Monday, September 8, 2008

Fr. Thomas Pally's Kandhamal Visit Report

Fr. Thomas Pally, Who Visited Kandhamal and Came Back September 7 Reports - To Break the Shackles of Fear

(I know it is not good to begin with excuses. There is no time to edit this report. I have to take the train to Mumbai. If I wait, this report will have to wait till 13th September)

Introduction:

Let me make one thing clear at the outset. This visit was not a fact-finding visit. Of course we kept our eyes, ears, mind and hearts for facts and for a general assessment of the mood of the people. We took notes, did digital documentation. But more than all that for me it was an attempt to break the Shackles of Fear. Fear, yes, fear with in me and with in so many like me both in the religious and secular circles I moved in Bhubaneswar. I had been in Bhubaneswar since 26th. I would not have forgiven myself if I had not gone to Kandhamal. It is true every one advised against it. But the risk had to be taken. If anything happened to me then we would know that the danger is for real. If I returned safe then we could all make a start in reaching out to those out there. It was a risk worth taking.

12.30 hrs 5th September 2008

We - Bibhuti, his friend Mrutyunjai, Tapan the driver and me - left Bhubaneswar by 12.30 hrs on 5th September. We drove towards Berhampur. At Kalighat took the road to Daringbadi. We were in Daringbadi by 21.00 hrs. The town was completely deserted as there was a night curfew in place. The security seems to have trusted the people there. There was not even one security in sight. We spent the night at Jagruti, an NGO. (They are now engaged in relief work in Raikia)

06.30 hrs 6th September 2008

We left Daringbadi after interacting with people at the tea shop at the town centre. There were no signs of any tension. People seemed to be going about their normal activity. We were heading towards Baliguda, via Nuagam. Daringbadi block was not much affected by the riot more so the town of Daringbadi .

03.08.00 hrs Simanbadi 6th September 2008-09-07

Simanbadi did not seem normal only for the reason there were gun toting CRPF personnel on the road. As we got down one officer came forward and wanted to verify our identity - the only time an official asked for it. He was polite and told us that one company was posted in and around that area. The people were friendly. I am told that is an area which has majority Christian population. There was no disturbance in the area.

09.00 hrs Kudupakia (Sirtiguda) 40 km from Daringbadi

The first signs of violence were evident there. There were burnt houses along the road. There are around 50 families out of them 12 only are Hindus. But the attack was done egged on by those that gathered from Sirtiguda. On the main road the Hindus and Christians were together in talking to the team and seemed comfortable with each other. This was a surprise to me. Away from the crowd Christians told that they fear renewed attack. There was no sign of any police personnel any where near by.

09.30 hrs K.Nuagam

This was the place where Fr.Thomas Chellan was dragged out of house where he had taken shelter after the pastoral centre was attacked. He was the director. He was dragged out beaten very cruelly, stripped and kerosene was poured over him to burn him. This was also the place where Sr.Meena who helps in the centre was also assaulted, allegedly raped and taken half naked to the nearly police station. "We checked the facts with people who came around. They said all that is true. One redeeming thing in the whole incident is that it is not the police that saved them. When some almost lit the match stick to set fire to Fr.Thomas some good Hindus stopped them from that heinous crime. We asked if it is safe for Fr.Thomas to come back. They said "the good people may not be always around!!"

We could not enter either Jana Vikas, the diocesan Social Action Centre nor the Pastoral centre as the gates were all locked from inside and outside. The building from outside do not give a vandalised look. But knowing the way the fanatics work the interiors all will be burnt out. In front the pastoral centre and by the side of Jan Vikas we could see the burnt out four-wheeler.

Two churches - one small and another large were both vandalised and the roof completely done in. Houses were in the interior area and we knew there would not be time to reach out to the interior area.

10.30 hrs Balliguda

Balliguda had seen the vandalsation of three very important and big Catholic institutions during the last violence. This time the damage was token, The mob only wanted to make a statement - that we can do what we want. Only some stones were thrown and some few articles from kitchen etc taken out and burnt. We could not enter in.

While taking breakfast we found the town going about as though everything was normal. There was rush to the bank probably because the bank had been closed because there were two holidays the preceding days and also curfew restrictions had been imposed earlier. For the rest it was business as usual but for the sight of some security personnel.

11.00 hrs. Baliguda Nuasai

The Hindus and Christians live in this hamlet very close to Baliguda. As the crowd advanced most people left the houses including the Hindus and went off to the forest. We noticed that all the houses were not destroyed in a row. The houses were selected for destruction. The dwellings of Hindus and Christians are mixed. The Christian houses were targeted. The leaders that led the crowd seemed to have done their home work well.

12.30 hrs. Barakhama

This was the town that had witnessed a very high level of violence during the last riot. The Christians unlike the other villages and towns had resisted strongly the attack initially. Two people had died last time. This time too two people were killed: Ajit Kumar Digal (22)alias D.Francis and Praful Kumar Naik (45). Ajit was the elder son of Darath Digal and Nimothi Digal. The couple have three other chidren - Muhammad Digal, Topoi Digal and Kamini Digal. Ajit was shot dead by country fire arm and Praful was beaten to death a little away from his own house. He is buried near the spot he was killed.

The town has around 7000 people and 2000 are Christians. There is a long standing feud over land in the village between the Adivasis who are mainly Hindus and Panos (dalits) who are Christians. The Adivasis accuse the Panos of having encroached their land.

Lily of the Forest:

The villagers said a large crowd over 3000 attacked them from all sides on 26th at around 15.00 hrs. Minaki, 9 months pregnant also ran to the forest along with the others. She delivered a girl baby on 29th ,the third day in the forest. She named her Lily.

