Itís still religion, stupid

The riots in Kandhamal district, Orissa, in August and the ongoing violence targeted Christians in 310 villages, with 4,104 homes torched. More than 18,000 were injured and 50,000 displaced. A month after, homes continued to burn in Raikia, Tikabali, Tumudibandha, and Daringbadi. Some of these were houses of Christians residing in relief shelters, burnt by Hindu extremists as retaliation for the Christian refusal to 'reconvert' to Hinduism. On September 28, three bodies, including of a woman, were uncovered from Badasalunki river in Kandhamal.

The government of Orissa systematically diminished the extent of suffering, damage, and dislocation borne by Christian communities in August-September 2008, as in December 2007, and denied the dangerous extent of communalism in Orissa. Both to the Supreme Court and the Central government, and to civil society in general, the Orissa government failed to explain how it would tackle the emergency in the state.

In the aftermath of August 2008, many Christians abandoned Kandhamal district, departing for Beherampur and Bhubaneswar in Orissa, and other states like Maharashtra, Goa, and Kerala. The police repeatedly refused to lodge FIRs that Christian communities sought to file, and made no provisions for witness protection for those willing to file charges.

Prima facie, their inaction suggested fear (of Hindutva workers) and complicity (with the Sangh Parivar) within police and district administration personnel in shielding Sangh Parivar activists. Discounting the evidence, police did not arrest prominent Hindutva leaders complicit in the August violence, stating that such action would generate further turmoil. While in Kashmir, state forces placed leaders of the self-determination movement under house-arrest in the largely peaceful protests of August 2008, in Jammu and Orissa, Hindutva leaders were not restrained as they called for vigilante terror.

On September 28 , Orissa CM Naveen Patnaik announced a 'peace package' responding to the demands of, in particular, Hinduised Adivasis. No reciprocal 'peace package' was announced for Christian communities. The Orissa government progressively presented the discourse on the Kandhamal crisis as an issue between adivasis (Kondh, Kui) and Dalits (Pana)/Dalit Christians, premised on land disputes and conversions to Christianity, trying to divert focus from the leadership and responsibility of Hindutva organisations in orchestrating the violence. The government's figures dispute their allegations of escalation in Christian conversions, as Christians in Orissa numbered 8,97,861 in 2001, just 2.4 per cent of the state's population, as per the Census(2001); and the Christian population in Kandhamal district was recorded as 1,17,950 to 5,27,757 Hindus. Land issues in Kandhamal, as in most Adivasi and Dalit areas in Orissa, remain unresolved, fraught with the inequities of history. Yet, in Kandhamal, it is the communalisation of this issue via Hindutva's use of certain Kondh and Kui Adivasi communities, and the refusal to grant Dalit, including Pana converts to Christianity access to affirmative action, that cultivates injustices and nurtures acrimonies. These conditions enable the Hindu right to conscript adivasis for its activities, and generate divisiveness between adivasis, Dalits, and Christians.

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