Kandhamal (Orissa), Dec 18: Tensions are running high in Orissa’s strife-torn Kandhamal district with radical Hindu groups preparing for a showdown and Christians fearing a fresh wave of attacks on Christmas.
The Hindu organisations, which had given the state government a Dec 15 deadline to arrest all those involved in planning and executing the killing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his aides Aug 23, have said the administration had failed to act on their demand and they would go ahead with a statewide shutdown on Dec 25, Christmas day.
Though police have arrested seven people for their alleged involvement in the murder that sparked widespread sectarian violence in the district, Hindu leaders have said police action was not enough.
The Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati Sradhanjali Samiti (SLSSS), a body affiliated to the VHP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that has called the shutdown, described the arrests as an eyewash.
“The state government has failed to perform its statutory responsibility in bringing to book the killers and the conspirators,” SLSSS president Ratnakar Chaini said.
While Maoist extremists have claimed responsibility for the murder of the Hindu leader, the Hindu groups have maintained that Christians were unhappy with the swami’s campaign against religious conversions. Christians have denied they were in the business of conversions.
Christians fled their homes and hundreds took shelter as radical Hindu groups attacked them. In the violence that went on for more than a month in this eastern Indian coastal state, at least 36 people were killed.
Hindu Jagaran Samukhya president Ashok Sahu said his organisation was not happy that only seven of the 18 people who had conspired and perpetrated the killings were arrested.
“I will not say the arrests were just eyewash. But there are some big fish involved in the murder and are yet to be caught,” Sahu told media, adding that the administration was not making attempts to nab them.
He, however, stressed that the shutdown would be peaceful and all steps were being taken to ensure that there would be no violence.
“We have told all our people not to resort to any kind of violence. But we are apprehensive that ‘Christian militants’ may create trouble during the shutdown,” he said in a veiled reference to Maoists who have threatened to kill more Hindu leaders.
Asked if he was referring to Maoists, Sahu said: “Naxals have no religion. I am referring to those militants who killed swamiji. They are Christians and have taken up arms against Hindus.”
Notwithstanding the assurances of the peaceful shutdown, the minority Christians in the district, about 230 km from state capital Bhubaneswar, are worried – more so, as the chosen day is Christmas.
Rajib Prasad Naik, who stays in a relief camp in Rudangia – a riot-hit village some 40 km away from district headquarters Phulbani, said they had information about some local Hindus planning fresh attacks on their camp.
“We have information that some Hindu activists are collecting money to buy weapons to be used against us during Christmas bandh (shutdown),” Naik, who lost two of his relatives during the riots, told media.
“We have informed police and the district collector about this and hope the administration will take some steps.
“Though paramilitary forces are guarding our camp, we are not sleeping at night in order to keep a vigil against any sudden attack,” he said, hoping that more forces would be deployed in his village soon.
Orissa Archbishop Raphael Cheenath also feared fresh violence during Christmas but hoped that the state government would take measures to protect the traumatised Christian community in the district.
“I don’t know what will happen this Christmas. The government has promised that they will take all measures to prevent any untoward incident this time around and I believe the administration will live up to its promise,” the archbishop told media over the phone from Bhubaneswar.
“I will not say that I fear a fresh wave of violence against our community, I just hope this Christmas should go peacefully,” he said.
Cheenath said: “I can’t say that the security provided to us in the district is adequate, but I hope they will try their best towards our safety.”
Forty-five Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) companies are currently deployed in the district and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has pledged that his government would not allow the shutdown on Chritsmas.
“The government will come down heavily on those who try to create any trouble,” Patnaik said in the assembly Monday.