Report and pics from Ancy Paladka
Daijiworld Media Network - Mumbai (SP)
Mumbai, Sep 6: Bombay Catholic Sabha had organized a programme to meet the three priests who were brutally attacked but miraculously survived, during the recent carnage in Orissa. The programme was held on Friday September 5 at Holy Spirit Hospital, Mahakali Caves Road, Andheri at 6.30 pm. Fr Edward Sequeira SVD and Fr Bernard Digal were brought in a wheelchair and wheel stretcher respectively, while Fr Thomas Chellan, who was discharged on Friday, could walk in. All the priests are being treated at the Holy Spirit Hospital.
In his testimony Fr Edward, a native of Kirem near Mangalore said, that during his 28 years of service in Orissa, he had not converted a single person to Christianity. The perpetrators of the organized crime hate us because of the fact that we educate tribals, whom they have been exploiting since long. They are afraid that the tribals will one day rise to their level, both educationally and economically. Hindu organizations like VHP, RSS, Bajrang Dal etc., which execute such evil designs, should be treated as terrorist organizations and banned, he demanded.
I was running a leprosy centre for the people belonging to a tribe called 'Brinjal'. They Brinjals believe, that having at least one male child was very much necessary for every family. Girls are treated with neglect and sent to do menial labour, domestic work etc., and use to suffer from malnutrition. "I picked some boys from their tribe, who would go to them and help their people. I also built an orphanage and picked some girls basically from the families having several girls and gave them education. Rajni Majh (girl who was burnt in the incident), was one of the girls who was actually adopted. But she was ill-treated when the couple which adopted her conceived a boy. Rajni was a very active girl in the orphanage and good in sports. She was doing graduation and had even represented at university level sports competitions. She was like a leader in the orphanage," he explained.
"I did not know who Swami Laxmananand Saraswati was and had never seen him. I was also not aware about his killing on August 23 evening, the responsibility for which was claimed by the Maoist organization. Actually his place is over 500 kms away from my place. On August 25 Afternoon, at about 1.30 pm, I sat to have my lunch when all of a sudden a huge crowd of more than 500 people gathered in front of my home and asked for the priest. When I identified myself, they took out iron rods, spades, sticks and other weapons which they were hiding, and started shouting slogans against me and hitting and thrashing me for more than a hour," he recollected.
Then they heaped and set on fire all my books, papers, clothes etc., in the room. They then threw me into the fire and locked the room from outside. I had suffered fractures all over my body and also in my hands but somehow, with divine strength, I managed to escape into my bathroom and poured some water on the fire and extinguish it. Then I hid in the bathroom and locked the door and windows. By that time the arsonists had already set fire to the roof of my building. They also broke open the window of my bathroom. But it was filled with smoke, and they did not find me. As I had also not locked the window that they opened, they thought that I was dead. As they walked away, I breathed through the small hole of the window. They also caught Rajni Majh, brought her next to my room and set her on fire. I could hear her screams, before falling unconscious. I was saved because of the efforts of Dr Mary Kutty of Handmaids of Mary, and Dr Rajnesh Samal, a Baptist missionary," he said, recollecting the help extended by them as he was picked up at 6.30 am the next morning.
"How can the violence erupt at several places at the same time, unless it was an organized crime? Are they given the licence to kill people?," he questioned. "They label us as converters. But we do not convert people. We only educate them to live a dignified life. Even after conducting 'reconversion' and subjecting the so called 'converters' through 'purification programmes' by using dung and urine of cows, they do not allow them to mingle with their own community members, he lamented.
Fr Thomas Chellan, director of the Pastoral Centre at the Bhubaneshwar archdiocese which is 260 kms away from Kandhmal, narrated a similar story. He along with a priest and a nun, fled through the backyard. They saw their pastoral centre distroyed with a bomb on the August 24 afternoon. They fled to the jungles and at night, came back to the house of a Hindu friend and took shelter. Sensing danger, the family shifted them to an adjacent house and locked it from outside to give an impression that no one resides therein.
But somehow miscreants located them, dragged them out and hit them, stripped and tortured him in all possible ways. The same agony was heaped on he nun who was also gang-raped. They also poured Kerosene on him and one of the attackers was about to lit fire, when a person from the crowd gave a suggestion to bind him with the nun together and take them in a precession. When they were being taken in procession, about a dozen policemen were just watching the show. When he pleaded for help he was beaten by the mob. He was rescued later, by a senior police officer in the evening.
Fr Bernard Digal, who was brought on a Wheel Stretcher, explained that he was the treasurer in the Archbishop house. When he was attacked, five policemen resisted but the mob chased them away. When the mob entered the church premises, he fled to the forest. But he was followed and tortured. They stripped off his clothes and severely beat him up and left him there, thinking that he was dead. After several agonizing hours, a lady noticed him but as he was naked, she felt too shy to approach him. Later he was rescued and is still in a very critical condition.
Although all the three priests have undergone unbearable sufferings in Orissa, they want to go back to work for their people.
At the begining of the programme, Bombay Catholic Sabha president Dolphy DSouza said, that more than 14,000 people are being taken care in various camps of Orissa. There are dozens of camps in Kandhamal district and also in the city of Bhubaneshwar. People in the camp hardly get to eat a square meal every day. He called upon the Mumbai people to donate in kinds and clothes for the suffering, particularly for the women and the children.
Fr Joe Dias, parish priest of Orlem church, called upon the people to think and some out with some concrete plan of action to ensure that such incidences do not recur in future. Dr Sr Marykutty of Handmaids of Mary and Sr Anitha too spoke on the occasion. Vice-president Anand Castelino led the prayer. Secretary general Vinod Noronha proposed vote of thanks. Vice-president Rita D'Sa compered the programme.