Bruised Kandhamal Looks for Hope*

The face of anti-Christian violenceKANDHMAL, Orissa – There is life again in Kandhamal and hope over frustrations. When Christmas comes, the memory haunts back to the day when, for the first time, we were deprived of celebrating the birth of Jesus. I made a round in Kandhamal recently and talked to people. Their stories, their faith and their hope in Jesus Christ would inspire many and would remain unforgettable. When I think of Christmas, it is Sr. M who comes to my mind first. She continues to suffer alot. Her ordeal is far from over with the local media spreading calumny about her. Yet, here is a person, who says “Christmas for me is hope over hopelessness, justice over injustice and peace over insecurities”. I asked her how she looks at her life and what she would be praying during Christmas. She replied: “I have forgiven them. I have no ill-feelings towards the men who defiled me. But then, forgiveness does not mean withholding the truth. I do not want what happened to me should happen to others. I do feel that justice should be done to every victim. If we do not stand up to justice, crime would increase. I am only testifying the truth that has happened to me. Peace and justice has become my apostolate”.
Muktilata Parichha, 27, of Ulipadar gave birth to a baby boy on the Christmas night of 2007 in the jungle. Her saree was tore into three pieces – one to clean the baby, another to cover the baby and another piece to cover herself; The umbilical cord was severed with stones. She says, “I could understand now better the birth of Jesus. I had to run to protect my child”.
Chinmayi Digal, 20, of Depaketa, who almost died for lack of food, had the similar experience in 2008, “I felt that Jesus survived despite people wishing him to be killed; my child too survived even when I had to shiver in the thick jungle”.
Kanakarekha Nayak, 28, from Tiangia, who was widowed and has two baby girls aged 6 and 4, was witness to the gory killing of her husband. His body was cut into pieces by RSS workers led by Manoj Pradhan, presently an MLA. She is still in a hide-out. She breaks down the moment when somebody asks her about the killing of her husband. When asked what does the birth of Jesus Christ mean to her and whether she thinks of becoming a Hindu to save this ordeal, she said: “If we had denounced Jesus, my husband would have been alive. In my wildest dream, I do not think about it. What bothers me is how to get justice for my husband and freedom and security for our children”. “I have no Christmas wish except that we continue to fight for justice so that the rule of law prevails and we are free to practise the religion of our choice. Some (culprits) are acquitted and others are on bail.Crucifixion of Jesus helps me to accept the reality and Christmas brings hope of better and alternative living”, said Mrs. Nayak, widow of a church deacon.
Runima Digal, widow of Iswar Digal, now resides in rented house in Muslim colony in a nearby town. She saw her husband being killed when they were on the way to village from the relief camp. She fails to understand how the accused are still at large and only one person was arrested. He was convicted for abducting Digal and not for murder. She is still waiting for her husband’s body and justice. “Of course, our life has changed and we are at risk. I am sad for what happened, but not unhappy about being a Christian. I would not be at peace until the accused are booked and punished. Peace reigns only when there is justice. I know God has protected me and would continue the same. He has not abandoned my family”. Her hope and wish revolve around the Lord’s words.
Jacob Pradhan of Bagadi village, a tribal community leader, who had gone to a market place, 10 kilometres away, to collect medicine for his aged diabetic father, found that the shop was shut and would open only in the evening. To his bad luck, he was caught and thrashed by the RSS mob and handed over to the police saying that he was the killer of swami Lakshmanananda. The police drove him to district headquarters and kept him undressed except for underwear in a toilet of police station for two days and then handed over to the investigation cell. He was chained to a window for forty days until lie detector test helped him to be freed. “I had to face it despite I was angry for being arrested and humiliated. But then, I do not regret it. The fanatics and police treated me like dog. We lost 33 goats, house and all the belongings. Yet the love and solidarity that I have been getting from people all-round is overwhelming. I feel I have got more than what I have lost”.
Jeremina Pradhan, his sister-in-law, who has no formal education, adds: “Jesus Christ has died for us; we are ready to face anything for him. He is our life. We are going to celebrate Christmas in much fanfare. One of our village elders would sponsor whole Christmas feast that includes fellowship banquet for all fifteen families in the village”. The enthusiasm was quite contagious.
Christodas Nayak of Phirigada, a catholic pastor, was dragged almost half a kilometre to a temple along with fourteen villagers. They forcibly shaved off his hair; he was given a hanuman locket and saffron clothes to wear, and forced to drink water mixed with cow dung as a purification rite for becoming Hindu. They were forced to give an undertaking that they have voluntarily become Hindus. He could not withstand the ordeals of becoming a Hindu; he fled to a relief camp. The fanatics destroyed the village in such a way that there is no trace of 30 houses. “There is fear. At times, it is frightening as
those who burnt our houses still threaten us; yet we are here because of our faith. We chose Christ over our houses and belongings. They have destroyed our church, but then our Christmas would be real as our tents are the dwelling place of the Lord”, said Christodas.
Anacleto Nayak, pastor of Tiangia village that sacrificed seven lives besides Fr. Bernard Digal, escaped death when he was forced to become a Hindu with axe put on his neck. When I asked him what Jesus’ birth meant to him after three years, having lived two years like a Hindu and now openly practising as a pastor, he replied, “I feel like Peter
betraying Jesus, but no going back again even it means death”. His son, Fr. Manoj Nayak, who was one of the first priests to go to Kandhamal within a couple of weeks of eruption of the violence, said, “Christmas reminds me the Biblical words ‘Do not be afraid. I will be with you always till the end of the age’ (Isaiah 43: 5 and Mathew 28:20).
As I was talking to Runima Digal, the widow of Iswar Digal, there came a teenager, Binita Digal, a Class IX student. The way she moved around in the house, I asked about her. She is one of the three daughters of a Hindu couple. Two other siblings became Christians and got married. She said: “I have chosen to be a Christian on my own will. There is no pressure on me. Moreover, I live in my relatives’ house as there is no good school in our village and they happen to be Muslims. Parents go to temple; relatives go to mosque while I go to Church for worship”.
Despite losing their parents, mothers, brothers, husbands and wives as well as all their earnings and belongings, the victims and survivors wait for the day to live in dignity and freedom. People could identify Jesus with swaddling clothes. Here in Kandhamal, village after village, the signs remain the same – tents and broken and burnt down houses. As I visited the communities, I could understand and feel their heartbeat. They are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. They are waiting for the Light of the Lord to be born so that they could worship God in Justice and Truth.
* contact author Ajay Kumar Singh:

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