By BosNewsLife Asia Service
NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)– The Christian community in India’s troubled Odisha state is this weekend marking the fifth anniversary of what was the country’s worst anti-Christian violence on record amid fears of more violence in the area.
At least 90 people were killed and 54,000 displaced in the 2008 clashes in the state’s Kandhamal district, after decades of anti-Christian hate speech and smaller scale attacks by Hindu groups opposing the spread of Christianity.
“Against the backdrop of a rising number of acquittals of perpetrators of the 2008 violence, the Christian community still faces harassment and violence,” said advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
It cited reports that 29 girls from their community were sexually assaulted in the last year alone.
Though 30 percent of suspects in the 2008 violence was convicted, a rate higher than the national average, many are free on bail and the “majority of complaints were never subject to a police investigation,” CSW told BosNewsLife.
Additionally, “Many witnesses in the cases that have been investigated have been threatened against giving evidence in court, and without sufficient protection, a large number have lost faith in the justice system,” added the group, which closely followed cases.
Some human rights activists say they also face harassment from Hindu extremist groups as well as police, who accuse them of being Maoist supporters.
Priest Ajay Singh, a prominent Odisha-based human rights activist, said he was threatened after being awarded the Minority Rights Award by the National Commission for Minorities in July this year.
“Insecurity and fear still prevail among the Christian community here due to the rise in the number of acquittals of criminals. Justice delivery systems have failed and are costly. The people cannot afford it” as “90 percent of victims are struggling for their livelihood,” he added.
Yet, “The Church and the civil society groups are not able to make the government accountable to the people,” the priest acknowledged. He accused authorities of not feeling “obliged” to the community. “The history of the Kandhamal situation shows us that every time we spoke about peace without fighting for justice, violence continued to take place”.
Amid the tensions, thousands of victim-survivors still fear returning to their villages “owing to the threats they continue to receive,” CSW claimed.
Among them at least 5,000 who reportedly relocated to Salia Sahi, the largest slum in Bhubaneswar, the capital of Odisha state, till recently known as Orissa.
Other Christians have migrated to other Indian states, including Kerala, adding to economic misery, according to Christians.
“Our people have lost everything [including] their houses, their tools, everything,” said Paul Pradhan, director of Pallishree Seva Sadan, a social welfare center in Paburia which was destroyed and has not been rebuilt.
Pradhan, who is in poor health, said in published remarks that he himself was unable to relocate. He blamed the local government for not giving enough compensation, in part because that did not properly investigate the damages.
David Griffiths, south Asia team Leader at CSW, told BosNewsLife that he is concerned about “the poor delivery of justice, inadequate rehabilitation for victims, and the lack of genuine peace in the area.”
He said reports of continuing incidents of violence, and allegations of harassment by human rights defenders working on behalf of victims has added to to an uncertain future for Christians.
“In recognition of this significant anniversary, we again urge the government of India to introduce the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence Bill, which will provide a much more effective framework for dealing with violence of this sort in future,” Griffiths added.
“Much more needs to be done locally before it can be said this violence has been resolved. Communal violence of this nature has a long genesis and a long-term impact, and often follows a predictable pattern,” the rights official said.
Christians comprise just over 2 percent of India’s more than 1.2 billion people, who are mainly Hindu, according to official estimates.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).
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