By Hanson D’Souza
Sambalpur, July 26, 2019: Khristo Jyoti Mohavidyaloyo (Light of Christ College), regional theology seminary, Sambalpur, organized a field study trip for the 18 second-year students of theology to Kandhamal district of Odisha, July 18-21.
The focus was on ‘Theological Reflection on Dalit Reality post-Kandhamal Violence.’ We were divided into six groups and were sent to six worst affected villages of Our Lady of Charity Parish at Raikia and live with Kandhamal anti-Christian persecution survivors.
Arrangements were made for us to stay in the villages; while some were given houses to stay in, others had to stay in the sacristy of the sub-stations of parishes.
We started our trip with orientation talks by local priests—Father Manoj Nayak and Father Madam Sualsingh, who are actively involved in peace building ministry and in bringing Justice and development to the Dalit Christian who were the victims of the violence. It was interesting to hear their life and faith experiences being liaisons between the government and the people.
They also shared the present existing situation of the Dalit (formerly touchable) Christians and how they are still struggling to cope with the fast-moving world. It is sad to know that the tension between the Christians and the Hindus still exists. The hatred seems to be dormant and waiting to erupt someday and this fear has led the Christian to stay on guard.
The people are hospitable, respectful and have a deep faith in God. We could see it in their actions, in their talks, and the way they treated each other.
All families have their land for cultivation and the produce is their main source of income. Out of the little they have they gave the best and we could see the joy on their faces when we received it with love. Every now and then they were inquiring about our stay and if there were any inconveniences.
We truly felt that these were like the people in the early Christian communities. They shared what they have, helped each other, knew everyone in the village and gathered for prayers as one family. In a few villages, there were post Kandhamal violence converts who were inspired by the witnesses their neighbours gave during the troubled times.
Being in the villages of the Kandhamal’s Christ witnesses was in itself a blessing. Given the conditions they are living in, it was truly amazing to see how hospitable the people were towards us. They were busy tilling their land and working in the fields from early morning to late evening and still then they found time to prepare food for us, to be with us and interact with us. Though it was a short field study for three and a half days, we really had wonderful faith enriching movements with the people.
Our primary objective was to hear the people out on the violence and then ask them about their present situation. They shared their struggles during the violence as though it happened just yesterday, though violence took place in 2008.
We had not known about the miracles that had happened with these people. Hearing them bearing witness to Christ even during the toughest times was in itself a faith fortifying experience.
I personally had Goosebumps when they shared about how God had protected, guarded, and provided for them. It was absolutely amazing. I had heard about the things that had happened in Kandhamal but listening to those same incidents from those who suffered had a tremendous impact on us.
There were stories after stories; experiences after experiences to tell but our short visit didn’t permit us to stay long to listen to all of those. As future missionaries and priests, people assured us their prayers, and also asked us to make prayers for the family members before we left.
All of us wanted to stay back for another week or so because it was worth staying there. This was a great learning lesson for us aspiring students. Forgiving and living with those who tried to kill them is not easy by any measure. But these Dalit Christians of Kandhamal are the living proof that with Christ’s grace everything is possible. They have touched our lives and inspired us in more ways than one.
We are truly grateful to God for giving us a wonderful chance to stay with these simple and humble people who were persecuted for their faith and yet stood firm in Christ.
We have been enriched and strengthened in our faith through this exposure. I along with my companies feel happy to see such witnessing and the present situation of the people there.
With our motivations renewed and re-energized, we move ahead in our formation with a strong desire to give witness to the Lord in whichever we can.
I am personally transformed and touched by the lives and humility of the Dalit Christians of Raikia parish. I wish that I too may be given a chance to give similar kind of witness to God as a missionary, as a child of God.
(Hanson D’Souza from Mangalore is a Divine Word seminarian who is studying theology at Kristo Jyoti Mahavidyaloyo, Sambalpur, Odisha.)