08/23/2011, 00.00
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People “refused to deny Christ", says bishop three years after Orissa pogrom

by Nirmala Carvalho
For Mgr John Barwa, archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, those events were not a “curse”. “We are encouraged that Kandhamal now gives hope to the persecuted Church around the world. [. . .] Wherever there are trials and tribulations, there is light.”
Cuttack-Bhubaneswar (Asia News) – Three years ago, on 23 August, anti-Christian violence broke out in Kandhamal. Swami Laxamanananda Saraswati, 85, and four of his followers were shot dead at an ashram in Orissa. Also known as Guruji, the swami was a fanatical Hindu nationalist. One of his goals was to wipe out all traces of Christianity and Christians from Kandhamal District and neighbouring areas where the number of Christians had grown in the previous 30 years. He blamed this growth on “tricks” by Christian missionaries. For him, “The sooner Christians return to the Hindu fold the better it would be for the country”.

As soon as the killings took place Christians were blamed (see Nirmala Carvalho, “Orissa pogroms: police clear Christians from the death of Hindu religious leader,” in AsiaNews, 11 May 2011). Anti-Christian violence followed—not isolated or sporadic incidents but a well-orchestrated plot that had the full support of the state government.

The state’s inaction with regard to the relief, rehabilitation and protection of the victims and the indifference of the police indicate that all this took place with their tacit approval, or worse, their active cooperation.

Police personnel were present during many of the attacks but on not a single occasion did police conduct a lathi (a metal-tipped cane) charge or fire at the assailants.

On the anniversary of the start of the pogrom, AsiaNews spoke to Mgr John Barwa, archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar.

“This year, we are not having any memorial prayers or gatherings,” he said, even though “The administration has been provided police protection to all churches, institutions and in the villages.”

“We do not look back at the events as a ‘curse’ though. Rather we see the pogrom in the light of mature faith and growth in mission. We take it as part of the Divine Plan. The Church itself sprung from the pierced heart of Christ and so suffering is part of the Church’s universal mission and growth. We are not too discouraged.”

In fact, “We are encouraged that Kandhamal now gives hope to the persecuted Church around the world. Our people, so vulnerable and a minority, stood steadfast in their faith even in the face of death. They embraced the cross and refused to deny Christ at all cost. Wherever there are trials and tribulations, there is light.”

Asked about justice, Archbishop Barwa said that this was a personal tragedy for him since his own niece was raped during the mob fury.

“Justice has to be done and must be seen to be done,” he explained. “Rendering justice to the victims is not only a moral imperative, but also a legal obligation without which sustainable communal reconciliation and harmony will be compromised.”

In the case of Sister Meena (pictured), “justice must be done” for it “will be indicative to the wider community that justice does finally reach victims of such crimes and women’s dignity is upheld in Indian society.

“Justice for Sister Meena is not for her alone; it is for all Indian Women.” It will show that “India’s criminal justice system is effective and fair” and that it can protect “women's rights and dignity.”

“Today in our country, women are at the helm of three important states: Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Delhi. Our [parliamentary] speaker is a woman and the Congress Party president is a woman. So justice for Sister Meena means for justice for all Indian Women who might be the victim of such heinous crimes.”
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See also
More than 4,000 Christians victims of abuses and forced conversions in Orissa
Mgr Barwa: the "martyrdom" of Kandhamal victims must be recognised
23/08/2016 17:48
Anti-Christian pogroms in Kandhamal four years later
For Card Gracias, the victims of Kandhamal can be raised on the altar of martyrs
25/08/2016 13:16
Odisha pogrom survivor lost his son, but did not deny Christ
07/02/2020 18:34


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