NYT : Thousands Homeless After Hindu-Christian Violence in India

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Thousands Homeless After Hindu-Christian Violence in India

By SOMINI SENGUPTA | August 28, 2008

NEW DELHI — At least 3,000 people, most of them Christians, are living in government-run relief camps after days of Christian-versus-Hindu violence in the Kandhamal district of Orissa State in eastern India, government officials said.

The government said that in addition large numbers of people were living in the open jungle, without any shelter and security, because of the tensions that erupted in violence after a Hindu leader was killed on Saturday and at least 10 Christians were killed in retaliation.

Christian community leaders said that at least 1,000 Christian homes had been set on fire since Monday and more than 5,000 people were homeless.

Many of them are living in the jungle without food, water and shelter, said Father Dibakar Parichha, a priest at the Catholic church in the town of Phulbani. He also said that about 90 places of worship, including small churches and prayer halls, were burned down. District officials said the figure was about 20.

The Kandhamal district has a history of communal and ethnic clashes going back for more than 20 years. The latest violence started on Saturday night when the Hindu leader, Laxmanananda Saraswati, was killed along with four of his followers by unidentified armed men who stormed a Hindu school in Kandhamal.

The police suspected that Maoist rebels, active in the area, were responsible. But Hindus put the blame for the killings on Christians. In the retaliatory violence, at least 10 people, most of them Christians, have been killed and 500 houses burned. All nine towns in the district are under curfew with shoot-at-sight orders.

At least two people have died in the retaliatory violence in other districts of Orissa, including a woman who died when an orphanage was burned down.

“We are supposed to take drastic action against whosoever indulges in violence” said R.P. Koche, the district chief of police. The local police force has been reinforced by 2,500 paramilitary troops, he said. The district magistrate, Dr. Krishna Kumar, said the situation was tense but under control and more then 200 people had been arrested.

Hari Kumar contributed reporting.