Kandhamal craves for Justice
Kandhamal craves for Justice
VERITAS INDIA BOOKS
This book is dedicated to all those who have perished in bigoted violence in the name of religion in Kandhamal. Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati and his four disciples including two swaminis were brutally murdered, dozens of Christians were slaughtered for holding on to faith and couple of Hindus had to pay with their lives for defending hounded Christians. An Odisha police constable died in the mob attack on Gochhapada police station while a CRPF jawan was lynched.
Shooting of a religious leader and his associates in his Ashram is an affront to the nation. Slaughtering of dozens of innocent Christians and a couple of bold Hindus who opposed the bigots made a mockery of the freedom of religion and equality guaranteed by the Constitution. When a guardian of law is killed in his office by a mob ridiculing the rule of law, it remains a challenge to the sovereignty of the nation. Kandhamal certainly remains a blot on Indian secularism built on the edifice of equal respect for all faiths.
This is also a tribute to all those who are engaged in defending fundamental rights in Kandhamal and elsewhere in the country at the risk of their lives. It acknowledges gratefully the memory of defenders of human and religious freedom in the country including late K G Kannabiran, president of People's Union for Civil Liberties, who had expressed a deep concern about the lawless in Kandhamal.
For this investigative document on Kandhamal conflagration and its aftermath, I am deeply indebted to dozens of networks, individuals and others. I acknowledge with gratitude the cordial support and cooperation during my 17 trips to the far corners of Kandhamal in five years from the leaders and members of the Christian community, human rights activists, social workers and lawyers.
While victims and relatives of the slain ones came forward boldly to share their stories of incarceration, concerned Hindus and government officials have also shared vital information to scrutinise the protracted violence and subsequent developments. The valuable documentation and inputs that Christians and others gathered painstakingly in hostile conditions have been of immense value in pursuing the travesty of justice in Kandhamal.
I am also grateful to all those who have facilitated the production of this book.
Thank you, all.
- Funeral procession triggers anarchy Funeral procession across Kandhamal
- Christmas rehearsal August bloodbath foretold
- Freedom of Religion in Kandhamal Farmer tied to tree,set on fire
- 'National Shame' Burning bodies to deny compensation
- Rape as a weapon Nun's rape and indifferent government
- Cover-up of refugee crisis Refugees dumped in no-man's land
- 'Rice' Christians deflate conversion bogey Illiterate convert prepared to die for faith
- Conversions in Kandhamal Odisha Freedom of Religion Act (1967)
- Kandhamal – a haven for fundamentalists Police open church gate for desecration
- Impunity under 'secular' government Saffron bias deep-rooted in state machinery
- Marginalisation of a vibrant community Mockery of constitutional guarantees
- Propaganda turns sheep into wolf 'Christians killing each other'
- Stoic silence of NHRC Contrasting response to Gujarat and Kandhamal
- Fast Track to justice or injustice? Not quilt of crime but guilty of destroying evidence
- Murder shrouded in mystery Call for fresh probe
- True Hindus & buds of hope Who is a Hindu?
