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Is Kandhamal Burning ?

I visited Kandhamal district on the 31st Jan and 1st Feb 2009 to find out for myself. Join me in this quest and find out
the answer for yourselves..
Kandhamal is one of the districts in Orissa, 200Kms away from
the capital Bhubaneswar and 160 Kms from Berhampur


CNN-IBN reports.
“The Christian population has now risen to one lakh eighty
thousand from only 14 thousand in 1970s. The number of
churches and prayer houses built in last few decades is over one
thousand” (30.8.2008). reports
“Most astonishing and mysterious thing is that as per the census
2001, there were 1,17,950 Christians”

I found out during my visit that more than 1,50,000 Christians

had lived there before the riots. Now less than 10,000 Christians
Kandhamal district, Berhampur , Bhubaneswar live here. There are about 3000 Christians in the 3 Relief camps
and rest of the Christians live in and around Raikia.

From 1,50,000 to less than 10,000 . Where have the Christians



Durga Prasad(Pic 1) The

entrance to the Kalinga ghat
(Kandhamal). This place was
blocked during the riots so no
one could get in or out

(Pic 1) (Pic 2) (Pic 3)

The National highway NH217(Pic 2) runs through this district I could see countless Christian houses, shops, churches
ravaged and abandoned.

Even today on this main road to Baliguda(where the nun was gang raped) through Raikia, G Udaigiri from Kalinga,
I could see boulders(Pic 3) and trees strategically lying around which can be put in place to block and isolate
Kandhamal from outside world in a matter of hours or even minutes.

The pictures below will tell you the story

Pics on the Highway 1,2 RC Church Neelungia, 3. House @ Lingagoda, 4. Shop at Mondakia, 5. House @ R a i k i a

On the way to Raikia we crossed Kothingia village (the nerve center of attacks). It stood proudly untouched, with
saffron flags flying atop every home, shops and trees. It looked so ominous, I was advised by my friends not to take any
pictures. More than 7 Christians were slaughtered from the nearby Christian village .
The Central and the State Government want to close the last of the three camps and send the CRPF back home. The first
batch of CRPF has already left.
The Government believes normalcy has returned !
Christians outside Orissa believe normalcy has returned which is evident from prayers for Kandhamal disappearing
from our Intercessory, personal and family prayers.
IF things are normal why have the Christians not been able to repair their shops, homes and churches even on the
MAIN Road (NH217) ?
Why are Christian property still in the same condition as it was 6 months ago ?
If things are normal why was I not able to get down from the car and take pictures ?
Why did the driver have to only stop in the pretext of buying sweets even to stop and look?

All these pictures were taken on the 31st Jan 2009 and 1st Feb 2009 !
Has normalcy returned? Please decide for yourselves.

I was based in Raikia, a town in Kandhamal dist. from where I ventured into the interiors on a Bike with friends who
were familiar with the place. My first stop was at the Pesarama church about 1.5 Kms from Raikia

Pics: 1.The devastated building 2. Suggesting immediate repairs 3. Keyboard, audio eqpt was burnt here

When I was asked if this church could be repaired, I suggested a simple 20 minute operation immediately with an
hacksaw blade which would isolate the hanging part and reduce stress on the beams and major repairs at later date.
Such a suggestion can only come from someone naïve enough to believe that such a simple thing by Bangalore
standards was possible there but a few minutes later I realized even that simple act was impossible because this
is Kandhamal, a place that has to be cleansed of all Christians by 2010, no one was going to let any one repair a
church let alone rebuild it.
Pictures: Pastor Surjit and Suchetha Nayak’s house and other property belonging to Christians in that village vandalized and
some razed to the ground

As I moved from Raikia and traveled more than 150 Kms into the interior areas of Kandhamal it was a time for
reality check. Every step into that place was screaming to me how we people outside this place have been blind
to the horror because it is not in the news or on TV. Let me take you deeper into this place so that you can decide
if everything is normal in the Kandhamal.

