The Catholic Thing
The Persecuted Church in India Print E-mail
By George J. Marlin   
Wednesday, 30 October 2013

After severing its colonial ties with Great Britain in 1947, India, a nation of 1.2 billion people, organized a secular Democratic Republic that guarantees freedom to practice and propagate one’s faith.

Christianity in India dates back to the Acts of the Apostles, but is the faith of only 2.5 percent of the population today.  The total number of Catholics is 19.5 million.

Sadly, in the twenty-first century, the religious liberty clause in the Indian constitution has been ignored by Hindu fundamentalists who have planned, coordinated, and executed anti-Christian pogroms.  On Christmas Day 2008, for example, over 100 Churches and Christian facilities were looted, damaged, or destroyed, and more than 400 Christian houses were gutted.

Since 2008, the focus of Hindu terrorists has been in the jungle village of Kandhamal located in the state of Odisha (formerly Orissa).  Over 56,000 of the 117,000 Christians living there have been driven from their homes, with 6,000 of their houses burnt to the ground.  Three hundred Churches and holy places have been desecrated or destroyed.

The Christians are being persecuted not only because of their faith, as they are in Egypt and Syria, but because they refuse to renounce it and embrace Hinduism.  As a result, thousands of Indians, including priests, nuns, and ministers, have been sadistically tortured. Many have lost limbs; others have been burnt alive.  Over 100 have been martyred for the faith.

Reacting to these hideous crimes, the Archbishop of Bombay, Cardinal Oswald Gracias said: “The blood of the martyrs has always been the seed of Christianity. That is the mystery of the Cross! I have no doubt that much blessing from God will be showered upon the people of Odisha and India as a result of the suffering of the Kandhamal Christians.”

But it will come at a heavy price. In his work, Early Christians of the Twenty-first Century, award-winning Indian journalist Anto Akkara, who visited Kandhamal sixteen times, recounts how the anti-Christian violence was orchestrated, and records the testimonies of victims and their families.  The volume contains “a collection of over one hundred true witnesses to Christ-testimonies soaked in blood, tested and purified by untold suffering.”

Akkara describes how police looked away as churches were being destroyed and further how, in many cases, they refused to report the cause of deaths as murders.  To avoid prosecution, Hindu terrorists hid the evidence.  The bodies of martyrs were cremated or dumped into bogs or rivulets in the jungle.  As for the few cases that went to trial, kangaroo “fast track” courts dismissed or acquitted Hindu bigots, citing lack of evidence.

After a dozen Christian leaders led by Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar confronted Indian Prime Minster Manmohan Singh about the orchestrated violence. Singh publicly acknowledged that it was a “national shame,” but took few measures “to restore the confidence of the Christian community.” 

For the faithful, India’s constitutional guaranteed freedom of religion and equality before the law remains meaningless slogan.

There are many heart-wrenching stories in Akkara’s book, but one that particularly struck me involved a 56-year old priest and a 28-year old nun.

Father Thomas Chellan, director of the Divyajyoti Pastoral Centre, and his assistant, Sister Meena, managed to escape over a wall of their compound as Hindu terrorists destroyed the complex, which included a church, a large dormitory, and other facilities.

The next day they were captured and just before Chellan’s kerosene-soaked head was torched, there was a last second decision to hold off.  Instead, a gang of fifty Hindus beat the priest and nun.  “It was like a crucifixion parade,” Father Chellan later recalled.

Their tormentors stripped them of their clothing and began raping Sister Meena. Later they paraded their half-naked prisoners through the streets and Chellan was ordered to rape the nun:  “When I refused, they kept beating me and dragged us to the nearby government office. Sadly, a dozen policemen were watching all this quietly.”

Finally, a senior policeman took them to a police station 12 km away and their ordeal ended.  The next day they were released and flown to Mumbai for treatment.

Sister Meena, who recovered from her traumatic ordeal, refused to be silent.  She went public, held a press conference in front of 200 television cameras in New Delhi and demanded an investigation into her rape.  Sister described everything in gruesome details and how the police tried to dissuade her from lodging a criminal complaint after the mandatory medical test confirmed the rape.

“Maybe God wanted me to suffer with our people and become an instrument to speak up for the voiceless people of Kandhamal,” she told the media.  Sister Meena concluded by publicly thanking God “for choosing me to face this humiliation and giving me the opportunity to suffer for the people of Kandhamal.  I got a chance to undergo the experience of being crucified.”

The rock-like faith of Sister Meena and thousands of others inspired Anto Akkara to write his book.  He believes they deserve the title “Early Christians of the Twenty-first Century” because they held on to their faith “amid diabolic cruelty, rampant impunity, and state apathy.”

George J. Marlin, Chairman of the Board of Aid to the Church in Need USA, is an editor of The Quotable Fulton Sheen and the author of The American Catholic VoterHis most recent book is Narcissist Nation: Reflections of a Blue-State Conservative.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own. 

