Kandhamal, Orissa: A complex mixture of tribal-caste rivalry and resentment against conversions led to the communal clashes in Kandhamal district on December 24 during which four persons were killed and churches were burnt.
Kandhamal district has 6 lakh people, of whom more than a lakh are converted Christians. Conversions though are not a new trend here.
People of the Kandha tribe constitute 80 percent of the population in Kandhamal and the remaining 20 percent belong to a scheduled caste called Paana. Though Kandhas are a majority they are socially and economically backward and most Paanas have done well after converting to Christianity.
"We feel neglected here—even our political representatives are all Paanas. Paanas convert to Christianity and are well off," says Kabiser Mallick, who belongs to the Kandha tribe.
This atmosphere of resentment is allegedly made worse by conversions. Christian missionaries help poor people by providing medical treatment but their critics allege they lure people to convert to Christianity.
Christian missionaries reject such allegations. "People changing their religion are doing so on their own. We never tell anyone to do so," says missionary worker Birendra M C.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) allegedly fanned the resentment of Kandha tribe. When the Kandhas called for a two-day bandh on Christmas eve VHP activists allegedly took advantage of the situation.
"The bandh was to press for social-economic progress but it was given a communal angle," says Suresh Mahapatra, Revenue Divisional Commissioner, Central Range, Orissa.