Kandhmal district is said to have more than 1000 churches and as I traversed through the 150 odd kms I saw so
many desecrated. churches that I can claim that I have seen more broken churches in my lifetime than standing ones.
Its hard for me to imagine that so many churches and prayer halls functioned in that district but the ruins tell me this
was a place with more than 1000 churches
Seeing so many crosses desecrated was painful after a point I became so numb I just could not get myself to capture more churches on film

I saw only three churches untouched by

the riots. Pictures of two are on the left. I
saw one more in a village on the way to
Mondasaru (this church was protected by
Baptist Church Raikia the Hindus during the riots). There is one
more Baptist Church(no picture) at Raikia
which was not affected.

Less than 5000 Christians worship

openly now (as on 1/2/09) compared to
the 1.5 Lakh plus Christians who
worshiped openly pre August 2008.
Its not about reconvertion ! Less than 500
RC Church Raikia have reconverted and most of them forced.
Its not about broken churches ! Its
because less than 10,000 Christians are
living there now!

When I saw the ravaged homes there was one message that I got from the ruins, it was....
“D o n ' t e v e n T H I N K o f r e t u r n i n g ” b e c a u s e “ D o n ' t c o m e back”
would be too mild
I am just including only few pictures. No picture can really tell you what my eyes have seen or capture the
viciousness and the ferocity of the attacks. The pictures you see are of homes which had people, who laughed,
cried, prayed, ate and lived a decent life with some owning modern amenities like TV, fridge, alimarhs, cots,
tractors etc. owning lands, poultry, piggery, cattle, business etc. Not all of them were as backward as we have
pictured them to be. Yes some were poor but their life was improving compared to the Hindus.
Close your eyes for a moment, just imagine a thousand people
chanting, armed with choicest of weapons ranging for 4 foot
swords, trishuls etc and banging at your door, imagine the
sound as metal meets metal,

The picture on the left will help you imagine.

I am unable to share all the pictures here but as I went on a

bike from Raikia to Dodinga to Masumaha to Totamaha, to
Bakingia, Gondagadu, to Dambakia, Adaskupa to Telingia to
Penalaha to Bodimunda, Daburia, Budamaha, Mondakia,
Mokabali, Aloha, Gungivada, Papose to Mondasaru, all were
connected by a single thread. Every Christian house
devastated, burnt. Bibles, Christian literature, clothes, shoes,
broken glass, pots, pans strewn all over the place. Some Rich,
poor but all Christian houses have met the same fate.
Families have been broken, children's education disrupted,
businesses burnt, dreams smashed, lives altered forever. All
because they chose to follow Jesus. From what I have seen,
Christians returning to their homes is almost a near

What is the price to pay for being Christian I asked my self


I felt humbled as I walked in and out of every house with a

urge to scream out in agony but I held that back but not my
tears, silently I saluted these people.

We entered the Godimuda village to see some of the Christian homes which were damaged. It was a Hindu
village. On the main road we were accosted by some of the locals who told us


Though I did not understand Kui language, from the body language, the dress they were wearing (Saffron T shirt,
Yellow Dothi and a locket which had the picture of the Swami) I got the message. At that moment I realized that
Christians going back to any village is a long, long way off except a miracle happens. Only a miracle can change
that hatred and the animosity and it is for that miracle we have to pray earnestly. In this hopeless scenario only
prayer can change things. We thanked God and left that place in a great hurry before something ugly happened.
In fact I was taken to places which were considered safe and yet I came across this. I cant imagine what would
have happened if we had stepped into an “ unsafe village”...

Can you consider the place to be normal that even a visit to an inhabited village (All Christians villages
are empty) evokes such a response?

