Barkhama (AsiaNews) – Christians in Orissa continue to be discriminated. On Tuesday, a group of Hindu extremists from the Sangh Parivar prevented the cremation of Subarna Digal, an 83-year-old Dalit, in Milsikia (Barkhama), because he was Christian. They also forced his relatives to flee their village. News of the incident has raised concerns among Christians in Kandhamal District, the same who suffered during the 2008 anti-Christian pogrom that left hundreds dead.
“No villager should have been denied the last rites on any account. The dead man had expressed a ‘desire for baptism’ and was willing to accept the Christian faith on his own volition. The adversary group should have been sensitive to this, but unfortunately, they acted in an inhumane way, showing disrespect to the dead,” said Mgr Raphael Cheenath, archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar.
Born into a Hindu family, Subarna Digal had converted recently to Christianity, and had started catechism in order to be baptised. Before that however, he passed away, and his relatives took his body to the cremation ground. On their way, they were stopped by the extremists as they collected wood for the ritual funerary pyre. Eventually, the latter forced Subarna’s relatives to leave the village, saying that he had contaminated the entire family because he had come into contact with Christians.
Mandya Digal, who is related to the dead man, told AsiaNews that the whole family was forced to abandon the village and cremate Subarna’s body at a location near a mountain. In addition, he said, “Hindu extremists are forcing us to boycott our relatives who become Christians. But how can we do this to our relatives?”
“We take part in Hindu rituals even if we don’t have to; yet, the extremists have started to harass us. And now, they won’t even let us draw water from the village wells. We are scared,” he said.
According to Kartika Digal, a young Barkhama man, things got worse after the celebrations marking the founding of the Sangh Parivar on 25 November.
“We plan to tell the district administration to take stock of the situation and protect the people,” he said. “A number of people have shown some interest in Christianity, but this is their fate. Where is our freedom?” he added.
Preventing people from embracing the Christian faith is against the constitution, said Fr Ratikant Panjait, a social worker for the Cuttack-Bhubaneswar archdiocese. “No society should tolerate such ostracising and inhuman action.”