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Jaimon Joseph
Wednesday, November 17, 2010 at 18 : 37

Shining Faith in Kandhamal


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What would you do if your wife was raped, your brother killed or your home burnt. In front of your eyes. A mob holds an axe to your neck and promises you complete freedom. If you only change your religion. Would you?

A holy man is killed. Would you strip a nun and priest from another faith, for revenge? Gang rape the nun. Bury the priest standing, upto his neck. Then break a rock on his head.

Two years ago, a remote district in Orissa turned into hell. TV experts gave it many names. Tribal war. Socio-Economic unrest. Religious fundamentalism. Spontaneous rage against Christian conversion.

Whatever the name. Would you do any of those things? Would you defend those who did them? 831 FIRs were filed after the Kandhamal riots in 2008. 11,500 people were accused. Only 679 have been arrested so far. 90 people were killed, 250 churches burnt, 5000 Christian homes destroyed, 50,000 people hounded out of their villages.

"Shining Faith in Kandhamal", a book by independent journalist Anto Akkara tells stories no one is interested in. It's a ten year trace of the brewing discontent, an alternate view to claims made by experts, and state & central governments. A view from inside the cyclone, if you will.

Why bother with ugly tribals in some God forsaken hamlet? They're no one's target audience, they don't look good on TV, they won't boost anyone's TRP.

For one - "Shining Faith in Kandhamal" isn't about "Expert Gyaan". It's a collection of true stories, of victims from the battle ground. Quick sample - a man's tied to a stake, doused in kerosene, set aflame. His wife and family flee through the fields, thinking he's dead.

When they come back in the morning - he's still alive. Crawling on the ground. The wife gives him water. The children can't speak, in shock. Father dies in a few hours. Rots for two days, while village dogs tear away his arms. Only the stench forces people to bury the body.

But it's the stories of courage that really grab you though. In times and places where I'd wet my pants or loose my mind, illiterate villagers refuse to lose their dignity. Refuse to abandon their God, to give up hope, to abandon a fight for justice.

Here's one. The dead man above has a 14 year old son, called Tukna. He ran from pillar to post, fought and pleaded at every government office in the area to get compensation and help for his family.

His father's killers have warned him many times to become a Hindu. "Do you want to end up like your father?" they ask.

"You killed my father. Bring him back alive. Then I'll become a Hindu", he replies.

The book's main weakness - it's one sided. It doesn't have the saffron brigade's interviews, or balancing views from the administration. Even the comments and reviews on its back flap are from Christians. That sticks out. A neutral assessment could make it so much more powerful.

But think about it. Indian Home Minister Shivraj Patil himself, couldn't enter the heart of Kandhamal, at its peak. He satisfied himself with a visit to refugee camps at its outskirts. Trees had been deliberately felled to block all roads to the interior. And the administration refused to guarantee his safety.

This author risked his own life trekking into the interior. To witness first hand, the aftermath of the mayhem. His experience might have scarred him, made him one sided. But he's till got a priceless inside view - that's not really been offered up so far.

"Shining Faith in Kandhamal" is published by the Asian Trading Corporation, in Bangalore. It should also be available at St Paul's Book Stores in most cities.

Before I wind up. A personal take. I've been wondering where the Church in Kandhamal and largely in India, has gone wrong. Unlike many other religions, every Christian has a duty to proclaim his faith to his friends. Most of us are encouraged to teach by example.

To be the most hard working, the most peaceful, the most level headed, the most forgiving people in any gathering. To live simply and think high, just like Jesus did. Most of us fail miserably of course - it's a very high performance bar.

The more courageous are encouraged to give up their lives for God's work. To build hospitals, schools and orphanages. Or to go the lowest, weakest, most outcast, just like Jesus did. One example is DayaBai, or Mercy Mathew, who lives in the heartland of Chattisgarh. Google her someday when you the time. You might enjoy the story.

Divine inspiration encourages others to preach. To share with the world, the joy they've received from Jesus. The cynical amongst us will snigger and say that's just a façade for conversion. Hand out bread with one hand, the Bible with the other.

It isn't. Barring weirdo exceptions, who're treated with contempt even within the Christian community, preachers spread the good news, not through the sludge of bribery, but the purity of their lives.

To preach is a simple, fundamental right. The right to express a personal view. To convert, or not to convert - is the right of the person on the other end. Here's a little secret. No priest will baptize you if you just walk up and say you want to become Christian.

Most will urge you to think again. And again. And then again. To look inside, question your own desire. To find out for yourself, what it is that you truly want. It would take you a fairly long time to be baptized. To convert.

When the Church has been so even handed, why is it being attacked - in Orissa, in Karnataka, even in Delhi? Should it find ways to defend itself? Can it? I don't have answers to those questions yet.

But the hardest stories to digest in this book, "Shining Faith in Kandhamal", are ones where the victims refuse to hate.

The nun who was gang raped says "My ordeal was traumatic and dreadful. But I thank God for choosing me to suffer for the people of Kandhamal."

Later she says - "Looking back, I feel Jesus is not dead on the Cross. He is alive on the cross and is still suffering."


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More about Jaimon Joseph

I've always been scared around gadgets and software. And in awe of people who're good with them. After three years of science and tech reporting though, I think I'm starting to get the hang of things. Before this, I covered automobiles, health, careers and business, for seven years. Nice thing about technology is, it lets me poach into all those fields once in a while. I love this job. But I'm not sure how I managed to land it. I did my BA in Advertising from Delhi College of Arts and Commerce and MA in Journalism from Madurai Kamaraj University. I wanted to be a cartoonist, a guitar player and a footballer but sucked in all those fields. I can play the flute and harmonica though. And I have an interest in machines that move - it was cars and bikes earlier but considering there's nothing revolutionary happening there, it's military stuff now. I'm the sort who drools over figures. Not the 36-24-36 types. But top speed, acceleration, fuel consumption, drag co-efficient. I drive an Alto though. And usually take the Metro to work.
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