x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Escalating violence forces hundreds to flee Orissa state

Clashes between Christians and Hindus leave at least 11 dead in India's eastern Orissa state.

New Delhi // Hundreds of Christians were fleeing their homes in India's eastern Orissa state yesterday after Hindu mobs defied curfew, blocked roads and attacked churches, homes and orphanages following the killing of a Hindu leader. At least 11 people, mostly Christians, have been killed so far in clashes between Hindus and Christians as violence spiralled for a fifth successive day in Kandhamal district, 180km south-west of the state capital, Bhubaneshwar. Officials said at least one church was burnt yesterday, while television pictures showed mobs armed with rods putting up road blocks.

Local television channels and newspapers, however, put the death toll at between 17 and 20. Christian schools and other educational institutions across India were to stay closed today to protest against the violence. "The destructive and divisive communal forces have to be stopped. We want this message to go across to people, that is why we are closing our educational institutions in deep sorrow and anguish. We hope parents become aware of the implications of the incidents in Orissa," the country's church network said.

In the underdeveloped regions of Orissa, though, the security situation was deteriorating, with hundreds of residents fleeing their homes for the safety of nearby hills and jungles. "We went door-to-door begging for shelter when Hindu mobs attacked our homes only to be refused because we are Christians," Pushpalata Digal, 21, told the Indian Express newspaper. Her father, John Digal, who served in the provincial police for decades, said he watched police standing by as a Hindu mob torched his home.

"Till now, no policeman or government official has come to ask us about our plight," the paper quoted him as saying. The situation in Orissa was so volatile that Sriprakash Jaiswal, the junior federal interior minister, was advised by local authorities against travelling to the troubled region. Speaking to reporters ahead of his planned trip on Wednesday, Mr Jaiswal said matters were "out of control" and blamed local authorities for taking inadequate measures to stem violence in Kandhamal and prevent it from spreading to adjoining areas.