Repetition of Godhra procession
Praveen Togadia escorted to Kandhamal
Church desecrated before spectator police
Arson along funeral procession route
State government absolves itself
Planned and organised attacks
Impunity bred by state inaction
Pastor crushed with boulder
Sadistic killing of Christians
Paralysed youth burnt alive
Forced to pull down Christian houses
One-month deadline to give up faith
Illiterate widow doused with kerosene
Saffron member fined for forsaking faith
FIRs only if the body was traced
Dead body disappears when wife goes to police
Slain pastor's wife intimidated
Even Hindus not spared
Shocking acquittal in policeman's killing
Hindu student gang-raped, burnt alive
Hindu girl raped for uncle's refusal to reconvert
Heavy toll on pregnant mothers and infants
Government contradicts itself
Unabated intimidation of refugees
Farce called 'Peace Committee'
Compensation for damaged places of worship
Farmer stands firm amid death threat
Naked parade strengthens peon in faith
Brother's murder no dampener for convert
'Rice' Christians prefer slum to forsaking faith
Slum life better than renouncing faith
Bogey of ethnic clash
Reconversions and freedom of religion
Dreadful reconversion ordeal
Reconversion began long ago
Ultimatum to reconvert
Murder charge against convert
Insensitive guardians of law
Criticise bigots, police will act
'Christian cows' and dogs not spared
Enacting Ayodhya in Beticola
Chronology of anti-Christian violence
People's tribunal lambasts 'institutional bias'
Murder passed off as 'death due to cold'
Pastor dies in 'accident'
Odisha government indicted by people's tribunal
Kandhamal jungles too far for the media
Retired policeman banished from Kandhamal
Contrast between Kandhamal and Kashmir
'Stop reconstruction' orders mark third anniversary
Peaceful Christmas of 2008
Christian 'conspiracy' behind BJD dumping BJP
BJP doublespeak on Kandhamal
'Nun's rape ecclesial afterthought'
'Harvest of Hate – Kandhamal in Crossfire'
Double Parker: one book with different authors
Kandhamal blacked out?
Insensitive inquir report
Human bones turn canine bones after testing
Murder accused MLA sentry at Fast Track Court
Intimidation and hostile witnesses
widow threatened for pursuing justic
Gujarat High Court cancelled bail to minister
Odisha High Court grants bail to MLA convict
Need for retrial like Best Bakery case
Church record fabricated 'to prove' conspiracy
Bombs readily available in remote jungle
Protracted trial of swmai's killers
Why not an NIA inquiry
Protracted trial of swami's killers
Apologetic Hindus hold out hope
Hindu caterer eager to help refugees
Waning animosity of Dangdia
Flower from assailant on New Year Day
Recovery of burnt girl holds out hope
Antidote for Kandhamal's cancer
Kandhamal is still awaiting justice. The criminals who, in the name of defending Hinduism, went around burning houses and churches, chopped into pieces Christians unwilling to renounce faith and reconvert to Hinduism, and systematically spread hatred leading to the bloodshed in the idyllic region, are still roaming free. Only a couple of convictions have been delivered. The two Fast Track Courts have proved to be utterly ineffective due to intimidation of witnesses, poor investigation and deliberately toned down FIRs. The higher judiciary has done little and the National Human Rights Commission that has accumulated massive submissions from the affected people and fact-finding missions has exposed its bankruptcy as a protector of constitutional rights.
The much-awarded, well-known journalist Anto Akkara whose earlier investigative book 'Kandhamal: a blot on Indian Secularism' stirred the nation in 2009 exposing the details of the mayhem and the tragedy in Kandhamal, has now come out with yet another significant volume. This presents much new material based on close monitoring of the court proceedings, ground level reports and interviews with numerous people in Kandhamal, Odisha and in other parts of the country. What strikes the reader most is its attempt to present facts as truthfully as possible. The statements may be contested by some, but the challenge is to provide counter-facts to disprove the account.
The Constitution of India envisages the building of a society that guarantees every individual and every community equal dignity, rights and freedom. That includes 'freedom of conscience and the right to profess, practice and propagate religion'- the crucial issue in Kandhamal that Akkara has investigated. He chronicles how Hindu fundamentalists were bent on opposing this right. The murder of Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati who was revered by many in the area was condemned by all, including the Christians, and the Maoists of the region quickly accepted responsibility for it. But instead of following legal course of investigation, the Hindu fundamentalists exploited this incident to spur a tirade against Christians and instigated the attacks on their houses and properties. Akkara raises many new questions on the events of those days and subsequent developments including the 'mystery' still surrounding the killing of the Swami.
As in Delhi in 1984 and Gujarat in 2002 the failure of the administrative machinery to maintain law and order and prevent the rioters from attacking minorities was evident also in Kandhamal in 2008. Akkara gives even more details about the acquiescent state that were not known before.
