Kandhamal, literally an area inhabited by the Kandha tribes in Orissa and grouped as a district since 1994, all of a sudden came to limelight on the eve of X-mass celebrations last year end. The Kui Co-ordination Committee had given a protest call for ?Bundh? on December 25 and 26 2007, having failed to get their genuine grievances redressed by the State Government. Their grievances were directed against the converted ?Pana? Christians who in order to retain their privileges under the Constitution of India have been contriving to get re-enlisted as Scheduled Tribe by manipulating a notification by the President of India under Article 342 of the Constitution. It appears that the dates for mass protest were selected deliberately to embarrass the local Missionary authorities who traditionally utilised X-mass celebrations for mass conversion among the poor tribes. Besides the aforesaid manipulation, the dubious manner in which the tribal lands were grabbed by the Church authorities at the behest of high officials in the Revenue Department under Orissa Government, had also agitated the Kandha tribe in general. They were revolting against the Pana leaders like Minister Padmanabh Behera, M.L.A. Sugriva Singh, and Pana Christian bureaucrats like Radhakanta Nayak, Isaac Behera, John Nayak, Sailendra Pradhan etc. during last many occasions. Minister Padmanabh Behera had to resign in the wake of the recent violence in Kandhamal district, when the fate of the Congress Rajya Sabha MP Radhakanta Nayak appears to be getting brighter with the blessings of Sonia Gandhi who herself is a Catholic Christian. The Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil was the first visitor to the affected areas but conspicuous exclusion of Brahmanigaon, the epicenter of the series of recent violence and disorder from his itinerary has been the subject of severe criticism in the press and the public.
The protest ?Bundh? would perhaps passed off unnoticed outside the State, but for the obstinacy of the converted Christians to defile the Puja Mandap in Brahmanigaon, an altar where traditionally the Hindus used to celebrate Durga Puja every year. Over last two decades, the Hindus in Brahmanigaon were reduced to a minority by mass proselytisation in the district, particularly under the Daringbadi Block, the native village of notorious Radhakanta Nayak. On December 22, 2007, John Nayak, a retired IPS officer had informed the local administration to remain alert for a communal onslaught in the area. This is also confirmed by the National Minority Commission, which visited the affected areas and released its findings to the press in New Delhi on January 17, 2008. On December 23 defying the Superintendent of Police, the Church authorities pitted tents and canopies for X-mass celebration on the disputed plot and also torched one hotel and two shops in Brahmanigaon belonging to Hindus, in the very presence of the District Superintendent of Police. The following day, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati on his way to Brahmanigaon, was ambushed by busloads of hooligans arranged by Radhakanta Nayak in his village at Dasingbadi under Daringbadi Block. About 200 armed converted Christians attacked Swamijee injuring him and his armed security personnel, driver etc. This was enough to ignite the already surcharged atmosphere to go on indiscriminate attack on the Pana Christians and their leaders. It may be mentioned here that the Kandha tribe are a peace loving people but once rubbed on the wrong side can be very violent and difficult to be pacified. The tense situation was further compounded by an unprovoked lathi charge on the followers of Swamijee who had congregated at the Daringbadi police station in support of their beloved Swamijee who had spent 40 years in company of the Kandha tribe to protect them from the clutches of the proselytisers, and long cherished tribal culture of the Kandha. There were murderous attacks on the Swamijee even earlier engineered by the Church in 1967, 1969, 1976, 1978, 1982, 1985, and 1995.
The local churches get lot of foreign contributions to promote proselytisation under direct tutelage of the USA, Canada, Australia and many European countries. There are NGOs like the World Vision, YMCA, NISWAS and Jana Kalyan Sangha, which get lots of financial aid even from the government, which are promoting religious conversion of the Pana and Kandha community. There has been a long-standing dispute between the converted Pana Christians and the Kandha tribes in matters of employment under reserved quota for government jobs, distribution of land holdings earmarked for tribal development and illegal occupation of these by the Church authorities, and conversion to Christianity by fraud, allurement and cheating. Despite many protests and representations to the State Chief Minister, their grievances remained unattended and unfulfilled. Even orders from the High Court have not been implemented by the State Government. Surprisingly, the National Minority Commission has given a clean chit to the Chief Minister but blamed the District Administration for the recent violence, as if the Chief Minister has no control on the latter. It may be recalled that the Pana Caste are not the indigenous population of the district, rather they have migrated from the neighbouring Nayagarh and Ganjam districts from pre-Independence, mostly after being converted to Christianity. They have been learning the Kui dialect which is the mother tongue of the Kandha in order to claim and confuse their class identity against which the indigenous Kandha tribe have been revolting since 1997. Taking advantage of the sporadic damage done to the Church properties during the recent provocated disturbances, the Pana Christians who are notorious for being very ?cunning? and unscrupulous have reportedly torched many of their thatched Churches, themselves with the hope to attract more funds from abroad and grant from the government under relief for damage during ?communal strife?. However, six churches and more than sixty thatched prayer centres were shown damaged to qualify for relief grants. More than 350 Hindus were rendered homeless who were in minority surrounded by the Pana Christians in Brahmanigaon, Kinarinuagaon, Godapur, Katingia and Daringbadi. Three Hindu temple and more than two thousand ?Dharani Penu? sites of worship of Kandha tribes have been reduced to dust by the converted Christians. One Khageswar Mallik aged about 30 years was lynched to death by stoning by Pana Christians comprising mostly women. More than 10 Maoists were killed in an encounter when they attacked the Brahmanigaon police post, but as usual, the radicals dragged the dead bodies of their colleagues fearing identification. One dead body from among the Maoists has been recovered who is suspected to be an outsider and not belonging to the near-by villages. More than 130 persons have been arrested most of whom are Hindus because; the Church authorities had prepared ahead of the incidents what to write and whom to implicate. Most of the Hindu victims had fled to the nearby forests being afraid of the Police officers from among the converted Christians. The partisan attitude of the Police in bringing the culprits to book might further delay the slow process of restoration of peace and normalcy in the district. Indiscriminate arrests of innocent Hindus under political pressure would only delay the peace process.
