“The situation is tense and people cannot return to their villages as the main culprits and kingpins are yet to be arrested,” Christian refugees told P. Chidambaram, the federal minister of home affairs, in a memorandum issued when he visited the troubled region on June 26.
More than 90 Christians were killed, 5,000 Christian houses and 250 churches and Christian institutions were looted and torched from late August 2008 in Kandhamal. In addition, more than 50,000 Christians were displaced in the violence, which a number of investigations have indicated was orchestrated by Hindu extremists.
A series of attacks on Christians that lasted for weeks followed the murder of Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati by Maoist rebels in Kandhamal, where the slain Hindu monk had been leading a vociferous campaign against conversions to Christianity.
The memorandum given to the minister noted that most of those criminally responsible for the attack are “still moving around freely and continue to threaten [Christian] people unless they become Hindus and withdraw criminal cases filed against them.”
Though more than 11,300 people have been named in 784 cases filed by Christians with police, less than 1,000 people have been arrested by police in connection with these incidents.
“Such criminals need to be arrested and kept behind the bars to restore peace and normalcy,” in Kandhamal, those who had suffered the attacks told the federal minister.
After visiting about 1,500 Christians, who were living in four refugee camps due to ongoing threats against them, minister Chidambaram assured them of the support of India’s federal government, and urged them to return to their villages.
“Build your homes and churches, and practice your faith without fear,” Chidambaram told refugees at a relief camp at Mondakia.
However, evangelical bishop D.B. Hrudaya, who heads the Orissa People’s Church, told Ecumenical News International on July 1 “assurances of security are not enough.”
“In many areas, the murderers are roaming free and they are threatening our people when they try to go back to their villages,” noted Bishop Hrudaya, who has more than 3,000 church members in the troubled mountain district. “Only when the main culprits are arrested, the fundamentalists will stop harassing our people,” he added.
Further, he pointed out that the continued threat by extremists has forced thousands of Christians to flee Kandhamal and take shelter in cities outside. The bishop noted that at least 10,000 Christians are living in Bhubaneswar, the state capital, while many more have fled to other cities in Orissa and other states.