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Choice for Christians: home or faith Victims see poll politics

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By SANKARSHAN THAKUR in Bhubaneshwar
  • Published 8.10.08

Bhubaneswar, Oct. 8: If there is a thing worse than being driven out of home, it is not knowing when or how to return; it is to have to confront the prospect of conversion from oustee to refugee.

“Home?” asks Pradyumna Pradhan, vacantly, “Is it even there? And how do we get there, tell me is there a way?”

There is a way, of course, and he has been clearly prescribed it — shave your head, consecrate yourself with a gulp of cow-piss and a wee bit of dung, fling a stone at the church, curse Christ and home will be your peaceful abode again.

Pradyumna had that option at the hour of violent eviction from his Gadragam homestead in Kandhamal late August. He didn’t take it then, he wouldn’t have it now. “How?” he asks, “And why? What wrong do we do praying to Jesus?”

He lost his younger brother, Rasananda, to the mayhem that descended following the killing of Laxmananda Saraswati — “In front of me, as I pleaded, in front of me, they emptied a can of kerosene on him and he became a torch. I don’t know how we got away but I don’t know why I should change my faith. I was born a Christian, I will die one, I never asked a Hindu to change his faith or curse his gods, why me?”

It has been more than a month now that Pradyumna and his family of eight have been camped in a bare, ramshackle hall at the YMCA in central Bhubaneswar; memories of the horrors of August aren’t gone, but they are the past, nothing that Pradyumna can do anything about. It is the anxieties of the future that haunt him.

And none of them concerns the great debate over Orissa in New Delhi. None of them concerns the pros and cons of imposing central rule or of banning the Bajrang Dal. None of them concerns what political adversaries will or will not get out of his circumstances. They concern but a little question: When will I get home?

He has had word their homes have been burnt. He has had word some of his own have given in to coercion and “consecrated” themselves; all of them, according to Pradyumna, passed the test by vandalising some part of the local church and crying out profanities at the Christian faith.

“Things are bad, very bad, and nobody is telling us how or when we can go home, how long are we to remain here?”

There are 200 others — women, children, the elderly, the dying — packed into the hall and, as Swarupananda Patra, local pastor and president of the Orissa Minorities Forum, would tell you, “There are thousands more, frightened, homeless, hopeless, go to Kandhamal and see for yourself. This is a fight between the gods being fought by humans, how ridiculous. Madness is sweeping over us and nobody seems bothered.”

What would help, though? More security? President’s rule in Orissa? Banning the Bajrang Dal, which has been the flame-head of Christian persecution? Patra smiles, then grimaces, then mischievously suggests that a ban is what the Bajrang Dal would like most.

“It’s just like the school bully, he will challenge you to hit him so he can hit you back. Act against the Sangh parivar and they gain. You want the truth? Elections will solve it, only that. This is politics, all of it, constituency-building before elections. I can tell you everything will get normalised once the polarisation has delivered results, then we will live peacefully together for the next four or five years till elections come again.”

Father Joseph Kalathil, vicar general of Bhubaneswar’s troubled archdiocese, would not dabble into the wherefores of politics, but he does have a ringing question to ask.

“Think,” he says, “just think why these people (the Sangh parivar) are so bent upon disbelieving statements from the Maoists that they killed Swami Laxmananda. I do not know why the Maoists may have done it but they have repeatedly claimed responsibility. And yet we are the ones getting blamed, getting hit, our churches are getting burnt, Christians are being driven out. Why? The answers should be clear to you.”