India’s Newest Martyrs

India’s Newest Martyrs: "India’s Newest Martyrs

Christians Die for Their Faith in Troubled Orissa



September 28-October 4, 2008 Issue | Posted 9/23/08 at 9:35 AM

BHUBANESWAR, India — An armed Hindu mob landed at the doorstep of evangelists Samuel and Daniel Nayak on Aug. 25, with an ultimatum: Denounce the faith or die.

“Do you want Christ or your life?” the mob leaders demanded of the Nayaks and five other members of the Nayak family. Unfazed, the brothers replied, “Christ is everything for us.”

Enraged, the Hindu fundamentalists hit two children in the house with iron rods, breaking their skulls. After pouring gasoline on the adults, the fanatics gave them “one more chance.” They stood firm and raised their hands in prayer.

Within seconds, five adults were aflame. Foreseeing that they might try to escape, the mob had poured gasoline on the outside walls of the house. The house was set on fire, reducing all seven members of the family to ashes.

History is replete with accounts of how the early Christians were persecuted for their faith under the Roman Empire. Many Christians in the troubled Kandhamal district of eastern Orissa state are being subjected to similar persecution in the 21st century — in the largest democracy on earth.

Rakesh Digal, a young Catholic working outside of Orissa, was on a vacation in his native Pupuria, a village near Udaigiri. When one of the roaming Hindu mobs spotted him, he tried to run away but was chased and caught. He was beaten and buried alive for refusing to renounce his faith.

When he asked why they were burying him alive, the Hindu assailants told him, “Jesus will save you.”

According to numerous first-person accounts, these are not isolated horror stories from the jungles of the Kandhamal district, where Christians account for more than 100,000 out of a population of 500,000. Church workers have already documented as many as 28 murders of Christians, who have lost their lives for their faith. Unconfirmed figures are still higher.

Apart from this, more than 4,000 Christian houses, along with dozens of churches and Christian institutions, have been emptied and torched in troubled Kandhamal. Half of the Christians have been forced to flee their houses to jungles or refugee camps since late August.

The orgy of violence was let loose by Hindu fundamentalists after Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati, senior leader of Hindu nationalist groups in Orissa, was shot dead, along with five of his junior monks, by Maoist rebels who stormed his base the night of Aug. 23.

Even though the Maoists claimed responsibility, Hindu groups are convinced Saraswati’s murder was a Christian conspiracy, as the 85-year-old monk had carried out a vociferous campaign against conversion to Christianity in Kandhamal.

In fact, Christian targets across Kandhamal had been attacked last Christmas after an alleged altercation involving Saraswati’s motorcade took place at a Christian-majority village.

“Christians are being hunted out now. If they don’t renounce their faith, their life is in danger,” Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Bhubaneswar, the capital of Orissa, said in an interview in Mumbai Sept. 6.

Archbishop Cheenath rushed to Holy Spirit Hospital in Mumbai after three seriously injured priests from Orissa were airlifted to the hospital.

“Now there is hardly anything [Church owned] left to be destroyed,” said Archbishop Cheenath. Kandhamal accounts for three-quarters of the 64,000 Catholics and 24 of the 34 parishes in the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar."

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