India: Minister apologises for anti-Christian violence

India's top government official infused a message of hope and confidence into the Christian community after visiting Kandhamal district in the state of Orissa on Friday.

Appalled by the violence and its consequences on Christians in the communally sensitive Kandhamal, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram apologised and offered adequate security and rehabilitation measures to help the affected start their lives newly.

Chidambaram visited relief camps at Mandaika, Rahikola, Tiangia and Tikabali where he met victims of the violence.

There are still over 2,000 victims cooped in Kandhamal relief camps who have yet to return to their villages. Earlier, there were 50,000 people who were forced into these camps at the peak of violence in the aftermath of the murder of Swami Laxmananda Saraswati, a Hindu fundamentalist leader, in August 2008.

"I am sorry that certain things happened last year and you have been brought to these camps. But you must go back to your villages. I am here to remove your fear and assure you that Center and State government will offer all protection," Chidambaram said.

He condemned the attacks and expressed regret over the attacks last August but urged the victims to "go back to your villages, build your homes and churches and practise your religion without any fear".

He declared that the government would make all efforts to help the victims return to their homes by the end of next month.

When victims expressed fear of returning due to the activities of fanatics, Chidambaram assured, "Whoever has been found accused or involved in violent activities, will be prosecuted and punished."

He added, "Christians are living all over the country. Nobody has any rights to question you on your identity or citizenship. Fear is your worst enemy. Counter this with boldness and start life afresh."

In regards to the conditions in relief camps, the former finance minister was appalled that the rice provided in relief camps was of poor quality and also noted that the compensation was inadequate.

The home minister further criticised the state authorities for their lack of concern and even held the police responsible for failing to protect the minority community members.

He said state police were partly to blame for the violence in Kandhamal as they had failed to act for at least 30 days.

Chidambaram said that para military forces would continue to protect the displaced until the last person had returned to his village. There had been concerns that the central forces would be pulled out at the end of June.

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