Remembering India’s Christian Martyrs

A growing wave of Hindu nationalism that today dominates parts of India and fuels hostility toward Christians exploded in Kandhamal in August, 2008. (AP)
A growing wave of Hindu nationalism that today dominates parts of India and fuels hostility toward Christians exploded in Kandhamal in August, 2008. (AP)

Survivors of sexual abuse who have summoned the courage to come forward have taught us many things, but one clear truth is that, in terms of its consequences, abuse is not an event, but more akin to a permanent condition.

It’s not that abuse happens at a specific time and place, and then is over. Instead, its aftermath becomes a permanent part of victims’ lives, as they struggle with its psychological, emotional, and spiritual toll.

We’ve had two reminders this week that the same point applies to victims of other kinds of abuse, including anti-Christian persecution. For its victims, the lingering consequences are emotional and physical, including injury and disease, loss of property and income, imprisonment, and the threat of death.

Both reminders come from Kandhamal in eastern India, which in 2008 was the site of the worst anti-Christian pogrom in the world in the early 21st century.

For decades, India has seen a growing wave of Hindu nationalism that today dominates not only the federal government, but also several states and regions. In August, 2008, hostility toward the Christian “other” exploded in Kandhamal, leaving roughly 100 people dead, thousands injured, 300 churches and 6,000 homes destroyed, and 50,000 people displaced, many of them forced to hide in nearby forests where more died of hunger and snakebites.

The violence was carried out by mobs adorned with saffron headbands, a sign of right-wing Hindu militancy, and shouting slogans such as “Jai shri ram!” — victory to the Hindu god Ram — and “Jai bajrang bali!” — a tribute to another Hindu deity. Attackers wielded rods, tridents, swords, firearms, kerosene, and even acid.

The level of barbarity almost defies belief.

Parikhit Nayak, for instance, was an impoverished Dalit and a convert to Protestantism in a largely Hindu village. His fellow villagers killed him by burning his body with acid, slicing off his genitals, and then ripping out his intestines to wear them around their necks like a trophy. All the while, they forced his wife to watch.

We heard two echoes of those horrors this week.

One was a rally held March 3 in New Delhi to launch a “Free the Innocents” petition to liberate seven Christian men who have languished in prison since 2008, accused of instigating the violence by assassinating a local Hindu holy man. The charges are widely regarded as politically motivated, and an investigative journalist recently called the case a “travesty of justice.”

Last year, two police officials testified before an inquiry in Kandhamal that the charges against the men, six of whom are illiterate, were false, yet appeals to overturn their convictions have been repeatedly delayed.

Because it’s important that victims not remain anonymous, here are the names of the seven men.

  • Bijay Kr Sunseth, married with two young sons and four daughters
  • Gornath Chalanseth, married with a daughter and three sons
  • Budhadeb Nayak, married with three sons and two daughters
  • Bhaskar Sunamajhi, married with a six-year-old son who has never seen his father except behind bars
  • Durjo Sunamajhi, married with three sons, two of whom are manual laborers, and two school-age daughters
  • Munda Badmajhi, married with two sons and two daughters. His elder son was forced to leave school when his father was arrested and now works as a manual laborer.
  • Sanatan Badmajhi, married with two young sons and two daughters

Click here to read more.

John L. Allen Jr.

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