Women Tonsured For
Converting To Christianity
By John Dayal
23 February, 2004
There is a passing
resemblance to Uma Bharati. The same
round face, the dusky complexion of central India, and the
head without hair. But this is where the resemblance ends.
Manjukta Kandi, 35, cowers in a corner or the room in a
private house in Orissa's capital Bhuvaneswar, dressed
in an old dhoti. And unlike the Hindutva nun, or sanyasin,
who voluntarily offered her tresses to the gods of her faith.
before she moved into the lakeside Bhopal mansion of the
Chief minister of Madhya Pradesh - after adding two new
temples to the complex - Manjukta was pulled by her
hair in Kalipal village of Jagatsinghpur district in Orissa,
partially disrobed, held down by maybe four or five men
and women, and had her hair crudely mowed by a pair
of old scissors. Her crime, like that or six other women
and two men, was that she had taken Jesus Christ as
her God, and Christianity as her faith, she says seven
years ago, and refused to listen to new voices that
wanted her to be a Hindu. Manjukta Kandi, 35, Shantilata
Kandi,25, Umitra Kandi, Dali Bhoi, 22, Sumitra Kandi,
Sanjukta Kandi, 40, Nisa Samal, 40. Add these names
to hundreds of others across Orissa's notorious districts
where it is open season on Christians, and hunters include
activists of the Sangh Parivar, politicians, Sadhus who
have set up huge maths.
that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and
its agencies have finalized a special plan for the state of
Orissa, the place where graham Stuart Staines and his
sons were burn alive on 22 January 1999 bringing
Christian persecution in India to the eyes of the western
world. The ten day trauma of the villagers has not ended.
They continue to live on the campus of a small private
church in Bhuvaneswar, for the moment safe, but too scared
to even leave the compound.
The tonsuring happened
on 6th February 2004. The victims
were soon rounded up again, loaded into a Maruti van
and driven to another village 90 kilometers away, there
to be baptised as Hindus around a Yagna fire to the
chanting of mantras.
The story broke
many days later when New Delhi Television
flashed photographs of the tonsured women, shivering
like so many shorn sheep. The All India Christian Council,
and the All India Catholic Union immediately flashed
an alarm to the Chairman of the National Human Rights
Commission. "This India is not shining, you will agree.
Orissa has become a synonym for the persecution of
Christians, much as Gujarat is for the killings of Muslims
and burning of Churches. The state government, with
its own tyrannical record of victimization and cornering
of the Church and the Christian community, has
looked on, and often connived by its deliberate
inaction in the violence against Christians. The central
government has been deaf for the last five years to all
cries of the Christian community. Instead it has nurtured
everyone with an agenda against Christ and a campaign
against Christianity. "This hate campaign is manifest
in the calumny from political leaders of the Bharatiya
Janata party in all their election and non-election
rhetoric. It is also manifest in the crush of lies and
conspiracy theories spewed out in the columns of
the Sangh Parivar's mouthpieces the Organiser and
the Panchajanya and another recent recruit, the Tehelka
The Christian Council
and the Catholic Union, who sent a
team of investigators led by the Council Secretary
General to the area, later demanded from the State
government of chief minister Navin Patnaik an immediate
judicial enquiry into the incident, and specially into the
role of the district civil and police authorities. Although
Christian organisations have consistently opposed the
so called Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, OFRA, as
being against human dignity and freedom of faith, they
said the state could show fair play and neutrality if it
were to impose the same OFRA against the Hindutva
goons -- admitted by the Collector and the
Superintendent of police to be people from outside
the district - who had forcibly converted the terrorized
So far OFRA has
not been invoked against the people.
Some are said to be in custody, but charges have not
been framed. And most dangerously, the district
officials and the local policemen are targeting the
Christian victims themselves. The men and women are
under acute pressure, from what they have told us on
video tape, to reconvert to Hinduism if they want to
live in peace in their ancestral village. The state
government seems not too bothered with the event,
and the BJP is quite prepared to use it as part of its
arguments that the Christians are the one's to blame
for trying to split the state and disturb its harmony.
Jagatsinghpur Collector Brundavan Ratha, a
promotee officer of the Orissa Administrative Service,
wears his religion on his sleeve, but says he bears
no hatred towards Christians. Superintendent of police
Suresh Palsiana, a young Indian Police Service officer
born in Rajasthan and educated in a Military school,
says he does not care about religion. And yet it would
seem that for both, the main target of investigation,
and interest, is a young man called Subash Samal,
the first man to covert to Christianity from the
village early in the 1990s.Palsiana was on leave when
the incident happened, but says he has since then
visited the area and interrogated Samal. Collector
Ratha had not visited the place even ten days after
The event, first claiming he was busy with the
pre-election processes and an impending March
visit by the Chief minister, and then saying his wife
had injured her wrist and he could not leave her.
He did promise to go to the village one of these days.
Ten minutes into a conversation with him, and one
is left with little doubt where his sympathies lie. He has
not hesitated in articulating them to the Orissa media,
and in particular to newspapers in the local language.
He seems to feel that Christians have misused the
opening they got during Orissa's super cyclone, and
in the guise of relief, have embarked on massive
conversions. "We have our eyes on them," he candidly
said. Asked what action he had taken to the men
and women of the Sangh who had entered his district
from neighbouring areas, the collector, was mum.
