Uncertain future

Published : Sep 26, 2008 00:00 IST

FOR 22-year-old Manasmita Digal of Thengedapathar village everything was normal until August 24 evening. She was watching television along with her mother and sister when she received a call on her cellphone. Things took an unfortunate turn after this.

The call was from a youth from a nearby village who told her to leave her house immediately as a mob was advancing towards her village. Indeed, the mob descended on her village within no time, but by then Manasmita, her mother and her sister, as also other people in the village, had fled into the nearby forest under cover of darkness. The mob damaged the village church and set fire to houses before leaving.

The houses of about 20 Christians and three Hindu families were burnt down. Manasmitas house was among these.

She works as a teacher in a nearby school and is at a loss to understand why her house was set on fire as she belongs to a Hindu family despite her mother being a Christian.

The violence-affected people of Thengedapathar lived inside the forest for four days braving the rain and the cold before they came to the relief camp opened by the administration at the Tikabali Government High School.

Manasmita and her mother, Sevika Digal, were in tears when they narrated the violence perpetrated on them by the local people who supported the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal and the ruling Biju Janata Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance.

Why was Mansamitas house burnt down? Sevika Digal, who had worked as a nurse in the SCB Medical College and Hospital in Cuttack, said it was because her husband, Rambishi Digal, was the vice-president of the Kandhamal District Congress Committee. He was away in Bhubaneswar on party work when the riots broke out.

Rambishi, a prominent Dalit leader, had served in the Army for several years before he opted for voluntary discharge and took up politics. When Rambishi contacted the Tikabali police station from Bhubaneswar, he was advised not to return as the situation was tense. With their house burnt down, his wife and daughter were living in the relief camp even a fortnight later.

Similar was the plight of Sunita Digal, a resident of Thanasahi near Tikabali police station. Despite her cries for help, the police did not come forward with help when a mob torched her house soon after the funeral procession of the swami had passed their locality.

In another relief camp, at G. Udaygiri, Sushama Digal from Luiringia village under Raikia block of Kandhamal district broke down while speaking about the riots.

She and some of the other members of her family managed to escape the wrath of the protesters on August 25 evening, but her 50-year-old brother, Jacob Digal, was lynched and burnt alive. They reached G. Udaygiri town after spending four days in the forest.

Sushama said they left behind her aged mother in the village. Even seven days after their village was attacked, many people from Luiringia, who had taken shelter in the relief camp, were not able to trace their family members and relatives. Nobody was sure whether those who were missing were alive.

Why are we being attacked for no fault of ours. With our people killed in the violence and our houses and belongings burnt down, where should we go now? she asked.

Thousands of riot-hit families now live in relief camps, while many have reached Bhubaneswar, Cuttack and other towns.

The Naveen Patnaik government may take several months to pay compensation to the violence-affected population to rebuild their homes, but it will have to work hard to keep the rioters at bay, instil confidence in the minds of Christians, and restore peace in Kandhamal.

Prafulla Das
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