• Will peace return to Kandhamal?

    By Fr. Jebamalai Raja

    “With rejuvenated power, confidence and hope I have come back to my parish nine months after the riots”, expressed by Fr. Chandy, a diocesan priest, aged 69, working at Shankarakole Parish in Kandhamal District of Bhubaneshwar-Cuttack Archdiocese. He returned to his parish on June 8th 2009 and started cleaning up the debris in his shattered presbytery. The debris of the Church is still to be cleared. I have sent word to my old non – Christian friends. I hope that I would get an opportunity to meet them again and rebuild the local community. In case I have to face new challenges I am prepared for it”, said Fr.Chandy.

    It is heartbreaking to see the worst condition of the affected people 10 months after the riots broke out. VHP leader Laxmananda Saraswathi was killed on 23rd Aug 2008. Who killed remains a puzzle, though the Maoists have claimed responsibility. Will the truth come out ever? Will the state be bold enough to take the legal ac tion to its logical conclusion? The fact of the matter is that still the innocent victims are unable to go to their own villages and live in their own houses. In some villages if at all the Christians want to return to their villages, they are forced to give up their faith and convert to Hinduism.

    During the first week of July 2009, Fr. Mark Stephen, Mettupalayam, Fr. Henry Jerome, Chennai, Fr. Paul Mike, Nagapattinam, Fr.Alwyn, Bangalore Fr. Joseph Xavier, ISI – Bangalore and Fr. Jebamalai Raja, Madurai – (Rev. Christopher, NCCI, Nagpur was unable to join us due to his ill-health) – visited the affected villages in and around Kandhamal District. Before we started our visit to the camps and the villages, Fr. Bijaya Pradhan at Raikia briefed us the present situation of the Christians in the hills and the role of the relief and rehabilitation activities of the Church and the Government. Fr. Joseph Xavier SJ, who had worked for the 7 months in the hills as the coordinator of the relief and rehabilitation and peace building activities for the Archdiocese, organized our visit and accompanied us all through out.

    As we went around seeing some of the pretentious places in the hills we observed:

    The human faces in the camps with untold misery, trauma and hopeless ness are still longing to go back to their own villages to live a peaceful life with human dignity. Still there are nearly 1800 persons in 3 official camps in the district. There are number of unofficial camps, in the village outskirts and market yards. We visited one of the official camps at Mondakia. In a 12 x 12 feet tent 10 families, about 50 persons had been accommodated. The worst sufferers are women, without any privacy.

    The rains have begun and people are living in temporary shelters made of tarpaulins. We met 21 families living in temporary shelters, whose houses were totally damaged in Nuasai village in Gummamaha gram panchayat, Raikia block. “Will it be possible for us to rebuild our houses and live peacefully once again?” was their concern.

    In villages wherever we went we could still see the burnt and destroyed houses, which speak volumes about the magnitude of the hate ideology.

    Leprosy center run by MC Brothers at Sarasananda, the Church at Phulbani, number of prayer halls and Churches of Baptists and Believers Church around Mondakia, the 100 year old Church at Mondasrso, and the Church at Muniguda in Rayagada District, where we celebrated the Eucharist (Berhampur diocese) the debris – the broken pieces of the statues of Jesus, Mary, other Saints and Crosses, burnt roofs and furniture, broken walls and windows – still not cleaned up.

    The burnt and rusted vehicles at Divyajothi Pastoral center and Jana Vikas of Konjamendi (K. Nuagaon) and in many other Churches and Institutions – four wheelers, two wheelers and cycles and thickly smoked walls, windows without grills and fully destroyed houses – vividly display the terror ideology of the Sangh Parivar.

    “There had been threatening anonymous calls asking me to leave the place. But I will not. I have come back to stay with the people”, said Fr. Fr. Dushmunt Nayak who now resides at the Pastoral center at K. Nuagaon.

    We also interacted with the Jesuits working at Phulbani, Ruthungia, Tumudibandha and Pajikeri.

    Though the Government has set up peace committees to bring people of different religions together to build peace in the villages, the communal forces are still creating inimical attitude and dividing people to achieve their ends. And so the affected people in many villages are not able to go back to their own places.

    • What can we learn from the communal violence of Orissa and what is the agenda of Sangh Parivar?
    • What made the non-Christians to indulge in such inhuman acts towards their own brothers and sisters and neighbours with whom they were living peacefully for centuries? 
    • Is it an act of faith? If it is out of their faith then what is the meaning of faith?
    • Why did the government machinery play a role of a silent spectator?
    • Why is it that the Hindus extremists want to wipe out Christianity from Orissa?
    • Is it a fight between the businessmen who are outsiders and the emerging Tribal and Dalit business groups?
    • How do we understand the relationship between communalism and economic and cultural interests?
    • Is it the outcome of the minority Hindu fundamentalists to gain political power in the state?
    • How do we understand secularism and following a religious tradition?

    It is heartening to know that all the Churches and humanitarian agencies are together in responding to the needs of the people . Each Church / organization has adopted a block to build simple houses for the affected families. After much negotiation, whoever does not have a patta homestead land, the government is allotting lands. A tripartite partnership among the Churches/humanitarian agencies, district administration and people is emerging to respond to the situation. Still the question remains: Will peace return at all in Kandhamal?

    Source: ChristianToday India
    Date: July 7, 2009

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