11 Remembering Kandhamal as much as we would like to forget it! - Tehmina Arora

posted Aug 14, 2018, 9:16 AM by Neil D'Souza   [ updated Aug 14, 2018, 9:16 AM ]
The first ever large-scale violence against Christians of Kandhamal in the state of Odisha is an incident which perhaps most Indian Christians would like to leave behind, and forge ahead as our peace-loving community has always been known to do. Sadly, we have no choice, but to observe a prayerful Kandhamal Remembrance Week from August 25 to September 2, to mark the tenth anniversary of the Kandhamal riots.

As we continue to pray for a peaceful India and cordial co-existence among all Indians with our different cultures, beliefs and habits, let me recall what happened ten years ago, so that it does not occur again.

It was an aftermath of the murder of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, allegedly by Christians (though later, the investigations proved it was by Maoists) on August 24, 2008, that witnessed the mobs brutally attacking Christians, their homes and churches. More than 100 people were killed, and over 50,000 were displaced from their homes and villages, driven into the forests and relief camps for fear of their lives. Over 8,000 homes were looted and burnt, and over 300 churches demolished. About 12,000 children's education was disrupted; 40 women were sexually assaulted.

As a young lawyer, at that time, I found myself being called upon to provide much needed solace to the helpless victims and their families. So, with the assistance of several organisations, the Odisha Legal Aid Centre was established. Though the resources were limited, the dedicated group of lawyers and activists made up for it.

As we travelled from village to village, and relief camp to relief camp the incidents of violence grew more and more horrific - people butchered by mobs, homes set ablaze with people still inside, a pregnant mother running for her life in the forest, delivering a premature baby girl in the forest, and cutting the umbilical cord with a stone.