By Purushottam Nayak
Kandhamal, Odisha: Five Dalit Christian families in the Kandhamal district of Odisha were ostracized on September 17.
“The right-wing Hindu extremists persecute us because we are Christians in the democratic country where the Constitution allows freedom of religion,” said Santura Digal, one of the victims of five Christian families who are ostracized from the village.
Five Christian families lived among 45 Hindu families at Lodamila village under Midiakia Panchayat (village council), Balliguda Block, Kandhamal district of Odisha.
“This incident is a reminder of the horror of anti-Christian violence of 2008 in Kandhamal,” Santura said.
The expulsion and ostracization from the village is a serious violation of article 25 of the Indian Constitution which guarantees freedom of religion to all persons in India. It provides that all persons in India have the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion, he said.
According to Prasant Digal (not related), another victim, the majority of Hindu families persecuted and expelled the Christians from the village on September 17.
The victims reached Balliguda town to file a complaint with the police and submitted a first information report (FIR). However, the police directed them to reconcile with the Hindu villagers and did not register the case.
Following the police’s directives, the Hindu villagers on September 22 burnt the house of Gauro Digal at 11 PM where the Christian faithful were having a prayer service.
On the following day, the persecuted Christians once again went to the police to complain but the police did not receive the FIR.
“The Hindu majority villagers debarred the five Christian families accessing water from the well, tube well, even from the field. They prohibit us to graze the cattle. They excluded from the social gathering, customs and traditions,” said Birendra Baliarsingh, the pastor of the village. (He resides in another village).
The Hindu villagers threatened and said Christians in the village would not be allowed to reside.
Christians of the village remained without food for one day because of the denial of access to water.
The affected Dalit families belong to the Christian Prayer Tower group under the Fellowship of Prayer unit.
“Despite the repeated complaints, the local government authorities are not taking up the matter to address swiftly,” says Manos Ranjan Singh, the advocate who has taken up the case on behalf of the victims. “The administration denies the communal aspect and tries to compromise the matter. I feel justice has been denied in this case.”
The Hindu majority should not be a threat to the religious minority in this country. Whoever may be, one should not hate or despise any religion, he stressed.
The case in point is a gross violation of Article 21 (right to life) of the Constitution, explained Singh.
They (Christians) suffer for no fault of theirs because the Constitution guarantees everyone to propagate one’s religion, he said.
Besides, the perpetrators ill-treated Christian women. There was an attempt to murder Christians as the perpetrators own country-made unlicensed guns, suspect Christians.
At present, the expelled Christians temporarily remain at Kurtumagargh, a small town, about 12 km away from Lodamila village.
“Let the administration register the case immediately and ensure the just compensation to the persecuted families,” says Father Ajay Kumar Singh, a human rights activist.
With the proactive involvement of the government, the perpetrators should be brought to justice and punished. If not, it will encourage the perpetrators to continue the anti-social activities, added Singh.