Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 8, 2008
Anti-Christian mob tortures priest, nun in Indian violence
Christians wrongly blamed for murder of Hindu swami
By ANTO AKKARA
Catholic News Servicer
Father Thomas Chellen, undergoing treatment at a Catholic hospital in Bhubaneswar, India, said he was grateful to be alive after a Hindu mob nearly set him on fire.
"They had poured kerosene on my head, and one held a matchbox in his hands to light the fire. But thanks to divine providence, in the end, they did not do that.
"Otherwise, I would not have been here to tell this horror," the 55-year-old priest told Catholic News Service from his hospital bed in a telephone interview Aug. 28.
Following the Aug. 23 murder of a Hindu leader, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, by Maoist extremists, Chellen said Hindu mobs started attacking Christian centres in Kandhamal, the district where the slain leader was based.
Around noon on Aug. 24, a Hindu mob of 500 people broke into the pastoral centre at Konjamendi in the state of Orissa where Chellen was the director. Chellen said he fled through the backyard with another priest and a nun.
"It was heartbreaking for us to watch from a distance the entire complex go up in smoke," said Chellen.
"They vandalized everything and set it on fire. It has been reduced to ashes," added the priest, who spoke from his hospital bed.
Fled to the jungle
As the three watched from a distance, some other priests told them to flee.
"We fled to the jungles and came in the night to take shelter in the house of a Hindu friend and spent the night there," Chellen said. The second priest left them to join other priests.
The following morning, he said, the Hindu family moved the priest and nun to an adjacent vacant house and locked it to give the impression that no one was inside.
However, the Hindu mobs overheard the priest speaking on his cell phone, broke into the room and dragged him and the nun outside.
"They began our crucifixion parade," said Chellen. The gang of about 50 armed Hindus "beat us up and led us like culprits along the road" to the burned pastoral centre.
Beaten with rods
"There they tore my shirt and started pulling off the clothes of the nun. When I protested, they beat me hard with iron rods. Later, they took the sister inside (and) raped her while they went on kicking and teasing me, forcing (me) to say vulgar words."
Cullen now has cuts, bruises and swollen tissue all over his body and stitches on his face.
"There they tore my shirt and started pulling off the clothes of the nun."
- Fr. Thomas Chellen
"Later both of us, half-naked, were taken to the street, and they ordered me to have sex with the nun in public, saying nuns and priests do it. As I refused, they went on beating me and dragged us to the nearby government office. Sadly, a dozen policemen were watching all this," he said.
Angry at his plea to the police for help, the mob beat the bleeding priest again.
Later, a government official and members of the mob took the priest and the nun to the police station, where Chellen said he was kicked in the face.
"The four-hour ordeal ended when a senior police officer arrived in the evening," said Chellen.
The priest said one of the most hurtful things about the incident was that some local Hindus whom he knew were watching the events and ignored his requests for help.
Later, the priest and nun were taken to a nearby police camp, he said.
"They were very kind to us, gave us clothes and slippers," said Chellen.
On Aug. 26, the priest and the nun were taken for medical tests. That afternoon they were sent by bus to Bhubaneswar.
Chellen said he was admitted to the hospital Aug. 27, while the traumatized nun was taken to a convent. He was to be moved to Mumbai for treatment.
Asked about the how the nun coped with the trauma, Chellen said: "We had no option and were simply following their commands. We resisted as much as we could. This is like being tortured for Christ."