The silver lining, however, as Akkara points out, is the role played by many Hindus, representing the tradition of tolerance and syncretism. They protected Christian neighbours and others during the orgy of violence. Two of them even sacrificed their lives in defence of the Christians. Since then majority of the people of Kandhamal belonging to all the communities, SC, ST, OBC, Hindus, Christians and others are engaged in addressing their basic problems of striving for education, employment, forest and land resources and their cultural rights. But the undercurrent of fundamentalism still prevails because the guilty are still not punished.
Amid the emergence of Hindu fundamentalism, the rise of the democratic forces defending human rights of everyone, asserting the multi-religious, secular character of India and carrying on the struggle for peace and freedom is what gives us hope for a bright future. Akkara convincingly shows how Kandhamal continues to be a test case for the struggle for justice, democracy and secularism.
Retired Professor, University of Delhi &
Member, People's Union for Democratic Rights
The nation was stunned by the barbarism that engulfed the -Kandhamal district in Odisha since late August 2008. Christians were hounded out, their houses and possessions plundered, and churches desecrated.
Over 300 churches and 6,000 Christian houses were reduced to ashes or damaged rendering more than 56,000 Christians refugees in the region. While more than 100 Christians became martyrs for their 'foreign' faith, hundreds were lucky to survive after they were brutally assaulted for refusing to renounce their faith.
The carnage and mayhem that unfolded in Kandhamal for weeks following the murder of Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati - who had been carrying out a vociferous campaign against Christianity for four decades - on August 23, 2008 has fetched the district a place in the annals of history.
Maoists claimed that they were behind the shooting of the Swami to punish him for 'spreading social unrest' by setting the majority tribal Hindus against the Christians who accounted for 18 percent of Kandhamal's 650,000 population. While Churches and Christian groups condemned the murder promptly, the saffron outfits reiterated that the murder of their 81-year old leader was a Christian conspiracy.
The slain Hindu leader's body was taken out in a massive funeral procession across Kandhamal for two days even through obscure villages to incite the majority Hindus. The police remained mute spectators to the procession carried out in defiance of the curfew, declared by the government. From then on, Hindu fundamentalists took over Kandhamal. Armed mobs roamed free and targeted the Christians. There was a method in the madness. A clear pattern emerged after the initial conflagration. The saffron brigade gave ultimatum to the Christians to renounce their faith or be banished from the area.
Armed mobs marched into villages like executioners on the appointed day on the expiry of the deadline - ranging from one week to one month. The defiant Christians were given yet another opportunity to renounce their faith at the last minute. Hundreds of Christians were trooped into temples for 'reconversion' and made to chant dreadful oaths to renounce their faith. Those who remained firm in their faith were brutally assaulted and even tortured to death.
The government machinery eager to play down the death-toll refused to acknowledge many of the killings while the murderers continued to threaten the Christians. Consequently, the government listed only 56 people as killed while Christian groups have compiled lists of over 100 who lost their lives.
It is true that the nation has witnessed worse communal carnages beginning with the infamous Partition riots of 1947. But the diabolic violence in Kandhamal remains unique. The goal of saffron foot-soldiers was not to just harm the Christians. They were determined to force the Christians to renounce their faith and embrace Hinduism. Most of the Christians who were sadistically murdered had been offered an option to escape death by renouncing their faith. When they defied their diktat, the Hindu zealots turned more brutal than Nazi Gestapo. Those who refused to forsake their faith were put to sword, chopped into pieces, burnt alive or crushed with boulders.
Thousands of hapless Christians took shelter in two dozen refugee camps, put up by the government. After languishing for weeks in those camps without water and toilets, many of them fled the filthy camps as soon as they received the interim compensation of R 10,000.
When the refugees tried to return to their villages months later, the bigots remained adamant. Only those willing to renounce faith could live in their native hamlets. Consequently, thousands of Christians could not return to their villages even after three years, as they were unwilling to recant their faith for the comfort of living in native villages.
An uneasy silence prevailed in several villages as rigid social boycott was enforced against the defiant Christians. Severe penalty was imposed on Hindus who violated the ban on employing Christians, working for them, selling groceries to them or allowing Christians to travel in or hire vehicles owned by Hindus.
