Fresh violence in Orissa, curfew continues

By Jatindra Dash, IANS

Bhubaneswar : The situation in parts of Orissa remained tense with violence erupting Wednesday at various places despite indefinite curfew in force, which was clamped Tuesday after Hindu religious groups clashed with Christians on Christmas Day.

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A police station, a church and a former MP’s house were attacked even while prohibitory orders continued to be in force.

According to Kandhamal district police chief Narasimha Bhol, hundreds of people ransacked Firingia police station. “I cannot say if anybody has been injured,” Bhol told IANS over the telephone.

Hundreds of tribals attacked a church at Sarsalanda village under Sadar police station, about 20 km from the district headquarters town of Phulbani. A mob also vented its ire on the home of former MP Sribatsa Digal in Line Pada at Phulbani, an official of the district intelligence bureau said.

Besides, there were reports of communal clashes from half a dozen places but the details were awaited due to “disruption of communication”, said the official.

State police chief Gopal Nanda said villagers also ransacked and torched an office of the local revenue inspector at Khajuripada.

Curfew at Phulbani was relaxed for two hours to enable tribals to submit a memorandum to the district administration. “After that the curfew was re-imposed,” said Nanda.

The police could not reach many of the trouble spots as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) supporters blocked roads to the affected villages with logs.

The roads are still blocked and the police are trying to reach the villages, according to the official. The state government has sent two companies of paramilitary forces and extra police force to the region to bring the situation under control, the official said.

As riots continued in the region, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik deputed two more senior state government officials to the region.

Patnaik reviewed the situation at state capital Bhubaneswar and asked two IAS officers of commissioner rank, Arabinda Behera and Ashok Meena, to rush to the affected areas.

Patnaik told reporters that things were under control.

Curfew was clamped Christmas eve night after one person was killed and over a dozen injured in clashes between Hindus and Christians in the wake of a shutdown called by the VHP to protest an attack on a Hindu leader.

The four-hour shut-down was to protest an attack Monday on the vehicle of local Hindu leader Swami Laxmananda Saraswati near Daringbadi when he was on his way to perform a yagna there.

Saraswati and a person accompanying him were injured and their vehicle partially damaged, said Bhol, who is camping in the area.

The trouble started Monday morning in the Christian-majority Brahmanigaon village, 150 km from Phulbani, over Christmas celebrations.

While the Christian community wanted to celebrate the day in a grand way, the Hindus opposed the plan, Bhol said.

This led to clashes between the Hindu and Christian groups. And the attack on Saraswati led to escalation in the violence.

Besides the VHP, the local Kui tribal community also gave a shutdown call, demanding immediate solution to their grievances. The clashes took place mostly when VHP supporters attacked shops in various places.

At least a dozen churches and a dozen vehicles, including two police vehicles, were set on fire. Besides, the protestors attacked the house of elder brother of state steel and mines minister Padmanav Behera and torched one of his vehicles Tuesday, police sources said.

The government has deputed the district superintendents of the neighbouring three districts – Gajapati, Boudh and Ganjam – to the spot, a senior police official in Bhubaneswar said.

Phulbani is considered one of the most communally sensitive regions in the state with numerous clashes reported between Hindus and Christians in the past.