Christmas War’s Real Casualties

It was a tough Christmas for thousands of Christians in Orissa, India, where Hindu fundamentalists went on a killing spree earlier in the year. But many Christians spoke of their strong commitment to the faith.

RAIKIA, India — For thousands of Christians in the troubled jungles of the Kandhamal district in Orissa, India, Christmas 2008 held out little hope. Hindu fundamentalist groups threatened to force a complete shutdown in the troubled region on Christmas Day.

Yet, the hounded Christians still remain unfazed and firm in their faith.

“Even if I do not have cake, meat, or new clothes for this Christmas, I will celebrate Christmas in my heart,” said Kadamphul Nayak, who was widowed in last year’s attacks on Christians in Orissa. “My family members have paid with their lives for our faith. So, I am also prepared to face any hardship for my faith.”

In fact, Kadamphul is not an ordinary hounded Christian from Kandhamal like thousands of others. Her septuagenarian blind mother-in-law and her husband, Samuel Nayak, perished at the hands of Hindu fundamentalists in the orchestrated violence against Christians in eastern Orissa state.

Since the twin murders in her family in late August, Kadamphul had been living at a crammed refugee camp at Raikia that is sheltering more than 8,000 homeless Christians in slum-like conditions. Recounting her horror story, Kadamphul said Hindu fundamentalists barged into her house at Bakingia when her husband was reading the Bible. The Hindu mob asked her husband to throw the Bible away.

“When he refused, they started beating him up with rods,” Kadamphul recalled. When he started screaming in pain, his blind mother came in shouting, “Who is beating my son?” The Hindu thugs instantly poured kerosene on the elderly lady and set her on fire.

After dragging Samuel out of the house, the mob hacked him with an axe. When Kadamphul rushed forward to shield her husband, she was cut at the waist and thrown, while others finished the job of killing her husband.

Illiterate Kadamphul shared her horror story with the Register on Dec. 8 in Bangalore, after the Global Council Indian Christians brought her to the city along with two dozen Kandhamal widows to draw attention to the suffering and continuing neglect faced by the victims of the anti-Christian violence.

“I am glad we had an opportunity to celebrate Christmas here. We may not get this chance in Kandhamal,” said Kadamphul as she prepared to return to Kandhamal by train along with other impoverished widows who were given a thorough medical check-up during the visit to Bangalore.

Sajan George, the council convener, said that although the government has declared compensation of $4,000 for those killed, only two of the 24 widows had received it. Police and government officials insist on documentary proof for the murders, including recovery of the bodies. But some bodies were thrown in rivers or dumped in deep jungles.

While the Orissa government puts the death toll at around 50, George pointed out that more than 120 Christians have lost their lives in the orchestrated anti-Christian violence let lose by Hindu groups following the murder of Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati. The senior-most leader of Hindu nationalist groups in Orissa was shot dead along with five of his junior monks by Maoist rebels who stormed his base Aug. 23.

Though the Maoist rebels claimed responsibility for the murder, Hindu groups say it was a Christian conspiracy, as the 85-year-old slain monk had carried out a vociferous campaign against conversion to Christianity in Kandhamal, where he was based.

The orgy of violence displaced more than half of the 100,000 Christians who live in the Kandhamal district, with more than 4,000 Christian houses, more than 200 churches and dozens of Christian institutions emptied and torched.

“As long as I am alive, I will not leave the Lord,” said Kumaro Kanhar, a 43-year-old Catholic from Sadingia, who had been beaten severely by Hindu fundamentalists and left bleeding while his house was reduced to ashes.

The fact that Kanhar was attacked on Sept. 28 showed that even five weeks after the attacks on Christians began Hindu bigots had a free rein in Kandhamal. That explains why terror-stricken Christians continue to flee, even from the government-run refugee camps to cities outside Kandhamal and even outside Orissa to remain alive and to practice their faith amid Hindu groups trying to force them to embrace Hinduism.

As soon as he was able to move around, after being treated in a government hospital for several days, Kanhar, with his wife and young two children, set off for Bhubaneswar, Orissa’s capital.

“I need to find a place to stay now and do odd jobs to feed my family,” he said in an interview at the archbishop’s house in Bhubaneswar. “I am prepared to give up anything, but I will never give up my faith.”

After the anti-Christian violence began on Aug. 24, Kanhar said, Hindu fundamentalists ordered him to “give up Christianity and be a Hindu” if he wanted to live in his village. When he declined, they took out everything in his house and made a bonfire of it.

Despite being the only Christian in the area, the illiterate farmer, who became a Catholic in 1988, amid repeated threats, stayed in his empty house while thousands of Christians faced with similar threats fled to refugee camps or towns outside Kandhamal to escape the ire of Hindu fundamentalists.

Enraged by his defiance, the fundamentalists arrived at his door on Sept. 28, beat him up ruthlessly and set his house on fire.

“Until the situation improves there, I will find a job here and look after the family,” he said.

Manoj Nayak, who fled his village of Daringabadi under similar threats, said Hindu villagers have been calling on him to return to the village, assuring him of living “in harmony” and reminding him that his “crop is ready for harvesting.”

“This is a trick to lure the Christians back and to force us to undergo the conversion ceremony,” Nayak told the Register at the refugee camp the Missionaries of Charity opened at their leprosy home at Janla, about 18.5 miles from Bhubaneswar.

Said Nayak, “You can take our crops and eat it, but we will not come back to be Hindus.”

Anto Akkara is based

in Bangalore, India.

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