08/19/2022, 13.17
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Violence against Indian Christians: Faith stronger than government denials

by sr. Meena Barwa

On the very day marking 14 years since the pogroms in Orissa, the Ministry of Home Affairs submitted a memorandum to the Supreme Court calling complaints about persecution at the hands of Hindu fundamentalists "falsehoods to meddle in nation's internal affairs." The testimony of Sr. Meena who was personally victimized in Kandhamal district: "God allowed me to see death and live again. I am close to those who are still suffering today."

Mumbai (AsiaNews) - August 23 for Christians in Orissa is Kandhamal Day, in memory of the dramatic violence suffered in August 2008, which left more than 100 people dead and displaced thousands. The anniversary falls this year in a context that-for months and from many quarters in India-has seen reports of a worrying new increase in attacks by Hindu fundamentalists. A situation so serious that it led the Archbishop of Bangalore Msgr. Peter Machado-along with the National Solidarity Forum and the Evangelical Fellowship of India-to petition the Supreme Court in New Delhi a few weeks ago to intervene to stop the "hate propaganda" that fuels attacks on places of worship.

The petition is being argued and just in the last few days has seen the Ministry of Home Affairs retort with its own brief denying the phenomenon altogether, claiming that the appellants "resort to falsehoods and self-serving documents" along with press reports misreporting such incidents. "The appeal," replies the Modi government, "alleges attacks on Christians based on mere conjecture. There seems to be a hidden and oblique agenda in presenting riots across the country, perhaps to get outside assistance and meddle in the nation's internal affairs."

The Supreme Court postponed the matter to a new hearing, scheduled for Aug. 25. But the Home Ministry's denial has elicited outraged reactions among Indian Christians. "This response by the central government is puzzling to say the least," Fr. Babu Joseph, former spokesman for the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (Cbci), told AsiaNews. Even a cursory glance leaves no doubt about the wave of attacks on Christians and their institutions underway across the country. And to say that what is reported in newspapers and other sources is not true is to deny the obvious. It may be that underlying selected individual cases of atrocities may be reasons other than religious ones, but to treat them all as false is to close one's eyes. We hope that the judiciary, despite official denials, will get to the root of these attacks and bring relief to those who see their constitutional rights threatened."

In this context, the testimony we publish below of Sr. Meena Barwa, the Orissa nun personally victimized by rape and violence 14 years ago in Kandhamal district, takes on even greater significance. Since then she tirelessly recounts how it was possible to survive that horror, offering forgiveness inseparable from the battle for justice so that others will not experience again what she suffered.

I was among those who suffered during the unprecedented attacks on anti-Christian violence in 2008 in the Kandhamal district of Odisha, that lasted for months. More than 100 were killed while thousands abandoned their land and houses to protect their lives.

I was violated, and paraded half-naked in the street by forces inimical to Christians. It was a miracle that I survived the ordeal. I escaped death and managed to file a First Information Report, the first step in filing a case with the police.

The aftermath of violence was more horrifying and difficult to cope with. I have no words to explain the trauma, physical pain and mental disturbances I suffered. I had to move from place to place for my security and safety. I had to live in disguise, moving from place to place, hiding my identity.  Sleep evaded me, nightmares haunted me every night, the brutal violation haunting me at night, I sought refuge in 15 different places in that one year.

I was forced to relive the trauma during the  court trial, all over again I had to undergo repeated humiliation, intimidation, calumny and mental torture.

Many things have changed in the past 14years, now I have a Law Degree and am a member of the Odisha Bar Council.

My superiors, my community, my parents and family helped me leave my pain and wounds behind and accept life, God's gift, with gratitude. I count them among my numerous blessings from God. They were angels sent to help me so that I do not wallow in misery but rise again from my trauma and bring hope to many.

I live with gratitude to God who allowed me to see death but live again. God has given me a sense of purpose, filled me with optimism and a positive attitude. I have become grateful.

I have experienced God's protection all these 14 years. It has helped me to surrender my life to God completely. God is all good. Yes, he is my strength (Isaiah 12:2).

14 years of God's Faithfulness and Love. 14 years for many in Kandhamal, continues to be of injustice, pain and brokenness However, once again I speak of forgiveness as Christians to those who inflicted pain on us. We look at Jesus our Eternal Master who showed us the way of forgiveness from the cross. We forgive and have become free from hurts, fear, shame, humiliation, anger, insecurity, frustration. We no longer brood over the negativity. We fight for justice that’s because we want to stop all shots of violence in our society and wait for justice.

We celebrate of having better understanding the meaning of life, of courage, of living with dignity, of living this life with love and respect, of realizing that we are children of God and equal before Him, of living the life of compassion and mercy.

On the occasion of Kandhamal day I pay homage to those who sacrificed their life during violence. My heart goes to all in Kandhamal who still struggle because of the violence; yes I stand with them and for them.

My experience and I say it with conviction today:

The Love of Jesus is greater than hatred I experienced

The peace of Jesus is greater than my anxiety and fear

The harmony I experience in Jesus is greater than my bitterness

Jesus is my hope in my hopelessness

The comfort of Jesus is greater than my sorrows

Jesus respects in my shamefulness

Jesus honors in my humiliation

The healing of Jesus is greater than my wounds and traumas

The justice of Jesus is greater than injustice I face".

(Nirmala Carvalho collaborated)

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