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Comments (11)Add Comment
written by Bedarz Iliaci, October 30, 2013
India is a vast and vastly troubled country and Kandhamal incident only one of those incidents that daily roil the country.
The word "daily" is significant here. Indian people of all creeds and communities daily experience horrific violence and injustice

Kandhamal is, in any case, a war zone where Maoist rebels daily battle it out with security forces. Christian missionaries may have taken or were forced to take positions in this war.

Thus, while this incident was evil, it no wise impugns on India's secular order. Most of the Indian Christians live in honor and freedom and have lived thus all their lives.
written by Jack,CT, October 30, 2013
Mr Marlin,
Thanks so much for brnging up the
horrors in India all around not just to us
Christians but to woman and children.
Many have no idea over 50% of ALL
children are abused horribly,over a third are
sexually abused usully by a family member.
Female cutting is still a norm and the practice
and procedure is just terrible with life long
problems such as urinary incont,etc.
The entire culture is infected with great poverty
full of orphans all over the country many living in
hiding from abusers or pimps that want to sell them to
a life of prostitution.
We need to pray for the country and all the people
of India.
There are wonderful charitys like "Harvest India".
There is also a wonderful documentary and site called
Mother India that shows the things I mentioned and much
more if you can believe it!

We are so blessed to have the birth rite of being lucky
to have been born in America not all have been so lucky!
written by Vernon Black, October 30, 2013
Now it's the Hindus. What is it about non-Christian religions that promotes such savagery?
written by Seanachie, October 30, 2013
God bless Indian Catholics and oppressed Catholics everywhere...may the predictions of the Beatitudes apply to them and theirs.
•Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Verse 3)
•Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land. (Verse 4)
•Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted. (Verse 5)
•Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill. (Verse 6)
•Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. (Verse 7)
•Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God. (Verse 8)
•Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. (Verse 9)
•Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Verse 10)

(Beatitudes copied from Catholic Encyclopedia)
written by Deacon Ed Peitler, October 30, 2013
More symbolic and meaningful than giving up the papal apartment, carrying his own suitcase and paying his hotel tab, the Holy Father ought to announce a pastoral visit to the 19.5 million Indian Catholics. He could use the occasion to beatify those thousands of martyrs for the faith. When the Holy Father does something like that, we will know he is following in the footsteps of the apostles - especially Peter. Quick, get the Vatican Secretary of State on the phone.
written by Jack,CT, October 30, 2013
@Sean..ty I pray as u do
for these tortured souls!
written by Bedarz Iliaci, October 30, 2013
Deacon Ed Peitler,
There are no thousands, even hundreds of martyrs, in India and particularly there were no Catholic martyrs in Kandhamal incident. The article failed to make it clear.

The thing that agitates people in India is why the missionaries, mostly foreign, concentrate their efforts in the tribal pockets, while leaving entirely untouched cities and villages of the non-tribal Hindu majority. This curious evangelicalism arouses a great deal of suspicion in India.

Comment by Jack CT on horrors in India are hysteric.
written by Carlos Caso-Rosendi, October 30, 2013
We must pray for those souls in darkness. How can India, the motherland of Tagore, tolerate this. What a crying shame indeed!

There is going to be Nuremberg for all of it but this time the Judge will be the Almighty Himself.
written by Sunil Korah, October 31, 2013
I am a Catholic, living in the state of Kerala in south India. This is a state with about 20percent Christian population of which about half are Catholics. Life here is nothing like what it is for the persecuted Christians in Odisha. In fact I would say Catholicism is flourishing here. We are very much part of the mainstream here and the influence Christians have in political, social and educational sectors is much more than just the numbers would predict. I am not in any way trying to play down what is happening in Odisha and other parts of North India, which is both horrible and deplorable. But I just want to say that what is happening there is not representative for the whole country. In fact I have lived in various parts of India for extended periods and I never faced any difficulty because of my religion and wherever I went I could find churches and never had to miss a Sunday Mass.
written by Deacon Ed Peitler, October 31, 2013
Bedarz, my only response is that you should address your question to the Holy Spirit as He is the One who directs the evangelization mission of the Church. Let's remember that 11 out of the 12 apostles were martyred for the faith because they were called to evangelize in environments hostile to the Gospel message.
written by Kerala catholic Christian, August 20, 2014
There is a lot of persecution of Christians in India including their murders and killings. Any Indian Christian that denies persecution is not a genuine Christian. Jesus said, real Christians will face persecution and hostility.As far as "ancient Christian communities" being there in Kerala, they were welcomed by Buddhists and not Hindus. later as Buddhism was destroyed, Hinduism regrew, the Hindu kings tolerated some of the ancient Christians in return for money that wealthy Christian merchants gave them as bribery. they also agreed not to evangelize, as a result breaking the commandment of Christ. If you find any Christian in India that

a) denies there is persecution
b) Claims he is a member of ancient St Thomas Christian community

Either he is not a Christian but a Hindu masquerading as a Christian or he is not a genuine Christian who preaches his faith and lives it and faces persecution because of it.

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