When Hindu leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati was murdered on August 23rd, 2008, rumours were started that this was a Christian conspiracy. Hindu militants stirred up mobs, creating a horrific massacre in the Kandhamal region of Odisha state (then named Orissa). The violence continued for seven weeks, killing at least 91 victims. Hundreds of villages were looted, over 5,000 houses and 300 churches destroyed, and 56,000 Christians were forced to flee -- often ending up in refugee camps. More details on the 2008 attack, including numerous reports and videos, are available at our India Country Report.
Even though Maoist rebels had claimed responsibility for the assassination, seven Christians were initially convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2013. An appeal of the convictions is pending but has not yet been heard. The very police officers responsible for arresting the Christians have since announced that the accusations against them are baseless.
On the other hand, there have been few arrests of the people responsible for the riots, and those convicted often received sentences of four to six years at the most. Manoj Kumar Pradhan, an elected member of the state legislature with the Hindu nationalist BJP party, was convicted on 14 charges and sentenced to six years in prison. However, while imprisoned, he was re-elected and released on bail after less than a year of imprisonment.
In the aftermath of the devastating Odisha disaster, Christians have struggled to find the appropriate response. Calls for justice continue.... Yet, as the years go by, this has become increasingly difficult to achieve.
During a memorial service held on August 25th, 2018, Archbishop Barwa called on his listeners to pursue peace, reconciliation and forgiveness. Unfortunately, Christians within the Kandhamal region do not sense remorse on the part of those responsible for the massacre. Some who participated in the mob attacks admit that mistakes were made but blame their involvement on the influence of outsiders. As the brother of one victim explains, "They don't feel sorry or apologize. Their heart is not clear." Bipin Nayak, a Kandhamal Christian, reflects on the situation by musing, "They have never felt the grace of asking for forgiveness."
An editorial in The Indian Express spells out concerns for the future of India, summing up the challenges facing the nation in the wake of the Kandhamal massacre:
"Ten years later, we need not recall the details of the violence. But we need to record the valiant battle that the victims and survivors have been engaged in to secure justice.... These ten years have seen hate and violence against Christians being routinized. Beating up of priests, breaking up of prayer meetings and carols, desecration of churches and arrests of priests, enactment of anti-conversion laws.... Our indifference to all these only indicates the normalization of what Kandhamal saw."
Even though ten years have transpired since the violent massacre and destruction, please pray for those in Odisha who are still grieving the loss of innocent loved ones. This includes the numerous children who have been orphaned as a result. VOMC continues to support two groups of children who lost one or both parents in these attacks. May the Lord continue to minister mightily in these young lives.