The collector also contradicts himself repeatedly.
There is no Sangh activity in my district, and there
is no communal or inter community tension, he says
in one breath. And then in the next, he says
"Jagatsinghpur is a very sensitive district. Your
going to the village may complicate mattes an
have a serious fallout."
not a forested area, and seemingly
not very poor with its coastal fields producing good
paddy crops the last few seasons, though the scars
of the cyclone still show. The road to this district
headquarters, a mere 40 kilometers from Bhuvaneswar,
existed only in stretches, and have eroded over long
lengths so that a jeep trip takes up three hours though
there is little traffic. The people are largely dalits,
with agricultural land of their own, or working the fields
of others. And indeed there is harmony among people and
in families. Or was for seven years till agitprop teams
started coming to the villages to galvanize them for
Hindutva. Kalipala itself is not a very large village
with the Dalit community living in their own enclave.
It was from here
that Subash Samal, who had not
cleared secondary school, went to Mumbai, looking
for a job. During his stay he worked. He also became
attracted to evangelists in Mumbai who were
preaching Salvation, and a life of spiritual uplift
and health. Subash says he attended a course in the
Bible, and when he was ready, he came back to Orissa,
persuaded a local pastor to baptize him, and went back
to his village. His father, who later spoke with this
correspondent at some length, was not amused.
He now says he is a Christian -he became a Christian
when he saw his son and daughters being dragged s
emi naked and ensured that fateful day. But in the
beginning, he questioned his elder son's decision.
The neighbors were not too bothered, but he feared
he would lose his son to the city, or to strangers.
The tension between father and son did not last
long. They were soon reconciled and continued to
live together for more than seven years.
For pastor Subash
Samal, evangelization began
from home. His young sisters, both in school,
joined him in prayers, and soon other relatives from
neighbouring huts. The healing message also
persuade some other families to embrace Christianity.
Samal continued with his work, but the flock did not
go beyond a couple of dozens.
As this was long
before the Orissa government notified
its more stringent orders on the Orissa Freedom of
Religion Act, Samal did not have to notifythe police or
the civil authorities, and he did not bother to do so even
after the new rules were enforced.
It is no quite clear
how or where the acrimony first
started. There is strong evidence that people from
some other villages, one as far as 90 km away, have
been plotting to teach Samal and the Christians a lesson.
The state intelligence machinery feigns ignorance, but
they could not have been blind to the fact that crowds
were collecting at Samal's village, and that many were
in Maruti cars or vans.
The violence started
when these outsiders accompanied
over two dozen local Hindus - men and women from
the same Dalit ghetto - and attacked the homes
of Pastor Samal and the other Christian families,
most of them closely related. Says Shantilata Kandi
"The villagers came and dragged us out of the house,
Then they started beating us and cut our hair. They
also pulled at our clothes."
Adds Nisha, "The
other villagers warned us that if
we did not reconvert, we would face the consequences.
They forcibly 'Launda-ed" (tonsured) us." Because
of the police inaction, Subash Chouhan, leader of
the Bajrang Dal, and others have bid bold to hold
their own press conferences in Bhuvaneswar, spewing
venom on the Christians.
The police were
possibly busy with Pastor Samal.
He has been in police custody at various times and
has reportedly been tortured. The Superintendent
of police denies the torture story, saying he inspected
Samal's body himself and found no marks of injury.
But there is no doubt that the pastor has spent some
days and nights with the police. He has also been
abducted by outsiders when not in police custody.
Samal said that he along with four other Christians
had been forcibly taken to the venue of a yagya being
held at Uranda village near Manijanga yesterday.
He is also shorn. There he says they made him put
ghee in the Yagna and recite mantras. He says
he may also have given a letter in writing that he
was converting to Hinduism. "Some people had
declared me as a reconvert to Hinduism against
my wishes," he told reporters at the police station
where he was later kept under detention.
Three States, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Arunachal
Pradesh passed their own Freedom of Religion Acts in
1967, 1968 and 1978 respectively. On three previous
occasions, the Union Government had unsuccessfully
tried to pass similar legislation. These so-called
"Freedom of Religion" Acts are, in actuality, legislative
mechanisms for inhibiting individuals' freedom of
religion and thought -- under the guise of protecting
against conversion (e.g., to Christianity) by force,
fraud or inducement. Recent additions also include
the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act and the Tamil
Nadu Act, with continuing rumours that a national
act on similar lines will be enacted if the BJP returns
to power. These laws can be easily manipulated by
Hindu fundamentalists and thus become a way of
"legally" harassing religious minorities by making false
Acts overlook the implementation
of a "re-conversion" programme called "Ghar Wapasi,"
or "homecoming" movement, generally attributed to
former BJP minister Dilip Kumar Judeo who as caught
on camera accepting huge bribes from the corporate
sector. Judeo has described missionaries as "part of
an international Satanic conspiracy" and declared
re-conversion the "greatest public service in the
national interest." Judeo's Akhil Bhartiya Vanvasi
Kalyan Ashram claims to have converted 165,000
people from tribal areas of Madhya Pradesh, Orissa
and Bihar in 17 years, and aims to convert another
50,000 Christians each year. These "re-conversions"
typically involve a significant amount of coercion, as
well as promises of State largesse for the re-Hinduized