By Santosh Digal, BosNewsLife Asia Correspondent reporting from Orissa, India
PHULBANI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)-- Indian tribal Christians and their relatives are denied government scholarships for education in a violence-plagued district of India's eastern state of Orissa, local Christians and church leaders say.
Authorities in Kandhamal District refuse to issue documents needed for local Christians to study at schools, colleges and universities under a government program aimed at supporting disadvantaged people in this mainly Hindu society, a BosNewsLife investigation shows.
The education controversy has added to tensions in Kandhamal Disrict where over 100 people died in anti-Christian violence since Christmas 2007, most of them in 2008, before a tense calm was restored, according to Christian rights activists.
In one of the latest revealed cases this year, Prakash Pradhan of the Kandho tribe in Pikoredi village said he was told by a local revenue administrative office he wouldn't receive the so-called "tribal certificate" allowing a scholarship, because of his Christian faith.
"During the past four months I visited the offices of 'Tahasildar'", as the office is called, "at least ten times," he told BosNewsLife. "Finally they told me I would not be given the tribal certificate, because I am a Christian."
Additionally, the local Kandho tribal association 'Kui Samaj', viewed as an anti-Christian nationalist Hindu group, has pressured authorities not to issue the documents to him and other tribal Christians, BosNewsLife established.
Even non-Christians are apparently targeted: Bali Pradhan, the brother of Prakash, said he
could not get a caste certificate "because my brother is a Christian."
Another non-Christian, Kautilya Pradhan of K Nuagam village, claimed he already applied for a caste certificate in June 2012 but was refused because of his mother's devotion to Christianity.
"It's is about five months now and I lost all hope of receiving a caste certificate," he said. "I am denied a tribal certificate because my mother is a Christian."
Christian tribal pastor Jacob Pradhan, in the nearby town of of Bogadi, was also refused a certificate,despite recommendations from even 'Kui Samaj' and the current and previous village council heads.
Though they vouched he is a tribal, the pastor did not receive the scholarship-enabling tribal certificate for his children's education. "They said my children aren't tribals since their mother is a non-tribal. Authorities make me feel as if I did a heinous crime by marrying a non-tribal girl," the pastor added.
These are no isolated incidents, said well-informed said missionary K J Markose of the Catholic Montfort Missionaries group working in the area.
"Even if they manage to get tribal certificates, they cannot apply for scholarship because the deadline for applying has passed," added Markose, who supports local Christians.
He and local Christians said officials of the state appear to be biased or even involved in the "persecution of tribal Christians" and that cases are on the rise.
The Orissa government has made clear however it wants to ease religious tensions. It has in the past banned rallies planned by Hindu nationalist groups and security was raised in volatile areas. Isolated, sometimes deadly, attacks against Christians have continued however.
(Edited by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos).