MUMBAI, India – August 2016 marks the 8th anniversary of an orgy of violence that descended upon the impoverished Christian minority in the eastern Indian state of Odisha in 2008, marked in India as Kandhamal Martyrs Day, and the country’s highest court has ordered the regional government to boost the compensation offered to Christian victims.
A series of riots led by radical Hindus left roughly 100 people dead, thousands injured, 300 churches and 6,000 homes destroyed, and 50,000 people displaced, many forced to hide in nearby forests where more died of hunger and snakebites. With most victims being members of India’s Tribal and Dalit underclasses, the assault remains the most lethal anti-Christian pogrom of the early 21st century.
On August 2, the Supreme Court of India ordered the government of Odisha to pay additional compensation to the victims of the riots. A bench, comprising Chief Justice T.S. Thakur and Justice U.U. Lalit, said the earlier compensation was inadequate.
The verdict came after a petition filed by Archbishop Rachel Cheenath, the emeritus archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, where the violence occurred.
Father Ajaya Kumar Singh, a Catholic Priest and Director of the Odisha Forum for Social Action in Bhubaneswar told Crux , that this was a positive step. He said the Supreme Court has taken note of the issue, and recognized the reality of unjust compensation.
Singh added that they didn’t know the amount of the compensation, but said he was “hopeful that some substantial package of rehabilitation would be offered.”
Sister Meena Barwa was recently in Cuttack as a witness in the case filed by Fr. Thomas Chellan, for the incident that began on August 25, 2008. Barwa and Chellan were serving in the same pastoral center when the mob attacked them and paraded them on the street threatening to kill them several times.
After Chellan was ordered to rape Barwa and refused, triggering a savage beating, she was sexually assaulted be members of the mob. She’s the niece of Archbishop John Barwa, who’s the current leader of the Cuttack-Bhubaneswar archdiocese.
“As the day approaches,” Sister Meena told Crux, “I feel uneasy, disturbed. Occasionally I also dream that a mob is coming to attack me and kill me.”
She said that during a trip to another convent with fellow sisters, “we arrived around 3 a.m. and slept a while later. Around 8 a.m., I heard shouts and got up thinking that a mob was attacking the convent and coming for me.”
She was able to laugh as she recalled that the shouts were of the nuns chasing away monkeys.
Speaking of Kandhamal Martyrs Day, Barwa said it is important and essential that a day is marked out in memory of the horrific violence. It is also significant, she said, that all of Odisha, is observing Kandhamal Martyrs Day, not just the Archdiocese of Cuttack Bhubaneswar.
“It is good that we are receiving the support of people from all over Odisha and also from people across the country and elsewhere, who will be in solidarity with the suffering people of Kandhamal,” Barwa said.
During its annual meeting last year on August 31, 2015, the Odisha Catholic Regional Council decided to declare a day in the month of August every year in honor of the Kandhamal Martyrs. At present, a beatification cause for the Catholic victims of the violence is underway.