All my books may have been burnt: pastor’s daughter

October 23rd, 2008 - 11:18 am ICT by IANS  

Bhubaneswar, Oct 23 (IANS) Khusubu Digal, 12, appears unusually calm for her age. She has not seen her parents for the last 45 days as she has been staying in a relief camp here after her home was burnt to ashes in Kandhamal district of Orissa.The daughter of a local pastor, she along with her brother and neighbours in Behera Gaon village ran to the safety of the jungles soon after Hindu fanatics started attacking Christians and their properties Aug 24 in this eastern Indian state.

“My parents went somewhere in fear, and me and my brother ran to the forest to save our lives. I have not seen them since then,” said the Class 7 student, almost in tears.

“A group of people came and shouted at us and I don’t know what happened after that. Here my villagers told me our house has been burnt down,” Khusubu said while spelling her name for a visiting IANS correspondent.

Ever since the killing of Swami Laxmanananda, a Hindu religious leader, and four of his supporters by unidentified gunmen Aug 23, anti-Christian violence has been simmering in Kandhamal. While Maoist extremists have claimed responsibility for the murders, his supporters have been insisting that Christians are behind the murder.

At least 36 people have been killed in the violence. Over 25,000 people have left their homes fearing for their life, initially taking refuge in the jungles and later going to various relief camps set up by the state government. Some have returned to their homes as well.

But some children like Khusubu don’t even know where their parents are.

“I know how to write in English. I want to go to my village and start going to school again. My father will be happy,” said Khusubu, clad in a black and red salwar kameez. “All my books might have been burnt.”

She spent four days in the jungle, slept under trees, could not take a bathe, drank unhygienic water before leaving for the Bhubaneswar relief camp, nearly 350 km from her village.

Bhubaneswar has two relief camps for victims of Kandhamal’s religious violence. At the YMCA relief camp, there are over 500 people, including 122 children below the age of 13, and 187 women - the majority of them anaemic.

“I don’t know why this is happening but I want to go back home. I don’t feel like staying here. I want to study and become a teacher,” Khusubu said, standing beside her 15-year-old brother Sinaj.

Preparing to take his Class 10 board examination again after failing last year, Sinaj said: “I came to know that our parents are in a relief camp in Kandhamal. How long can we stay away? They want us to become Hindu. They may kill us if we return and don’t convert to Hinduism.”

The only thing he brought with him from home was the orange-coloured shorts and T-shirt he was wearing.

“I was giving music tuitions to my village kids to earn some money but they burnt all my instruments. There is no house, no books, no instruments - what will I do now?” he asked.

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