This August 30, Catholics in Odisha will be marking their first Martyrs’ Day in memory of those killed during the 2007 and 2008 anti-Christian persecution in Kandhamal district of the state.
Over 100 people were killed in the violence that engulfed this eastern district of the state in multiple acts of violence targeted against the Christian community in 2007 and 2008.
A photo taken in August 2008 shows policemen guarding the Baptist Church during the violence. PTI
The decision to commemorate such a day in the memory of the victims of the persecution was taken in February at a meeting of Odisha Bishops’ Regional Council (OCBC) but was made public only now. At the request of the OCBC, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) agreed to make it a national day. OCBC chairperson Archbishop Barwa expressed his happiness at the decision. Kandhamal witnessed large-scale violence against the Christian community between 2007 and 2008.
Most Christians in the area belong to lower-castes and bore the hatred of the perpetrators of the crime both because of their faith and social status.
The incident was blamed on a section of the Hindu right. Justice Basudev Panigrahi, a retired judge of the Odisha High Court who headed the one-man commission to probe the riots, had said that the perpetrators consisted of “both Hindus and tribals”.
Over 12,000 people became refugees due to the violence, which drew criticism from the world community including the Vatican.
But violence against the Christian community in Odisha is not a new thing. On January 22, 1999 Graham Staines, a missionary, was burnt to death with his two sons inside their station wagon by a mob led by Dara Singh. The August 30 Martyr’s Day follows the feast of the beheading of Saint John the Baptist. It will remember the lives and incidents of 101 Odisha martyrs killed in the horrific violence and will be held every year.