August 29, 2008 1:27:13 am
While violence rages across Kandhamal district, in the ashram, where its spark was lit when Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati and four others were killed on August 24, the adults are angry, the children traumatised.
Many of the 130 girls in the Kanya Ashram, a residential school on the campus, were eyewitnesses to the killing of the VHP leader and that incident has burnt memories they will never forget.
“First, we thought someone is bursting crackers and so we ran towards the main gate. Then we saw and heard people screaming and running. There was blood all over the place. Swamiji and Mataji and others were lying in blood. I shouted and ran away, we all started running here and there,” said 15-year old Anita Pradhan. She is from Raikia and has been in the ashram for three years.
According to Anita, it was around 7 in the evening, prayer time in the students’ quarters. Swamiji and Mataji Bhaktimoyee, head of the girls hostel, were inside Swamiji’s room adjacent to the main entrance.
According to eyewitnesses, 10 to 15 men climbed the wall and started firing indiscriminately. They first shot dead Amritanandji, a disciple of Swamiji. The attackers then entered a small room, home to Prabhati Ganta, the guardian of one of the students who was living there. They shot him, too. Later, Kishore Baba, a resident of Boudh, was shot just outside this room.
It was then that they broke open Saraswati’s room. “Swamiji ran into the toilet to save himself and shut the door. Mataji, who hid behind the door, was shot first. The miscreants then broke open the toilet door and sprayed bullets,” said an eyewitness.
Vijaylaxmi Mullick, a Class X student at the ashram, is too traumatised to narrate the incident. Her voice trembles and falters as she remembers. “I rushed towards the main gate along with others only to see some men running around and loud cracking noise. I heard the cries of Swamiji and others. I saw other Swamijis running here and there. I was scared and ran inside the hostel room with another girl. We sat huddled together. Until after a long time, one of the Swamijis came and escorted us out of the room.”
Kusum Pradhan, a Class 6 student, could not venture out of her hostel room after dark following the incident. “I too rushed out after hearing the noise. I saw bodies lying in blood. I touched Swamiji’s feet, who was lying in the bathroom. It was still warm but he did not move. Nor did Mataji, who lay inside the room,” was all Kusum could say.
The 130 girls, who now reside inside the hostels of the sprawling ashram, now cannot venture out. The ashram is guarded by CRPF and Orissa police constables. The girls’ relatives are unable to visit the ashram and take them home because of the violence and the ongoing curfew in the district.
Brahmachari Shankar Chaitanya, who is now in charge of the ashram and is always escorted by police constables and CRPF personnel, seethes with anger against both Christians and the state government. “We had written 30 times to the state government that Swamiji’s and our lives were at stake, that we were being threatened by Christian leaders. Before the incident, we got a letter threatening to kill Swamiji. We formally complained to the police and district authorities. They sent only four baton-wielding constables,” said Shankar Chaitanya. “Not a single minister visited us after the incident, not even of our BJP. The Collector comes sometimes. He gave us rice, dal and sugar for the children.”
Chaitanya alleged that it was Christians, not Maoists, who were responsible for the incident. “The Maoists can never do this. It is Christians who threaten us everyday and they did this,” he said. He alleged that the ashram has been kept out of the peace process. “No one called us for any meeting or to take part in any peace process. As long as are kept out, the violence will continue.”
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