UCAN REPORT: The mysterious death of a Protestant pastor in Kandhamal, Orissa, has sent shockwaves through the Christian community in the area, the epicenter of riots in 2008, with most believing the man was murdered.
The bloody body of Reverend Saul Pradhan, 45, was found near a pond in Pakala village on Tuesday.
His family believes he was murdered as part of a hate campaign against Christians, but the local police say the man died in the severe cold wave sweeping the state.
The victim’s elder brother Dushashan said the body showed signs of struggle, with “blood oozing from mouth, hands and legs twisted and pants torn.”
A post mortem examination has been performed but the results have not been released.
“We thought the violence was over and we could start a new life,” the pastor’s widow, Nimata, told ucanews.com.
She said two people from a nearby village had taken her husband out for a talk on the evening of Jan. 11.
“My husband told me he would be back soon. But when he did not return until morning, we apprehended something was amiss,” she said.
She claims that the two men who had taken the pastor, Marda Pradhan (not related) and Baiju Mallick, were involved in arson and looting during the 2008 anti-Christian violence.
The family forced Marda Pradhan to join their search. “He took us in one direction but ran away after some time. We looked around and saw my husband’s body near the pond,” she said.
When the relatives went to file a case, the local police officer scolded them for suspecting murder.
“He told us my brother had died of cold,” Dushashan said.
But Nimata says her husband was killed because he was trying to reconcile Hindus and Christians in the village.
She also said in his efforts to bring peace the pastor had tried to bring reconciliation even with those who had torched houses in the village. “We never knew they were nursing a grudge,” she said.
Father Manoj Kumar Nayak, a priest of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar archdiocese who visited the village yesterday, warned that Kandhamal could see more violence if the district administration failed to check the hate campaign.
The priest, who is engaged in rehabilitation of the victims, said that police claims that the pastor was a victim of the weather set a “very dangerous” trend.
Bipra Charan Nayak, convener of an association for the Kandhamal survivors, told ucanews.com he believed the man was killed and the death “reflects the deep-seated hatred toward Christians in the area.”
The Hindu radicals now implement “a systematic plan to eliminate Christian leaders and label such deaths as stray incidents.”
A. Harish of the ecumenical All Indian Christian Council, told ucanews.com today that recurrence of violence is “quite alarming” and wants the administration to protect Church leaders.
Kandhamal was the epicenter of an unprecedented violence against Christians in 2008 that killed more than 90 people and displaced around 50,000 others.