10th anniversary of Kandhamal violence marked by India's Christians

(Photo: REUTERS / Ajay Verma)Christians take part in a protest against the recent killings of Christians in Orissa and Karnataka, in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh November 20, 2008. Protesters demanded security and justice for their community in Orissa and Karnataka, according to a media release.

Thousands of Indian believers remain displaced from villages they had to flee during anti-Christian violence that engulfed the eastern Indian district of Kandhamal 10 years ago.

The impact of the events that killed some 100 people and displaced around 56,000 continues to haunt villagers, said Father Ajay Singh, a Catholic priest and rights activist, ucanews.com reported Aug. 28.

"It was a planned operation," said Father Singh. "Some 5,000 people are away from their villages and are forced to live a miserable life. They can enter their villages only if they become Hindus."

Father Singh spoke at a photo exhibition and seminar organized in New Delhi, in which social activists, church leaders and political leaders recalled the horror of the seven-week riots.

"We feel the pain but no anger as Christ teaches us to forgive," Bishop Mascarenhas said at a Mass organized in state capital Bhubaneswar.

Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, who led the Mass, said the Kandhamal martyrs are a model for Christians across India subjected to political violence.

Ten years on, India's Christians have recalled the grave massacre of their brothers and sisters in faith in eastern India's Odisha state, with a commemorative Mass on Aug. 25 in the state capital in thanksgiving, reconciliation and grace, Vatican News reported.

Bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful came together in large numbers for the high Mass at St. Joseph's School ground in Bhubaneswar on Aug. 25.


They recalled the a decade ago when violence erupted with untold brutality against the Christians of Kandhamal District, with Hindu extremists blaming them for the August 23 murder of their Hindu leader Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati and four of his disciples.

Maoist rebels claimed the assassination, but the anti-Christian violence continued unabated for days and months on end.

The violence was considered India's worst against Christians in 300 years.

It displaced an estimated 56,000 Christians were forced to flee to the forests where many perished because of hunger and snakebites.

Church and social activists reported the destruction of almost 300 churches, convents, schools, hostels and welfare facilities.

Women and young girls were raped said Vatican News.

The riots in 2008 started two days after 81-year-old Saraswati and several of his followers were murdered and Christians were blamed.

Anto Akkara, a journalist who authored two books on the riots, told ucanews.com that the resulting anti-Christian violence was engineered by extremist Hindu groups.

He said these groups organized a contract killing of the Swami to spark the riots to help the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) gain political mileage.

Akkara said seven innocent Christians were convicted over the murder of Saraswati.

They are "languishing in jail while the real conspirators are holding high office in the country," he said. "It is the biggest travesty of justice."

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