Tourism Initiative to Heal Riot Scars in India

Determined to expunge the past and exhibit a more secular image, the government of India's Orissa state, in partnership with the Church of North India, has introduced Christian heritage tourism.

The announcement was made by Tourism Minister Debi Prasad Mishra who told media that it would bridge the communication gap and portray a more tolerant and peaceful state.

Last year's violence against Christians in the Kandhamal District in Orissa had tarnished the state's reputation, making it a communal hot spot. The violence locally and globally conveyed the feeling that the state was intolerant towards Christians.

Noting that the Kandhamal episode was over, and there was now a need for active partnership, Mishra said the colonial heritages and churches in the state have the potential to unite and attract a large number of tourists.

"We want to tell the Christian spiritual leaders that Orissa is full of religious heritages belonging to their religion," he said.

The anti-Christian violence last year broke out in Orissa after a Hindu fundamentalist leader, Laxmananda Saraswati, was murdered. Hindus blamed Christians for killing Saraswati even though Maoist rebels had publicly claimed responsibility for the murder. Hindu mobs attacked Christians and destroyed about 4,500 Christian homes and 180 churches. At least 60 Christians were killed, according to the Orissa government's report, but church leaders in Orissa report higher figures.

The tourism initiative was launched in the presence of 30 CNI bishops who were taken to different tourist sites in Orissa.

Bishop Lyndog, moderator of the CNI Synod, told media that the Church wanted to "neutralize the past experience in Kandhamal through the tourism initiative." He added that this would bring unity and promote peace among communities.

The Rev. Enos Das Pradhan, general secretary of the CNI Synod, said the state has a long history of Christianity and "the step to promote religious tourism will make the bond stronger."