jan 1, 2007
of course this doesn't see the light of day.
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Reservation, not religion, root cause of Orissa riots
Monday December 31, 01:45 PM
Phulbani (Orissa), Dec 31 (IANS) Religion may have been the trigger for this week's riots that killed at least five in Orissa's Kandhamal district, but the root of the conflict lies in reservations for tribals in educational institutions and government jobs.
The district, about 200 km from state capital Bhubaneswar, has a population of over 600,000. Of them, 450,000 are from the Scheduled Tribe (ST) called Kandha. Most of the others are from the Scheduled Caste (SC) called Pana - over 95 percent of them Christian.
The majority of the riot victims in the hill-slope villages surrounded by forests were Christian.
Hindu radical groups such as the Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) have a sizeable following among the Kandha tribals, but 'most of the attackers were not members of these groups,' a district police official told IANS on condition of anonymity.
'Members of the Pana community are financially better off than the tribals. They have been dominating politics and occupy powerful posts in government,' Lambodar Kanhar, a tribal leader and secretary of Kui Samaj - the apex body of the Kandha tribe - told IANS. Kui is the mother tongue of the Kandhas.
The region has witnessed numerous clashes in the past over attempts of conversion and re-conversion of tribals and Panas by both Christians and Hindus.
The trouble had escalated in the early 1990s when the Kui, Kuvi and Kuee groups were added to the Kandhas in the Scheduled Tribes (ST) list.
Since then, Panas have been demanding their inclusion in the ST list as well. An ST can continue to get extra benefits as a tribal even after conversion to Christianity, but a SC member cannot.
The Kandhas have been opposing this demand.
Former state steel and mines minister Padmanabha Behera, who resigned Dec 28, and senior congress leader and Rajya Sabha member Radhakanta Naik are both members of the Pana community.
The Kui Samaj has been alleging Behera and Nayak were helping Panas get ST certificates. In August 2006, the group launched a campaign demanding Behera's resignation from his ministerial post.
It organised several rallies across the district and threatened a violent agitation if the demand was not met. However, the state government ignored the Kui Samaj. This frustrated and angered many Kandhas.
It was in this backdrop that Hindu and Christian groups clashed on Christmas Eve in Brahmanigaon, about 150 km from district headquarter Phulbani.
The problem intensified the same day when some people attacked the vehicle of local Hindu leader Swami Laxmananda Saraswati near Daringbadi when he was on his way to perform a yagna in Brahmanigaon.
Then the tribals attacked Panas, damaged their churches and drove them out of their homes.
'Although there are isolated incidents of Panas attacking tribals, by and large it was a collective attack by thousands of tribals on Christian Panas and the main reason was not religion alone,' a district police official said.