Besides turning a blind eye to the debilitating social boycott of the Christians, government officials with a soft-corner for Hindu nationalism let the saffron writ prevail in Kandhamal. The custodians of the 'secular democratic republic' of India failed to enforce the fundamental rights of the Christians to return to their villages and practise their faith fearlessly. Government mandarins found an easy way out – carving out exclusive Christian settlements like 'Shanti Nagar' in Nandagiri, 'Anand Nagar' in Tikabali in forlorn jungle tracts for transplanting Christians who had been reduced to aliens in their homeland.
The Kandhamal conflagration has proved that the 'rice' Christian tag to converts – an insinuation that they had embraced the new faith merely for material benefits - is an affront to the dignity of the poor. Had they been enticed by material benefits to change their faith, the Christians would have instantly deserted their 'foreign faith' when their lives were in peril. They would not have tested the patience of the saffron foot-soldiers, forcing them to torture and butcher defiant Christians.
The wheel of justice has not caught up with the butchers of Kandhamal even after five years. The two Fast Track Courts, set up to try the culprits who had indulged in bloodshed and mayhem, have handed out sporadic convictions for minor offences like arson and rioting. Shockingly, except for a couple of convictions, 30 of the crucial murder trials have ended up in acquittals due to faulty FIRs, shoddy investigation, lacklustre prosecution and rampant witness intimidation led by an MLA, key accused in seven murders, sitting as sentry at the entrance of the Fast Track Courts.
The blatant denial of constitutional rights, gross injustice and shocking indifference of even constitutional watchdogs like the National Human Rights Commission to their suffering raise the question whether Kandhamal is a part of the 'secular democratic republic' of India that guarantees "freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion" to all its citizens.
Kandhamal has witnessed the secular credentials of the nation being trampled under the feet of fundamentalists who have laid bare the brutal and ugly face of Hindu nationalism. The self-proclaimed guardians of Hinduism have muddied the face of the faith that stands out as one that promotes tolerance, mutual respect and harmony. The barbarity unleashed by saffron henchmen in Kandhamal has left deep scars on the magnanimous face of the silent Hindu majority.
Amid this pall of gloom, there was a silver lining too. A couple of Hindus laid down their lives trying to protect the Christians while several others were saved from the jaws of certain death by bold Hindus. The Christians can gradually cheer. After five years, the merchants of hatred and death are losing ground in Kandhamal. Ordinary Hindus with an uncanny sense of right and wrong admit they had been duped to join the saffron mobs and vow that the mobocracy that reigned from August 2008 will not be repeated.
For that, the custodians of the Constitution should put their foot down. The butchers should be put behind bars, the rampant impunity should be curbed and mandarins of the secular state should cease to be stooges of bigoted nationalism.
Kindly note that since ethnic surnames like 'Digal', 'Nayak' and 'Pradhan' are common in Kandhamal, the first names have been used to avoid confusion.
Early Christians of 21st Century
- Introduction to Kandhamal
of 21st Century
Stories of incredible Christian witness
from Kandhamal jungles
VERITAS INDIA BOOKS
Early Christians of 21st Century
Stories of incredible Christian witness from Kandhamal jungles
The orchestrated anti-Christian violence that engulfed Kandhamal jungles of Orissa from late August 2008 was the saddest event in the history of Christianity in India. More than 100 Christians embraced martyrdom while 300 churches were desecrated and damaged, and nearly 6,000 Christian houses were plundered - rendering more than 56,000 Christians homeless during weeks of unabated violence.
With saffron foot-soldiers insisting on thousands of Christians to forsake faith to set foot in their native villages, refugee Christians turned their 'losses into gains'. They chose to languish in dingy slums than to turn their back to Christ and gave sterling testimony as true followers of Christ who gladly carried the cross without running away from it . History repeats itself. Like the 'Early Christians', the poor but valiant Christians of Kandhamal sacrificed everything for their faith amid brutal persecution and carved out the most glorious moment since Apostle St. Thomas sowed the seeds of Christianity in India. Astounded by the amazing witness, even the assailants are now flocking to churches to profess the faith they tried to banish from Kandhamal.
