VHP leader Lakshmanananda Saraswati had ordered removal of Christian orphanage four days before his gang destroyed it in Tumidibandh, Kandhamal, Orissa

15 views
Skip to first unread message

Dr. John Dayal

unread,
Jul 11, 2008, 8:20:43 AM7/11/08
to JohnDayal
Kandhamal situation report 8th July 08 Tumidibandh incident

A Fact finding report by John Dayal, 9th July 2008


Police watch as goons enforce bandh

-------------
PREAMBLE: I was in the recently refurbished seminary in the Block
headquarter town of Balliguda in Kandhamal district -- the building
had been pillaged and almost burnt down during the Christmas 2007 anti
Christian violence in the area – speaking in a post lunch session to
senior theology students when a teacher burst into the room to tell
us fresh valence had broken out and three church buildings – a Jesuit
home, their Chapel, and a orphanage -- had been attacked in the
adjoining block of Tumidibandh, 120 km from the district capital of
Phulbani. A near curfew situation became apparent immediately in the
small market town, a situation which we have seen in recent years
across the country where shopkeepers, smelling trouble off the
grapevine long before official information trickles in, hastily put
down their shutters, vehicles just vanish off the road as if by magic
and a combination of ill-kempt policemen, home guards and young men on
motorcycles assume charge.

My hosts were concerned about my own security – I have the dubious
distinction of having the state Bharatiya Janata Party and the Vishwa
Hindu Parishad demanding, by turns, my arrest, my expulsion or a ban
on my entry into the Kandhamal district or the state, perhaps because
I sort of immediately write down what I see and what I learn from eye
witnesses, victims and government officials, preferably within hours
of an incident taking place. Recorded truth is unpalatable as it
almost always challenges and contradicts the concoctions dished out by
the Sangh Parivar spokesman to a local media that is either so
gullible as to be unprofessional, or is a party to the political
beliefs and designs of the BJP and its sister organisations. A harsh
charge, but tragically too true and so easily substantiated in
Kandhamal and Bhubaneswar. They advised me to return to my camp a
dozen kilometers away. I was struck there for the next 24 hours, all
because of rumours, four illegally felled Sal trees, and a mischievous
grapevine which now has the district in its grip.

The mechanics of this private curfew were glaringly clear within a few
minutes. There is but one direct road that connects market towns such
as Brahminigaon, now attracting global infamy as the site of the
Christmas desecrations, Darringbadi, the Switzerland they say of
Orissa, Balliguda and other townships all the way to the border of
Koraput. Somewhere between Balliguda and Tumidibandh, the next sizable
population, is the ashram of the self styled Swami Lakshmanananda
Saraswati, the mastermind of the anti Christian pogrom in Orissa and a
leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad who has taken an oath to rid the
region of all those who are not Hindus, and who do not obey his dictat
on how they live their daily lives, including what their children must
study and what food they can, or cannot eat, and to hell with their
lifelong dietary habits.

This is an ashram with a few hundred young girls and women who are
taught Sanskrit and a few of the martial arts. At the swami’s call,
they come out, squat on the road while their male colleagues chop down
two trees on their side of the ashram’s boundary walls. All vehicles
come to a grinding halt. Pedestrians and motorcyclists who get
caught by the swiftness of the operation are given a simple test to
prove their faith, and their loyalty to the swami. They are asked to
recite the 'gayatri' mantra. If they do, and thereby pass the test,
they are told as loyal Hindus they should extend moral support to the
road closure and stay back for three hours. If they cannot, they are
given the thrashing of their lives.

I have met several Christian youth who could not recite the Mantra and
were beaten up – by the young women, and beaten up bad. Over some
time, a few unfortunate Muslim youth – and there are but a handful of
Muslims in this region -- have had to suffer the further ignominy of
being stripped so their faith could be ascertained from the fact of
their circumcision. The police maintain a discreet distance from the
site; launch their own patrols and checkpoints far from the Ashram.

Soon, the stray policeman or two made their way to the Seminary, and
later to most Christian establishments. As usual, it was too little,
too late. Over the next thirty-six hours, the police could not
guarantee safe movement even of emergency vehicles during the district
`bandh’.

The incident had taken place on 8th July. It was early in the morning
of 10th July that we could as an investigating team finally come to
Tumidibandh from Balliguda in two jeeps, crossing the stretch in front
of the Ashram of Lakshmanananda, where the aforesaid two " sal"
trunks, now pushed to the side of the road, spoke of the impunity with
which the man defies forest laws, fells rare timber, and enforces his
writ where the rule of law should run.

