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Christmas celebrated in Kandhamal villages in Orissa after three years

Bodimunda village in Kandhamal, Orissa, India, celebrated Christmas for the first time in three years. And in Barakhama village several miles away, a strong police posse kept watch as 2,000 Christians prayed a little distance from where a 500 strong group was “observing” events that led to death and mass destruction in December 2007, and then again for seven weeks from August 23, 2008.

A scene of mayhem during violence against Christians in Orissa

This has been reported to the ASSIST News Service by John Dayal, an Indian Christian activist and campaigner for Dalit rights who was formerly a journalist with the Delhi edition of the Indian newspaper, the Mid-Day and a leader of the All India Christian Council, the United Christian Forum for Human Rights and is associated with numerous Christian groups, such as the Dalit Freedom Network.

“Christmas will never be the same ever again in this part of Orissa which at the peak of the violence saw 54,000 internally displaced Christians – over 30,000 of them in government refugee camps and the rest in forests or far away from home,” said Dayal, who is also All India Catholic Union National president. “But the people would not be denied celebrating the birth of Christ – many of them had faced death when asked to leave their faith, drink some cow urine and become Hindus if they wanted to live in their villages.

“Midnight Mass had become a memory, but this time two Catholic priests, a religious brother, the head of the Mother Teresa Sisters in Orissa and their friends decided to challenge the fear and the ‘Kui’ group of the dreaded Lambodhar Kahar and celebrated the Christian festival as it should be.”

John Dayal

Dayal said that Fr. Ajay Singh, himself born in a hamlet near Brahmanigaon village which bore the brunt of the 2007 Christians violence, told him on the phone that there was absolute fear on the Eve of Christmas.

“There had been posters and repeated announcements by the Kui Samaj that they would go ahead with their program, recalling the Kui program on December 24, 2007 that was the trigger to the mass violence, and had been surprisingly allowed by the government authorities. The District government allowed the program once again, but this time ensured

there were some policemen to keep guard,” Dayal.

“In Delhi, I had been receiving frantic and repeated calls from contacts in Barakhama and Tikabali who said about the same thing, urging with me to get the federal government in the national capital and state authorities in Orissa’s capital Bhubaneswar to ensure that Christmas passed off peacefully.”

Dayal went on to say that on Sunday, Lambodhar Kahar, leader of Kandhamal Kui Samaj, had told reporters that his group would hold the rallies to honor Mallick, a tribal villager who had died under mysterious circumstances in December 2007.

Kahar and local Hindu leaders blamed Christians for his death and wanted to “honour him as a Hindu martyr.” Mallik had earlier been accused of pulling down a church. Villagers said Hindu radicals held secret meetings and distributed leaflets asking people to congregate in large numbers in every area to observe the “memorial day.”

“St. Gabriel Brother Markose, an advocate who from Jharkhand who has made Kandhamal his temporary home, told me on the phone that in Bodimunda village, the most tense this week, the Catholic catechist who was forced to become a Hindu, came back and animated prayers at the local church. The Catholic community celebrated with a night mass,” said Dayal.

A defiant Christian in Orissa

“The Believers Church repaired their church and celebrated on 25th during day. Baptists and Pentecostals were still afraid to openly celebrate Christmas in the hinterland areas.”

Dayal stated that Br. Markose said armed police personnel were deployed and subordinate officers and senior officials kept on visiting. Towards end of the mass The Collector and the SP too reached the village.

“Fathers Ajay Singh and Nicholas Barla, another priest-lawyer who has been working on human rights and legal issues in the district for some time, volunteered to say night mass at the sensitive village,” he continued. “Sr. Suma, along with other Nuns of the Missionaries of Charity of Mother Teresa, was also present.”

Indian Christians protesting the violence that took place in Orissa

Br. Markose narrated: “Before the Mass as we moved around the village, we stopped at the only tea shop for tea. All of us from outside took our cups of tea and the last cup of tea was taken by a person from the village. Just as he was about to sip the tea, the shop keeper told him in the local Kui language ‘if you took tea, I will have to pay fine of Rs. 1000. Hearing this, the villager was returning the cup of tea. I understood, and told the shop keeper that I would reimburse if he had to pay fine and I gave him my phone number. If he is fined by fanatics, he can call me and I will reimburse his expense, of course it will give me a chance to expose the social boycott of Christians in that village.”

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