Junos Nayak, a former police constable, was one of the few Christians who survived a close brush with death during the Kandhamal carnage.
Lalji Nayak, his 65 year-old elder brother, was slashed with sword before him along with his sister-in-law Mandakini while 57 year-old Junos himself was pumped with bullets on 30 September 2008. While Lalji died in hospital next day, Mandakini went mad with broken skull.
“Look at these bullet marks. There are still 11 bullets in my body,” Junos narrated the spine-chilling attack that he survived in Gadaguda village, three kms from Udaigiri. “Four bullets (in outer parts of the body) had been removed. But the ones that are embedded deep and close to bones are still there,” Junos explained with the help of X-rays he had brought to New Delhi in August 2010 to attend the National People’s Tribunal to mark Kandhamal second anniversary.
However, this ordeal did not shake the faith of Junos, born to parents who had embraced the Christian faith decades earlier when their first born died.
“I have full faith in Jesus the Saviour. It is only because of Jesus that I survived,” said Junos, belonging to the CNI. “They fired so many bullets at me and look, not one hit my heart. Is this not a miracle?” asked Junos putting his right hand – still covered with bandage – to his heart.
“The power of God was very much there,” he replied when he was asked what he felt after the deadly attack that left his elder brother dead and sister-in-law mad.
Junos, who took voluntary retirement from police after he was injured in an attack by Maoist rebels in 1982, said that after the killing of Swami Lakshmanananda, local fundamentalists confronted the Christians: “Your people killed our Swami and tell us their names.”
“We will no longer tolerate Christianity here and all of you have to follow Hinduism now,” they also threatened.
With reports of anti-Christian violence pouring in from across Kandhamal, most of the 50 Christian families among 500 families in the three villages in the area including Gadaguda fled to the jungles. But three families including that of Junos and his brother Lalji decided to stay on.
“Being Christians, we did not want to be cowards and run away when we were threatened,” explained the former police constable.
However, his Hindu cousin confided to him that the fundamentalists were serious about the threat and were planning to attack the defiant Christians. Hence, he advised Junos to attend the reconversion ceremony and buy peace with them.
Meanwhile, another friendly Hindu suggested: “Why don’t you just go and eat the Prasad (sacred offering) at the temple? Later you can practice your faith secretly.”
But Junos was not prepared to make any compromise with his faith: “I told him I will not do the duplicate to please them. I will never compromise with my faith.”
A secret meeting was held in the jungle and fundamentalist leaders from outside briefed locals how to carry out the attack. Soon the village church was torched. Barrels of kerosene were brought and stored at the Panchayath office and nearby houses.
The drunkards among them spilled the news that deadline had been set to attack the adamant Christians.
His cousin approached Junos once again, clutched his hand and pleaded: “Please go away from here. Otherwise, I will have to leave the village as I don’t want to see you being killed in front of me.”
But Junos thought they would only loot and so, decided to stay on in the village. Later he came to know while he was in hospital that fundamentalists had landed in trucks on 29 September night and halted in the village.
“At four in the morning, a mob descended all of a sudden shouting ‘Jai Bajrang Bali’. They caught hold of my brother and ordered him to accompany them to the temple (for reconversion ceremony). When he refused, they hit him with a sword and he collapsed. Then, they hit sister-in law who had rushed forward,” recounted Junos.
Meanwhile, his wife Laila, son Sujan and daughter Asmita had moved away when the mob arrived.
“As they were attacking my brother and sister-in-law, I tried to run away. But they sprayed bullets at me from close range,” Junos recalled.
After that, Junos had only faint memory of being carried in an open truck among dead bodies and injured Christians including his brother and his wife to hospital by the police who rushed them later to Medical College Hospital at Berhampur, 150 kms away.
There, doctors told Junos’ son to rush him to the government Medical College Hospital at Cuttack (160 kms away) as he was very critical.
“Luckily, my son had a friend who brought a van and took me to Cuttack,” Junos said with a smile. During two week-long treatment at the Cuttack Hospital, his condition improved with the deep bullet wounds stitched together and four bullets removed.
Later, Junos and his family rented a house at Banja Nagar – on the fringe of Kandhamal – as they could not return to the village where his house had been reduced to a skeleton with its roof, doors and windows looted.
“My son goes there occasionally and they threaten that unless I withdraw the (police) complaint, they will finish me off,” said Junos.
However, Junos is not worried about these threats: “Whatever may happen, I will not forsake my faith.
“But I am worried about the bullets in my body. I have lot of pain and doctors have told me to remove them at the earliest. It is two years now. But I don’t have the money for the expensive surgery. Maybe, God will find me a way,” said Junos echoing true Christian hope.
PS: Akkara’s little parish St Mary’s Church Ambakad near Thrissur accepted his proposal to adopt ‘St Paul of Kandhamal‘ – buy a plot of land for him and build a house at Phulbani where he is living in a slum now. “That’s not all,” says the intrepid social activist and journalist Akkara with law background on 27 October 2010, “I have also made the Thrissur archdiocese to agree to bear the entire cost of treatment to remove the 11- bullets in Junos Nayak. I sat with the surgeons on Saturday and Junos will be in Thrissur for admission at Jubilee Mission Medical College soon. So, I need to be there to receive Junos when he arrives by train. It will be a quite complicated surgery as the arm bones have been severely damaged and has infection. Removal of some of other pellets also pose major problem as they are embedded close to the body. Kindly keep him in your prayers. The operation will cost over one lakh but I will make sure that Junos and his son accompanying him will not have to spend a penny even for their travel. Apart from that, I am trying to get life-long commitment that Junos will not have to worry about his medicines.”
Anto Akkara is a journalist based in Bangalore. Malayalam edition of Shining Faith in Kandhamal entitled ‘Theeyil Thilangia Viswasam’ was released at the famous Maramon Convention on Pampa river by KCBC and KCC presidents in February 2010.
(*from Anto Akkara’s English language edition of book Shining Faith.)