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In India, religious violence leaves long trail of refugee camps

Indian Christians who fled from violence two years ago are still living in refugee camps, a German delegation found this week. Muslims and Hindus who faced persecution eight and 20 years ago also remain displaced.

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“The advocacy group the All India Christian Council (AICC) alleges that the authorities forced almost 100 survivors of anti-Christian violence to leave a market in the town of G. Udaigiri, Kandhamal district, just before the EU team was due at the scene. The homeless Christians had been living in the market since the closure of some of the refugee camps set up when extremist violence spread across Orissa in late-2008.”

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Release International, a Christian organization based in England, said in December that up to 20,000 Christians remain displaced since the Orissa riots. According to the group, many remain unable to return to their home villages "for fear of death or forcible conversion to Hinduism."

As in other parts of India, conversions and reconversions have caused tensions between Christian minorities and the Hindu majority. The Monitor has reported on some Christian conversion tactics that have angered Hindus and even unsettled some of the older Christian faith communities in India.

Muslims, Hindus also displaced

The effects of religious riots can linger for years, particularly the ghettoization of minorities. In 2006, the Monitor reported on the rising segregation of Hindus and Muslims in Gujarat, four years after religious riots killed more than 2,000 people, mostly Muslims.

"At the entrance of some villages, gaily painted message boards have sprung up since the riots that read: "Welcome to this Hindu village in the Hindu nation of Gujarat." Rahimanagar, a Muslim ghetto just outside the town of Anand, sprang up right after the riots. The ghetto is now home to many Muslims who are afraid to return their villages," the Monitor reported.

The Indian magazine Tehelka reported in December that Muslims still living in some of the 81 relief colonies set up after the riots now face strict religious rules imposed by Muslim groups working in the camps.

"Strict diktats have been issued for people to pray five times a day and that too, at specially designated mosques. Attendance and participation at religious discussions held in three-day camps is compulsory. No television sets are allowed and no music can be played on radios. All residents of relief colonies are forced to follow these rules. Additionally, Muslim men are asked to wear skullcaps and sport beards while women are encouraged to don the hijab and observe purdah. Residents who do not adhere to these norms are either issued warning notices or asked to vacate their houses – often in the middle of the night," the magazine reported.

Hindus have also faced displacement in India following religious violence. The population of Kashmiri Hindus dwindled from 400,000 in 1989 to just 8,000 in 2006, according to a US congressional resolution in 2006. The resolution puts the blame on "Islamic militants who are promoting an agenda of ethnic cleansing."

Some 10,000 Kashmiri Hindus still live in one refugee camp outside Jammu where there is only one toilet per 150 people, according to a site report from an advocacy group.