From Satyabhama To Satyabhama
By K.P. Sasi
04 July, 2015
A decade back, when we were making a documentary called `The Source of Life for Sale’, on around nine struggles on water privatisation in India, I happened to move around in Chattisgarh to look into some of the issues there. A river called Shivdham was sold to the corporate industry by the elected representatives there at that time. Being in power in this country, it can also take you to a status of God, who they assume have created rivers, forests, seas and hills. But the elected Gods have no pretension to have the capacity to create. They can only sell to destroy.
Another river called Kelo river was sold to the well known industrialist, Jindal. But it was not an easy process. There was a stiff resistance from the local people. Four local women even started a hunger fast against it. And one woman called Satyabhama died in the hunger fast. The collector rushed to the spot and expressed his compassion by promising rupees three lakhs to Satyabhama’s family. The money was never given. The collector was transferred.
I found it very difficult to get a photograph of this woman called Satyabhama. My friend Gautam Bandhopadhyay in Chattisgarh finally managed to get a photograph which was broken with several shades of white on her face. My friend Mustafa Desamangalam and editor Aditya sat on this photograph on a computer and recreated her photograph which we used in our film. After that I told many of my activist friends that though there are a number of struggles against water privatisation in India, but here is one woman who gave up her life for such a struggle! And there are not too many instances of martyrdom due to a hunger fast in the history of people’s movements in India. She must be remembered and projected as a symbol of struggle against water privatisation in India. I tried. But sometimes, in activist circles, you may feel that the dead are the lucky ones. And memories are only for those who love haunted stories.
The name Satyabhama has been ringing on my ears ever since. Years later, when I was moving around in Kandhamal, walking through the debris of the destroyed churches and watching the faces of Adivasi Christians and Dalit Christians filled with fear, I met Satyabhama again. This Satyabhama was different, but yet the same. And both were women!
This Satyabhama in Kandhamal was again a poor woman like the Satyabhama in Chattisgarh. Both expressed immense courage in different contexts. What is more important for us is to recognise that Satyabhama in Kandhamal is alive and we must know more about all such Satyabhamas in this country, if we have to understand the words lke `secular India’ enshrined in our Indian Constitution. It is on this living Satyabhama that I would like to share some words with you.
The time was 2008. Swami Laxmananda who used to spit venom against the Christians in Odisha from mid 1960s onwards, was murdered by the Maoists. Since the Maoists had given an advance notice that he would be murdered, there was also a police protection for him. The Maoists executed their job as per schedule and the blame was put on the Christians in Kandhamal by the Sangh Parivar. Around 350 churches and worship places belonging to the Adivasi Christians and Dalit Christians were destroyed. More than 56,000 people were displaced and over 100 people were killed. Around 5,600 houses were burnt, looted and destroyed and over 40 women were raped or molested. Kandhamal was burning and the Christians were running in fear. In such conditions, a group of seven Christian sisters ran towards the Hindu house of Satyabhama Nayak, a widow who was barely struggling to manage herself and her family. Satyabhama knew very well that giving protection to the Christian nuns at that time may cost her own life also. But yet she did it. I was curious to know why she undertook such a courage, since Hindus who gave protection to Christians were also killed at that time. During the same time, a local Hindu, who was also a BJP member, was killed for trying to stop Sangh Parivar from attacking the Christians in his village. If they could go to such an extent to their own people, Satyabhama would have had no chance in front of them. I interviewed her for a documentary film. But unfortunately it is difficult to share the full text of any interview in any such films due to constraints of the format. Therefore, it is being reproduced here.
Satyabhama is not a lone rider. You will find Satyabhamas in every communal riot. While the mainstream press focuses their attention on the sensational news providing more coverage to those who undertake violence, and a small column occasional news for the secular protests against communal violence, the real secular people who act with convictions on harmony on the ground are not usually identified. If India has still some secular traditions left, it is only because of such Satyabhamas on the ground. The only hope we have today is that even in these burning hours of communal polarisation and politics of hatred, we still can witness such courageous women, who believe strongly on harmony and execute a task which the Indian State has failed for decades.
The story of Satyabhama in Kandhamal gives us ample evidence to understand that it is not religion which creates communal violence in India. It is just politics. Religion is only a tool. And most of these people who involve in violence also do not really believe in religion. It is only a mass of people filled with fear trying to generate fear on others, searching for their own identity through blood shed in a world which drains their own identities. And it is easy to sit back and write this. But it is not easy to live it.
If it is religion that creates violence, then we will have to explain why a religious Brahmin family expressed the same courage to provide shelter to human rights activist Prof. Bandookwalah, when Gujarat was burning. In 1984, when the Sikhs were massacred in Delhi, there were people from different religions who expressed such solidarity. In Gujarat, even Christians as well as atheists came forward to support the Muslims. The list of those who try to build harmony in the most difficult conditions is long. But one thing is clear. We are still surviving because of the relentless work of those unknown and unidentified people.
