12/13/2008, 00.00
INDIA
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Christmas, moment of peace and hope for young widows of Orissa

by Nirmala Carvalho
The husband of Asmitha Digal, a 25-year-old mother of two daughters, was killed by Hindu fundamentalists during the first days of the pogrom against Christians. The woman testifies to the violence she has suffered, but says that she will not give in to the logic of violence. A Christian activist denounces treatment as "second-class citizens."

Bangalore (AsiaNews) - Leaving behind the trauma, pain, and violence suffered; testifying to the martyrdom suffered by one's loved ones without giving in to the logic of hatred, and issuing a message of peace and hope ahead of Christmas. In this spirit, 24 young widows of the district of Kandhamal, in Orissa, have recounted the anti-Christian pogrom unleashed by Hindu fundamentalists.

The women have left the refugee camp in Orissa, and have come to Bangalore. The trip was organized by activists of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), in order to permit the women to celebrate the Christmas holiday. In Orissa, tension remains high, and the Christian community has been threatened with new violence in the case of celebrations connected to Christmas.

Among the many stories of women marked by pain and suffering, AsiaNews has gathered that of Asmitha Digal, from the village of Bataguda, 25 years old and with two young children, whose husband was barbarously killed by fundamentalists: "On August 26th [editor's note: one of the first days of the anti-Christian violence in Orisa] my husband Rajesh came by train, got off at Muniguda station and began walking to Kandhamal as there was no other transport and all the roads were blocked with felled trees. He was accompanied by a young Hindu boy Tunguru Mallick."

"At around 9 am," Asmitha continues, "they had reached Paburia village, they were stopped by a mob of nearly 60 RSS extremists [editor's note: Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a nationalist paramilitary group] armed with long wooden clubs and batons, they snatched Rajesh’s satchel, which had a Bible and gospel tracts. Mallick ran away and hid in some bushes, they thrashed Rajesh and told him to embrace Hinduism which he meekly refused. This angered the extremists who threw him into a pit and covered him with mud neck-downwards, and once again told him to become Hindu, yet again Rajesh refused, then they took huge stones and stoned him to death."

Asmitha says that she tried to report the case, but received no response or compensation. For her, the trip to Bangalore represents an opportunity to issue a message of hope. "I have to live for my children, my husband is with Jesus, and Jesus will be born for us at Christmas to bring us a new life. Jesus comes as a little baby, so helpless and born in a stable, our relief camps are like stables - bare tents, and we like Jesus are shivering in the cold, but Christ is alive and this is what makes the radicals afraid, we pray and believe in a living God."

Sajan George, president of the GCIC, speaking to a crowd of more than 2,500 gathered in Bangalore to listen to the women's testimony, emphasized: "This minority Christian community are being denied their constitutional rights. Article 25 of the Indian constitution gives every Indian the right to freedom of religion - this denial of a constitutional right renders this vulnerable Christian community second-class citizens." The activist issues an appeal to civil society: "Do not allow this inhumanity to be forgotten, do not let this tragedy fade from society’s conscience. These Kandhamal Christians are without an identity, the Hinduvta fundamentalists systematically destroyed and burned all the documents the Christians possessed. Please, citizens of our beloved secular India - do not let the blood of these martyrs be shed in vain."

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