In Kandhamal, Hindus and Christians ask the Virgin for her protection ahead of school exams
by Purushottam Nayak

About 700 children who survived the 2008 massacres will take this year’s Grade 10 examination. Christian and Hindu pray at a shrine destroyed during the pogrom. Bishops wish good luck to all students.

Cuttack-Bhubaneswar (AsiaNews) – In Kandhamal, the intercession of Our Lady of Charity is helping Christian and Hindu students in their exams.

One of them is Hindu, Subrata Pradhan, who is preparing his Class (Grade) 10 examination. He lives at Bishop's Tobar Hostel in Raikia, one of the villages most affected by the anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal district of 2008.

“I have great faith and trust in Our Lady of Charity interceding for me through her Son Jesus Christ,” he told AsiaNews.

The Grade 10 examination is one of the toughest in India’s education system. Exams began on Wednesday, 19 February, and will end on 2 March. At such an occasion, students like to visit the Virgin's grotto at Our Lady of Charity Church.

However, in 2004 Hindu radicals destroyed the shrine in a pogrom unleashed by Swami Lakshmanananda and then again in 2008 when the latter’s followers in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad went on a rampage after his death.

Smita Nayak, who comes from Rudangia, studies at the St Catherine's Girls' High School. “She remembers the “many deaths. At that time (2008), I was in Class 4 Standard (Grade 4).” When the violence broke out, “I fled into the forest with my parents. My relatives and several friends were killed.”

Fr Bhanjakishore Nayak experienced sectarian violence as well, when he was still a seminarian. Speaking about the Marian shrine, he says that “Many Christians and Hindus come with a lit candle to invoke Mary’s help. This is the sign of the power of Jesus that comes through his Mother.”

For Subrata, “Even though I am Hindu, I am free to attend religious services or not. I am not forced. It is a miracle for me when I pray to the Virgin Mary and my wishes are granted.”

This year, some 700 children who survived the Kandhamal pogrom are taking the Class 10 examination. They are among the 560,881 pupils in 2,888 schools who will take the examination in Odisha (Orissa).

For Kanakarekha Nayak, who lost her husband Parikhito Nayak, killed mercilessly in front of their children, the examination is also very important. “My granddaughter lived through fear, threats and mental anguish when she was a child. Now she is preparing her exams. May Our Lady of Charity intercede for her, so that she can do well.”

Fr Bijoya Kerketta, secretary of the Odisha Regional Educational Commission, wishes all the students "good luck on behalf of the bishops, especially those who survived [the] Kandhamal” massacres.