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Between memory and hope

Remembering Kandhamal on the 12th Anniversary of the largest anti-Christian genocide in India


By Varun Deepak Nagabuthlula


Twelve years on, memories of horrific and barbaric violence remain fresh among the survivors of the Kandhamal anti-Christian genocide.

On August 25, 2008, after ten days of nationwide Independence Day celebrations, Kandhamal, the poorest district in the state of Odisha (then Orissa) witnessed brutal violence and crime against the marginalized Tribal and Dalit (low caste, untouchables) Christians. The genocide continued for six months, destroying 395 churches and 6,500 homes. More than 100 men and women were killed; there were 41 recorded statements of rape and molestation of women, many others remained silent due to shame and stigma; hundreds of children were displaced, and many witnessed the crimes committed against their parents; 75,000 people were displaced from their land. The then Prime Minister of India, Mr. ManMohan Singh called it as a “national shame”.

The Sangh Parivar (which is the combination of radical Hindutva ideology organizations) waiting for an opportunity to attack the marginalized Christians of Kandhamal, found their moment with the murder of a Hindu guru, Swami Lakshmanananda. Though Maoists claimed responsibility, the Sangh Parivar triggered Hindus to wipe out Christians, holding them responsible for the death of the Hindu Swami.


A Brief History

Kandhamal derives its name from the dominant tribe “Kandha” also known as “Konds” who had been dwellers of the forest since time immemorial, practicing human sacrifice and female infanticide. With the arrival of the British in India, these indigenous people were introduced to the world through the first report of Mr. Russell, the British Officer of the Madras Civil Service on August 12, 1836.

The Konds believed that human sacrifice is the means to obtain favour from the Earth-Goddess for good harvest, good health and prosperity. Though the Hindu kings were acquainted with the Konds, even before the arrival of the British, they made no attempts to stop the inhuman practice. Being aware, of the challenging task to eradicate the centuries old practice, the British Government, made steadfast efforts to remove the practice of human sacrifice and female infanticide step by step. With efforts of Mr. Russell and Major General John Campbell, the Konds renounced human sacrifice and female infanticide. According to the government report, from 1837 to 1854, 1,500 boys and girls rescued. These rescued children, men and women were entrusted to the care of Christian Missionaries, where they also received an education.

With the suppression of the superstitious belief of the Konds, the British government focused on education, and four schools were started by Captain MacViccar up in the hills. Captain Frye gave Konds the alphabets to their Kui language and for the first time their language was printed. By 1860-1861, 521 children were attending the schools.

With the construction of roads to this mountainous region, Kandhamal was opened up to civilization during the British reign. However, the ancient ways were not completely eradicated, and diseases like cholera, smallpox and others were seen by some Konds as the wrath of their deities.

With the opening of hospitals, medical access was provided to the Konds. To summarize their history, with the cooperation of the British government and the Christian Missionaries, civilization came to Kandhamal. Over the years, many Konds and Dalits of Kandhamal were converted to Christianity, equality of all humans, dignity of life and love, care and compassion for one another flourished.


The Hindutva Brigade

The RSS (Rashtriya SwayamSevak Sangh) was founded in 1925, with an aim to make India a Hindu Country. The RSS ideologue admired Hitler’s policy in creating an Aryan race as supreme, and they affirmed the same in India, calling for the elimination of Christians and Muslims. The Caste system is the governing social norm in Hinduism, sanctioned by the divine Vedas. The Tribals and the Dalits have no place in the caste hierarchy because, the Tribals were animists and the Dalits are considered to be the untouchables. Access to education, clean water, health facility, better jobs and entry into Hindu temples to worship gods were denied to this community by the Brahmins (Brahmins are believed to be the highest caste in the Caste hierarchy).

With the arrival of Gospel and Christianity, both the Tribals and the Dalits found refuge, life and equality before God. The message of Christianity “There is neither Jew nor Greek; neither slave nor free; neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” Gal 3:28, resonated in these communities. With the Gospel in action, by the Ambassadors of Christ Christian Missionaries, these demeaned and degraded communities found Jesus Christ to be the true Saviour God, and found acceptance, hope and access to what they were denied by Brahminical Hinduism. Some Tribals and Dalits started advancing in education, which led them to better jobs and better social and economic status, although, many do remain in poverty today.

The RSS founded Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) in 1964, with an aim to promote Hindu nationalism and to reconvert Christians and others back to the Hindu Brahminical hierarchy. Conversion to Christianity and the transformation of the once marginalized, into asserted communities, was seen as a betrayal of Hindu culture and values and were branded as anti-nationals. Jealousy and hatred towards Christians was nurtured among the Hindus in Kandhamal, through hate speech. Slogans like: “Kill the Christians, chase them out”; “eliminate foreign religion and create Hindu religion’; ‘kill the Christians and rape them’ were used by the Hindutva forces to manipulate and provoke the emotions of the people to launch a brutal massacre against the Christians of Kandhamal.


After Twelve Years

Out of 3,300 complaints, only 820 were taken by the police, leaving 2,480 unregistered. Among the 820 cases, only 518 were taken up for the investigation. Out of 518, 247 cases were closed and the rest are pending. Seven innocent Tribal men fabricated as the murderers of the Hindu Swami remained in jail for 11 years, they were released on bail in 2019. Justice was not served for the Dalits and Tribals. On the 12th anniversary, National Solidarity Forum and Justice Coalition of Religious North and East India gave a call to remain united and to continue to fight for Justice.

The Supreme Court order to reopen the ignored cases of genocide was not implemented by the Odisha government until recently. On the other hand, the pledged compensation to the victims’ families was delivered partially. Moreover, the Odisha government rejected the Supreme Court order to allocate funds for the reconstruction of the destroyed churches. Many of the centers of Worship remain dilapidated and have become cow sheds. Justice seems to be a far distant and challenging road to the Christians of Kandhamal.

The right to freedom of religion is under significant threat with the current BJP government in power. The climate of hate against the minorities like Christians and Muslims is at peak. The question is: What wrong have Christians done in India to be on the receiving end of such hate? In this context, the question whether the victims of Kandhamal genocide will ever get Justice remains.

Can peace, be possible without justice? Can a person keep his or her faith in Christ when memory is filled with such violence in the past, and hope for justice seems so distant? Certainly, Kandhamal generates more questions than answers. Keeping the conversation alive can prevent such genocides from happening in future.



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