3,000 Christians still in refugee camps on eve of General Elections

  • Over 3,000 still in Orissa camps
  • Told by communal forces that they can return to their homes only as Hindus
  • People in six camps not willing to leave
  • Not forcing anyone to return: Collector

By Prafulla Das

BHUBANESWAR. Mar 8 : More than seven months after Orissa’s tribal-dominated Kandhamal district experienced widespread anti-Christian violence, 3,100 people belonging to the minority community are still living in relief camps being run by the administration.

About 25,000 people took shelter in 19 relief camps when communal violence was at its peak in the district in the aftermath of the killing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Lakshmanananda Saraswati and four others on August 23 last.

The number of people living in the camps has decreased slowly but the 3,100 people in six camps are not willing to leave as they are being told by the communal forces that they can return to their homes only as Hindus.

The camps are at Raikia, Tikabali, K. Naugaon, Mandasar, Mandakia and Tiangia, according to Kandhamal District Collector Krishan Kumar. “We are not forcing anyone to return to their villages. People are returning to their homes following the process of peace building and reconciliation,” Mr. Kumar told The Hindu over phone on Saturday.

Apart from the State police, 19 companies of the Central Reserve Police Force are on duty to maintain law and order in the district.

The district administration has sought additional forces for the smooth conduct of the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections to be held
simultaneously next month.

“We are hopeful that the district will witness a free and fair poll,” Mr. Kumar said.

Meanwhile, an independent fact-finding team, comprising prominent social activists, has urged the State government to keep the relief camps open till normality was restored in the affected villages.

Observing that the victims should be able to return to their homes with dignity, peace and security, the former Special Rapporteur to the National Human Rights Commission and one of the members of the team,
K.R. Venugopal, has written to the State government that “there can never be any dignity if people practising a particular religion – here Christianity – are told that they can return to their homes only as Hindus.”

“Such threats are unconstitutional and the State has a duty to intervene proactively to put a stop to that and guarantee peaceful residence to the citizens with a right to their religious conviction,” Mr. Venugopal said in a letter to G.V. Venugopala Sarma, Secretary in the State government’s Revenue and Disaster Management Department.