The rock-like faith of even illiterate Christians inspired the journalist author to visit Kandhamal repeatedly to document the incredible testimony of the zealous Christians surviving on empty stomachs amid burnt churches and plundered houses gathering moss. Fruit of 16 arduous trips to the remote jungle region, the book is a collection of over 100 stories of true witness to Christ soaked in blood and tested by untold suffering. Along with these spine-chilling testimonies, the investigative journalist provides in-depth analysis of the lawlessness in Kandhamal, documented and narrated with journalistic precision and flair born out of two decades of reporting from troubled spots in South Asia. By holding on to their faith amid diabolic cruelty, rampant impunity and state apathy, the author convincingly argues, Kandhamal Christians deserve the title of 'Early Christians of 21st Century'.
This soul-stirring work - that strengthens faith and comforts in misery, and that shows the power of forgiveness and who is a true Christian - is a must-read book for every Christian.
For this collection of incredible witness to Christ from the Kandhamal jungles, I gratefully acknowledge the support of Archbishop Emeritus Raphael Cheenath and Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar that comprises Kandhamal. Priests, nuns and lay people extended cordial support during 16 trips to the far corners of Kandhamal during five years.
Leaders, pastors and faithful of the Baptist Church, Believers Church, Church of North India, Evangelical and Pentecostal Churches along with Christian workers from outside Kandhamal - all have helped in identifying and tracing amazing witnesses to Christ in hostile conditions. Secular social workers and government officials also have shared vital information to scrutinize the protracted anti-Christian violence.
My heart-felt gratitude goes to the valiant Christians of Kandhamal who came forward to share the incredible testimonies of their martyred dear ones and their own witness to the faith in Christ amid innumerable hardship and continuing persecution.
I am thankful to journalist K. C. Sebastian who passed away in December 2012 and professor K. F. Sebastian, head of English department of St Thomas College, Thrissur in Kerala, for scrutinizing and polishing the manuscript.
Finally, I gratefully acknowledge the support and cooperation of all those who have facilitated the release of this book in the Year of Faith.
Thank you, all.
The history of Christian faith in India is as old as Christianity itself. Despite being a small minority of the Indian population - a little over two per cent, it has borne witness over centuries, to the Gospel with dedicated service in education, healthcare and social work amid sporadic atrocities.
While Christians across the world have been challenged to bear witness to their faith from time to time, the real test of faith for Indian Christians came at the dawn of the 21st century with the Kandhamal persecution. How else can one explain the destruction of holy places, desecration of consecrated persons, torture and even killings of Christians for their faith?
The Lord says: “I am with you at all times”. In the midst of this unimaginable animosity and insane violence, it was divine grace that strengthened the hearts of the victims. Violence, hatred and destruction did not weaken their faith but only strengthened them. For them, nothing mattered more than the love of Christ.
‘Early Christians of 21st Century – Stories of incredible Christian witness from Kandhamal jungles,’ authored by Anto Akkara, gives a vivid account of the faith experience of the Kandhamal Christians. These stories are very revealing, encouraging and truly inspiring. Posterity will admire what this generation went through in Kandhamal.
The blood of the martyrs has always been the seed of Christianity. That is the mystery of the Cross! I have no doubt that much blessing from God will be showered upon the people of Orissa and India as a result of the suffering of the Kandhamal Christians.
Anto Akkara, a fearless journalist, visited the area several times, interviewed the victims and their dear ones, and documented these testimonies. I congratulate Anto for his excellent work.
I am happy to present the Foreword for this book. I present it to the Christian Community, to the Nation and to the World, as a witness of great courage, genuine commitment and unflinching faith of the people of Kandhamal in the midst of persecution. Indeed, it was painful. But it was also a grace-filled event in the history of Christianity.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias
Archbishop of Bombay &
President, Catholic Bishops Conference of India
The world was stunned by the brutality of the anti-Christian violence that engulfed the jungles of Kandhamal in Orissa from late August 2008. Churches were desecrated and destroyed, Christians hounded out, and their houses were plundered and torched.
