NEW DELHI (Morning Star News) – Two weeks after losing his wife to an axe-blow in front of his 3-year-old daughter in eastern India, Rohit Oraon believes that the murder was planned, not spontaneous, and that his relatives also meant to kill him and his child.
What he still cannot believe is why.
The 25-year-old Rohit knew his brother and father disapproved of him marrying out of his tribe and becoming a Christian, and he knew they were jealous of his prosperity and the fellowship he found among Christians after they tried to leave him desolate by shunning him.
“But I still cannot fathom how can his jealously lead him to murder,” he told Morning Star News, referring to his brother, 36-year-old Bandhan Ram Oraon. “After they killed my wife, they called for all the Christians to come out, saying, ‘We will get rid of all of you, once and for all.’”
His wife, Parvati Devi, was 23.
In the remote village of Lukujhariya, 28 miles from the Jharkhand state capital, Ranchi, nearly everyone practices the tribal Sarna religion; there are only five other Christian families, including that of his Uncle Phulchand, the first to put his faith in Christ (as all villagers bear the surname of their tribe, Oraon, they are identified by first name). The Aug. 27 assault that killed his wife – and, by accident, his attacking father – was not a spontaneous escalation of a petty family dispute, he said.
Rohit had argued with his older brother and father over their insistence that he turn off house lights, and then, as if in a nightmare, they came at him and his wife with an axe; the uncles and cousins who joined the attack appeared too quickly after his brother called for them; and when his wife lay dead, the relatives chanted, “Whoever will do ‘Hallelujah’ will face similar consequences,” he said.
At 7:30 p.m. that evening his father, Demba Oraon, walked the 50 meters from his house to Rohit’s place and tried to start an argument with his wife as she sat next to the door, yelling at her to switch off the house lights so villagers could sleep, Rohit said.
“I came running from inside the room and politely told my father that we have just put our daughter to bed and are about to eat our dinner – within half an hour we will switch off the light,” he said. “But he began to abuse my wife and lifted the wooden rod that he was carrying to hit the electric bulb outside the door. I immediately rushed and caught hold of the rod, and once again asked him to leave and not to create a mountain out of a mole-hill. I said we will switch off the light soon.”
His father left, leaving the wooden rod in Rohit’s hand. Soon his older brother, Bandhan, rushed toward his house with a wooden rod and leapt on his wife to hit her with the rod, Rohit said. He stopped Bandhan with the wooden rod in his hand and pushed him away from her, threw him down and held him in the mud. Before letting him go, he repeated that he would turn off the lights in a few minutes, he said.
“The moment I let him loose, he rushed to his house and came out carrying an axe,” Rohit said. “My father also accompanied him, and my father went straight to my wife to assault her, while Bandhan came straight towards me to attack me with the axe. In self-defense, my wife threw something at my father, and he fell on the ground. I had a tussle with Bandhan and repeatedly asked him, ‘What is this all about?’”
Bandhan yelled, “Come!” and two of his uncles with two of their sons immediately came and took hold of Rohit, he said.
“I was shocked at the readiness at which they were just waiting to be called,” he told Morning Star News. “Bandhan ran to attack Parvati with the axe and threw it at her from a distance. Parvati bent down to escape the strike, and the axe hit my father instead, who was standing just behind Parvati.”
His wife ran as Rohit’s uncles Budram Oraon and Pote Oraon, and Pote’s sons Pardi Oraon and Bijla Oraon, held him, he said.
“Right in from of my eyes, I saw Bandhan hit Parvati with the axe, and I saw her dying helplessly,” he said. “I escaped from Bijla’s hands, but there was no use of going to Parvati because I could see that she was dead already. I escaped and hid behind a bush.”
In the chaos they did not see where he fled, he said.
“I was much concerned and worried about my daughter Roshini, whom I saw standing near our house door crying as she watched her uncles kill her mother,” Rohit said. “Bandhan saw Roshini and caught the 3-year-old by her legs upside down. He was about to kill her with the axe while I helplessly watched. Completely shattered, I prayed, ‘Do something Jesus, save her.’”
Rohit said he does not know what distracted Bandhan, but that when he looked up again, he saw Roshini quietly walking toward a neighbor’s house.
“I kept on praying in my heart,” he said, adding that his daughter found the neighbor’s gate too hard to open and went on to another relative’s house, where she quietly slipped inside and peeked out a door looking for him.
