Fresh violence engulfs Orissa; churches, houses burnt

By Jatindra Dash, IANS

Bhubaneswar/New Delhi : Fresh clashes between Hindus and Christians erupted in Orissa’s Kandhamal district Thursday with reports of several churches being set afire and hundreds of houses belonging to Hindus being torched in retaliation as the central government expressed concern over the escalating violence.

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The violence, which began on Christmas eve in Kandhamal, formerly known as Phulbani district, has left one person dead and dozens injured.

Local Christian leader Rev Basant Diggal alleged that Hindu fanatics had torched near about a dozen churches in different places in Kandhamal, around 200 km from the state capital, Thursday.

Seven churches have been burnt in villages located near the district headquarter of Phulbani while others were set ablaze in another part of the district, he said.

On the other hand, a leader of Vishwa Hindu Parishad at Bhubaneswar alleged that Christian villagers had torched hundreds of houses of Hindus in Brahmanigaon village.

Reports reaching here said that angry Hindu mobs attacked the house of local Member of Parliament (Congress) Radhakanta Naik at Dasingibadi village.

District police chief Narasimha Bhol told IANS that at least 500 people with arms rushed to the police station at Brahmanigaon village with an intention to attack. However the police managed to stop them, he said.

State Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik accompanied by state police chief Gopal Nanda visited Phulbani, the district headquarter of Kandhamal, and assessed the situation.

The chief minister appealed to the people to help bring normalcy to the region and maintain harmony.

Troopers of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), which had staged a flag march in the district headquarters of Phulbani, were expected to march through other areas too.

In New Delhi, Sriprakash Jaiswal, minister of state for home affairs, said: “If the situation is not under control today, we’ll send a team. We have to get the violence under control and strict action has to be taken.

“We are taking this very seriously,” the minister said.

The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) Thursday sought a report from the state government on the increasing attacks on churches and the Christian community.

The minority panel, which has taken suo moto cognisance of the reports appeared in media, asked the state chief secretary to submit a report on the violence there. According to NCM sources, a delegation would be visiting the violence-hit areas for an on-the-spot assessment of the situation.

In Kandhamal, villagers blocked roads with logs in many places to prevent police and CRPF troopers from reaching all the riot-affected regions, Bhol said.

The curfew imposed Tuesday would continue till the situation returns to normalcy, he said.

The district of Kandhamal (old Phulbani district) is considered one of the most communally sensitive regions in the state with numerous clashes reported between Hindus and Christians in the past.

The latest 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, a section of Hindus opposed the plan. This led to clashes between the Hindu and Christian groups.

The tension escalated when some people attacked 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. Hindu group Vishwa Hindu Parishad called for a four-hour shutdown on Tuesday to protest the attack.

The trouble escalated with people burning dozen of churches, torching private and police vehicles and attacking houses of Christians. At least one person died and dozens were injured in the clashes.