Attacks haunt Indian Christians
Many still living in camps in eastern state, where they feel safe but amenities are basic.
Last Modified: 26 Dec 2008 14:22 GMT

Several churches were damaged in the anti-Christian attacks of August in the state of Orissa [EPA]

Christmas for some of the 23 million Christians in India is bittersweet this year.

As Al Jazeera's Kamal Kumar reports from Kandhamal district in the eastern state of Orissa, thousands of them are living in camps, months after deadly attacks forced them to leave their homes.

The violence erupted in August, following the murder of a prominent Hindu priest in Kandhamal.

The murder was initially blamed on Maoist insurgents, but Hindu groups blamed Christians for the killing.

A wave of violence against the Christian community in Kandhmal followed.

Fifty-nine people, including two pastors, were killed and churches were attacked.

More than 50,000 people were left homeless.

Following the government's intervention, several camps have been set up in Kandhamal to protect the district's Christians from further intimidation.

Around 15,000 people currently live in the camps, where free food and basic health facilities and are provided.

But the amenities are basic at best. During the day, people get together to cook the daily meal.

Hundreds queue to collect their share.

Aman Chandra Digal, a Christian who had to flee his home, lives with his family in a camp without proper washing facilities or toilets.

A hunger strike was held in New Delhi in December against the Orissa attacks [AFP]
"Nearly 1,600 people came in our neighbourhood and killed a man right at my door step," he said.

"We got scared and to save our lives, we fled to the nearby jungle. They destroyed my house, burnt my motorbike and the church in our village."

Little to return to

Some locals have returned to their homes, only to find little to return to.

"I am a Hindu but they broke down my house because my daughter was a Christian," said a man who gives his name as Jai.

He has returned to the remains of his house with his mother, but has no idea where his daughter is.

Another displaced resident, who said his neighbour assaulted him with impunity, suspects the government of Orissa was behind the attacks.

He also claimed that the government did nothing to stop the violence.

Security measures

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Kishan Kumar, the Kandhamal district collector, said the case is already in the courts, and insisted that those found guilty of dereliction of duty will be punished.

For its part, the government, fearing another outbreak of violence, has taken evident protective measures.

But for many Christians at the Kandhamal camps, it is not just about security.

Francis Degal saw his house being destroyed and his brother and sister-in-law being murdered. He is ready to forgive - under one condition.

He said: "If I am asked to change my faith in order for me to stay in my village, I will not."

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