Justice for Christians 8 Years After Brutal Attacks? India to Reopen Orissa Cases

Christians take part in a protest against the recent killings of Christians in Orissa and Karnataka, in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh November 20, 2008. Protesters demanded security and justice for their community in Orissa and Karnataka. (REUTERS/Ajay Verma)

Eight years after nearly 100 Christians were massacred in Orissa, India, the government said it is now reopening 315 cases of violence.

The Supreme Court of India ordered the government of Orissa state to review all cases that were reported to the police at the time, but were not adequately investigated, as reported by Fides News Agency.

The Aug. 25, 2008, violence in Kandhamal was labeled as the worst attack against Christians since 1947. It was sparked by the killing of prominent Hindu Swami Laxmanananda on Aug. 23, 2008. Though police sources pointed to Maoist involvement his death, Hindu fundamentalists blamed the Christian community. Hindu radicals also accused Christians of converting other Hindus to their religion. Nearly 100 Christians were brutally killed, more than 50,000 were displaced and some thousands of homes and churches were destroyed.

There is dispute over the precise number of Christians who were killed, with the government officially reporting 38 victims, though persecution watchdog groups have said the number is closer to 100.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide, an advocacy group that interviewed victims and eyewitnesses a month after the attacks, described the killings as "extremely brutal, including murders by burning alive and retributive rape."

CSW stressed, "The violence should not be construed as the product of natural animosity between Hindus and Christians, but it is the systematic targeting of Christians by proponents of an extremist, nationalist strain of Hinduism, known as Hindutva."

The advocacy group also noted that there was no evidence of forced conversions by Christians in the region and that Christians who remained or returned to the region faced coercive conversions to Hinduism.

Praising the Supreme Court's recent order to reopen the cases, CSW stated that those responsible for the murders and violence must be brought to justice, however long it takes.

"The Supreme Court's decision to reopen 315 cases is an acknowledgement that the institutional and societal conditions that allowed the violence to happen must be addressed, and we urge the State and Federal government to ensure that the perpetrators of this crime are apprehended and held to account," CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said in a released statement. "What happened in Kandhamal must not be forgotten; we will persist in calling for these crimes and the legacy of injustice to be addressed."

The Indian Catholic Church has been remembering the murdered Christians each year, and in 2015 designated Aug. 30 as the "Day of Martyrs," in honor of those who lost their lives.

Christian groups in India, such as the All India Christian Council, have for years been urging the government to investigate fully all the cases of violence from that day.

Christianity in India has continued to grow despite the numerous cases of religious persecution against believers, Christian leaders have said.

In 2015, Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar His Exc. Mgr. John Barwa SVD said that Christians "gather in prayer for the victims, reiterating, all together, our common commitment to promoting peace, justice and hope. The faith of Christians in Orissa has become stronger in the face of persecution."

"They suffered horrific anti-Christian violence. Yet their faith did not waver; on the contrary, they strengthened their faith and love for Christ," he commented.

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