Christians' Homes Destined for Demolition in Orissa

Church in India Laments Hindu Fundamentalist Pressures

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NEW DELHI, India, JUNE 9, 2005 ( The Church in India has reacted with bewilderment to the authorities’ order for the demolition of the homes of more than 100 Christian “tribals” in the eastern state of Orissa.

The decision by the district administration of Koraput is likely to foment tension in the city of Jeypore, according to the Indian episcopate, echoing a report of SAR News.

Local sources confirmed that the order was inspired by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the National Body of Volunteers, one of several fundamentalist Hindu organizations which promote nationalist Hindutva ideology.

The RSS, which is powerful in the state, is the armed branch of the nationalist Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, which governs Orissa.

This is not the first time that people in Koraput and Jeypore witness episodes of intolerance and violence perpetrated by Hindu extremists.

“The local government has not even indicated new homes for the dislodged families,” lamented Father Babu Joseph, spokesman of the Indian episcopate, in statements to the Vatican agency Fides.

“The order is a violation of the freedom and rights of these Indian families,” said the priest. “It is a serious action which is contrary to freedom and rights sanctioned by India’s Constitution. We call on the government to guarantee and protect these rights and to take measures to halt the spread of fundamentalism promoted by the RSS.”

Training camp

The RSS recently set up a paramilitary training camp in Jeypore, which hosted Orissa Finance Minister Manmohan Samal and Water Resource Minister Rabi Nanda, who represents Jeypore’s electoral assembly.

For his part, Shubha Sarma, district collector of Koraput, ordered the immediate demolition of 109 homes belonging to Christians.

Local Christians believe that Nanda, backed by Samal, is responsible for the demolition — both, they fear, intend to “cleanse” the town.

“It is a very, very tragic situation,” said Bishop Alphonse Bilung of Rourkela, another district of Orissa, in statements to AsiaNews. “These houses are inland, in a semiforested area, largely inhabited by very poor tribal people.”

These people “are receptive to Christianity and this makes the fundamentalists angry since the children of these tribals, like those of all other faiths and castes now, receive an education so they cannot be exploited to the extent” they were before, he added.

“Fundamentalists are continuously plotting schemes to instill terror in the minds of these poor folks, using psychological and economic intimidation,” Bishop Bilung added.

Representatives of the local Christian community asked Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to halt “the inconsiderate expulsion of these poor people on the eve of the monsoon season.”

Bishop Bilung pointed out that the people have very few possessions. “They barely have a cupboard, and a few kitchen utensils […] bought with much sweat and toil.”

He added: “When their homes are destroyed, they will lose whatever they possess and they won’t be able to afford a simple shelter against the coming rains.”

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