THE body of of Saul Pradhan, a 45-year-old independent pastor whose house was burned by Hindu fundamentalists two years ago, was found near a pond in Pakala village in Kandhamal’s Raikia Block on Jan. 11 and bore marks of assault.
Relatives of the pastor have now accused local police of a cover-up.
According to Ajay Singh, an activist, he was told by the widow of the pastor that the hands and the legs of the deceased looked twisted.
There was blood in his mouth. His pants were also torn, Singh told Compass. He claimed that Pastor Pradhan was last seen with two Hindu fundamentalists, identified as Marda Pradhan and Baiju Mallick, who were among the rioters who burned houses of Christians in 2008.
A local activist with the Evangelical Fellowship of India said he visited the site after the body had been removed and saw blood stains on a stone.
Kandhamal witnessed two of India’s deadliest waves of anti-Christian violence in December 2007 and August-September 2008. The latter killed over 100 people, destroyed thousands of homes and displaced more than 60,000 others.
Christian in Kandhamal say the antagonism toward them by Hindu zealots remains strong.
Singh said Marda Pradhan and Baiju Mallick came to Pastor Pradhan’s house the evening of Jan. 10 and asked him to come out.
“The pastor’s wife was about to serve dinner and so asked him to wait,” he said. “But he said he wouldn’t take long.”
When the pastor did not return the next day, his wife went to the house of Marda Pradhan with a few villagers. Marda Pradhan’s wife told them her husband had been in the jungle for three days because of a leg injury, Singh said.
That afternoon, the pastor’s wife and the villagers again went to the house of Marda Pradhan, whose wife claimed he was not there. They could see him inside the house, however, and asked him to take them to the spot in the jungle where he had taken Pastor Pradhan the previous night.
After walking for around half an hour, Marda Pradhan ran away, Singh said.
“The villagers got suspicious and began to look around,” he said. “That’s when they found the body lying near a pond.”
Some area residents told the villagers that they had heard loud quarreling the previous night.