Bhubaneswar (AsiaNews) - Christian residents in the village of Tiangia (Odisha) have erected the first monument to honour seven martyrs, victims of anti-Christian pogroms in Kandhamal in 2008. Mgr John Barwa SVD, archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, blessed the memorial plaque on 13 February, in the presence of priests and hundreds of faithful.
"These seven martyrs," said the prelate, "are pillars of testimony for the people of Kandhamal and beyond. We thank God for giving us such men, who sacrificed their precious lives for the love of Jesus. Rather than give up their faith, they clang to Christ with passion. For us, they are a source of inspiration and hope."
The seven martyrs, all from Tiangia, are: Fr Bernard Digal (died 28 October 2008), Trinath Digal (25 August 2008), Bikram Nayak (25 August 2008), Parikhit Nayak (27 August 2008), Darasantha Pradhan (25 August 2008), Dibyasing Digal (25 August 2008), and Dinabandhu Pradhan (27 August 2008).
On 23 August 2008, a Maoist group killed Hindu leader Saraswati Laxanananda in his ashram, in Kandhamal District, a fact the group readily admitted.
However, the followers of the radical Hindu cleric blamed Christians, whom he had criticised for a long time because of their social involvement with tribals and Dalits (outcaste) and had accused - along with bishops, priests and nuns - of proselytising.
In Kandhamal, Hindu extremists unleashed the most violent persecution against the Christian minority that India had ever seen.
Overall, the pogrom forced 55,000 Christians to flee, with 5,600 houses and 415 villages raided and set on fire.
According to government figures, 38 people were killed and two women raped. Scores of people were injured and permanently maimed.
The Church and social activists reported instead the destruction of almost 300 churches, plus convents, schools, hostels and welfare facilities. At least 91 people died, 38 immediately, 41 from injuries sustained in the violence, and 12 in police action.
"These seven martyrs gave their precious life to bear witness to their faith and die for Christ during the massacre of Kandhamal," Fr Manoj Kumar Nayak told AsiaNews.
"The memorial is our little tribute," the social activist added. "We hope that their life of faith and their testimony will not be lost, but rather inspire others to live in a heroic way."