A christian soldier who fought in the 1999 Kargil war against Pakistan is in a refugee camp today after he and his family were driven out from their native village by Hindu mobs.
Motilal Pradhan of the 244 Medium Artillery regiment lost one of his brothers when his house in the riot-ravaged Kandhamal district was set on fire on August 24.
“I have fought against ULFA (the Assam militant group), served in insurgency-infested Baramulla region and fought in Drass sector during the Kargil War. We were called Drass Devils,” he told HT as he stood in the middle of the government-run refugee center — one of the two such centers — in Bhubaneswar. There are around 500 others like him at the center.
“But now,” Motilal said, “I cannot return to my own village.”
Motilal and several others have got a message from his village: reconvert to Hinduism and then think of returning to Gadragaon.
More than 35 people are dead, 140 churches and hundreds homes have been burnt, a nun has been gangraped and hundreds of Christians beaten in 39 days of continuing violence in the southern Orissa district.
On Thursday, the day 5,000 paramilitary troops were flown into Orissa by air force planes, the violence spread to neighbouring Boudh district.
Motilal’s house is located 2.5 km from Chakapada, where Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati — the VHP leader whose murder on August 23 by unknown assailants triggered the anti-Christian riots — had his ashram. Christians in the area were the first to be attacked.
His younger brother Rabindra, who quit the army in 2006, said: “We told our paralytic brother Rasananda to come with us. But he advised us to flee. He told me why would anyone harm a paralytic patient like him? Later, we came to know that our house was burnt and he died as he could not come out.”
At the time of the incident, Motilal was serving in Punjab along the India-Pakistan border. On August 24, he got a call from home about the attacks.
“We always tried to make Rasananda feel that he was normal. We had kept a television and a telephone in his room. Several friends from the neighbourhood would come and watch TV and spend time with him,” Motilal said. “Later we came to know that those very people who spent time with him did not hesitate to burn down our house in which our brother was killed.”
His family trekked through the jungles for three days before they got a truck to Bhubaneswar.