Now, the basic issues need be addressed without bothering about the political stakes. Nevertheless, the BJD, major partner in the government is trying to profit by blaming the saffron brigade, which would in long run benefit their common enemy that is Congress. Delay in redress of the genuine grievances of the Kui speaking Kandha tribes would only complicate the situation for which the government will have to pay a heavy price. Despite many distorted versions of the incidents in Kandhamal district, the fact remains that these violence were mainly due to dispute between the Pana Christians and the Kandha tribes over local issues with socio-economic and political consequences. Before the nation came to know of the incidents, distorted, highly motivated and grossly misleading versions were given wide publicity to tarnish the secular image of India by the electronic media and the English print media transmitted from abroad like one Angana Chatterji. Such distortions will only compound and precipitate the communal strife in the region.
Rape of minors by Missionary School officials in Orissa
Hardly the wound inflicted by the Pana Christians had healed and the normalcy was limping back in the district of Kandhamal, fresh incidents of rape on tribal minors are reported from other parts in Orissa. On January 12, 2008 (Saturday) Dipa and Padmini, two minor tribal students were reportedly being brutally raped by the Director of Agate Manor International School that houses ?orphans? and homeless children from tribal pockets. The other accomplice in the crime was his 38-year-old younger brother named Anargala Lima. The incident was witnessed by another minor tribal girl Rukmani Hembrem (10 years old), a student of the same school who out of panic and shock fled from the sight lest she would also be a similar victim in the hands of the same perpetrator. Terrified Rukmani in a forlorn state was detected, the next day, by the villagers in Talpadar Tikra, a small village 25 kilometers from Bargarh district headquarters. She narrated the incident to them and sought protection. The villagers when confronted, the Principal, Mr. G. Appa Rao, demanded medical treatment for the two victim girls, and handing over to the local police. As the tension was mounting, both the Principal Mr. Rao and Director Samarpana Lima (43) along with his brother Anargala Lima (38), allegedly the co-rapist in the incident, all ran for their life. The Principal had managed the disappearance of the victim girls who could not be traced even by the Superintendent of Police. In order to calm down the enraged villagers, the SP assured to bring the culprits to book within twenty-four hours. There is tension in the area and people are agitated against the Missionaries that in the name of service they collect huge sums to help the poor and rob the minor girls of their womanhood and deny them the minimum dignity that a woman deserves in a civilised society. The villagers have lodged an FIR with the local police alleging rape and disappearance of the victims by Samarpana Lima and his brother Anargala Lima. What is disturbing the villagers is the safety of the lone witness to the gruesome rape by two fathers like figures on minor girls. The local SP has reportedly taken the lone witness Rukmani to his personal custody. Rape victims Dipa and Padmini are reportedly missing from the school. Many such incidents are reportedly happening but going unreported because the Christian Missionaries are having influence over the local police officials with their money power.
One Angana Chatterji was one of the first to write in the press distorting the whole episode that was published in a section of the English print media. Earlier also, in 1999 a Christian nun was reportedly raped by Hindus in Baripada Bus Stand which was falsified by subsequent scrutiny of the facts in the incident. In 2002, in Mandasur one tribal girl was raped and after pregnancy was killed by the local church priest which was initially distorted by the misreporting in the Press. Even the reported killing of the Stains at Manoharpur village in 1999 was grossly distorted that even Hindus started believing the stories until in the courts of law these are gradually getting unmasked. Hence, mis-propaganda to defame the image of India or the Hindu community at large does not pay in the end. It only helps the mischief mongers to fish in troubled water.
(The writer is former Inspector General of Police, Assam.)