Some Christian villages had upto 300 families or more I am told. Now all have gone, it is completely deserted and
a deafening silence greets you in these Christian villages.
( People you see in these pics are friends who accompanied me, not residents. If you want to get the real picture, stick
your fingers into your ears, shut out the sounds and look at those pictures). There is no one out there.(1.2.2009)

In Musumaha at the time of riots Christian Landlord was sent out just with a banian and dothi. His Hindu tenant enjoy
his property, no one knows where he is ! Every Christian village is burnt and looted. Not a single Christian lives
there, they have been told to come back only after reconverting. You may find it hard to imagine that this is
happening in India where people are so concerned about attacks on Pubs and Valentine day celebrations. Here
people have been robbed, raped(many unreported cases) and driven from their own homes and not allowed to return.
They are paying a high price to follow Christ with little or no support from other Christian brothers outside Orissa.
Rule of the jungle continues even after 6 months. Since it was unsafe to spend too much time we had to get in and get
out fast I had to take video pictures which give a better picture of the abandonment and destruction

The Swami who was killed by the Naxals had an agenda to wipe out all the Pastors and leaders of
Kandhamal and his wish was carried out at his death.

Tatamaha village: Pastor Akbar Digal

Two days later they came

again, carried his body
further 50 mts to this spot
and burnt it

In front of slain Pastor Akbar Digal

The attackers came, chased him about I found pieces of bones still lying there
300 mts from his house and killed him Obviously his family had gathered his
with knives and swords under a tree and remains in haste and left behind some
left his body in the open. small pieces of bone which is there even
today since not many dare to go back.

Bakingia Village: Pastor Samuel Nayak

Bakingia village had 300 Dragged pastor to this place His body was set on fire, (calcified
Christian families it was also and asked him to give up blood is seen above) and the place
home to slain Pastor Samuel Jesus but he continued to where he was burnt with Bible and
Nayak. They dragged him out preach till someone beheaded books. I found the book
of the house and started him. His wife also was cut “Transformed for Life” by Derek
beating him, hearing this his and left for dead but she Prince which was used to burn him.
blind and paralyzed mother survived The book lay there singed by fire
asked them to stop, they set from his body as a testimony to his
(The place where he was
her on fire and killed her faith and death he died.
beheaded above)

Isolate and Destroy: I am told that during the riots the mobs would begin attacking several villages at the same
time in a highly coordinated manner and isolate the villages from police by placing trees and boulders placed to
block the roads. Even today those trees and rocks are lying on the roadside sending a warning that any area can be
isolated within minutes. Of course there is no point doing that now because there is no one to isolate because every
Christian village is empty.
The slaying of a Christian “strong man” near Gondagada village

This man was called “Samson” because of his The mob removed the beams from the CNI church and
towering personality. He was attacked by a mob on burnt him with that. The ashes and desecrated church
this road, his head smashed near that bridge with a bears testimony to his death
big stone,
During my visit there were three relief camps, one at G Udaigiri, Mondakia and Mondasaru and about 3000
were living in them. (The G Udaigir camp has been closed now ). Where are people going to go? NO one has
the answers. They cant go back home ! Some go to their relatives, some to friends and others to the streets. Oh
what a price to pay for your faith!

In the Mondakia camp I saw rice of very poor quality

and sambar being prepared, the only meal of the day.
No breakfast, tea or dinner. In spite of such a
hopeless situation no one is walking out and
reconverting.. On that Saturday afternoon (31st
Jan09) I saw more than 60 people in a 20x20 tent
praying and praising God., from outside the tent I
could even recognise the wife of a slain pastor in that

The world has forgotten them, their Christian brothers outside Orissa have forgotten them but they have not
forgotten their God.

Meeting of elders within the camp to

ensure harmony amongst inmates.
The Relief Camp at Mondasar is
run inside a RC Institution
Things that brought cheer to my heart !

The first picture is of Goliath in front

of his house which has been
vandalized. Now he stays in a relief
camp in a tent like this one
As I stood next to Goliath, I knew that
he had lost everything. He has a
choice to renounce Christ and walk
out of that horrible camp but prefers
to follow Christ and live on a single
substandard meal. I felt so small in
front of this giant in faith. Its people
like him who brought cheer to my
heavy heart.

