Nearly four months after tension in riot-hit Kandhamal, Orissa, India, had subsided, the murder of a Christian last week has raised eyebrows on the security of Christians and claims of "normalcy."
On Feb. 19, the body of Hrudayananda Nayak, 40, was found in a jungle near his home village of Rudangia, in Kandhamal district.
Local people claimed that Nayak, a Christian, was living in relief camps after violence broke out in the district. However, a day after his return to the village, he was killed.
"Somebody may have hit him on the head, causing his death," District Superintendent of Police S. Praveen Kumar said.
Rabindra Parichha, a social activist, claimed that Nayak, among other Christian leaders, was on the hit list of Hindu radicals.
Nayak, he said, was the fourth Christian to be abducted and killed after violence ebbed down by the end of October.
"The state should take strong action against the culprits," Parichha said.
According to Father Prasanna Singh, a parish priest in Kandhamal, the murder revealed to the world that violence against Christians still continues in sensitive areas. The murder committed during an afternoon has shocked the Christians in the state, the prelate added.
Violence broke out in August last year and has rendered thousands homeless, dozens murdered and hundreds of churches razed down.
The violence was sparked after Hindu fundamentalists accused Christians of slaying a local Hindu leader on Aug. 23, 2008, for which the Maoists had repeatedly claimed responsibility.
Earlier this month the state government had announced the shutdown of relief camps in Kandhamal district.
Despite church leaders opposing the hasty decision of the government, the Kandhamal district collector announced the closure of several relief camps, forcing many to return to homes that may have been destroyed and with little money and no immediate employment.
The National Council of Churches in India told Christian Today that victims in the state are reluctant to return to their villages, due to increasing "religious segregation" and scurrilous threats demanding "re-conversion to Hinduism."
Nayak's murder is indeed a case in point to affirm that government claims of "safety" for Christians returning to villages are distrustful, the Church body commented.
Earlier this year, India's Supreme Court ordered the state government of Orissa to protect the tens of thousands of Christians being targeted by Hindu extremists. Church leaders have accused the Orissa government of failing to protect the state's persecuted Christians.