Fr Bernard Digal is the treasurer of the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar. He spoke to AsiaNews about his pain over what is happening in Orissa. He, too, was wounded, beaten for hours by radical Hindus, left for a whole night unconscious, half naked, in the forest, until he was found by his driver. Now he is in the intensive care unit in Mumbai’s Holy Spirit Hospital.
During his talk with AsiaNews he was given another unit of blood. But his thoughts were with his people and family, all forced to flee to save their lives, now stranded in a refugee camp near Bhubaneshwar.
“My heart is filled with gratitude because God saved my life. But whilst I am being treated here my people are hiding in the forest and even there, there is no security,” he said. “There are mothers breast-feeding their infants, children, young and old people, all hanging on a precarious thread, in terror. Even refugee camps are not free of dangers.”
“I was visiting the parishes in Kandhamal district exactly on 23 August when Swami Laxamananda Saraswati and four of his followers were killed by Maoists. On 25 August, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and other radical Sangh Parivar groups decided to go on a dawn-to-dusk strike, bringing thousands of people together.”
On the 25 Father Bernard went to visit Father Alexander Chandi in Sankrakhol Parish when a Hindu mob attacked the latter’s church.
“On the night of 25 August the parish church and the priest’s house were sacked and set on fire. From far away we could hear the crowd shouting hate-filled slogans, levelling accusations against Christianity. . . . Fearing for our lives we fled into the forest.”
“The extremists also set my car on fire,” Father Bernard said. “Whilst Father Alexander stayed in the forest I went looking for some relatives who were in the area. I walked at least 15 kilometres. At one point the extremists caught me and beat be with iron rods, lances, axes and big stones. I don’t know for how long they beat me because I lost consciousness. My driver found me the next day, after ten hours, and I was taken to hospital. It is only there that I regained consciousness.”
Without acrimony but also without any warmth, Father Bernard said: “I was beaten and left naked in the forest for ten hours. Others were cut to pieces or burnt alive. Is all this human? Or is it an attack against life itself?”
“In Kandhamal the lives of Christians are under attack from Hindutva radicals,” the priest said. “The police and the government are incapable of doing anything about it. Sometimes they are not even willing to take preventive measures to contain these forces who are destroying our life and dignity.”
Even though there are still tensions and fear, the situation is getting back to normal in Orissa, said Fr Babu Joseph, spokesman for the Bishops’ Conference of India.
Still refugee camps need tighter controls to prevent Hindu radicals from infiltrating them. The wounded require medical treatment. And everyone is wondering when they can go back to rebuild their homes.