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Odisha saffron outfit "blocks" Christmas celebrations in Kandhamal district, known for communal tensions

By Our Representative
Notorious for communal violence, Kandhamal district of Odisha once again saw tension following saffron outfits’ alleged threat to Christians not to celebrate Christmas. Ajaya Kumar Singh, a well-known social activist working in the area, reports that roads to several villages were “blocked” by felling trees and putting huge rocks so that the police force could not reach the place where they were “rampaging.”
According to Singh, “The worst affected place was Barkhama village of Balliguda block. Barkhama is 13 kilometres away from Sub-divisional headquarters, Balliguda.” He adds, Christians got “panicked” with the news of road blockade as well as the gathering of more than a thousand members of the Kui Samaj Samanwaya Samity (KSSS) and its supporters.
“The terror-stricken Christian leaders informed the police personnel as well as special forces deputed for Christmas celebration. They cleared the road but did not allow the Christians to go to Churches to celebrate Christmas”, Singh reports.
Pointing out that Barkhama was not an isolated incident, Singh says, “A bandh (strike) was called in several parts in the district on Christmas day to disrupt the celebrations. Shopkeepers downed shutters and buses stayed off the roads in several towns such as Tikabali, Sankarakhol, Sarangada and Barkhama. The Christians of farflung areas could not go to Church as the buses did not ply on the roads. This affected these poor Adivasi/Dalit Christians as they don’t have private vehicles.”
KSSS, according to Singh, is the same outfit which called for a bandh during Christmas in 2007 which triggered the anti-Christian violence in the district of August 2008”, which happened to be “the worst communal violence against Christian community in India in over 300 years.”
Singh recalls, in the 2008 violence led to the death of over 90 Christians, with dozens of people missing and never to be located again. “The violence lasted for four months. Over 350 churches and worship places which belonged to the Adivasi Christians and Dalit Christians were destroyed, around 6,500 houses were burnt or demolished, over 40 women were subjected to rape, molestation and humiliation and several educational, social service and health institutions were destroyed and looted. More than 56,000 people were displaced."
He adds, "Several cases of forced conversion to Hinduism by the Hindutva forces took place during the violence. One nun was gang raped in front of a crowd of over 300 people, while 8 policemen looked on. This nun ran towards the policemen asking for help but they did nothing and stood there simply watching the spectacle. It all happened just a stone’s throw away from Nuagaon police station”.
Accusing the outfit for calling the bandh to create apprehension and fear among Christian community in Kandhamal, Singh says, “Earlier, people Kandhamal could get hints that KSSS is a BJP/RSSS supported organisation, its leaders used to deny the allegation. Now, its leaders have joined the BJP.”
Meanwhile, Singh says, the Christians of Barkhama village have sent a petition to Odisha Chief Ministter Naveen Pattnaik, to give them protection and ensure peaceful coexistence.

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