On August 24, two policemen came and informed a Christian dominated hamlet (comprising of around 50 families out of which 32 were Christians) that 6 ‘Hindus’ along with ‘Swami’ Lakshmananda Saraswati had been killed. They asked the villagers not to go to the church. The majority of the villagers are cattle-bearers with little land. They decided to obey the order/advice but asked the police for protection which was denied on the grounds that there were not adequate forces for that.
In the evening, about 50 men, with fire torches in their hands came to the village shouting Hindu communal slogans, like ‘Hindu-Hindu-Bhai-Bhai’ (All Hindus are brothers), etc. They stopped in the midst of the village and shouted. There was a dilemma – “should we burn the houses of the Christians first or their church?” To put it more accurately, “should we destroy them or their symbol first?” They decided to destroy the symbol first; the church was to be destroyed.
That symbol played the function of the authority, this they probably understood. On hearing that the church was to be burnt and then their houses would be the target, the villagers panicked. They went to the Hindu houses of their village and asked for help. They wanted their Hindu brethren to take care of their costly possessions, which they handed them over. They ran and hid themselves behind the bushes. The Hindu stalwarts then came to the village and lit the houses aflame. The Christians were silent spectators.
There was a family of four brothers. One of them was a paralytic who couldn’t be rescued from his house. He was shouting at the Hindu fundamentalists desperately, “Throw me out of this place and do whatever you like.” They drenched him in petrol and… One of his brothers watched this from behind the bushes, shocked!
With the houses burning, enough light emanated. The villagers from behind the bushes could see the faces of over 50 ‘Hindus’. They recognized some of them. They were from a nearby village, the place where the slain Swami practiced his “philanthropy” and “education”, which his followers were demonstrating that day.
With the light also came the fear of being noticed by the killer mob. Fear forced them to leave the bushes and go to the nearby jungles. They did so. The mother of the four brothers, aged about 70, couldn’t run. She was kept behind a tree seated and was asked not to move. The rest of the villagers ran into the village. Their struggle continued. The Hindu fundamentalists had got some clue about them and entered the forest to chase them. The villagers couldn’t go to the nearby ‘main-road’, nor could they stay in the jungle. They decided to go to Bhubaneswar, Orissa’s capital. They succeeded in doing so after about a journey of 300km. They reached Bhubaneswar on the 28th evening and took shelter in the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) from the 29th morning.
I went to interact with them a day later. They refused to tell me anything. Then I noticed a priest who had come from Andhra Pradesh. I went and sat beside him to know what had happened. One of the brothers was speaking to the priest. The priest asked, “Why didn’t you confront these people. You were 32 families, which means you were at least 60 men.” The brother replied, “Most men have migrated. Majority among our families present in the village were women and children”. Another man then came and sat beside me. He introduced himself as an army man guarding the Indian borders, and was one of the four brothers, too. He came directly to YMCA when he got the news.
“What do you want now?
“This Government has failed us.”
“Which Government? The Central or State Government?”
“The State Government.”
“But the Central Government also knows what is happening and we have also approached it.”
“Then we want a President Rule.”
“That is in the hands of the Central Government.”
“Then it is war between ‘us’ and ‘them’ and we want ‘our people’ to be ‘on our side’.”
“What do you mean by ‘our people’?”
He took a glance at me and answered, “The Christians”.
Now, I could make out why they were not revealing anything to me. Probably, they wanted to know who I was – was I from among ‘them’ or was I from among ‘us’. The Father was of course one of ‘us’.
There were several such villages that have had such bitter experiences.
The author is a second year bachelor student in an engineering college in Bhubaneshwar.