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Still cases of discrimination Dalits and tribal Christians

Update Thursday, 06 March 2008
Kandhamal district, Orissa
John Dayal

Christian leaders in Orissa continue to report scattered cases of discrimination two months after major violence broke out against Dalit and Tribal Christians. Numerous reports are surfacing of unfair treatment by government assessors who aren't giving the promised compensation to people who have lost their homes. And Christian groups are challenging the legality of the Orissa government ban on non-government groups giving direct aid to victims. Ten All India Christian Council (aicc) trauma counselors continue to assess and provide assistance to victims, and aicc legal advisors are helping many prepare cases for various courts. At least seven Christian men have been arrested from Bamunigaon, the epicenter of the Christmas 2007 violence, on various false charges. On Feb. 22, 2008, Mr. Subash Naik was released on bail but six others remain in jail.
Between December 24, 2007 to January 2, 2008, over 700 Christian homes were burned, about 35 Christian shops vandalised, and 95 churches destroyed.

Legal Battles

On March 2, retired Justice Basudev Panigrahi arrived in Kandhamal District for a one week investigation. He is heading the "Commission of Enquiry on Kandhamal" appointed by the Orissa state government. Orissa aicc leaders are troubled by the fact that no public announcements were made about his visit. They had also asked the state government to appoint an active, not retired, judge to head the investigation into what caused the unprecedented attacks against Christians.
A report by the National Commission for Minorities has already blamed hardcore nationalist Hindus and alleged government negligence. The imminent National Human Rights Commission report will likely agree, according to media reports in the last few days. Under the leadership of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bhubaneswar, a case was filed in the Orissa High Court to request permission for charitable and religious institutions to conduct relief and rehabilitation. Sadly, it was quickly rejected in February.
Meanwhile, the aicc Orissa chapter filed a similar case, Writ Petition Civil No. 3028 of 2008, on Feb. 26, 2008 and a hearing is expected soon. Aicc filed a similar case after the Orissa Cyclone in 1999 and was successful.

Government discrimination in relief efforts

Aicc is considering legal action against state government assessors who are not giving Christians the promised amount for their destroyed homes. One Baptist pastor near Baliguda said there are seven Christian families in the village. All of their houses were burned down by Hindutva attackers. The state government announced Rs 50,000 ($1,250) for "completely damaged" homes, but assessors only awarded Rs 10,000 ($250) to each family and said an additional Rs 10,000 would be given later since their homes were "partially damaged". Ever worse, when the families went to clear the debris of their ruined homes and begin reconstruction, local Hindus stopped them.
They wouldn't allow them to clear the debris nor buy bricks and stones. Then the Christians were told to convert to Hinduism or leave the village. All seven families moved to a nearby town.
In the village of Solakia, one Christian was told he would not receive compensation for reconstruction of his house because the government official said it was only a kitchen. Most homes are extremely small, but obviously this was an insult and an injustice. Of the twenty-seven Christian families in the village, the homes of twelve families were vandalised and burned. Out of the twelve families, only eight families were selected to receive relief. Many are facing starvation since they normally go into the forest or take daily jobs.
But they have been prohibited from going into the forest and no one will give them work.

Continued Harassment of Dalit Christians

On Feb. 24, 2008, the leader of the Hindu nationalist organisation RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) spoke to about 5,000 activists in Berhampur, Orissa. The city is in Ganjam district which borders violence-hit Kandhamal district. To the relief of Christians, K.S. Sudarsan did not give a violent or provocative speech and there were no attacks on Christians. However, the police and local authorities forced local churches to change the timing of their Sunday worship services from morning to late afternoon. As one local Christian leader noted, this is subtle discrimination because he's never seen a Hindu meeting forced to change its schedule due to rally by another religious community. The Orissa aicc state chapter president spoke to a central intelligence officer before the meeting and asked for deployment of police at churches. As a result there were police at all the churches in Cuttack and Bhubaneswar.
Other reports from interior villages give a taste of the challenge for Christians, most of whom are Dalits, formerly known as untouchables. A Good Shepherd Community Church pastor said that some Christian families are being prohibited from collecting water from public well and getting daily manual labor jobs by Hindus. Seventeen Christian families in the village of Depaketa weathered two attacks in December. Now the teachers at the government school have told parents that Christians will not be allowed to study there. When an aicc team visited on Feb. 18, 2008, the school was closed because no teachers had come. It was not a holiday.
In Budurukia village, Dalit Christians and Hindus from the Kui tribe lived together in peace. After the attacks by outsiders, the Hindus were so distraught over the violence against their neighbors, that most decided to become Christians and join the local church started by the Hindustan Bible Institute. The state government has now stopped giving adequate food to the villagers. For the last month, only rice has been given. Other villages receive dal, oil, and salt. According to aicc officials who visited the village in late February, now families don't even have money to buy soap to take a bath.
Please continue to pray for the innocent victims in Kandhamal District, Orissa.

Landelijke India Werkgroep / India Committee of The Netherlands - March 7, 2008