By Sagari Chhabra
Originally, we were animists. There were two tribes in Kandhamal: the Kandhas and the Panas, who were Dalits. The former converted to Hinduism while the latter to Christianity. Today, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal are forcing the Panas to reconvert to Hinduism. But we don’t want to do that,” a teacher told us at the Hathishala refugee camp in Orissa’s G Udayagiri area.
When we visited the camp, there were several thousand Christians there, people who were homeless in their own country. “At peak,” boasted the camp in-charge, Divisional Commissioner Satyavat Sahu, “there were 27,000 people”. As I needled him with questions, he warned me not to test his patience and then grandly added: “the number has come down to 17,000.” “Don’t you appreciate it?” he asked tersely. I could not because as I visited rows and rows of burnt houses in Kandhamal, I realised that there was no chance of Christians returning.
What about those who tried to return to their homes? “Purender Nayak of Nilungia went back to see his house. He was killed and his body cut into pieces. The VHP and the Bajrang Dal are making the Kandhas do all this,” a camp resident told me. “They abduct our girls from the camps and rape them. We have no hope at all, but we believe in our God and he will help us,” he added somberly. My next stop is Bakingia village where houses belonging to Christians have been razed down. At the end of the road is a church, also badly damaged. As I take photographs, a group of 40 women carrying sticks and umbrellas block our exit. At the end of the road is a van full of men but they let us go, very sullenly.
At some places, even Hindus have not been spared. Camp resident Anita Pradhan told me that her brother was killed and hacked to pieces because “he preached amity between Hindus and Christians”. She proceeds to name the killers and they are all Hindu names.
Why are Christians being targeted? Deputy Inspector General of Police RP Koche attributes it to the killing of Swami Lakshmanand Saraswati. While his killing must be condemned, sources claim that he had 55 criminal cases pending against him. Besides, the Maoists have claimed responsibility for this dastardly act.
So are Christians aggressively ‘converting’ and is Hinduism in danger? At 2.36 per cent of the population of India, Christianity has very little chance of overtaking Hinduism. Besides, after the killing of the missionary Graham Staines, the church had decided to stop conversions.
Communal violence is not new to Orissa. Last Christmas, Hindutva forces attacked Christians and destroyed churches. The spread of Hindutva can only be accomplished when the majority community is afraid of something. ‘Conversion’ is that something, the prop which Hindutva can use to spread its tentacles in a state where 47 per cent people are poor. The aim is to divert attention from the real issues. As the state government in Orissa remains silent, even as minorities are attacked, the so-called secular parties too are doing nothing. Everyone watches as minorities get killed and churches are attacked in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. After all, elections are around the corner.
This story was first appeared on hindustantimes.com