A year back, Orissa’s Kandhamal district, 260km southwest of capital Bhubaneswar, was the scene of large-scale riots against Christians. A year after Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Swami Laxmanananda Sarswati’s murder, which triggered the violence, the popular mood has changed.
Fear of Maoist reprisal against rioters, heavy police deployment and BJP’s rout in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, has calmed tempers somewhat in the volatile district.
Saraswati was killed on Janmashthami, on August 23, 2008. Soon after, the Maoists owned up to the killing.
In the ensuing riots, 42 people were killed according to government statistics. Close to 3,269 houses were destroyed and 154 churches damaged.
A year later, on Sunday, no bandhs or rallies have been planned. Saraswati’s death anniversary has already been observed to coincide with Janmashthami, this year, according to the Hindu calendar.
Still, 51 platoons of security forces were deployed on Sunday.
After the August 2008 riots, nearly 23,000 Christians took shelter in the relief camps set up by the government.
Kandhamal collector Krishna Kumar said: “At present, 780 people are staying at camps in Mandakia and Tiangia (330-350km southwest of Bhubaneswar). Patrolling is carried out and the situation is normal.”
Maoist threat to eliminate those responsible for stoking communal fires has deterred troublemakers.
On March 19, suspected Maoists shot dead local RSS leader Prabhat Panigrahi as revenge for his alleged role in the riots.
A senior police official told HT, on condition of anonymity: “Naxal presence in Kotagada, Daringbadi and Brahmanigaon areas of Kandhamal has aroused fear among the Hindu leaders. But their reckless acts may again provoke a backlash against minorities.”
The wounds of Kandhamal haven’t healed, yet. Pabitra Diggal (name changed), staying in the Mandakia camp, said: “We have been asked to first reconvert to Hinduism and then return to our villages”.