Bhubaneswar : A year after the Kandhamal riots, the district administration is hoping that a unique initiative involving youth will help defuse the hostility between the tribal Hindus and Dalit Christians, even as it spreads awareness about government schemes.
Kandhamal witnessed a spate of violence after VHP leader Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his disciples were gunned down by Maoists in Jalespeta on August 23 last year. More than 40 people were killed in the riots and hundreds injured. Thousands of Christians lost their homes and took refuge in several relief camps, two of which still house around 700 people altogether.
However, the government hopes that a multi-departmental and multi-structured administrative approach called Antaranga (intimate) will help salve some of the wounds left behind by the riots. The programme has been launched in around 90 gram panchayats in an effort to bring different communities together.
“Under the programme, we are setting up Antaranga clubs with 20 youths as members who would be made aware of different government programmes. The youth clubs have equal representation from Christians, Hindus, Dalits, tribals and women. We have observed that if the energies of the youths are not channelised properly, then riots like those of 2008 may recur,” said Kandhamal Collector Krishan Kumar.
District officials said lack of development in Kandhamal contributed to the communal tension in the district. While some people gravitated towards Christianity as a way to better their lot, Hindu backlash also started as proponents of the Hindutva brigade claimed that the missionaries, funded by foreign NGOs, were out to make the district a “land of Christians”.
“For illiterate tribals and Dalits, flitting from one religion to another was their only vocation as basic development eluded them. They simply did not have any idea about the government programmes being implemented in the district and thus take advantage,” said an official.
The aim is to put in place 100 such clubs with 2,000 youths as members by the end of September.