Cover-Up Suspected in Pastor's Death in Orissa, India

Thursday, January 27, 2011

By Joseph DeCaro, Worthy News Correspondent

NEW DELHI, India (Worthy News)-- Relatives of a pastor found dead in a secluded area of Kandhamal district last week have accused local police of a cover-up.

The body of Pastor, Saul Pradhan, 45, whose house was burned by Hindus two years ago, was found near a pond in Pakala village in January; his body bore the marks of an assault, according to Catholic activist Ajay Singh.

"I spoke to the widow of the pastor, and she told me that the hands and legs of the deceased looked twisted, and there was blood in his mouth," said Singh by phone from Bhubaneswar. "Why should it not arouse suspicion when Pastor Pradhan was last seen with two Hindu men, Marda Pradhan and Baiju Mallick, who were among the rioters who burned houses of Christians in 2008?"

Singh said that the two men came to Pastor Pradhan's house on Jan. 10 and asked him to see him, but when the pastor did not return the next day, his wife went to the house of Marda Pradhan who said her husband had been in the jungle for three days because of a leg injury.

Some locals said they heard loud quarreling the previous night, but police said they had no reason to suspect foul play.

"There were no injury marks on the body of the man," said Inspector Ravi Narayan Barik. "The doctor who performed the autopsy said it was just an unnatural death."

An official autopsy report is still pending.

Barik said that Pastor Pradhan and two other men got drunk on the night of Jan. 10, but though the two managed to return to their homes, the pastor couldn't find his way and died in the cold.

"Drinking country-made liquor is normal behavior here," said Barik. "We called one of the two men who was with the deceased for interrogation, but did not find anything suspicious."

Singh said when the family first went to police to report a murder, officers didn't listen.

"The police scolded them," said Singh. "They said he must have died from the cold. When the family asked for an autopsy, the police asked them to collect the body, take it to the village and bring it to the police station the following day. So the family and friends carried the body on a bicycle and brought it to the police station."

Kandhamal was home to two of India’s deadliest waves of anti-Christian violence in December 2007 and September 2008, which killed over 100 people and destroyed thousands of homes after the assassination of a Hindu nationalist leader was blamed on local Christians despite the fact that Maoists claimed credit for his murder.