The members of my team where Fr Vijay Naik, who heads the Ecumenical
Fellowship of Christians of the District, Professor Fr Prabodh
Pradhan, who heads the Balliguda Seminary, Fr Chellam Thomas, and Mr.
Hemant Naik ,a social activist and local expert who has been acting as
my interpreter since e December 2007. We could meet almost all
victims, residents of the village of Tumidibandh which has about 220
households consisting of both Tribal and Dalits, and representing
every variety of faith, Christian, Hindu, and traditional, police and
other officials. The following is our report:

THE VHP CHARGE: Lakshmanananda Saraswati, who figures in over 100
affidavits filed before the Justice Basudev Panigrahi commission which
begins hearings on 14th July 2008 in Phulbani, as the mastermind and
financier of the hate campaigns and violence against religious
minorities, made the following allegation as enumerated again at a
press conference on 10th July as to why he called a Bandh and blocked
traffic. Saraswati said his assistant, one Madhu Baba, and some
other followers had heard that a cow had been slaughtered in Malicmadi
village of Tumidibandh Block, and when they went to investigate, the
younger baba was manhandled. He further charged that him followers had
discovered plastic pouches with animal flesh purportedly that of a cow
in the refrigerator in the kitchen of the Jesuit house about two
kilometers away from the village. His followers then ransacked the
kitchen and some rooms, desecrated Chapel, broke the Holy Cross as
also a fiber glass large statue of St Francis Xavier, before going
down the road to smash the two large huts that went for an orphanage
and hostel for 40 Christian boys and girls. The swami himself went to
the police station and demanded the arrest of Christians as well as of
the Priests.

THE INVESTIGATIONS:

Our inspection of the Daily Diary of the Tumidibandh Police station,
headed by Orissa Police Sub inspector Madhusudhan Janasmta [mobile
phone number 09437885599] revealed two notings;

The first was Case no. 30 of 2008 under sections 341, 323, 379, 506 of
the Indian Penal Code read with Section 7 of the [Anti} Cow Slaughter
Act. It said the incident took place at 10.15 in the morning of 8th
July 2008, the complainant was L. N. Saraswati himself, and the
accused he had named were ``Villagers of Malicpadi, not far from the
police station. The second case, number 31, was under sections 452,
427, 379, 379 and 34 of the Indian Penal Code for damage to the church
properties, and the culprits named were “Five persons of L Saraswati.”

Saraswati’s charges were that the cow slaughter led to spontaneous
reaction and houses were damaged by people who discovered beef in
them.

We interviewed over twenty people in the Malicpada village, among them
men and women, people owing allegiance to the Congress party, the Biju
Janata Dal, which rules in the state together with the Bharatiya
Janata party. The people were Hindu Panos, or Dalits, Christian Panos
and a few Tribals. To a person, they deposed that there had been never
any community discord in the village despite their various ethnic,
religious and political identities. They said traditionally, both
Tribals and Panos of all religious persuasions ate beef, cow or
buffalo, but there had been no slaughter of cattle in recent times in
the village, and certainly not this year as the VHP was alleging. Mr.
Gajapati Mandal, the head of the local Congress unit who acted as the
chief spokesperson said the Superintendent and deputy superintend of
police and officials of the Collectorate had interrogated them for
many hours asking them to show the place where a cow had been
killed. “No cow was killed and therefore there no place to show the
police officers,” the villagers said. They charged that if some
plastic pouches of meat had been taken to the police station by men of
Saraswati, they may have got the meat from elsewhere to create a
scene.

Mullick also pointed out something which was self evident. The Jesuit
house was far away, down the main road and then into a lane just
behind the area Forest Division office which has a strong presence of
officials. How come the VHP men mad e beeline for the Christian
buildings if they had not made a plan beforehand. The police have not
said they discovered any flesh anywhere.

That it was not a spontaneous outburst of Hindu fervor became apparent
on the main crowing where the Bhagban orphanage is situated. It was
set up some years ago by a retired teacher and pastor, Mr. Bhagban
Pradhan and after his death, is run by his wife Mohini with the
assistance of her daughter and a nephew. Mohini said our days
earlier; Lakshmanananda Saraswati had come on one of his numerous
trips to the area. He had stopped in front of the Orphanage – nothing
more than one semi permanent structure, two long huts which constitute
the boys and girls’ dormitories, and a third one as the kitchen. He
was annoyed that the orphanage board was right on the road. Saraswati
alighted from his SUV and then told Mohini “This Christian hostel
should not remain in the middle of the village” on the roadside. That
was on 4th July 2009.

“On 8th July at 3 p.m. 15 to 20 people came, armed with staves and
weapons, shouting slogans such as “”Kill them, Destroy house”. Mohini
said they abused the women and then attacked the cluster of huts of
the orphanage. At that time, there were 18 children in the orphanage,
four of them girls, the youngest not yet six years of age. “We ran
into the forest. There was no other place to go. Eventually we and the
children walked 15 kilometers through the forest to reach another
village where the children are now staying,” Mohini Pradhan, a frail
widow, said.