Recognising such efforts is as much a political activity as much as providing relief to the victims of communal violence or initiating protests against violence. To my relief, when I mentioned about Satyabhama to comrade Annie Raja, who is a national leader of the women’s wing of the Communist Party of India (CPI), she said that they were having a national event of their women’s wing in Delhi and that Satybhama of Kandhamal could be honoured in that function. Satyabhama and a team from Kandhamal left for Delhi soon after that to receive such a facilitation, thanks to the sensitivity of Annie Raja. It is only with such support mechanisms that more seeds of harmony can sprout in future.
Big trees may fall during a storm. And small plants may survive. Our areal view in politics restricts us to see the small plants. It takes more courage to withstand a communal onslaught with full conviction on humanity and harmony. Satyabhama in Kandhamal, represent that collective harmony.
Our Indian identity has tasted blood. It will take a long time to remove the smell of blood from our own souls. As a civilisation based on a history of blood shed, it is time that we keep recognising all those who are devoted to the act of cleaning the smell. They are our future.
Satyabhama from Kandhamal Speaks:
My name is Satyabhama Naik. We are Hindus. We observe Hindu rituals. The Sisters of Balliguda convent rushed here suddenly during the day of violence. I was cooking here alone at that time and cleaning the rice on the back side of my house when the rioters were moving nearby. The cook of the convent in Badangaon is well known to me. During the last violence (in 2007) also some of the Christians were hidden here for some days. The sisters came from back side through the bushes. I saw the sisters entering into my house with wounds and bleeding due to running through thorny bushes to save their lives. I was astonished. I asked my nephew to find out why there was such a big noise. He went outside and came back and told me that the rioters are coming near.
I immediately locked the door and put the key inside my blouse and went outside. Meanwhile, the rioters were shouting from a distance. I was frightened and prayed to God to save me and let them not see the sisters who were sheltered in my house. The rioters asked me, where are you going? I replied that I am disturbed by your noises. `You are a Hindu, why do you run’, they asked. `You go back to your house’. I said that it is not written on anybody’s forehead, who is a Hindu and who is a Christian. They said: `Why are you taking trouble unnecessarily? You go back to home’. I mingled with the mob and when they started attacking Church, some had gone to the other side of the road and some stayed on the road itself. I stayed with them on the road. If I had gone back, some of them might come to ask me for water or match box. The sisters were not one or two; they were big number with their cooks sitting inside my house.
Some of the rioters started attacking another house nearby. I told them: `What will you get by attacking this poor small house? Instead of that, you attack the Church, so that you will get some credit. If you damage this house, they will get double than this’. They attacked the house as well as the church.
I followed the mob. They were going straight. One boy said: `A pastor is staying nearby. Let us attack him’. They attacked the pastors’ house and torched the gas cylinder and warned me leave the place immediately, since the gas cylinder was about to burst. I thought my child might panic. After destroying the house, they went back. I came back to my house and saw that the sisters were crying.
In the meantime, one lady came from Kanjamendi with food. Their children had already come there. She told us that they raped one sister there and that she might live or die. I informed the sisters about this incident. The sister was raped was protected in a Hindu house when the incident happened. The sisters in my house were too afraid. They also thought since they were staying in a Hindu house, the rioters might do wrong to me also. I told them: `Sisters, do not think like that, we are not like that. So please do not be tense. I have grace from above, If I had any fear, I would have sent you out immediately’.
Everybody’s life was in danger. We prepared our food. I told the sisters to hide in the two rooms if any outsiders visited our house. They hid themselves even when our own people came to our house. In one room they slept with our goats by just using one mattress.
Then one of my neighbours, who is wife a lecturer told me: `The rioters are searching for the Christians, who are hiding in Hindu houses. If you want to be saved, send the sisters out of your house’. I replied, whatever may happen we will face the consequences. But I cannot send them away. How can I tell them to leave the house?’
I requested for a room in the nearby house. The owner was in Kerala at that time. At least, some sisters could take rest in the day time. But they refused to give shelter. They said: `We will not allow the sisters and fathers to hide in our house. I told the sisters about this matter. This house had the advantage for the sisters to study, for medical care and for food. But they were unwilling to help the sisters. Then I cried. The Sisters also started crying with me. Then they counseled me by saying: `We did not have any shelter. But you gave us shelter. Do not cry’.
Next morning I led them to a nearby forest and sat with them there. My daughter prepared food for them and we served them there. When I left, they were crying out of fear. I gave them my clothes to change and brought their clothes home. Two to Three days they spent in the forest where we served them food. The police came here after three days in CRPF van which had gone ahead. We were under a tree at that time. My son stopped the van while it was returning. The magistrate and sub collector asked me about the head of this family and also about my son. Then they asked me about my husband. I said, I was divorced seventeen or eighteen years back. I am staying with my children. They asked me to visit the office, but I did not. Then, the Sisters went with them. After two days the sisters came and took their clothes and went to other places.
