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Indians take refuge in temples

As Kenya burns over rigged polls allegations, thousands of Indians hide in temples, reports Uma Upadhyaya.

india Updated: Jan 03, 2008 03:42 IST
Uma Upadhyaya
Uma Upadhyaya

Thousands of Indians in Kenya have taken shelter in temples since Sunday, when violence erupted in the country over allegations of rigged elections. The roughly one-lakh- strong population fear attack from ethnic groups.

<b1>In Kisumu, a small town 600 km west of Nairobi, Indians — particularly Gujaratis — have suffered huge losses with shops and business establishments been burnt and looted. More than 400 families have taken refuge at the Swami Narayan Temple on Okore road. While most of them are Gujaratis, there are some South Indians also.

Mehul Prajapati, 26, who owned a grocery shop at Kisumu, spoke to HT from the temple. "My shop was looted on Tuesday and I have lost goods worth Rs 80 lakh. We have been staying at the temple and don’t know for how many more days we will stay here. There are some people here whose houses have been torched and have nowhere to go. Our town is the worst affected. There are other small temples too where people have taken refuge."

The Mega City Mall and Upwala supermarket in the town have been looted and some shops burnt. "Most of the Gujaratis who owned shops at the mall and supermarket have suffered heavy damages."

Kisumu is the stronghold of Raila Odinga, 62, of Luo tribe who lost the presidential elections. His Orange Democratic Movement has accused President Mwai Kibaki, 76, of rigging the polls. Kibaki belongs to the dominant Kikuyu tribe.

After results were declared on Sunday, clashes broke out between the tribes across Kenya that have claimed over 300 lives. Kisumu, with 3,500 Indians, is the worst hit.

Umesh Patel, 35, a resident of Kisumu who heads the accounts department of a steel company, is also in the temple along with his wife and two children, "We thought all Indians should stay together in case they try to attack us. We were planning to move to Nairobi or some other safe place. But, we are now stranded as all roads leading to Nairobi have been cordoned off."

Indians are especially angry at the callous attitude of the Indian High Commission. People have alleged the Commission is not bothered about the safety of those in Kisumu.

"They were not even aware of what was happening in our town. We called up and informed them about the grim situation. The temple is providing us with food and shelter. The Indian High Commission has not done anything for us."

Although Nairobi has not been affected much so far, many markets, offices and business establishments are still closed. A rally has been called at Ohuru Park on Thursday by Odinga.

Chetan Patel, 40, manager at a private company told HT from Nairobi: "I have come to office today. But, am leaving for home. There is a lot of tension due to the rally tomorrow. People have stocked food and very few are leaving their homes. Telecast of news channels in Kenya has also been banned. We just heard a church has been burnt in Eldoret yesterday."

Girish Balsara, 41, a resident of Nairobi, who has been in Kenya for the last nine years, said: "Offices are open but there are hardly any people reporting for work. People are staying home and are a bit scared to move out".

One of Africa’s largest slums in Kiberia, 5 km southwest of Nairobi, has been cordoned off by the army to prevent people from hitting the streets. "The army has been deployed with shoot-at-sight orders. If people from this slum come out on the streets, they will create havoc."