Christian flight from clash zone

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By SUBRAT DAS in Bhubaneshwar
  • Published 27.08.08
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Bhubaneswar, Aug. 27: Christian families have begun leaving Phulbani, the headquarters of strife-hit Kandhamal district where shoot-at-sight orders were issued today to quell violence that spread to more areas.

Of the 47 Christian families staying in the south Orissa town, 360km from here, around 10 have moved out following the wave of attacks on the community since Sunday.

The church and several houses of minorities have been ransacked, said a person from the Christian community who did not wish to be named.

According to official records, more than 500 houses, 15 vehicles and 25 prayer houses have been burnt or damaged in Kandhamal in violence that erupted as a backlash to the gunning down of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Swami Laxmananda Saraswati and four associates on Saturday night. The VHP believes the killings were arranged by the Church, though the police claim it was the handiwork of Naxalites.

Christian leaders issued a statement condemning the VHP seer’s killing. “Those who committed the murder are criminals. They do not have a religion,” said Swarupadnanda Patra of the Orissa Minority Forum.

A factsheet presented by the forum said 41 churches had been destroyed in the ongoing riots. Seven institutions, including the premier Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar, have been attacked, the forum claimed.

At least 10 people have died in clashes across the state since Sunday, the fury spreading to western Orissa on Monday when a lady caretaker of a children’s hostel was burnt alive.

The administration ordered shoot-at-sight orders today, stung by the intensity of the violence which showed no sign of ebbing in spite of the curfew in force since Sunday.

Revenue divisional commissioner (south) Satyabrata Sahu, who is camping in the troubled district, said: “There is a standing order to shoot at rioters when the curfew is in force.”

Even union minister of state for home Sri Prakash Jaiswal, who arrived in Bhubaneswar today, had to cancel his visit to

Kandhamal reportedly at the request of the state government. Jaiswal said the violence may have national ramifications.

“I have, therefore, asked the state government to contain communal violence on a war-footing,” he said.

Jaiswal claimed that chief minister Naveen Patnaik had assured him normality would be restored within three days.

The curfew has hit residents hard.

Sania Jani (52), who battled with time in the serpentine queue for rations as the three-hour curfew relaxation period came to an end at 6pm, said: “We have no rice or vegetable left in the house as shops have been closed since Sunday due to the curfew. I am afraid whether I will be able to reach the counter before the re-imposition of curfew.”

Ranjan Sahu said the prices of vegetables had skyrocketed as vehicles carrying them were not coming in. Potato was now being sold at Rs 15 a kg, up from Rs 7. The price of onion had soared to Rs 20 from Rs 12 per kg. Beans are being sold at Rs 25 instead of Rs 8 per kg.

Fish, which made its way from Andhra Pradesh, is not available. Mutton is being sold at Rs 300 per kg, up from Rs 160.

Petrol is available on the black market at Rs 80 per litre as pumps are closed.