Anita Joshua

NEW DELHI: The ground reality in Orissa holds out little hope that the latest round of communal violence there will be the last, according to the National Commission for Minorities (NCM).

“Unable to restore peace”

In its third report on Orissa in less than a year, the NCM has recommended that if the State government is unable to restore normality and a sense of confidence among Christians, “the Centre should consider an appropriate response in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.”

Based on NCM Vice-Chairman Michael Pinto’s visit to Kandhamal in mid-September, the report — finalised this week — says that far from improving, the situation has worsened, with trouble spreading to other districts. “The communal divide appears to be as strong as before and there has been little success in reining in the extreme fringe that has encouraged and fostered the spread of intolerance.”

Not a single case

On the charge that Christians are indulging in conversions, the NCM, while conceding that the Christian population in Kandhamal has registered a larger increase than the Hindu population, points out that not a single case of forced conversion has been registered under the Freedom of Religion Act, which has been in place in the State for about 40 years.

“If indeed conversions by force or fraud were responsible for the feelings against Christians, it is absolutely amazing that the provisions of an Act designed precisely to address such conversions have never been invoked. It gives rise to the suspicion that conversion had really very little to do with the problem.”

Complaint of threats

According to the NCM, practically every Christian living in relief camps — at the time of Mr. Pinto’s visit, an estimated 20,000 people were living in the 14 camps set up by the State — complained of threats that his or her “return to their homes was predicated on their acceptance of the Hindu religion.” Though secular quarters have reservations about such legislation, the NCM has said that since the Act is now on the statute, its provisions must be used “against the pernicious threats to Christians to convert forcibly to Hinduism.”