By Ajaya Kumar Singh

30 December, 2015

When the whole world celebrated Christmas with peace and joy, the Adivasi/Dalit Christians of Kandhamal district of Odisha state, India had a night of fear and insecurity. In many parts of this hilly district, Hindutva fascist forces belonging to RSS/BJP supporters threatened Christians not to celebrate Christmas. They also blocked the road to their villages by felling trees and putting huge rocks on the road so that the police force could not reach the place where they were rampaging.

The worst affected place was Barkhama village of Balliguda. Barkhama is 13 kilometres away from Sub-divisional headquarters, Balliguda. The Christians got panicked with the news of road blockade as well as the gathering of more than one thousand of BJP/RSS supporters. The terror-stricken Christian leaders informed the police personnel as well as Special Forces deputed for Christmas celebration. They cleared the road but did not allow the Christians to go to Churches to celebrate Christmas.

Barkhama was not an isolated incident. A Bandh (strike) was called in several parts in the district on Christmas day to disrupt the celebrations by the RSS/BJP supporters. Shop keepers downed shutters and buses stayed off the roads in several towns such as Tikabali, Sankarakhol, Sarangada and Barkhama. The Christians of far flung areas could not go to Church as the buses did not ply on the roads. This affected these poor Adivasi/Dalit Christians as they don’t have private vehicles.

The Bandh was fronted by an Adivasi outfit called as Kui Samaj Samanwaya Samity (KSSS), supported fully by Hindutva forces. This was the same outfit which called for a Bandh during Christmas in 2007 which triggered the anti-christian violence in the district of August 2008. It is the worst communal violence against Christian community in India in over 300 years. After the disruption of Christmas celebration of December 25, 2007, it erupted into a full fledged pogrom against Christians on August 25, 2008. Hindutva fascists unleashed massive attack on minority Christians in Kandhamal on that day. For four days, Hindutva forces went on rampage and killed over 90 Christians. Dozens of people went missing and never to be located again. The violence lasted for four months. Over 350 churches and worship places which belonged to the Adivasi Christians and Dalit Christians were destroyed, around 6,500 houses were burnt or demolished, over 40 women were subjected to rape, molestation and humiliation and several educational, social service and health institutions were destroyed and looted. More than 56,000 people were displaced. Several cases of forced conversion to Hinduism by the Hindutva forces took place during the violence. One nun was gang raped in front of a crowd of over 300 people, while 8 police men looked on. This nun ran towards the policemen asking for help but they did nothing and stood there simply watching the spectacle. It all happened just a stone’s throw away from Nuagaon police station.

It has been eight years. Now that the same the outfit has called for a Bandh on Christmas Day has created apprehension and fear among Christian community in Kandhamal. Earlier, people Kandhamal could get hints that Kui Samaj Samanwaya Samity is a BJP/RSSS supported organisation, its leaders used to deny the allegation. Now, its leaders have joined the BJP.

The Christian community in Kandhamal is in deep distress. Youth leader of Barkhama village, Kartik Nayak puts it “we could not celebrate Christmas; in place of happiness and peace, we have to live in fear and insecurity. This is third major attack on the village that has more than 350 Christians. On the first attack, we lost our houses and besides some people were injured; on the second attack on us, we lost two christians and not even single house was spared, and reduced to ashes. Despite the presence of Special Force, the RSS attacked us and killed two Christians and women too were attacked. Now they are again planning to attack. We are not sure what would happen to us. We are frightened and hence, we ask the state administration to take necessary measures to protect our life and property”.

It may be recalled that every attack on Christians since 1987 onwards followed with felling of trees and blocking the roads so that the police force could not reach the place of attacks.

The mainstream newspapers that run the headlines of peaceful Christmas celebrations in Kandhamal need to report the fear and insecurity as well as the blockade on people to go to prayer. The Hindu reports that, ‘No untoward incident or road blocking reported from any part of the district, says Kandhamal Superintendent of Police Kunwar Vishal Singh. Kunwar Vishal Singh said till evening no untoward incident or report of road blocking had come from any part of the district. Around 1,000 State police personnel were on duty round-the-clock since last 36 hours to maintain law and order. Apart from these, Special Operation Group (SOG) and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were involved in combing operations in remote pockets of the district’.

Despite the heavy police and special forces presence, if the fanatics could force the transportation of buses off the roads and shutter the shops, it only indicates how volatile the situation in Kandhamal still is. Instead of claiming normalcy, it would be better if the administration took the perpetrators to task and make BJP not to play its caste and communal politics. The district administration should take punitive actions so that Kandhamal violence of 2008 should not be repeated.

The Christians of Barkhama village have sent a petition to Odisha Chief Ministter Naveen Pattnaik, to give them protection and ensure peaceful co-existence.