By Ajaya Kumar Singh, BosNewsLife Special Correspondent reporting from Orissa, India
BHUBANESWAR, INDIA (BosNewsLife)— Envoys from five Nordic countries are meeting victims of India’s worst anti-Christian violence in decades, which left over 100 people dead in the state of Orissa.
Ambassadors of Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Iceland said Tuesday, November 17, they already met survivors of last year’s clashes in the Archbishop’s House in Orissa’s capital Bhubaneswar.
The violence erupted mainly in Kandhamal District following the killing of a Hindu religious leader in August, 2008. Although Maoist rebels claimed responsibility for murdering Swami Laxmanananda, Hindu militants blamed Christians for the attack.
Over 100 people were killed and hundreds of churches and thousands of Christian homes destroyed by angry Hindu mobs, displacing tens of thousands of Christians, according to several aid groups and rights investigators. European diplomats visiting Orissa said they wanted to see the impact of the clashes on the local population for themselves
“We are here on a week long visit to understand socio-economic and religious issues of Orissa,” Danish Ambassador Aoulsen Ole Lonsmann told BosNewsLife Tuesday November 17. “We are concerned about the communal violence, where innocent people are victims,” added Finish Ambassador Terhi Hakala.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called the attacks against Christians by Hindu militants a “national shame”. “Our solidarity is with the victims as they muster courage to fight for justice,” said Swedish Ambassador Lars-Olof Lindgren.
Some survivors stressed they were pleased to have met European officials. “The envoys evinced keen interest to know what has happened to us during the violence and how we live,” said Basant Kanhar, who added he was “forced” to convert to Hinduism.
“We have now a dual life to live; in front of the Hindu radicals, we are Hindus and outside, we are Christians,” explained a tribal youth Christian leader, who identified himself only as Mr. Kanhar.
He and fellow villagers were allegedly forced to become Hindus. “They tonsured my husband and forced to drink the urinated cow-dung, milk and some other solutions as a part of purifications rites, ” noted Kammita Nayak, a 30-year-old widow. “My husband drank thrice out of fear, resulting in a swollen stomach…He died on the third day,” she claimed.
The widow said her family was still awaiting compensation as local police “refused to file” and investigate the case. “I have lost hope.” About two dozen people have been convicted in the violence but about 100 other suspects were released, according to trial observers.
Baisnab Digal, 14, said he lost his father in the violence but that the suspect has been acquitted. “I testified before the court while my mother and relatives received death threats. Yet, the accused are acquitted and my life is in danger.”
Rumina Digal, 35, said her husband was killed when they returned to their village from a refugee camp after local authorities said the situation was safe. But, “who bothers about us?” wondered Kameswar Digal, 70, whose leg was apparently chopped of during the violence.
Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Bhubaneswar told reporters that church leaders are critically looking at Orissa’s government as it promised to protect citizens.
“I will call normalcy only when villages are safe to live… Now still hundreds of families live outside the [Kandhamal] District [where most violence took place], while others can can still not return to their villages,” the bishop added.
It comes at a time of mounting tensions between Christians and hard-line Hindu groups who oppose the spread of Christianity in Orissa and other Indian states.
Christians make up over two percent of the country’s predominantly Hindu population of some 1.2 billion people, according to church estimates. (Follow BosNewsLife via Twitter. www.twitter.com/bosnewslife )