As I joined in the worship service on 1st Feb at the Baptist Church at Raikia and shared God’s message of hope and
promise I was encouraged by the enthusiasm, vibrancy and joy of worship of these people who are living in such
unimaginable horror. It is not surprising that Hindus fear these people because their faith is so infectious that you
could catch it. Even a brief time there has helped me grow spiritually

I met a man who lost his ancestral home and property, supporting more than twenty five people who fled
Kandamal by providing them shelter and food from his meager income in one of the towns. Met many
people of great strength who inspite of personal losses were helping others.

As I stood at the very spot where the body of slain

Pastor Dibya Sundar was brought 5 months ago, I
tried to recollect the pain and horror of that day. Under
the warm sunshine on Feb 1 2009 it did not seem too
distant for me. For I see that horror has not gone
away and it not too far away.
I gathered comfort from the saying: “The blood of
martyrs is the seed of the church” .

Yes! the situation today in Kandhmal is hopeless,

but my belief is that God is going to give life to the seeds sown by his faithful servants
I still cant stop wondering how Raikia is still standing with those three churches. Considering the devastation I
have seen even 500 mts from where I stayed. I call it a miracle, a place of hope. A scripture came to my mind -
The remnant (2 Kin 19:30 And the remnant that has survived…shall again take root downward and bear fruit
upward.). As always God's Word brought cheer to me.

That Sunday evening as I was packing my bags to return from Kandamal, my friend whispered “ we have get out of
this place very quickly, I heard there is some problem starting” and he did not elaborate. Fear gripped my heart
and for the next 2 hours till I reached Durga Prasad the entrance/exit of Kandamal, in a small way I shared the fear of
being trapped and isolated which these people who so constantly experience it. Next day the headlines of the
Newspaper told me that there was a clash

between the Hindu youths and the CRPF which resulted in some kind of bandh. The Hindus are doing all they can to
get the CRPF out and once that happens, without any police protection I cant imagine how bad it could be for the
Christians who are still there. Yes a very small spark is enough to light a fire. Yes Kandhmal sits on a volcano ready
to explode. A volcano of hate that will wipe away a beautiful community or a volcano of love that will reclaim the
lost glory. It is your prayer and concern which will decide that.

I got my answer for one of the two questions. Is Kandhamal back to normal, NO is the answer. I could not find
answers for the next question “Where are the people who fled Kandamal? Some say they are living with relatives,
some say they are living as destitutes. Does anyone know? Does anyone care ? What is the price to pay to follow
Christ ?

A week later as a stood conducting the evening service under the lovely stained glass of St Andrew's Church
Bangalore, I ran my fingers over the crisp white cloth of the altar table and smelt the sweet fragrance from the altar
flowers trying to erase the horror of desecrated churches and burnt homes. I realized it was too deeply etched in my
heart and only in eternity will that pain ever go away. Kandamal has taught me how precious it is know and serve the
Lord and never to take anything for granted.

I write this because I promised the people at Kandamal two things. One to pray for them and secondly to tell people
about the real situation there. This presentation is only a fraction of what I have seen and recorded. If you agree with
me that situation is not normal and feel for the plight of your brothers and sisters there, please pray for them; please
forward this mail to others who think Kandamal situation is normal. Get families, churches ,groups to pray without
ceasing, just do what God tells you to do. If you want to watch a video presentation or have any queries or
suggestions you can get in touch with me through my mail : or I will be glad to share it with you.. Thanks for your patient reading.

God bless you and guide you.

Malcolm Athishtam
( I am an Engineer working as Area Sales Manager for a Private Company. My visit was not sponsored or arranged
by any Church or Organisation. This visit was purely based on my conviction that if “One member suffers all suffer
together with it”(1 Cor 12:26). I responded to God's call to do my part for my suffering brothers and sisters in
Kandhamal which is to pray and to bring out this uncomfortable truth . This is a truthful account of what I have heard
and seen, presented in honesty because only truth honours God and its His honour and glory that I seek )

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