Greetings From Orissa ! This is just to say that God was so gracious to me and our team during our visit to different areas in Kandhamal (Phulbani) district. I reached Bhubaneswar on 5th morning and after a few preparations left for G. Udayagiri (the Phulbani Diocese Headquarters) with my friend Mr. B.D. Das, an Orissa High Court advocate. Two other representatives of the National Council of Churches in India Ms. Sagarika and Mr. Bharat joined us at a place near Berhampur. We reached G. Udayagiri after midnight and were received by Bishop B.K. Nayak. We came to know that curfew was declared at Balliguda and Barakhama from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm on the Sunday. Therefore at 8:00 am on Sunday were proceeded to visit areas that were free from curfew. (A Christian journalist Mr. Anto working for the Council for World Mission, Bishop B.K. Nayak and Mr. Pitara Digal from Kalinga joined our group). We visited Kirpakia, Sirtiguda, Simonbadi, Daringbadi, Kandpa, Dasingbadi, Shikarmoha and Brahmonigaon. Initially we found most of the places deserted but the people started to gather around us when they came to know we were representing the church. Every individual was eager to narrate stories of terror, anguish and suffering. Many of the them couldn’t hold their tears as they talked to us. We took photographs and vides at each place and collected necessary data and documents and returned to G.Udayagiri in the late evening. We were so shocked and disturbed to see the church buildings and people houses burnt and their belongings totally destroyed sleep didn’t come so easily.
On Monday we left for Barakhama knowing well that many important state and national leaders were denied entry to Balliguda and Barakhama. However, we went ahead trusting in God’s providence and protection. We reached Barakhama without any hurdle and went directly see the Churches first. The churches were badly damaged and rendered totally irreparable. Within few minutes a big number of Christians belonging to different denominations gathered. I could recognize most of them and even remembered their names. I didn’t quite know how to greet them as we were meeting just after Christian and New Year but in a sad situation. The local leaders told us how they had to run for their lives when thousands of armed attackers came rushing towards the church. We divided our team and started visiting different areas assessing the damage. Most houses were not only burnt. NOTHING WAS LEFT TO BE RECOVERED. We saw rice-grains still burning (after a days) in two houses. Two tractor, one auto rickshaw, Motor Cycles, sewing machines bicycles, T.V. other valuable equipments were destroyed by fire. The attackers plundered the houses and took a way money, ornaments and other valuable. When the time of our departure came we gathered to pray. I could hear some people sobbing during the prayer. Our next visit was to the Balliguda Churches. We visited the Balliguda CNI church, the Roman Catholic Church (St. Paul) and the Convent. In the R.C. Church we were pained to see not only the statue of Jesus and Mary burnt and broken but also the Holy communion vessels destroyed by fire in front of the church.
The whole campus of the Convent was a scene of great destruction. The Clinic, Computer Center and the Children’s Hostel were attacked with vengeance. We talked to the sisters who were inside the building when the attacks took place. The miscreants put fire to the ambulance and threw a gas cylinder into it hoping it would burnt. The vehicle was completely burnt but fortunately the gas cylinder didn’t burst. The Convent staff were seen busy cleaning the Hostel as the children had come back from hiding. The sisters told us that they were not going to leave under threat as they felt they were needed most to serve at Balliguda.
As we left Balliguda our hearts were burdened with so many stories and impressions. We realized we had to get back to Cuttack and send out photos and reports to all of you to know the actual situation. We came to Bherhampur last night and met the local church leaders this morning. Now we are back at Cuttack compiling our report before I return to Amirtsar tomorrow. It is already 3:00 am so I need to stop and send you the same. I will edit the video and send you a copy only if you wish to receive one.
Please pray for the affected people as they are still traumatized. The relief is scanty and the people are in dire need of blankets, clothes, soap, milk powder and other essential commodities. Distribution of relief materials is banned by the Govt. so the urgent need is to collect money and hand over to the local relief co-ordination Committee either directly or through the Utkal Christian Council (regional branch of the NCCI) so that people can by things for themselves.