“I felt so miserable behind the bush,” Rohit said. “I waited for all of them to go back to their homes so that I could pick up Roshini and leave, but even after waiting for a long time, they did not give up but kept searching for me with a torch.”
Leaving the village, he walked nine miles in the dark to his pastor’s house in Bhanpur village. At about 4 a.m., he received news that his father had died.
When he and the pastor went to the Angara police station at 7:30 a.m. to file a complaint about the murder, police instead arrested him, Rohit said. His relatives had reported to police that Rohit had murdered his wife and father and absconded.
He insisted on his innocence under heavy interrogation, finally persuading officers to check the murder weapon for prints. Police took him to the village, where they separated the relatives, tied them with a rope and found their accounts did not match. The relatives began to answer truthfully only after officers began beating them, Rohit said.
Officers found the axe in Budram’s house, where Bandhan had hid, and all evidence supported Rohit’s account, he said. Police arrested Bandhan, Budram, Pote and Pote’s 20-year-old son Bijla, but let his younger son Pardi go as he is only 16 years old, Rohit said. Later in the evening, however, police released Budram and Pote so they could perform last rites for their brother Demba, Rohit’s father.
They also released Rohit, allowing him to perform the last rites for his wife. Accustomed to spending the week in Ranchi, where he works as a chef at the Ranchi Railway Station, and staying with his family on weekends, he left his daughter with his mother-in-law and resumed work on Sept. 3.
“Roshini is still under trauma and keeps telling me how the uncles killed her mother, and that they would kill me likewise,” Rohit, weeping, told Morning Star News.
The postmortem report states that his wife received at least three blows from a sharp object, Investigating Officer Saroj Prasad Mehta of the Angara police station told Morning Star News.
“Parvati Devi was hit by the axe under her left hand, and one strike was visible just below her ear,” Mehta said. “At the complaint of the deceased’s husband, we arrested two suspects after initial investigation, and investigations are still on.”
Police have yet to bring Rohit’s uncles back into custody at this writing.
Rohit said the murder has caused “devastating upheaval” in his life and was planned out beforehand.
“I am very sure that my brother, my father and my uncles [father’s brothers] and their families had planned to kill all three of us, including my daughter,” he said.
Hostility Toward Christians
His father, brother and other relatives had opposed his marriage to a lower-caste, tribal Lohra (alternatively, Lorah) and began treating him as an outcast. The isolation drove him toward Christians, where he was accepted, he said.
After marrying in 2014, Rohit and his wife put their faith in Christ in 2017. They built their house in the village, and in addition to his job as a chef, they reared seven goats and worked a piece of farmland, he said.
“But my relatives were shocked at my prosperity,” he said. “They hated to see me flourish in my job, family and my social circle [Christian fellowship]; an outcaste, without family support, expelled from the village family, no one to help and support, how could I be so happy and contented? I bought a motorbike, and as a family we went to church [a kilometer outside the village] and market every week when I visited home.”
The village council insisted that Rohit and his family leave Christianity and return to the Sarna religion, which involves worship of a creator god called Dharmes and a goddess identified with nature.
“After a lot of arguments, when they saw that I am not ready to leave Christianity, they asked me to leave the village and go,” he said. “But a few of the council members suggested that they allow me to stay but debar me from the village council system, and that I and my family should have nothing to do with them.”
Villagers objected to their home evening prayers, refusal to participate in pagan worship and festivals and their use of the area water well, he said. They prohibited anyone from coming to his house, Christian or not, chasing away all who tried.
Rohit’s brother told him that if the village council could not get rid of him, then he would do so during the paddy-sowing season even if he later had to go to prison, he said.
“I did not take his threat seriously,” Rohit said. “A person says several things but does not do accordingly, I thought to myself. Some of my friends in the village also secretly informed me that they have heard Bandhan say that he will get rid of us permanently, but I could never imagine that my brother would go to the extent of actually killing my wife and attempt to kill us.”
A Christian leader who requested anonymity said the attack has shaken area Christians.
“This incident has created great concern among Christians living in the village and nearby villages,” he said. “Please pray for Rohit and his daughter to recover from the trauma and let the peace of Christ comfort them. Also, for the other Christians to be protected from any further harm.”
India is ranked 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position has been worse each year since Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.