There is an apology of a relief camp in the forest right now. But there seem to be plans for better lay out in the future. Right now 2000 are scattered in primary school buildings. There are no tents to take shelter from the inclemency of the weather. People make do with the veranadha, shade of the tree, or just sitting around trees, on the road etc. Cooked food is served twice a day.

Kartic Nayak, who has just completed his degree studies had taken photos the aftermath of the attacks and made the same available to us on a CD.

14.00 hrs Nuagam

We returned via Nuagam and when we reached there a lot of people were on the road. We were informed that a young married woman just died after being bitten by snake - allegedly in the forest where she had taken refuge - and the dead body was just being brought home from the hospital. As we were interacting with the people the body was brought and the scene was indeed heartrending. Her husband Saryo Nayak and relatives were in a shock. There was also talk that she died not in the forest.

We visited the relief camp by the side of the road. There were several security personnel. The situation was like the earlier camp, the facilities minimal, really not worth enumerating. Again no tents, poor sanitation. Food twice a day seems to be the set standard. 1200 are in the camp where one would expect to find just over 200 people.

15.00 hrs Raikia

There are supposed to be 3 camps, two only have been set up. One in the Block office building and one in school. We visited the Block office building where Jana Vikas staff are also taking shelter. The building can take in a maximum of 200. There are over 2000 spilling over to the verandha, the grounds around. Again the standard two meals a day. I found two health workers. The NGO Jagruti is helping out in the camp. Mr. Kailash was there at the site. I am told the one in charge of the camp is a good officer. When we were there some philanthropists had some relief materials from Puri. People and organisations can bring in relief materials. They have to reported to the Collector and the relief officer directs to the place he feels it is most needed.

We interacted with the staff of Jana Vikas. More people are expected to join the camp. The total number is expected go beyond 6000.

16.30 hrs Tiangia

Travelling to Tiangia we passed through Gattumaha where 10 houses by the road side were burnt down. All Christian houses.

Then the church at Lakebali was also vandalised.

By the side of Tiangia stood Majumma. The village has altogether 50 houses of whom 15 are Christians. All the houses were demolished either partially or fully.

Tiangia was the only place we met with some resistance and we could not reach the hamlet. We took a photo of a vandalised church at the entrance to the village. Immediately we were challenged by voices from a nearby hillock over looking the village. A group of Bajrang Dals volunteers descended from the hill. Bibhuti asked me not to come along. He walked towards the group and met them two furlongs from where I stood. Bibhuti told me later that they were very aggressive, agitated. They alleged that the Christians had murdered Mr. Dasrath Pradan who was a dalit. They felt aggrieved that no one was listening to them. Bibhuti came back after nearly half an hour and advised me no to proceed to the village. Two of the Bajrang dal men too came to the vehicle. We parted being civil to each other. I was disappointed for not being able to reach the place I had badly wanted to reach. That village was the native village of a priest colleague of mine from Archbishop's house. I wanted to go to their house and reassure them. But that was not to be.

I checked with Fr. Manoj - the priest from the village. There is another side to the story, just the opposite. They allege that Dasrath was killed by Hindus as he had earlier been a Christian and though converted back to Hinduism had been a rising dalit leader and taking up dalti causes. The Hindus killed three others in the village. This was not shared by them to the Bibhuti. So where does the truth really lie?

17.30 hrs Vis Sankharkole to Phulbani the capital of Kandhamal

We left for Sankarkole. The convent there was vandalised again. We could not visit the village as the village was not on the road side. We were informed that there would be curfew in Phulbani afer 18.00 hrs.

18.00 hrs Lunch at Phulbani

We halted for lunch but after lunch the curfew had begun and also it was dark and was not possible to make inquiries regarding the riot and we left for Bhubaneswar via Daspalla, Nayagad, Khorda and reached Bhubaneswar by 00.30hrs 07th September 2008.

So what did the visit achieve?

It was the first visit into the riot torn area by any from our circle of friends both secular and religious. It helped to assess the situation.

The situation is not normal. At the same time is not something one can not handle if one wants to reach out to the affected.

Relief camp situation is pathetic to say the least. A quantum leap is to be done to give it even a semblance of giving relief and protection.

In some villages people continue to live in fear. They think they could be attacked any time - Kudupakia, Barkhama. Barkhama people say that they want to relocate themselves entirely.

Police protection but for some town areas and large villages is minimal and anti-social elements and fundamentals will easily take advantage.

Cases are not being registered just like the last time. We need to be prepared for a very, very long haul at the legal front.

Medical assistance, counsellors, community organisors need to be present with those in the camp and those living outside need to be strengthened.

Restoration of assets through compensation mechanisms, livelihood restoration need to undertaken soon.

Conclusion

It has been a redeeming experience for me. To go and share their life even in passing made meaning to me. I just wanted to go there, to listen, to see, to feel with them and assure them that although they can not see us, there are millions who care for their safety, security and welfare. And are doing there at most each one in her / his own way to make that possible. We had to assure ourselves that they are told and assure them that they have not been abandoned just to the mercy of the state and the rampaging mobs.

That to some measure, a very small measure we had been able to do. I hope the visit acts as a catalyst.

2 comments:

sunny said...

nice gesture to go there n asure them that whole world is cared aobut them n their safty ..hats off to u ..did a wonderful human thing ..

surely millions ppl praying for them ...many of them dont no how they can hlp or reach out the hlping hand in some or other way
in their tuff time

keep up ur good work , couragious efforts to b wiht the ppl even for sometiem to give asurenece ..means lot to them surley

God bless

Sammy said...

Dear Thomas..
thanks for sharing the information. our God is the only God who answers prayers, and sure many christians were praying for them in their daily prayers. God bless Orissa..