by Nirmala Carvalho
Prabhat Panigrahi had been arrested for involvement in the attacks against Christians. In the district of Kandhamal, there are fears of a new wave of violence. Meanwhile, Christians are being marginalized: they may return to their villages only if they convert to Hinduism.
Bhubaneshwar (AsiaNews) - Prabhat Panigrahi, a radical Hindu leader previously arrested for the violence against Christians in Orissa, was killed this morning by an armed group in the district of Kandhamal.
The police say that about 15 ultras - who were probably Maoists - entered the village of Rudiguma, 145 kilometers from Phulbani, and opened fire on the 30-year-old Panigrahi, a guest at the home of an activist of the nationalist Hindu organization RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh).
Panigrahi had been arrested for involvement in the violence against Christians in the district of Kandhamal, which erupted at the end of last August after the violent death of Laxamananda Saraswati, the leader of a fanatical Hindu group, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). He was released last March 14 from the prison of Baliguda.
Sajan K. George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, tells AsiaNews that "Panigrahi was very involved in the riots and a known baiter of the vulnerable Christian people, and now the situation in Kandhamal, which was already tense with sporadic killings of Christians, will bring renewed fear. Moreover, there are serious anxieties in the runup to the general elections." Many analysts say that one of the motives in the pogrom was to disrupt the Christian electorate by driving them out of the region, in an effort to guarantee victory for the BJP, supported by radical Hindu groups.
Sajan K. George explains that there is still no peace for the Christians: "Our people are not even being allowed to collect the seasonal 'Mahua' flowers this season, these flowers which have traditionally been collected and sold to make local brew, found in abundance in the forests of Kandhamal. For years, they have been a source of livelhood for the villagers. However, this time even this is being denied to them, besides, they are not allowed to collect firewood. How will they survive?"
Sr. Sujith of the Missionaries of Charity recounts the other difficulties and forms of marginalization suffered by the faithful: "In many places, people are being given the first phase of compensation and told to leave the relief camps. Once the people leave, their names are struck from the rolls of the relief camps, and they cannot return. But our people are not allowed to enter the village as Christian, they have to become Hindu, so they have no alternative but to live under tarpaulin tents in groups in the outskirts of the villages, or live in shanties in the marketplaces, or become a displaced people, leaving the district or even state."