Over 300 churches and nearly 6,000 Christian houses were reduced to ashes or damaged rendering more than 56,000 people refugees in the jungle region. Yet, Christian faith stood out shining amid the ashes of burnt churches and Christian houses. While more than 100 Christians became martyrs for their faith, hundreds of others were lucky to survive after they were brutally tortured for refusing to renounce their faith.
It is true that worse organized violence against the Christians has been reported from several parts of the world at the dawn of the third millennium. China, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea and Pakistan stand out among the two dozen countries that have witnessed severe persecution of the followers of Christ in recent times.
Though the casualty figure in Kandhamal was much lower compared to the killings of Christians in Nigeria or Iraq, the diabolic violence in Kandhamal remains unique. Unlike in other regions where Christians were targeted just for their identity, the Hindu fundamentalists’ goal in Kandhamal was not to harm the Christians. Their target was to force the Christians to renounce their faith and embrace Hinduism – rendering the persecution in Kandhamal unparalleled in modern times.
Most of the Christians who were sadistically murdered in Kandhamal had been offered an option to escape death byrenouncing their faith. When the Christians defied their diktat, the Hindu zealots turned more brutal than Nazi Gestapo. Those who refused to forsake their faith in Christ were put to sword, chopped into pieces, burnt alive or crushed with boulder.
While the orgy of violence went on for weeks, the persecution continued even after three years. Hundreds of Christians were languishing outside their villages even in 2012 as they were not prepared to meet the precondition to renounce their faith in order to return to their villages.
History has repeated itself in Kandhamal. Just as the ‘Early Christians’ were hounded out for professing a banned faith under the Roman empire, Christians in Kandhamal had to undergo brutal persecution for their faith. There were no formal statutes under the Roman Empire guaranteeing freedom of faith at the time. But, the persecution of the Christians in Kandhamal took place in the 21 st century in a nation that prides itself as a ‘secular democratic republic’, throwing to winds the fundamental freedom of religion guaranteed under the Indian Constitution to all its citizens to profess the faith of their choice.
The orchestrated violence in Kandhamal was the most painful episode in the history of Christianity in India. On the contrary, it also produced the most glorious moment of Christianity in India since Apostle St Thomas brought the faith in Christ to India in A. D. 52.
The book has two parts. Part I focuses on the incredible witness of the Christians who preferred to sacrifice all their possessions and even their lives as true followers of Christ. The depth of their unflinching faith could be fathomed only in the light of the barbaric persecution they underwent. Part II explores the depths of the orchestrated anti-Christian violence. Since surnames like Digal, Nayak and Pradhan are common in Kandhamal, first names have been used to avoid confusion. Words in italics are elaborated in detail in the Glossary to help the reader grasp better the persecution Christians underwent in Kandhamal. 14 | Early Christians of 21st CenturyThe ‘Author’s testimony’ at the end explains how an investigative journalist decided to document the incredible witness of Kandhamal Christians.
This is not a book romanticizing the Christian faith or spiritualizing mundane life. Nor does it claim that Kandhamal is a ‘holy land’ of saints. Christians in Kandhamal are ordinary human beings – a majority of them struggling with harsh lives in the jungle tract.
Inspired by the heroic witness of thousands of Christians amid severe persecution and suffering, this book covers testimonies recounted by the victims and their beloved ones during 16 arduous visits to Kandhamal, and many more to other parts of the country. It is a collection of over one hundred true witnesses to Christ – testimonies soaked in blood, tested and purified by untold suffering.
The unwavering witness of the Kandhamal Christians amid brutal persecution has started melting even the hardened hearts of those who had tried to banish Christianity from Kandhamal. The poor Christians of Kandhamal have passed in flying colours the litmus test prescribed by Gamaliel in Acts 5.38-39: If this plan or this undertaking is of men, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them.”
Enthused by the steadfast faith of the persecuted Christians, dozens of Hindus including those who assaulted the Christians have already flocked to the churches to embrace the same faith – replicating the beginning of Christianity. For their amazing witness, the valiant Christians of Kandhamal deserve the title ‘Early Christians of 21st Century’.