We also suffered for them. I had my son in law and my son. There is another son in law from Dandapadar. All of us suffered a lot. The entire market was closed. It was difficult to arrange food for them. We managed to arrange somehow. Even the CRPF chased my son. He was saved by pretending as if he had gone out for toilet by removing his trousers. They could have taken him. But by God’s grace they are living happily now.
The sisters stayed here for 7 days. Altogether, we had to prepare food for thirteen people. The Sisters were seven in number and one sister from Chatrapur with one girl and girls from the convent. altogether there were thirteen. But two of them stayed with small children. The seminary students also took food here in my house. We had to cook throughout the day. We had a sack of 50 kgs of rice and again we bought 25 kgs. of rice. By God’s grace rice was there. We are very poor people. We eat only when we buy. God provided us food in the right time.
I think God is with us. See, our people hated us. Forget about Hindus, even Christians hated me. They asked me: `You do not allow people with shoes to enter your house. How could you allow them to your worship place with shoes and also during the menstruation period?’ I told them: `The situation was bad. That was why we had to do it’. When they started going on with such talk, I said: `I did not keep human beings in my house. I kept Gods. You may hate me, but God is not hating me’. That was the way things passed. I have never been with wants. Every day, I am getting my food in peace. God is helping me.
I am worshiping Hindu God. But I also call to Jesus to save me and my children. Recently, one man came from outside to our village. Not for giving medicines. But only for praying. From childhood I had a problem in my stomach. Even the Christians were not cured there. But I got healed there. The wife of a person named Stephan from another village told me: `There are many Christians were not healed in this meeting, but you are healed. You believe in every religion. That was why.’ Many Christians had told me that they were cured. But they complained again later. But I have no problem. My chest pain and stomach problems are gone forever.
Recently, I was called to Bhubaneswar. A lady on the other street falsely spread rumours that the Christians gave me three lakhs. If they could give us such money, we could have enjoyed the life for some time. I have never seen three lakhs in my life. I would not have gone to work, then. Let them say whatever they want. Once I argued with them in a group. When I asked them five thousand to meet my needs, they said: `Why, you have plenty of money. The Christian priests have given you money’. I asked: `Who said so? Even if the priests are not giving, God is giving me. No Father or Sister gave me money and I never beg for that. But the Almighty is providing me. If they give me I will not refuse and I am not going to ask.’ I argued in this manner.
Now, we do not have good relationship with these people who spread such lies. Previously even when a small chick deity offer was done, they would share it with me. We are living with our own hard work. Why should we expect something from others? They do not come to my house any more.
Whenever I get frightened, my heart beat increases. And I feel that something may happen. But this time, I did not feel anything. My heat beat increased only when the crowd came towards our house. When the sisters came to my house, almost immediately after that, the crowd came from the other direction. I had no time to tell them where to hide. That was why I was afraid. After that I did not fear.
When the sisters came to my house I was happy. At a time of sorrow, they came to our house. When the rioters took the dead body of Swami Laxmanananda (who was killed by the Maoists) in a procession, I had gone to see the body, even though I had an injury on my foot. He is our religious leader. That was why I had gone to see. There was a heavy rain during the procession with the dead body. I went with the dead body up to fire station. By that time, people started throwing stones on a Church. I was searching for my child, then. They burnt one motor cycle in the bus stand. My children were there. But again I thought that my children were gone, so I came back. I was afraid that they might get injured by stones.
When I moved from there, I could see that the Christians were running towards the forest along with children, for safety. From there I came back. I had a plan to go up to Hanuman Temple. People were scattered everywhere. When they saw the Christians, some Hindu boys started chasing them in order to attack them. But people like Kalu Panda, Binayak Panda and Sana Dash stopped them. `What we have done is enough’, they said. `There is no need to be violent. Children are running with fear. Why are you chasing them? What have these children done to you? No need to harm them’. Then they stopped and I come back. Next day morning, the sisters came to my house.
People like Niaz Pathan and Rabi Palo have been praising me for what I have done. Once when I was talking to them, they said: `Though you are single woman, how could you be so brave to keep them? People were running here and there. But you protected them. God will keep you alive for one lakh years.’ I told them: `I may die today or tomorrow. Forget about one lakh years.’ But they said: `There is a difference to get blessings from God than from men.’
Interviewed by K.P. Sasi and translated from Oriya by Chandra Kanta Naik
(Courtsey: Madhyamam weekly/mattersindia.com)
K.P Sasi is an award winning film director and a political activist. He is also an Associate Editor of Countercurrents.org. He can be reached at email@example.com
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