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An armed Hindu mob landed at the doorstep of the Nayak brothers, Christian evangelists in the Indian state of Orissa. Minutes later, because they refused to renounce their faith, they and their family were dead.
BY ANTO AKKARAREGISTER CORRESPONDENT
BHUBANESWAR, India — An armed Hindu
mob landed at the doorstep of evangelists Samuel and Daniel Nayak on Aug. 25,
with an ultimatum: Denounce the faith or die.
“Do you want Christ or your life?”
the mob leaders demanded of the Nayaks and five other members of the Nayak
family. Unfazed, the brothers replied, “Christ is everything for us.”
Enraged, the Hindu fundamentalists
hit two children in the house with iron rods, breaking their skulls. After
pouring gasoline on the adults, the fanatics gave them “one more chance.” They
stood firm and raised their hands in prayer.
Within seconds, five adults were
aflame. Foreseeing that they might try to escape, the mob had poured gasoline
on the outside walls of the house. The house was set on fire, reducing all
seven members of the family to ashes.
History is replete with accounts of
how the early Christians were persecuted for their faith under the Roman
Empire. Many Christians in the troubled Kandhamal district of eastern Orissa
state are being subjected to similar persecution in the 21st century — in the
largest democracy on earth.
Rakesh Digal, a young Catholic
working outside of Orissa, was on a vacation in his native Pupuria, a village
near Udaigiri. When one of the roaming Hindu mobs spotted him, he tried to run
away but was chased and caught. He was beaten and buried alive for refusing to
renounce his faith.
When he asked why they were burying
him alive, the Hindu assailants told him, “Jesus will save you.”
According to numerous first-person
accounts, these are not isolated horror stories from the jungles of the
Kandhamal district, where Christians account for more than 100,000 out of a
population of 500,000. Church workers have already documented as many as 28
murders of Christians, who have lost their lives for their faith. Unconfirmed
figures are still higher.
Apart from this, more than 4,000
Christian houses, along with dozens of churches and Christian institutions,
have been emptied and torched in troubled Kandhamal. Half of the Christians
have been forced to flee their houses to jungles or refugee camps since late
The orgy of violence was let loose
by Hindu fundamentalists after Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati, senior leader of
Hindu nationalist groups in Orissa, was shot dead, along with five of his
junior monks, by Maoist rebels who stormed his base the night of Aug. 23.
Even though the Maoists claimed
responsibility, Hindu groups are convinced Saraswati’s murder was a Christian
conspiracy, as the 85-year-old monk had carried out a vociferous campaign
against conversion to Christianity in Kandhamal.
In fact, Christian targets across
Kandhamal had been attacked last Christmas after an alleged altercation
involving Saraswati’s motorcade took place at a Christian-majority village.
“Christians are being hunted out
now. If they don’t renounce their faith, their life is in danger,” Archbishop
Raphael Cheenath of Bhubaneswar, the capital of Orissa, said in an interview in
Mumbai Sept. 6.
Archbishop Cheenath rushed to Holy
Spirit Hospital in Mumbai after three seriously injured priests from Orissa
were airlifted to the hospital.
“Now there is hardly anything
[Church owned] left to be destroyed,” said Archbishop Cheenath. Kandhamal
accounts for three-quarters of the 64,000 Catholics and 24 of the 34 parishes
in the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar.
Priests on the Run
Hindu fundamentalists are on the
lookout for anyone wearing clerical clothing, and all the parish priests, along
with dozens of religious, have been on the run.
Father Prasanna Singh, vicar of St.
Peter’s Church at Pobingia, who has been on the run since the night of Aug. 23,
said that 34 of the 37 Catholic families in Pobingia have already undergone a
forced conversion ceremony.
“That was the only way for
Christians to remain in the village,” said the priest, who keeps changing his
residence in Bhubaneswar, which he reached after spending a week in the jungle.
In many places, those Christians who
have been forcibly converted are also asked to burn Bibles and join in torching
churches or Christian houses to prove that they have forsaken Christianity, he
While Father Singh has been lucky to
evade the wrath of the Hindu fundamentalists, Father Bernard Digal, procurator
of the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, remains under treatment at the
Catholic hospital in Mumbai with fractured legs. Father Digal was severely
beaten by Hindu fundamentalists and left to die in Kandhamal jungles on Aug.
Father Digal had stopped for the
night with his driver at the seva sadan (house of
service) in Sankarakhol (about 150 miles from Bhubaneswar), where 73-year-old
Father Cheralamkunnel Alexander was managing the parish, when the news of
Saraswati’s murder came in.
He decided to stay with the elderly
priest as the funeral procession of the slain swami traveled across Kandhamal
for two days with a huge motorcade, and as Christians became apprehensive.
As the huge procession passed by the
afternoon of Aug. 25, local Catholics reported that the Hindu fundamentalists
wanted to burn the church and nearby convent. But they decided to torch these
targets after the funeral.
“First they burned the convent just
after the nuns left,” Father Digal said. “Before they reached our place, we
The mob traced his van parked in a
remote place and burned it while the priests and church workers fled into the
“Father Alexander was finding it
difficult to walk to the jungle, and so I thought of getting a [motor] bike to
take him out of Kandhamal,” recalled Father Digal.
Since he was familiar with the area,
Father Digal, along with his driver and a local youth, decided to walk 10 miles
to Padhampada, the nearest house of a priest, where there was a bike.
“From a distance, we could see the
house was on fire, and so we moved to another Christian village,” Father Digal
With all the houses burned down in
the village, Father Digal and his companions moved on.
Since it was dark, they decided to
stop at a burned Protestant church at Dudurkagaon.
But they were found.
“I was sleeping inside a burnt
[Protestant] church thinking nobody would come to the destroyed church. Then
they came and started beating me up,” the 46-year-old priest recounted from his
“I had dozed off when they came, and
my companions woke me up,” he said. “I could not run fast and fell into their
With all his strength, Father Digal
pushed the assailants off and ran for his life through the bushes in total
darkness. But after a few hundred yards, the mob managed to catch him and bash
him with iron bars, leaving the bleeding priest to die in the jungle at
With his legs shattered, Father
Digal remained in the jungle, motionless the whole night of Aug. 26, while jackals,
smelling his blood, howled around him. The following morning, a passing boy
heard his cries for help and informed local villagers, who carried him some
distance and called the police.
Three weeks later, Christians are
still fleeing the villages for their lives, said Sudhanshu Nayak, general
secretary of the YMCA in Bhubaneswar, which is now hosting 500 Christian
refugees. (He is not related to the Nayak brothers who were killed in August.)
More than 20,000 Christians have
taken shelter in 14 refugee camps in Kandhamal.
With forcible conversion going on
unabated in Kandhamal villages, Nayak said Sept. 18 that Christians who have
not left their homes live in fear of the marauding fanatics who continue to
attack Christian targets.
Because the police took little
action against Hindu fundamentalists who looted and torched dozens of churches
and Christian institutions last Christmas, “there is an air of immunity, and
they feel emboldened to do anything now,” noted Nayak, whose mother, two
brothers and sister with two children have taken shelter in a refugee camp in
Raikia town in Kandhamal.
As Nayak said, “Unless the government deals
with these thugs sternly, our people can never return to their villages.”
Akkara is based
in Bangalore, India.