06/27/2009, 00.00
INDIA
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Orissa’s Christians want "concrete measures", not just apologies from government

by Nirmala Carvalho
The Interior Minister has visited refugee camps in Kandhamal and assured the government's commitment to a return to normal. Christians complain of threats, lack of compensation and continuing violations of religious freedom. Even today, the perpetrators of violence go unpunished circulating in the villages.

Bhubaneshwar (AsiaNews) - Christians in India accept the apology offered by the central government as well as their promise to punish the guilty, but they are also demanding "concrete steps" to stop Hindu fundamentalist violence and guarantee "freedom to practice their religious faith”. They report new cases of threats and stress that, even today, those responsible for the massacres are "roaming villages unpunished."

In a two-day visit to Orissa, P. Chidambaram, Minister of the Interior from New Delhi, visited the refugee camps in Kandhamal, where over a thousand Christians are still housed. Addressing them the minister said: “I am sorry for what happened. Those who have done this will be punished. Please go back to your villages and start your life once again. Rest assured that the Central and Orissa governments will do everything to resolve your difficulties". 

Reached by AsiaNews, Sajan George - President of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) - says he is "heartened" by the apology offered by the minister of the interior, but adds that "he has not clarified the steps he intends to take to eradicate fundamentalism." For the Christian activist it was a "political speech" but people need concrete measures because they have lost everything, from housing to documents, and have no legal protection.

Minister Chidambaram’s statements come only days after those of M. P. Pinto, vice-president of the National Commission for Minorities (NCM). He also visited centres for displaced Christians on June 14th and 15th and ensured a quick solution to their situation. Pinto had also admitted: "We can not yet say that the full normality is restored."  

Confirming the ongoing precarious situation a refugee from Tikabali camp testified that he could not return to Bodmondia village due to a lack of protection and security. "The extremists - says Pradhan Kasane to AsiaNews - have burnt my house and I lost everything. I fear for my future, the Minister has not given any guarantees of compensation or protection”.  On May 31st  the officers of the Central Reserve Police Force (Crpf), deployed in Kandhamal to protect Christians and the refugee camps, received orders to demobilize. The government in New Delhi intends to close the centres as soon as possible. In the villages of Baliguda and Raika violence and intimidation continue and the capture of the perpetrators of the pogrom of August 2008 is slow.

Father Nithiyas, executive secretary of the National Commission for Justice, Peace and Development of the Bishops Conference, is working closely with victims of violence and has launched several programs of assistance and psychological support. "We accept the apologies of the Minister – states the priest - but we expect much more. He should talk about civil rights, rights of minorities to practice their faith”.   Fr. Nithiyas says that the government has not yet addressed the “most important issue: an effective strategy to help people" and he confirms new cases of “threats against Christians” who denounce the violence of Hindu fundamentalists or testify in trials.

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