India's Remote Faith Battleground

September 26, 2008

Author: Soutik Biswas

Source: BBC News

Anti-Christian riots have rocked several parts of India over the past month. The BBC's Soutik Biswas travelled to a remote region in the eastern state of Orissa, where the recent violence broke out, to investigate the complex roots of the conflict.

A narrow ribbon of fraying tar snakes up from the plains of Orissa to the hills of Kandhamal, an unlikely setting for what is being described as the country's latest battle over faith.

There is no railroad to this remote landlocked district dominated by tribes people. Here, they and a growing number of Hindu Dalits (formerly known as untouchables) who have converted to Christianity have lived together for centuries, tilling its fertile land, growing vegetables, turmeric and ginger.

It is also the place which has been rocked by violence between Hindus and Christians over the past month. Events here have triggered off anti-Christian attacks in a number of other states.

Villages have been attacked, people killed, churches and prayer houses desecrated. Radical Hindu groups have accused Christian groups of converting people against their will. Christian groups say these allegations are baseless.

Kandhamal continues to simmer a month after the murder of a controversial 82-year-old Hindu holy man and the consequent rioting between local tribes people and Christians.

Some 13,000 Christians are still living in tented refugee camps, with many having no homes to return to.