Pressure to reconvert, no shelter and threat to their lives are the main impediments on the road that could lead them home.
Riot victims huddled in relief camps — Kandhamal or Bhubaneswar — want the administration to address these three issues. Without these, they say, they cannot even think of returning.
"Our houses have been burnt. We have been warned to convert to Hinduism without which we will again be attacked in our villages. We are not even thinking of returning. The government should first create conditions to protect us and religious freedom," says Santa Bhanja Diggal of Sipaeju village, nearly 55 km from Phulbani. Mauryam Pradhan, a 68-year-old widow, told HT: "Our house has been burnt. My grandson was also killed. As long as there is threat to our lives, we cannot return.”
But the authorities say they are taking steps to ease the tension, and several victims have returned to their villages. Kandhamal Collector Krishna Kumar said: "More than 500 arrests have been made. We are also convening peace committee meetings where people from different communities address security issues. More than 200 such meetings have been held."
Kumar added that the authorities are also trying to handle the issue of forcible re-conversion. He says, Every relief camp has a complaint register where people can write the names of those who are issuing threats.
On lack of shelter,Kumar said: "The government is giving Rs 50,000 compensation for fully damaged houses and Rs 20,000 for partially damaged houses."
The Orissa government has appointed Higher Education Secretary Madhu Susdan Padhi as the special administrator for Kandhamal to look after rehabilitation and coordinate measures to restore peace and normalcy.