Introduction to Kandhamal
The picturesque mountain tract in Orissa state, Kandhamal literally means ‘land of Kandhos’ - the indigenous tribal people who account for 52 percent of the population of the district.
Before the end of the 19th century, Christian missionaries had set up centres in the mountain stretch of Kandhamal that is situated 200-350 kms south-west of Bhubaneswar – capital of Orissa. With the spread of church centres, a vibrant Christian community took deep roots in the jungle region. The decennial national census in 2001 showed that Christians accounted for 18 percent of the 650,000 people of the district while the national ratio of Christians was a mere 2.32 percent.
Kandhamal drew international media attention first during Christmas 2007. Christian targets across the region went up in flames during four days of arson from Christmas eve. Over 100 churches were desecrated, Christian institutions looted and destroyed, and several hundred houses gutted. These attacks were led by Hindu fundamentalist outfits on a rumour of ‘attack’ by Christians on Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati, who had been carrying out a vociferous campaign against Christianity for four decades in Kandhamal.
The carnage and mayhem that unfolded in Kandhamal for weeks following his murder on August 23, 2008 was of epic proportions. It fetched Kandhamal a place in the history of Christianity itself.
Maoists owned up the shooting of the Hindu leader declaring they were punishing him for ‘spreading social unrest’ in the region by setting the majority tribal Hindus against the Christians. While Churches and Christian groups condemned the murder promptly, saffron outfits were adamant that the murder of their 81year-old leader was a Christian conspiracy.
The slain Hindu leader’s body was taken out in a massive procession across Kandhamal for two days along even obscure villages to incite the majority Hindus. Police remained mute spectators to the funeral procession that was carried out in defiance of the curfew, declared by the government. From then on, Hindu fundamentalists took over Kandhamal. Armed mobs roamed free and targeted Christians – plundering their possessions and torching their houses and churches. A clear pattern emerged after the initial conflagration. Saffron outfits gave ultimatum to Christians who had not fled to renounce their faith or be banished from Kandhamal.
Armed mobs marched into the villages like executioners on the appointed day on the expiry of the deadline - ranging from one week to one month. The defiant Christians were given yet another opportunity to renounce their faith at the last minute. Hundreds of Christians were trooped into temples for ‘reconversion’ and made to chant dreadful oaths to renounce their faith. Those who remained firm in their faith were brutally assaulted and even tortured to death.
According to Orissa government’s conservative death list, only 38 Christians perished in the protracted anti-Christian violence while Christian groups had compiled lists of over 100 martyrs. The arsonists also plundered Christian targets in more than 415 of the 2,300 villages in Kandhamal district that is spread out in 177,654 square kilometres. Consequently, the worst persecution of Christians in Indian history left nearly half of the 117,000 Christians in the district homeless.
Thousands of hapless Christians took shelter in two dozen refugee camps that were put up in Kandhamal by the government. After languishing for weeks in the refugee camps without water and toilets, many of the Christians fled these filthy camps in Kandhamal as soon as they got the interim compensation of ` 10,000.
When the refugees tried to return to their villages months later, the Hindu fundamentalists remained adamant. Only those who were willing to renounce their faith could live in their native hamlets. Consequently, thousands of Christians could not return to their villages even after three years as they were unwilling to give up their faith to return to their birthplaces.
Peace of the graveyard prevailed in several villages as Hindu nationalists enforced social boycott against the defiant Christians. Severe penalty was imposed on Hindus who infringed the ban on employing Christians, working for them, selling groceries to them or allowing Christians to travel in or hire vehicles owned by Hindus.
Besides turning a blind eye to the debilitating social boycott of the Christians, government officials with a soft-corner for Hindu nationalism let the saffron writ prevail in Kandhamal. They carved out exclusive Christian colonies in forlorn lands to transplant Christians who had been cast out from their villages. The half a dozen new Christian settlements like ‘Santi Nagar’ (city of peace) at Nandagiri and ‘Anand Nagar’ (city of joy) near Tikabali remained a question mark on the fundamental freedom of religion guaranteed under the Constitution of India.