Date:13/10/2008 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/2008/10/13/stories/2008101356471200.htm
Convert or leave Ladapadar, Christian families told
As many as 22 Christian families changed religion on October 2
LADAPADAR (KANDHAMAL): Seventy-year-old Kapil Digal’s life changed on Gandhi Jayanti Day. He converted to Hinduism.
Mr. Digal, his wife, and one of their three sons changed their religion to save their lives, land and house. They were not the only ones. People belonging to as many as 22 Christian families of Ladapadar village under Phiringia Block of riot-hit Kandhamal district of Orissa converted to Hinduism on October 2.
The conversion ceremony was conducted in the forest adjacent to Ladapadar that had only one Hindu family for a long time. The ceremony was allegedly organised by some local representatives of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
While many men like Mr. Digal and his son, Subas Digal, shaved their heads, others wore the Swastik symbol on their neck to identify themselves as Hindus.
While members of 22 families converted to Hinduism, those of eight others fled Ladapadar village, unwilling to change their faith.
The ultimatum was served on the Christian families of Ladapadar since they were hiding in the nearby forest when communal violence broke out in Kandhamal after the killing of VHP leader Lakshmanananda Saraswati on August 23. Convert if you want to live in the village, they were told.
“I changed my religion out of fear, although nobody forced me to do so. People from the nearby villages told us that we will be killed otherwise,” Kapil Digal told The Hindu on Sunday.
Moses Digal (35) of Ladapadar was among those who changed his religion. His wife Sabitri Digal, however, has not formally converted as she has been staying in her parents’ house at Masapadar village under the nearby Minia gram panchayat since violence erupted in the area on August 24. She returned to the village two days ago. “Many people, including my mother and two brothers, have become Hindus in Masapadar,” Sabitri said. The couple’s three children are now living with Moses’ sister’s family in Bhubaneswar.
At the heavily-guarded relief camp at Tikabali, about 40 km from Ladapadar, over 900 people are living in fear. Almost everyone in the camp has lost hope of ever returning to their villages without agreeing to become Hindus. “I went to my village with my wife and my sister-in-law a few days ago, but we were told to change our religion or return to the relief camp,” said Basant Digal, a resident of Breka village under Tikabali Block.
Many at the Tikabali camp had started leaving to settle down in far off places outside Kandhamal.
“The government is making a false claim that people have started returning to their village. Only a few who were resigned to becoming Hindus were going back home,” said Basant Digal.
There has not been any major incidence of violence in Kandhamal in the past few days. But more than 13,000 Christians are now living in relief camps in the district with little hope of returning home.
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