Village after village lies deserted on the outskirts of this town, the headquarters of Kandhamal district.
The residents, mostly Christians, have all fled. They’ve been hiding in the nearby forests since Monday, when rampaging Hindu mobs descended on them to avenge the mysterious murder of Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati and four other Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) activists on Saturday night.
They prefer to stay under the open sky, braving the frequent downpour and swarms of insects.
It is only at the sight of a vehicle carrying relief supplies – with a heavy police escort — that they warily step out on to the road, anxious to scurry back into hiding again.
“On Monday morning a group came chanting anti-Christians slogans,” said Abalkora Diggal of Balkidadi village. “In the evening a much bigger group of over 1000 people fired in the air and warned us to leave if we wanted to stay alive.”
The frenzied mob ransacked and destroyed every village it passed through. Security forces were nowhere in sight. “I had a home and a tractor. I reared goats and hens. Now I have nothing,” said Diggal.
Hindu-Christian riots had rocked this region barely eight months ago, sparked off by an attack on Laxmananda. “That time mobs broke down all our churches,” said Sundarsingh Diggal, another Balkidadi resident. “This time they have smashed our homes.”
Even Hindus living in predominantly Christian villages were not spared. Gayadhar Diggal stayed back when his neighbours fled thinking he had nothing to fear. He was killed on Wednesday.