Special Reports

“Kandhamal victim was ritually sacrificed”

By Ajaya Kumar Singh

Why are there so many acquittals in the Fast Track courts trying the cases of murders and arsons in Kandhamal during August-September 2008? Indian Human Rights groups are aghast at the outcome of murder cases in these courts. In one case the son testified in the court that he was witness to the killing of his father and knows the killers. Yet, the accused were acquitted. And now there are rumours that perhaps it was more than a mere murder - that it was a case of a ritual human sacrifice, for which once Kandhamal was notorious in the country. In the second murder case, the witness out of intimidation and possibly other considerations including money, turned hostile in the court. He was taken to the courts by friends of the accused in their vehicle.

Some families of the victims have in fact been forced to become Hindus and join the RSS, local people say.

In his latest report from Orissa, Ajaya Kumar Singh interviewed the son of the victim who had been dragged from a running public bus full of passengers. At least two witnesses had said he was dragged from the bus only to be found murdered next day by a mob led by the man who later became a BJP legislator. The killer gang and their leader run scot free. Patently, the police investigation is a sham, so also is the prosecution.

It was an irony that the acquittal came on the first anniversary of the murder. Kantheswar Digal, 60 years, a Catholic Christian of Sankarakhole of Chakapada block, was dragged from a public transport and was killed brutally after one month of killing of Swami Laxmanananda allegedly killed by the Maoists.

The judge of the Fast Track court-II C R Das acquitted Pradhan and another accused Mantu Nayak of murdering Kantheswar Digal. Manoj Pradhan was arrested in October last year and sent to jail. He, however, won the last state legislative assembly election from G Udaygiri segment in Kandhamal from jail. He was released from jail for 15 days in July this year to enable him to take oath as a member of the Orissa assembly.

In a separate case, the fast track court acquitted five others accused of setting houses on fire at Tikabali area on 26 August 2008, three days after the killing of Lakhmanananda Saraswati.

With these acquittals of seven persons on 25 Sept., the total number of persons acquitted rose to 95 while 24 persons have been convicted so far.

Kantheswar left his native village soon after the start of the anti-Christian pogrom along with his wife to escape and stay safe with his only son, Rajendra Digal, 28, in Bhubaneswar. He was a cook in the Parish Catholic Church. All his lifetime earnings he had invested on starting of a grocery shop. Besides, he was into trading and had a herd of 35 goats. He was enterprising. He could not remain idle in Bhubaneswar as a refugee. He had just returned to his village to see his house and livestock presuming normalcy has been restored.

Seeing the violence around, he sold 24 goats for Rs 40,000 in a distress sale and informed his son that he would be returning to Bhubaneswar. He boarded Sagar Suraj Public Bus heading for district headquarter. Public transport is the safest form of transportation for the Christian refugees. Hardly had he travelled a kilometre or so when Hindu radicals allegedly led by Manoj Pradhan stopped the public bus and dragged Digal out in full view of passengers around noon time on

24 September 2008.The old man's cries went in vain as the attackers dragged him while slashing his leg so that he could not run. They took him to a nearby forest while looting and razing his house and shop to the ground. They took away all his remaining eight goats and feasted the whole night. Digal's son, Rajendra said, 'The attackers forced the Christians to become Hindus and join the feast'. Kantheswar was given good feast that night and was taken away to unknown place. Rajendra apprehending danger to his father informed the police and the administration. Thakur Digal filed a missing-person complaint.

The police did not take interest in searchig for the missing man, complained his son. "After 12 days, Digal's body was found 40 kilometers away from the village with acid charred face and in naked state. The genitals had been chopped off. The body was found along with another Christian couple, who were government officials.

Human Sacrifice?: "I have heard my father was not killed instantly. The fanatics performed all the rituals and he was sacrificed", said Rajendra who does not know the reasons for all this as his father was a very good person and was close to the church. On being asked about the acquittal of the accused he said, " I cannot understand as the attackers are known and there are witnesses who say that they have seen him being dragged out of the public bus. Yet, they are acquitted". The lawyer supporting the victim tried to reason out saying "proper investigation and strong prosecution would have made the matter different".

In another murder related case where a woman was burnt alive in a house while another non-Christian tribal leader was killed for defending Christians, the five witness families are on the run for testifying the truth while the accused are on a prowl and roaming freely in villages. There are several reports of intimidations and threats to the witnesses against the accused from villages of Dodingia, K. Nuagam, Phiringia and Solesoru for testifying before the courts. Police instead of taking action against the intimidating thugs, refused to receive complaints.

Dr. Augustine Singh, the psychologist who had held counsel sessions for the victim's wife was disappointed at the acquittal. "We need to support victims' families and encourage them to keep the fight on so that nobody is denied justice'.
There is increased demand from the Christian communities for protection of the witnesses, strong prosecution and robust investigation before filing chargesheets of the accused. “Without these, justice will be derailed”, Paul Pradhan, 48, a civil rights activist says.Ö

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 November 2009 on page no. 13

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