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Tribals hold key to peace

The focus in Kandhamal district has now shifted to the Kui Samaj (association of tribals who speak Kui), which has yet to decide whether to support the Orissa shutdown called on Christmas Day. Soumyajit Pattnaik reports.

india Updated: Dec 19, 2008 00:46 IST
Soumyajit Pattnaik

The focus in Kandhamal district has now shifted to the Kui Samaj (association of tribals who speak Kui), which has yet to decide whether to support the Orissa shutdown called on Christmas Day.

The call has been made by the Swami Laxmananda Saraswati Sradhanjali Samiti (commemoration committee) and is backed by groups affiliated to the RSS.

When the riots first started in Kandhamal district on Christmas Day last year, the statewide shutdown call given by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to protest against the attack on Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati’s vehicle on December 24 (he was killed in August this year) coincided with a Kandhamal shutdown call given by the tribals’ association for an entirely different reason. The overlapping of the two calls made the situation explosive last year.

Kui is the language spoken by the Kandha (from which the name of the district is derived) tribals. The Kui association claims to represent all the Kandha tribals, comprising nearly 52 per cent of the population in Kandhamal district.

The decision of the Kui association to support the statewide shutdown call will be crucial in determining its impact, especially in Kandhamal district.

Kui association convenor Lambodar Kanhar told HT, “We will take a decision at a meeting convened in Phulbani on December 23. Till that meeting takes place, I will not like to comment on this issue.”

The Kui associations shutdown call on December 25 last year was to protest against the granting of Scheduled Tribe status to converted Scheduled Caste Christians (locally known as Pana Christians) and for other demands.

With the shutdowns on Christmas Day last year, Christian institutions and members were targeted by activists of the Kui association and VHP supporters. Christians were killed and churches were burnt and damaged in the violence that simmered till the killing of Saraswati, which triggered a carnage.

A senior Kandhamal district official told the Hindustan Times, “Efforts are on to persuade the Kui Samaj not to support this bandh this time.”

Kandhamal Superintendent of Police Praveen Kumar told HT, “Elaborate arrangements are being made to cope with this bandh call on December 25. We have deployed sufficient force to deal with the situation.”