Laboratory of persecution becomes center of faith
By Purushottam Nayak
Kandhamal: Nine years ago, the people of Kandhamal district in Odisha state underwent the worst anti-Christian violence seen in modern India.
Today, Christians from various parts of the country flock to the forested region of waterfalls and springs, to find inspiration to live their faith.
One such group recently came from Nagaland, a Christian-majority state in northeastern India. Eleven Catholics led by a Catholic priest came on October 18, a day before India celebrated Diwali, the festival of lights.
“The faith of Kandhamal martyrs was a Diwali gift for us,” Father Peter Salew, who led the catechists from the diocese of Kohima, told Matters India on October 19 at the end of their visit.
Kohima diocese covers the entire Nagaland state.
Father Salew said his team found that the people of Kandhamal, despite living one of the most backward districts of India, lived a simple life strong in their Christian faith. “Faith is stronger than poverty,” the Salesian priest added.
Edward Thekrunei, one of the catechists, remarked that radical Hindu groups had chosen Kandhamal as the “laboratory” of anti-Christian persecution, but it “become the center of faith for all Christians of India.”
Nearly 100 people were killed and 56,000 rendered homeless during violence targeting Christians that started on August 24, 2008, and lasted for nearly four months. The spark was lit by the assassination of Swami Lashmananada Saraswati, a Hindu religious leader who had lived in Kandhamal for decades mainly to oppose Christian missionaries.
Maoist outlaws had claimed the murder, but Hindu radical groups blamed Christians for it.
The swami’s work had led to simmering tension between Christians and Hindus in the region. It came to the fore during Christmas time in 2007 when radical Hindu groups burned churches and attacked Christian institutions.
During the 2008 violence, about 300 churches, institutions, more than 600 homes were destroyed. Some were burnt alive for not accepting Hindu religion.
Ruokuovituo Robert Rutsa, another visitor from Nagaland, said their biggest shock came when they visited Divya Jyoti Pastoral Centre in K. Nuagam town. Hindu radicals thrashed its director Father Thomas Chellan and gang raped a Catholic nun and paraded them semi-nude on the streets while the police remained mute spectators.
The survivors narrate their trauma to the visitors
Father Cassian Pradhan, who had spent weeks in forests without food after fleeing the marauding mobs, said most victims have not received compensation despite an order from the Supreme Court. “Nine years have passed,” he added.
Teresa Pradhan from Pobingia village told the visitors that the Hindu extremists have tried to eliminate Christians and declare the area as Hindu block. “But it is the faith in Jesus that gives us courage and strength to practice Christianity in Pobingia,” the woman added.
Daugthers of St Anne Sister Loyola Minj said she and other nuns spent a week in the forest along with girls from their hostel. “We lived with great anxiety and worries, but we could experience God’s hand in saving us from the attackers.
The visitors also visited Sukananda town of Father Alexander Charalamkunnel, a survivor who died on July 9 in Kerala, his native state.
“We salute the courage of Kandhamal people. We are enriched with their faith. Sacrificing life in witnessing faith in Jesus has touched our lives,” Edward added.