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India: Kandhamal from Ground Zero

ICC Note: This article provides more stories from Orissa, and gives a little more background to why Hindus so violently attacked the Christians there.

By Soma Mitra
11/25/08 India (News Blaze) – ‘Conversion’ – that’s the issue over which riot-hit Kandhamal, a district in Orissa has been burning since September this year. Fifty of the 82 villages in the district have been completely gutted in communal clashes between local Christians and radical Hindu outfits. But what caused this carnage and what impact has it had on the common people? I decided to go to Barakhamaba, a picturesque village in Kandhamal, in search of answers.

When I reached the relief camp for riot victims, set up near Barakhamba, I met a traumatised Sanatani, 35. Until just a few days back, Sanatani had been living with her husband and their twin daughters, aged five, Sushila and Mithila. Today, her husband is missing and she is struggling to provide for her girls. In the month that Sanatani spent at the camp, she had never once gone back home. At my persuasion, she mustered up the courage to guide me to her village and, finally, to her home. Once a thatched house with two cows and four goats in the courtyard, today it was just a burnt down shell.

Sanatani could not stop her tears on seeing it. “This was my home. A group of men came on the night of September 23. They were shouting slogans against Christians saying that there was no place for us in Kandhamal and that Christians are traitors,” said Sanatani. “They broke our gate and entered our home. When my husband tried to stop them, they started beating him with sharp weapons. I was so scared that I gathered my daughters in my arms and ran into the forest just behind our house. From that day I have not seen my husband. I don’t know whether I am a widow or not. But I definitely know that I don’t have a home anymore.”

Later, she took me to meet her neighbours, Dadunggi, 38, and Sabita, 42. Their house, too, was burnt down. Both women were sitting in the courtyard with their children when Sanatani introduced me to them. The first thing they asked me was whether I had some food and water to give them. “We have just returned from the camp and found our house gutted. Even the taps that had been put up by the church in the village are broken,” said Dadunggi.

While sharing the fare I had, Dadunggi’s son Rajan, 10, told me about the black night that ruined their lives. “They came in the night and were shouting slogans like ‘Christians leave the village’.” He told me that this was not the first time such a thing had happened. Last year, too, these goons had come on Christmas Eve and burnt down eight churches. “So, when we heard anti-Christians slogans this time, we did not take any risk and fled from here,” explained the young boy in fluent English. “It was a nightmare. When we were fleeing towards the forest in the hills we saw the entire village burning,” added Sabita.

Dadungi, Sabita and Sanatani admitted that they are converted Christians. I asked them why they had converted. “We are tribals. But our religion gave us nothing. The Barakhamaba church put at least 10 taps in our village and there was no scarcity of drinking water. When they asked us to attend prayers in the church we did. Later, we converted to Christianity because we wished to,” explained Dadungi. “The only school in this village was run by the church. All the children used to go to that school. You speak to anyone of them and you will see that our children can speak fluent English. So, what’s the harm if they ask us to convert after doing so much for us?” questioned Sabita.

From Barakhamba I went to Srasananda, a village known across Kandhamal for its tuberculosis centre – the Dinabandhu TB Centre – the only medical centre for TB patients in the entire district. It was set up by the Srasananda Church seven years back. Very recently, the church had expanded the centre into a 20-bed, free TB hospital, with an outpatient facility. When the hospital became operational it was like a dream come true for the people of Kandhamal as they had never even seen a primary health centre let alone a full-fledged hospital.

On the night of September 25, rioters set fire to this hospital. Fifteen patients (out of 20), two doctors and three nurses managed to escape, but the five patients who were seriously ill were consumed by the flames. Of them, three were Christians and two were Hindus.

But these poor tribals are drawn to the Christian fold because the missionaries are their only hope for some education, modest employment and the chance of a better life. Today, they find themselves viciously attacked for exercising that choice… [Go To Full Story]