Friday, February 06, 2009

A facade of normality in Kandhamal

Prafulla Das

KANDHAMAL: From outside, the situation appears normal in Orissa’s Kandhamal district, which witnessed large-scale anti-Christian violence five months ago. But interaction with locals and administration officials on Monday made it clear that the divide on the lines of religion, caste and political affiliations was hampering restoration of peace.

Although life turned a bit normal with the opening of some schools and colleges, distrust among those belonging to different religions and supporting different political parties, and Kui tribals and Dalit Panas continues to be conspicuous. Such was the level of fear that virtually no one was ready to divulge his identity.

Situation in camps

But many of those sheltering in relief camps, having losing all hopes of returning to their villages, were eager to reveal their identity.

“We are not able to go back to rebuild our homes as Vishwa Hindu Parishad activists have been reiterating that we should convert to Hinduism if we want to return to our village or else leave Kandhamal for good,” said 60-year-old Bitaliya Digal of Toparbali, who is staying with his family members at the Tikabali camp.

More than 25,000 people took shelter in different relief camps in the district when communal violence was at its peak. The riots broke out after the killing of VHP leader Lakshmanananda Saraswati on August 23 last.

But a vast majority of those who were in these camps left the district, while a few hundred families returned to their villages. Many of those who returned to their villages reconverted to Hinduism.

CRPF presence

Despite heavy deployment of Central Reserve Police Force personnel, many people are apprehensive that the situation could turn worse in the run-up to the Assembly and Lok Sabha polls.

More than 30 companies of Central paramilitary forces are now on duty in Kandhamal and the administration is trying its best to maintain this level until after the elections are over. But locals are of the view that tension will continue in Kandhamal for many more months to come.

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