Orissa Gov't to Boot Christians from Refugee Camps

After more than six months, the security situation remains perilous for Christians living in Orissa, India. But the lives of these persecuted Christians may soon be even worse now that the Orissa government is evicting them from refugee camps where thereafter they will again be vulnerable to attacks from Hindu extremists.

Tens of thousands of Orissa Christians are now being told to leave government camps to return to homes that no longer exist and to villages where Hindu militants openly wait with threats of violence.

The Orissa government is reportedly turning people away with just 110 lbs of rice and about $200 (10,000 rupees) for survival, according to Mission Network News.

During a speaking event last week in Washington, D.C., Catholic Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Orissa criticized the government's plan of providing Christians money in three installments to rebuild their homes.

Based on the government's plan, the 10,000 rupees are meant to be used to build the foundation of a new home. After the foundation is built, the government will give more money to build the rest of the home.

But Cheenath pointed out that the Orissa Christians have been unemployed for months as they hid from the extremists in refugee camps. When they receive the 10,000 rupees, they will use it to buy immediate necessities such as food instead of the foundation for their home. As a result, these Christians will not be able to receive the subsequent housing fund because they failed to build the foundation with the initial 10,000 rupees they received.

Moreover, Orissa Christians leaving the government camps will be hard pressed to find local Hindus willing to hire them, according to Mission India, a ministry that assists the Indian church and Christians.

With no housing, little money, and no immediate employment, Mission India warns that there is an urgent need to provide basic supplies to Orissa Christians. The ministry's staff is working with local ministry partners to distribute emergency items in relief camps, including cooking utensils, rice, a water jug, blankets, clothing for adults and children, a Bible, and a picture New Testament in the local language, according to MNN. Food and medicine are also being given out where they're most needed.

Hindu campaigns against Christians began last August after the assassination of a Hindu fundamentalist leader in Orissa. His followers accused Christians of being the masterminds behind the murder and maintained this position despite a public statement by Maoist rebels claiming responsibility for the Hindu leader's death.

Indian Christian leaders charge Hindu fundamentalists of using the swami's death as an excuse to attack Christians.

Since August, at least 60 Christians have been killed; 18,000, wounded; 181 churches, razed or destroyed; 4,500 Christian homes, burned; and more than 50,000 Christians, displaced. More than 30,000 of those displaced were staying in refugee camps or hiding in the jungle, according to media reports.

India's Supreme Court recently ordered the Orissa government to do everything within its power to protect its Christian citizens from being attacked. The Orissa government was also ordered to compensate Christians whose homes were destroyed or whose family members have been killed.

Archbishop Cheenath reported that the situation in Orissa has improved since the Supreme Court order because the Orissa government now knows that Christian leaders will not just stand still and watch their flock being attacked and abused.

The eastern state of Orissa has a large population of people from "outcast" groups – untouchables and tribal. Cheenath noted that it is the poorest state in India despite being the biggest supplier of minerals in the country. He contended that the government failed to stop the violence against the Christians in Orissa for months because of the "discrimination" against its poor population.

"Orissa, in the eyes of the government, is a non-entity as a state," Cheenath said at the event hosted by Washington-based Hudson Institute. "There is discrimination. There is a neglect from the state as well as the central government because Orissa is not an important place."

Cheenath filed the Supreme Court petition on behalf of Christians in Orissa.

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