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Relief camp attacked
Deceptive calm in Kandhamal
Aditi Tandon writes from Kandhamal

Digals outside their torched house in Tikabali block of riot-hit Kandhamal district.
RAZED DREAMS: Digals outside their torched house in Tikabali block of riot-hit Kandhamal district. Photo by writer

Nestled in a verdant valley, the riot-hit Kandhamal district of Orissa exudes peace and calm. That, perhaps, is deceptive.

Today, the division of hearts here is evident. Over 30,000 Christians, who once called it their home, are now living here as refugees. Out of these, only 14,500 have sought protection in the 11 relief camps set up by the district administration.

The rest feel forests are a safer option.

Their fears came true this morning when over 2,000 armed persons from periphery areas attacked the government high school relief camp in the Tikabali block, now housing 800 Christians.

The protesters came in full force. Soonafter, state revenue minister Manmohan Samal of the BJP left for Jalaspeta, the ashram of Swami Laxmananda Saraswati who was killed on August 23.

This is the second time that violence has followed the visit of a BJP/VHP leader. The first such occasion was on August 24 when VHP’s international general secretary Praveen Togadia left Jalaspeta after attending Saraswati’s last rites.

Today, the armed attackers, both men and women, barged into the Tikabali relief camp and retreated only when they were lathi-charged.

Pratap Kumar Das, officer in charge of the CRPF company in Tikalbali, told this correspondent: “The protesters were mostly Hindus and were demanding relaxation of curfew, saying their livelihood was being adversely hit.

“They also sought equal share in the relief material being distributed among Christians. We have imposed curfew to control the situation.”

Tikabali was under curfew since 9 am today; the town was supposed to be barricaded when protesters marched into its heart, lathis in hand. One wonders how the curfew was breached.

One man who remained stone-cold to the happenings was Pastor Naveen Digal, who lost everything to the ongoing communal frenzy in the area.

Hundred-odd rioters stormed his house in Kamba Guda in the wee hours of August 25, and torched everything inside.

“They did not leave anything; they even burnt my niece’s books and all our cooking vessels. They have threatened to kill us if we return to our house,” Digal said.

The Digals now spend their days sitting around the torched house, and at night they hide in the forest. “Thousands of Christians are hiding in the forests. There is no question of returning to the villages at night as the rioters are active at that time. Curfew can’t stop them,” says Digal’s sister Jantula, whose dreams of marriage have turned into ashes.

Ask them about food, and they flash a weak smile, saying it would have been better had they died. “We cook in borrowed utensils and live on meagre government ration. For some days we ate at our relatives’ house. We better starve until God wills otherwise,” head of the family B.C. Digal says. Thousands of dalit Christians from Kandhmal share Digals’ fate.

For the record, Tikabali block of the district suffered maximum damage during the attacks on Christians in Orissa. More than 6,000 people have been displaced; 650 families affected; and 65 villages destroyed.

But the real story of suffering is much beyond statistics.




Orissa not to allow VHP yatra, SC told

New Delhi, September 4
The Orissa government today assured the Supreme Court that VHP leader Praveen Togadia would not be allowed to go ahead with his proposed yatra carrying the ashes of slain Hindu leader Swami Laxmananada Saraswati in the state on Friday.

“We will stop the yatra at the state border and we will utilise the force to prevent the yatra from coming into Kandhamal district,” senior advocate K.K. Venugopal, appearing for the Orissa government, told a Bench headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan.

The Bench, which expressed its concern over the prevailing tense situation, was informed by the Orissa government that paramilitary forces had already been deployed and a prohibitory order under Section 144 of CrPC had been clamped in communally-sensitive areas. — PTI



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