NEW DELHI: At least 3,000 people, most of them Christians, are living in government-run relief camps after days of Christian-versus-Hindu violence in eastern India, government officials said.
The government said that many people were also living in the jungle without any shelter and security because of the tensions, which erupted in violence after a Hindu leader was killed Saturday. At least 10 people, most of them Christians, have been killed since.
Christian community leaders say that at least 1,000 Christian homes have been set on fire since Monday, rendering more than 5,000 people homeless.
Many of those living in the jungle were without food or water, said the Rev. Dibakar Parichha, a priest at the Roman Catholic church in Phulbani, a town in Orissa State. Father Parichha said that about 90 places of worship, including small churches and prayer halls, had been burned down. Local officials said the figure was about 20.
The violence has occurred in Kandhamal, a district in Orissa State that has a history of communal and ethnic clashes. The latest conflict started Saturday night, when unidentified armed men stormed a Hindu school in Kandhamal and killed the Hindu leader Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his followers.
The police suspected that Maoist rebels were responsible. But Hindus blamed Christians. In the retaliatory violence, 500 houses were burned. All nine towns in the district are under a curfew, and the police have license to shoot. At least two people have been killed in violent reprisals in other districts of Orissa, including a woman who died when an orphanage was burned down.
"We are supposed to take drastic action against whosoever indulges in violence" said R. P. Koche, the police chief in Kandhamal District. The local police force has been reinforced by 2,500 paramilitary troops, he said. The district magistrate, Dr. Krishna Kumar, said the situation was tense but under control, and that more then 200 people had been arrested.
On Wednesday, during his weekly address at the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI said, "I firmly condemn any attack on human life," and said that he was "profoundly saddened" by the violence in Orissa. He called the killing of Saraswati "deplorable."
To protest the violence against Christians in Orissa, more than 40,000 Christian educational institutions across India will be closed on Friday in compliance with a call by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India and other Christian denominations.