So far the Govt. has not made any announcement for the reconstruction of the church buildings. I feel we need not beg the Govt. to rebuild our churches. We can do it ourselves.
Please circulate this letter among all your contacts.
Bishop P.K. Samantaroy
ORISSA COMMUNAL VIOLENCE
1. It appears that the violence was a pre-planned act . The district collector and superintendent of police of Kandhamal district and local police had prior knowledge of a group of people intent to fan communal riot. However they opted to be silent in stead of taking any preventing action. The district administration is equally responsible for gross negligence of duty .
2. It appears that the furniture of the Churches were dragged out, lit into a grotesque sculpture in the presence of the police . The police witnessed the entire episode , remained silent and allowed it happen. When the Roman Catholic church was burnt at Baliguda , opposite the street the fire station witnessed the incident, but did not intervene. This shows the step motherly attitude of the district administration to the minority community.
3. It appears that till date people remain still missing. The post violence trauma has resulted many people suffering from psychiatric problems .The official deaths are three and unofficial sources claim much more than that . however the death counts are yet to finalized by the administration. This shows the inefficiency of the district administration.
4. It appears that the administration has failed to adequately respond to immediate needs of people. Relief provided by the Government to the victim is grossly inadequate . One thin blanket for one family consisting of 6 members are just inadequate . Rice and Dal is being distributed in the relief centers for adults. No provision have been made for the babies and lactating mothers. The victims , who have taken shelter in forest and schools need soap, oil and winter clothing. The administration does it allow any NGO and churches to intervene in this area for the reason best known to them. Confidence of the minority community is lost for this act of the government. From the past 10 years records revealed that this kind of situation had also prevailed earlier , but because of right kind of intervention by the district administration the situation was brought to normalcy within few days. For centuries the church has been playing pivotal role in philanthropic activities. It had also intervened for relief and rehabilitation of the communal victims irrespective of caste , colour and religion. But the present administration neither distributes the relief properly nor it allows other to do it .
5. It was reported that the police refuses to accept first information reports (FIR) from the Christians . It is also reported that no FIR copy is being given to the informant as per law. People still live in fear psychosis to go to police station . It is also reported that false cases have been registered against Christians U/S 302 and 395 and many other sections under the IPC. In a riot hit area like Barakhama, if thousands of people armed with deadly weapons attack the village, the only option for the victim residents to flee from the site to save their lives . It is obvious that during riot when people climb to the roof , there is probability of causality. It is impossible for handful of people to face thousands of riotous people and to escape from there hand after killing a person . Therefore the allegation and cases filed against church leaders are not sustainable. On the other hand in Brahmunigaon, cases have been registered U/S 395 ( Dacoity ) which is far from belief. In case of communal violence , there can be attack and counter attack , but not certainly Dacoity. On the other hand the police has not registered the case with proper section against those who attacked Christians. Hence church leaders who have been falsely implicated because of false FIR will suffer unnecessarily. Therefore the FIR has to be challenged and Criminal Cases be filed before the SDJM with proper section of the IPC against the accused persons .
6. It was reported that the following have been damaged/ destroyed . This list may change after the final assessment is made.
Churches destroyed -7
Village churches - 53
Parsonage/ Presbytery - 4
Homes / Hostel - 6
Training Center - 5
Houses destroyed - 447
(319 Houses - Barakhama, 31 Christian – Brahminigaon, 67 Hindu Houses - Brahminigaon Oriyasahi, 30 Christian houses – Brahminigaon, Ullipadar)
Convents - 5 ( Balliguda Pobingia Phulbani Brahminigaon Sankharakhole)
NGO office destroyed - 1
Shops destroyed - 100.
Vehicle destroyed - 3 jeeps, 2 tractors, 1 three wheeler
This list does not include loss of other personal valuables such as jewelry, T.V. sets, furniture, bicycles, stored food grains for the whole year and livestock.
B. D. Das