Social activist urges Odisha prelate to expedite Kandhamal victims’ martyrdom

By Matters India Reporter

New Delhi: John Dayal, a prominent social activist and a lay Catholic leader, has written a letter to Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar to accelerate martyrdom process of Kandhamal violence victims.

“For activists and faithful such as I, our ardent prayers are to see the victims of Kandhamal violence 2008 be formally declared as martyrs whose example will shine as a beacon in our nation,” said Dayal, who is secretary general of the All India Christian Council and a former president of the All India Catholic Union.

“I congratulate and thank you for the initiatives you have taken in this regard. We recall that you had reconstituted the earlier committee and named Fr. Prodosh Nayak as the convenor of the committee which would do the groundwork required for declaring the martyrs. I am glad you have also named Fr. Purushottam Nayak to research and prepare the canonical dossier of documents for the group of martyrs of Kandhamal,” Dayal said in the January 8 letter addressed to Barwa, head of the church in Odisha, Eastern India.

A national team comprising a few priests from Cuttack-Bhubaneswar Archdiocese, others and Dayal had met in 2010 Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay and at that time also Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, Archbishop of Ranchi, to covey the ordinary people’s desire to see the victims declared as martyrs, and to offer whatever services they (social activists and Catholic lay leaders across India) could render to help in the documentation and research of Kandhamal violence, Dayal recalled.

“We were delighted to read an interview with Cardinal Oswald in which he recounted his own meetings with the victim-survivors. The Cardinal, inter alia, ‘I do feel; they are martyrs; from the stories, accounts of first hand from people are martyrs. For the Church to be declared; there is a process; documentation, examination and study; discussion. I have spoken to the Archbishop already that time. I have also offered canonical assistance; our Mumbai archdiocese for it too. I have met priests on the situations and of Archbishop Barwa to take stock of.” The Cardinal recalled the work that was done in the backdrop of Sr. Rani Maria’s beatification. “Here too we need to prepare it well; certainly. Personally, I feel convinced that they have given life for faith; now they are with the Lord.’ The Cardinal’s interview has been carried prominently in the Catholic media,” Dayal wrote.

“Some of us have been involved in the Kandhamal justice struggle from 2007 December, and specially after August 2008. We have a huge documentation by way of interviews, videos and photographs collected over the period, including our own eyewitness testimony.

We would like to assist the Archdiocese mechanism in the matter of research. Some of us, indeed, some time ago set up a Website on Kandhamal for collecting and compiling documentation and research material. We offer this unofficial think tank and documentation to you and the Archdiocesan commission working on the Martyrdom process,” he added.

‘It is the least we can do by way of our gratitude to the victims who are already martyrs in the eye of the common people. Needless to say, this will have a tremendous impact on freedom of faith in India,” Dayal said.

He also mentioned that the well-wishers of the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar across India, and across denominations, hope the New Year will also see justice done to the survivors of Kandhamal in the tenth anniversary of the terrible targeted violence which shocked the world. Issues remain in the cases which the Supreme Court has ordered to be reopened, as also in churches’ own efforts for enhanced compensation to the worst sufferers and the widows who have not been counted in the official list of the people killed.

“We also continue to pray that innocent people are not punished, and the innocent in jail are soon given their freedom,” Dayal said.

Commenting on the letter of Dayal to Archbishop Barwa, a priest of the Archdiocese, who requested on anonymity as he was not authorized told Matters India, “Nothing has happened so far the cause of processing Kandhamal victims’ martyrdom. It is not the concern of the Archdiocese but of entire Church in India, as the violence was the largest and longest in 300 years in Indian history.”

The ball is now in the court of Archbishop Barwa. Though he constituted to teams for documentation and research about Kandhamal violence, both the team never had a single meeting so far.

“As nothing has happened with regarding documenting and research of Kandhamal violence, Dayal’s letter indicates three things either Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar doesn’t have know-how, secondly, to show the solidarity and concern of Indian church as a sign of encouragement and third to assist the process as it is crucial in India from church and faith point of view,” said the priest.

Kandhamal violence took place in 2008 after the killing of Hindu leader Swami Laxamanananda. The violence lasted for about four months claimed the lives of nearly 100 Christians and 300 churches and 6,000 houses were plundered rendering 56,000 homeless.

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