At the Jesuit house, called Dibyanaugraha, built in 2000 AD, the
priests were not home. The Parish Priest, Fr Cornelius, had gone to
Jamshedpur some days ago. The assistant Parish Priest, Fr Praful
Barla, a young clergymen appointed a few weeks earlier, and who
assists in two churches in the region, was staying in the other
church. The only person in the house was the cook, 40 year old Jomoj
Naik of Kurtumgarh who had been working for the Jesuit fathers for 12
years, even before the new church was built, and who in a nearby
village with his wife and children. He had come to the house to feed
the three Alsatian dogs which were tied up in the day in their kennel
behind the house
As the solitary eye witness, Jomoj Naik said “I came to the house as
usual at 6 a.m. Fr Praful Barla left at 9;10 for Balliguda to meet the
Tehsildar and other officials for permission to build on the land the
Church had bought. I made the usual breakfast for the fathers, a
vegetarian one. We do not stock meat in the fridge. When asked, I buy
mutton from the local butcher, Gore Naik, or chicken from another
man. For the dogs, we give them rice mixed with vegetables or raw
eggs.

“I fed the dogs, locked the gate ad went home for my own breakfast. I
was back in the Jesuit house when at about 2 pm I heard the dogs
barking furiously in the kennel. I then saw about 15 or twenty people
come through the gate. They had picked up a pick-axe from the compound
and they and iron rods with them. They broke open the front grill. By
this time, I was frightened, and an opened the wide grill door and ran
out to the mangos grove to the parish church some distance away and
narrated the violence to my friend, farmer Saninga Bismajhi.

“I and my friend later took courage to return to the Jesuit house at
about 2.45 p.m. I saw the damage, the desecration of the chapel with
the Cross broken and the bible thrown away. After some time, some
people, apparently from Balliguda came with a cameraman. He said he
was a pressman, and wanted to know if beef was stored in the house.
I said no.

“I then went to teacher Cyprian Mondol and told him the incident. I,
my son Brahma Naik, friend Rrudirekant Digal a social worker of the
New Apostolic Church of the village, went towards the police station.
I left my son behind at the canal side ensure the police duration. In
front of the police station, we met the Tehsildar, Manoj Kumar Padhi.
The sub-inspector of police in charge did not register my complaint,
nor did he listen to me. He kept me waiting from 3 pm. to early
morning 2 a.m. I asked or food and eater, but it was not given.

“Instead, the officer in charge of the police station kept on scolding
me in harsh language, abusing me for saying there were 15 or more
people who attacked the Jesuit church,. He said he wanted me to say
there were only five people who had come to the house. I was finally
allowed to go after I pleaded that I was hungry and I had to go and
feed the dogs who ere also hungry.”

The experience of the Jesuit priests, Fr Praful Barla, was no
different from that of his cook. The sub inspector of police insisted
that the priest say only five persons had come to his house and chapel
in his absence.

It was much later, when the fact finding team went to the police
station, and later met the Sub divisional police officer, that the
police changed the figure of attackers from five to fifteen.

The Jesuit Fathers said they had some inkling of impending trouble.
They said when they were at Balliguda in the office of the revenue
inspector for the land issue, the officer told them he had heard there
would be a road blockade at 3 p.m.

After spending four hours in the police station, the village, the
orphanage an talking to senior police officers, it was quite obvious
to us that there was a deliberate attempt to provoke the people of
the village who had been spurning the political advances of the VHP
and had maintained communal unity and harmony during the December
2007 violence.

It was also quite obvious the local police, particularly the sub
inspector, was under tremendous pressure from the VHP to do their
will. His notings inn the police diary, his tone when speaking of the
VHP leader and his repeated attempt even in our presence to coerce the
cook and the Jesuit fathers made that clear. In fact it was the
presence of the Sub divisional police office and the fact finding team
which eventually made him correctly record the statement of the cook.

It is still not clear -- the police offer no explanation -- why they
could not restore law and order and clear the roads. There were only
four trees which were blocking the road, and a handful of VHP
activists. The police made no effort to prevent activists from forcing
people to close shops as far as Nuagoan, 40 kilometers away, where a
handful of people even stopped the car of a district official. No
forest officer could tell us why there are no cases against people
felling government owned and protected timber.

Above all, even though VHP men came to the police station saying they
were carrying with them meat they had taken from the Jesuit house, the
police say they do not know who attacked the residence and chapel of
the Christian priests.

There, of course, have been no arrests in the case. The attackers who
made 18 boys and girls of the orphanage run into the forest, who
shattered the peace of the village, pillaged the Jesuit residence and
desecrated the Chapel remain beyond the pale of law.

The roads of Kandhamal are free only for the SUV of Lakshmanananda
Saraswati ad his goons, and for the police who follow him as
bodyguards in another jeep.

Released to the Media by John Dayal
Reply all
Reply to author
Forward
0 new messages