Thousands of people, most of them Christians, have sought refuge in makeshift government shelters in eastern India, driven from their homes by religious violence which has killed at least 11 people this week.
An official said on Friday the religious clashes showed signs of abating after a week of violence in the state of Orissa where Hindu mobs burnt more than a dozen churches and attacked Christians following the killing of a Hindu leader.
“Hindu and Christian peace committees have been meeting and the leaders have appealed for calm,” Krishan Kumar, the chief administrator of the worst-affected Kandhamal district, told Reuters, adding that a curfew imposed to halt the attacks would be lifted for a few hours.
At least 6,000 people were taking shelter in the government camps and about 5,000 are hiding in forests around the district of Khandhamal, which has a history of communal and religious clashes, for fear of mob violence.
The numbers at the government camps are expected to swell to 10,000 later on Friday, Kumar said.
Most of India’s billion-plus citizens are Hindu and about 2.5 percent are Christians but in the Kandhamal area, more than 20 percent of the 650,000 people are mainly tribal inhabitants who converted to Christianity.
Religious violence has troubled the tribal regions of Orissa for years, with Hindus and Christians fighting over conversions.
While Hindu groups accuse Christian priests of bribing poor tribes and low-caste Hindus to change their faith, the Christians say lower-caste Hindus convert willingly to escape a complex Hindu caste system.
The recent violence has drawn international condemnation.
Pope Benedict has condemned the violence against Christians in Orissa but also deplored the killing of the Hindu leader.
On Thursday, Italy’s foreign ministry said it would summon India’s ambassador to demand “incisive action” to prevent further attacks against Christians.
Kumar said on Friday that bodies of two Christians believed to have been killed earlier this week were found on Friday.
About 25,000 Catholic schools were due to be closed in India on Friday in a symbolic protest against the killing. (Jakarta Post)