Friday, 29 August , 2008, 12:34
Last Updated: Friday, 29 August , 2008, 12:52
Bhubaneswar: The communal violence that erupted in Orissa after the killing of five people, including a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader, continued for the seventh day on Friday with stray incidents being reported from Kandhamal district despite a curfew, police said.
“There have been stray incidents of violence in parts of Kandhamal” a police official told IANS on phone from district headquarters Phulbani.
The areas where violence broke out included Phiringia, Tikabali and Udayagiri.
"Mobs have blocked roads in several places and police are trying to clear them,” the official said.
"Although 4,000 policemen have been deployed in Kandhamal district, which is the worst hit, Hindu and Christian rioters have clashed in several places. We have arrested at least 137 people in the district since Saturday," he added.
However, officials at the police headquarters here said that things were peaceful in the rest of the state.
Educational institutions run by Christians remained closed across the state on Friday as a part of nationwide protest against the violence in which Christians were targeted, according to its community leaders.
“Policemen have been ordered to shoot rioters at sight and curfew is in force in all major towns of Kandhamal. Security forces have been taking out flag marches in several areas," a government official said.
Police said 11 people have been killed in the violence since Saturday. However, local TV channels and newspapers said at least 17 people have died in the communal violence and the bodies of 13 people had been found.
Asit Kumar Mohanty, regional coordinator of the Global Council of Indian Christians, claimed that 30 Christians had been killed since Saturday.
"As per our estimate, 10,000 Christian families have fled to the forests after their houses were burnt and they were attacked by rioters. Over 4,000 people have been injured and more than 20,000 houses have been burnt," Mohanty told IANS.
However, government sources said the figures given by Mohanty were exaggerated. Kandhamal district officials said about 4,000 Christian families had fled their homes.
"It is an emotional and spontaneous reaction of people to the killing of Swami Laxamanananda Saraswati," Suresh Chandra Mohapatra, an administrative official camping in Kandhamal, said.
The state has been on the boil since the killing of Saraswati, a member of the central advisory committee of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), and four others on Saturday evening by suspected Maoist guerrillas at his Jalespata ashram in Kandhamal district.
Saraswati was leading a campaign against cow slaughter and religious conversion in the communally sensitive district - which with a population of around 600,000 including 150,000 Christians has witnessed numerous clashes between Hindus and Christians in the past.
Radical Hindu groups in the state alleged that Christians killed Saraswati because he was opposing religious conversion. Christian organisations deny the allegation.
Saraswati's supporters have been holding protests since Saturday night, blocking trains and vehicles.
Orissa is no stranger to communal violence between Hindus and Christians.
"People are very angry and the government needs to immediately arrest the Christian militants who killed Swamiji,” said Subash Chauhan, leader of Hindu extremist group Bajrang Dal.
On January 22, 1999, Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons, 10-year-old Philip and six-year-old Timothy, were burnt alive by a Hindu radical mob in their vehicle in Keonjhar district.