India: Victims of Orissa Violence Evicted from Homes

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Bowing to Hindu extremists, Kandhamal district demolishes Christians' houses.

NEW DELHI, July 1 (Compass Direct News) -- At least 36 Christian families whose houses were burned during Christmas season violence in Orissa's Kandhamal district have been evicted from their damaged homes.

The tribal (aboriginal) Christian families were still living in the houses, which were being repaired after Hindu extremists torched them during a weeklong spate of violence that began on December 24. They had been living in the houses for four decades, according to the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC).

The Kandhamal district administration demolished the 26 houses in which 36 Christian families were living in Barakhama village in Kandhamal’s Balliguda block on June 24, said Dr. Sajan K. George, GCIC national president.

The Christmas season violence killed at least four Christians and burned 730 houses and 95 churches. The 36 families relocated to a relief camp set up by the state government in Barakhama, but the camp was closed down on March 31. They returned to their damaged homes, draping plastic sheets for protection against sun and rain.

R. Vineel Krishna, sub-collector (deputy head of district administration) of the Balliguda block, told Compass the decision to demolish the houses was made after consultations with the Christian families through a local “peace committee.” The Orissa government had formed peace committees in several parts of the state as a measure to restore religious harmony after the brutal killing of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons, ages 9 and 7, by a mob of Hindu extremists in Mayurbhanj district in 1999.

Krishna said the government gave 50,000 rupees (US$1,160) to each homeowner as compensation, and that the Christians have been relocated to other land in the neighborhood.

“There was no resistance by the Christian families during the demolition,” Krishna said.

Tribal Tensions

Krishna said that the land on which the Christians had lived belonged to a Dalit Hindu, and that there were ongoing tensions between Hindu and Christian tribal peoples following last year’s violence. Members of both the Hindu and Christian tribes are Dalits, formerly known as “Untouchables.”

“We had asked the Christian families to leave the land before the violence in 2007,” he said. “Then we asked them to vacate the houses on June 5, and then again on June 21.”

The head of the Balliguda peace committee, Tijeshwar Nayak, told Compass a leader of the tribal Kui Samaj Coordination Committee, Namboodar Kohor, pressured the Kui owner of the land, Dishika Mallick, to ask the tribal Christians to move off the land.

The Kui are mostly Hindu. Christians make up an estimated 16 percent of the 650,000 people in Kandhamal district, with more than 60 percent of them belonging to the Pana community and classified as “Scheduled Castes,” better known as Dalits.

The Pana community has been demanding recognition as a tribal community, as Dalits lose their right to government’s affirmative action after they convert to Christianity.

The largely Hindu Kui people oppose the demand, as it would increase the number of candidates eligible for government-reserved jobs.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP or World Hindu Council) allegedly exploited the tensions between the Kui and Pana communities to launch the Christmas season attacks. Kui leader Kohor is a known disciple of Laxmananda Saraswati, a Hindu nationalist leader close to the VHP who is widely believed to have incited the Christmas attacks.

Most of the Christian families agreed to move out of their houses because the Kui people had threatened more attacks if they did not comply with their demand, said Nayak, a Catholic.

A representative of the Christian Legal Association told Compass that “technically speaking,” the administration appeared within its right to evict the Christian families but that clearly justice was not a concern.

“How can you ask 36 families who were living there for more than 40 years to move out at a time when they are trying not only to rebuild their homes, but also their lives?” the representative said.

The GCIC’s George said some of the families were regularly paying land revenue to the administration for many years.

“If they did not have the ownership rights, how was the government collecting revenue from them every year?” he asked.

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