BHUBANESWAR: “Let the law enforcement machinery, those who know the truth, speak the truth. They know who are the perpetrators of the crime, a matter of shame and insult to the law,” Father Thomas Chellan told The Hindu. A Catholic priest belonging to the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, he was dragged out of his hiding place in K. Nuagaon, a small urban centre in strife-torn Kandhamal district, in the afternoon of August 25.
A mob armed with lathis, axes, spades, crowbars, iron rods and sickles, and shouting anti-Christian, Hindutva slogans, brutalised him, Meanwhile, his co-worker, a 28-year-old nun, was taken to a nearby building, and gang-raped in public view.
The district has been in the throes of anti-Christian violence ever since December 2007. Following the murder of RSS activist Lakshmanananda Saraswathi, on August 23, the violence has escalated sharply.
Since then, Christian institutions and Christians’ homes have been burnt and looted, several Christian workers killed, priests and nuns hunted down, and Dalit Christian families driven into the forests and into relief camps.Police were alerted
When he heard of the murder of the RSS activist, and amid rumours of threats to Christian workers and their institutions by his supporters, Father Chellan alerted the police outpost located outside his institution, the Divya Jyothi Pastor Centre. “I was overconfident in believing that nothing would happen to us,” he said.
On August 24, the day the funeral procession of the RSS activist was being taken through the villages of the area, a “huge crowd appeared before the Pastor Centre at around 4.30 pm,” Father Chellan said. Seeing the mood of the crowd, he along with a co-priest and the young sister jumped the wall of the Centre. “In half an hour, everything was in flames,” he said.
They watched the funeral procession being taken in front of the centre, and believed the worst was over. On the advice of some of their supporters they hid in the forests that night.
The next morning they returned to the centre, and around 9 a.m. saw a crowd burn the Pentecostal Church in front of their centre. Sensing danger, a Hindu house owner hid Father Chellan and the nun in his house, but they were pulled out by the crowd.
The rest is best described in a letter that was dictated by Father Chellan to a fellow priest soon after the incident from Bhubaneswar where he arrived, bruised and shaken, on August 26. He did this to put on record exactly what had happened to him on August 25:
“When I was brought out sister was already standing with the crowd as they caught her first. Immediately they began hitting me all over, forcefully removing my shirt and banian. They asked me: ‘Why did you kill the swamiji? How much have you given to the killers? Why are you conducting lots of meetings there?’
“By pulling and pushing, the crowd took us to Gram Vikas building, the other side of the road. They were armed with lathis, axe, spade, crowbar, iron rods, sickles, etc. They continued beating us in the Jan Vikas building. They tore the blouse of sister, began assaulting her when I objected. I was beaten with iron rod on my right shoulder [and] they poured kerosene all over the body and was taking matches. Another suggested to take me to the road and burn [me] there. We were taken to the road and [they] made me kneel down on the road for more than 10 minutes.
“Meanwhile they brought sister out from Jan Vikas. Someone was searching for a rope and tied us together [to] burn [us] alive. Then they decided to parade us to Nuagaon, half a kilometre from there. We were paraded half naked. They told us to fold our hands and walk. They tried to strip remaining clothes. Somehow both of us managed to resist the same. As we were walking they went on showering blows on us. Some among the crowd began abusing [us with] words in Malayalam as they might have been working in Kerala.”
When they reached Nuagaon it was 2.30 p.m. and there were 12 personnel of the Orissa State Armed Police standing by the side of the road, the letter says.
“I asked, sir, please help us. At that time one among the crowd beat me for asking the help. The police were just onlookers,” Father Chellan’s note says. In it he says that one of the crowd kicked him on the face. “At that time one among them I know well as a shopkeeper of Nuagaon was collecting thrown away tyres to burn us.”
The crowd then took them to the K. Nuagaon block building and an officer there took them to the police outpost where they were given some first aid and taken to the Baliguda police station at 9 p.m. where they lodged three separate First Information Reports – on the attack on the Pastor Centre, the attack on Father Chellan and the attack on the sister.
In the Baliguda police station the Inspector-in-Charge asked him: “Are you interested in lodging an FIR?”
They spent that night in a camp of the Central Reserve Police Force. They were put on a bus to Bhubaneswar around 4 p.m. on August 26.
Father Chellan told The Hindu that they were not given a copy of the FIR as they were too badly injured to wait for one. Fear, trauma
Although they know of the attack on Father Chellan, and the rape of the nun, Christian organisations, under enormous and continuing attack in the State, have been too stunned and cowed to make a public issue of it. They have also been concerned about what the publicity might do to the young nun who has been taken away by her order to an undisclosed place to recover from the traumatic episode.
The letter by Sister Nirmala, Superior-General of the Missionaries of Charity, conveys the deep anxiety and fear the community is beset by.
In her letter to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on August 28 she made a powerful appeal “in the name of God, as the Chief Minister of Orissa, to do all you can to put an end to this ongoing violence since 24 August 2008 causing untold terror, loss of property and even loss of life and human dignity, violating basic human rights of our brothers and sisters.”
She asked the Chief Minister to ensure that those under attack in the interior parts of the district, those “without food, clothing, shelter and medicines” be given “immediate help”; that “the loss of property is compensated; that the facilities for the education of children be restored and that the people be rehabilitated.” She ended the letter with a prayer that the Chief Minister “may not lack the necessary wisdom in searching for the good of all entrusted to your care which has as its basis respect for truth, justice and freedom.”