Indian Catholics Commemorate the 12th Anniversary of the Orissa Massacres

September 09, 2020
A church in Orissa destroyed in August 2008

In India, several days of prayer punctuated the end of August, to mark the occasion of the twelfth anniversary of the anti-Christian massacres perpetrated in the district of Kandhamal, within the State of Odisha (formerly Orissa), in the east of the country. The Christians’ anger is still great, as the crimes have largely gone unpunished.

Emotion overwhelmed Fr. Manoj Kumar Nayak, on August 23, 2020: “In these days when we are commemorating the twelfth anniversary of the violence in the Kandhamal district, let us unite in prayer, in order to support Christians persecuted for their faith in all the countries.”

The priest is a member of the National Solidarity Forum (NSF), a network of more than seventy Indian civil society organizations, one of whose objects is to defend the rights of the Christian minority, which are increasingly being violated by the government in power, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has made the eradication of all non-Hindu religions its priority.

The day before, on August 22, the NSF appealed to all Indians to bring justice to the victims and survivors of the massacres perpetrated twelve years ago.

At the time, extremist Hindu groups accused the Christian minority of being behind the murder of one of their religious leaders, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati.

Although this crime was claimed to have been committed by Maoist rebel groups, it served as a pretext for a wave of violence, which saw a hundred Christians massacred, as well as the assault of forty Christians, subjected to the harassment and humiliation of the populace.

Some 395 churches and places of worship and 6,500 houses were razed, and several educational, social, and health institutions were ransacked.

In the end, more than 50,000 of the faithful left their villages and fled, while their property was wrongfully confiscated.

However, of the 3,300 complaints lodged with the police authorities by Christians, only 800 have been officially registered. And among these, 518 were dismissed, the others having led to trials at the end of which 88% of the accused were acquitted.

Thus, in 2020, none of those responsible for the massacres committed at the time are still in prison.

According to the local church, the tragedy continues even today, as several hundred Christian families are still unable to return to their homes and villages for fear of further reprisals.

“More than a decade after these tragic days, those whose rights were violated and trampled on are still waiting to receive justice,” recalled the archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, Mgr. John Barwa, who describes the massacres of the Orissa’ Christians as “the most painful experience in the history of the Church in India.”