Deep in Kandhamal villages, thugs enforce boycott

As Archbishop Raphael Cheenath, now on a farewell pastoral tour of Kandhamal, extols the courage, faith and perseverance of the Dalit Panos and Tribal Kondh Christians of the central Orissa district in the face of unceasing Hindutva pressure, deep in the villages, the economic boycott of Christians is enforced by organised gangs of fanatical thugs.

The 77-year-old Divine Word Society prelate of Orissa retires on 2 April 2011. Like Archbishop Alan De Lastic of Delhi who emerged as the face and voice of the community in his unflinching challenge to persecution in the 1990s, Cheenath was the central figure in the legal and civil society challenge to mass arson, serial murders and gang rapes unleashed in 2007 and 2008 by members of the RSS, Adivasi Kalyan Ashram and Bajrang Dal, whose political identity was confirmed by Chief Minister Naveen Pattnaik in the state legislative assembly.

Cheenath saluted his people saying, “You have raised the faith to new heights at the face of death. I am proud of you.” As he cautioned them not to be misled by the apparent peace prevailing in the area, he said “For the government, peace has returned, but I am not sure how long it would remain. We cannot sit idle, but continue to fight for our constitutional rights, especially religious freedom to earn sustainable peace.”

In the past, stressing that justice and peace had to go together, the Archbishop moved the Supreme Court in 2008 when the arrogant Collector-cum-District Magistrate Krishna Kumar banned the entry of Christian relief organisations to help the traumatised people. The Supreme Court ruled in the Archbishop’s favour. He has moved the Supreme Court through the Human Rights Law Network on several issues, including a challenge to the Orissa High Court granting bail to a convicted murderer, Manoj Pradhan, on the plea the he was a legislator. The Supreme Court again ruled against the lower court.

Despite these heroic efforts, much remains the same in that heavily forested district as far as justice and state action is concerned. Brother Markose from Ranchi, now working at the grassroots, has been systematically reporting issues of economic boycott amid official apathy.

(December 2010)
Complaints lodged before the police station in Kandhamal after the violence of 2008: 3232
Cases registered: 831
Number of cases committed to the fast track courts 1 & 2: 277
Number of violence case acquitted by courts 1 & 2: 128
Number of violence cases convicted by courts 1& 2: 59
Number of violence cases pending trial in courts 1& 2: 44
Accused convicted so far: 183
Accused acquitted so far: 639

In a recent email to me, Brother Markose narrated cases of vigilante decisions from Bodimunda where houses of Christians were destroyed in August 2008. Twice during 2009, Christians tried to bring construction material such as sand to rebuild their houses. On both occasions, the sand was reloaded into a tractor and taken to a temple. The owners of the tractor were fined before the vehicle was released by the hardcore Sangh cadres of the village.

After six months, due to the untiring efforts of activists, the villagers took courage to hire a tractor and bring sand. On 14 March this year, Pradeep Nayak hired a tractor from village Rudangia and brought two loads of sand. The next day, Joseph Nayak hired the tractor of Tileshwar Digal of village Breka. After making two trips, driver Ishak was stopped by a mob of about 12 persons led by Birendra Pradhan who demanded a fine of Rs. 5051. The driver did not have the money. He left the tractor on the road and returned to the village.

Nabin Nayak and Bikram Nayak called Brother Markose on the phone. He told them to immediately tell the police. Pastor Sunil Paricha called up the Superintendant of Police who referred him to the Tikabali police station. The Police came to Bodimunda at night and the tractor was released. But the goons had taken away its battery, jack and wrench in lieu of “fine.” They told the driver that these materials would be returned when the “fine” was paid.

On 17 March, a four-hour-long meeting was held at the Catholic church of the village in which more than 60 Christian men and women participated. Finally they wrote a formal report to the police, saying they would see the matter through, come what may.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 April 2011 on page no. 4

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