotting schemes to instil terror in the minds of these poor folks, using psychological and economic intimidation," Bishop Bilung said.

Most Tribals are farm labourers who earn day wages and depend on the majority for their livelihood.

Representatives of the local Christian community have asked Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to "stop the inconsiderate expulsion of these poor people on the eve of the monsoon season".

The affected people are so poor, the Bishop points out, that they have very few possessions. "They barely possess a cupboard, and few kitchen utensils [. . .] bought with much sweat and toil," he said.

"When their houses are destroyed, they will loose whatever they possess and they won't be able to afford a simple shelter against the [coming] rains."

Orissa is ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu nationalist political party—until last year, it also controlled the Union government.

The RSS, a paramilitary group linked to the BJP, is dedicated to the violent promotion of the Hindutva (Hinduness), a nationalist ideology whose ultimate goal is the setting up a minority-free, Hindu-only state in India (Hindu Rashtra). (NC)

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