Women Still Traumatized from Christmas Attacks in India
Psychological disorders persist in female Christians in Orissa state, study shows.
By Vishal Arora
NEW DELHI, June 20 (Compass Direct News) – Preliminary findings of an ongoing study on gender violence shows that female victims of attacks in Orissa state last Christmas season are struggling with post-traumatic disorders.
The study, conducted by local Christians and led by Dr. John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Council, records accounts of premature births, sexual molestation and attempted rape during the violence that began on Christmas Eve and lasted for more than a week in Kandhamal district. The violence, allegedly led by extremists of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council), left at least four Christians dead and 730 houses and 95 churches burned.
According to the study, at least seven Christian women victims are facing psychological disorders.
Sabita Digal, 30, from Barakhama village went insane after her close brush with the attackers. On Christmas day, a mob of around 200 Hindu extremists stormed the village and set the house of Christians on fire. Digal, along with other Christians, ran toward a jungle.
She fainted from fright and had to be assisted by the others to the jungle, where she remained without food or medicine. The study says that Digal, whose husband is poor and jobless, has been behaving abnormally since then.
Similarly, a 65-year-old nun, Sister Christa, and 30-year-old Anjali Nayak from the Mt. Carmel Convent in Balliguda, still have bouts of anxiety and depression. Lengthy counselling sessions with psychologists have yielded little improvement.
While Sister Christa and Nayak were decorating their church for Christmas, a mob came and set the building on fire. The two women, along with others, hid in a room, where they could see nothing but thick smoke.
Although all the women were finally able to escape, memories of the attack continue to haunt them. Nayak, who refused to go back to the convent in Balliguda and was therefore sent to a convent in Phulbani district, finds it difficult to sleep. She often shouts in the middle of the night, saying, “They are coming to kill us.”
In the same way, Sister Siba, Sister Hemanti Minz, Sister Rohini Pradhan and Sister Jerina Kollammaparambil of the Mt. Carmel Convent in Phulbani have not been able to go back to their normal daily routine since they witnessed attacks in their convent.
Further, Sasmita Sualsing, a 15-year-old orphan girl at a convent in Padangi and student, is unable to concentrate on her studies since she saw her church being vandalized and burned by the Hindu extremists.
How these cases will be handled, Dayal said, would be a test for the state administration and India ’s criminal justice system.
“For the Sangh Parivar (family of groups linked to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, India’s chief Hindu nationalist body),” he added, “the gender violence, thoroughly exposes all their pretence at respect for women, which they seem to have in the same measure as they have respect for the laws – zero.”
Many victims are still in the jungles fearing further physical attack, while hundreds of displaced Christians in Kandhamal remain in various relief camps set up by the state government.
There were many unreported cases of attempted rape and molestation during the attacks, Dayal said.
“Even nuns suffered physical attacks in the Kandhamal violence,” Dayal told Compass, adding that he had asked the National Commission of Women to inquire into those incidents. He said he would send a detailed report to the Justice Basudev Panigrahi Enquiry Commission, which is investigating into the attacks.
At least two Christian women were raped by Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) extremists and were not willing to report it to police, Dayal said. Due to the stigma of rape in rural parts of India , many victims do not like to disclose or report it.
The study, however, highlights several cases of abuse of women.
On December 25, a group of extremists sexually assaulted a 16-year-old Christian girl, Kumari Sonali Digal, from Barakhama village. The incident took place in a jungle near Barakhama, where Christians had fled.
As Digal was running along with the other girls to the jungle, a nail pierced her foot and it started bleeding. Left behind, she had to spend the night alone. The following day, she decided to go to a village close by in search of drinking water. On the way, a group of Hindu extremists saw her and assaulted her sexually. One of the boys from the group also put vermilion on her forehead to mark her “conversion” to Hinduism.
The same day, another group of rioters tried to sexually assault five women, including two nuns, and a 17-year-old girl.
The five women, Sister Sujata, Sister Sitara Kujur, Jyosona Joni, Ranjita Digal and Padmini Pradhan, along with 17-year-old Rajani Ekka, were hiding under the staircase of the Mt. Carmel Convent’s building in Balliguda. The Hindu extremists had set the building on fire.
Although the women were choking on the smoke, they wanted to wait for the attackers to leave before they could move out. But rioters searching for Christians spotted the women. The attackers caught them and began trying to manhandle them with the intention of sexually assaulting them, but the women held each other and managed to flee.
According to the study, at least four Christian women gave premature births in abject conditions in jungles and without medical attention in the December cold.
A 23-year-old woman who was eight months pregnant, Jhunuta Digal, was in her father’s house in Barakhama village on Christmas day when the violence broke out. Her parents were not home, and she and her husband ran to save their lives. Due to the chaos, she was separated from her husband.
Alone in the Penukupudi jungle, she developed labor pains. The baby was born prematurely that night.
Likewise, 26-year-old Muktimeri Parichha from Ulipadar village, then eight months pregnant as well, also gave birth to a boy before her due date.
Early on Christmas day, Christians in Ulipadar ran to the Panagadu hills to escape the attacks. The Christians remained there till December 28 without food and water. During the period, Parichha delivered a baby boy. Though she had family members close at hand, there were no medical facilities or even a knife to cut the umbilical cord. The family had to use sharp stones to cut the cord.
After the birth, they wrapped the baby with leaves, as it was cold and there was no clean cloth available.
Another Christian woman from Ulipadar village, 26-year-old Kumudini Nayak, developed labor pains in a jungle in Turanipani village in neighboring Gajapati district, 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from Ulipadar, where she had fled with her family. A local villager gave them shelter, but she delivered a premature baby without any medical assistance.
Similarly, 27-year-old Manimala Pradhan from Bamunigam village delivered her baby before the due date. As she reached a nearby jungle with her family, she fainted from exhaustion. As there was nothing to keep her warm, the family members lit a fire with dry leaves.
She gave birth and remained without food or medical help for hours.
Copyright 2008 Compass Direct News