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Widows Of Orissa Violence Brought Across Country For Christmas Celebration

12/11/08 BANGALORE, India (UCAN) – A Christian group here organized an advance Christmas celebration for some women widowed during anti-Christian violence in the eastern Indian state of Orissa.

Asmitha Digal is among 24 widows who lost husbands in the anti-Christian Orissa violence in India, taking part in Christmas celebration in Bangalore on Dec. 8.

“We have lost our husbands to a hate campaign, yet we believe that only love and forgiveness can bring peace in society,” asserted Kadamphul Nayak, widow of Pastor Samuel Nayak.

She was among 24 widows and two children who traveled 1,400 kilometers from Orissa to the southern Indian city of Bangalore to attend the Dec. 8 celebration. The ecumenical Global Council of Indian Christians, which is based in the city and organized the event, is involved in rehabilitation work for the Orissa victims.

About 150 people from various Churches joined the celebrations held at Protestant-run United Theological College in Bangalore, 2,060 kilometers south of New Delhi. They sang together hymns of praise and joy.

The Churches and their institutions gave the guests pots and other household items, clothes and sweets. They also shared a Christmas cake, and sang Christmas carols. Some of the Orissa visitors performed a tribal dance depicting the birth of Jesus.

Retired Methodist Bishop Sampath Kumar told UCA News the faith of the simple women amazed him and made the event the most meaningful celebration in his life. “We celebrate Christmas in our fullness, but they celebrated it in an utter hopeless situation,” he remarked.

The widows and their children are among 50,000 people displaced in seven weeks of anti-Christian violence that began on Aug. 24. Hindu fanatics who unleashed the violence killed at least 60 people, most of them Christians.

Thousands of displaced people continue to live in government relief camps. The visitors, who came from some of these camps, said they are not sure if they would be able to celebrate Christmas in Orissa this year, because some Hindu groups have already threatened to disrupt such celebrations.

ia_bangalore.gifGlobal Council president Sajan K. George told UCA News he organized the program “to show to the world that love and forgiveness is the way to peace, not hatred and violence.” He saw the celebration as an example of forgiveness.

“Here people who have lost everything were giving the real message of Christmas, of peace and forgiveness.” he said. “Who else other than these heroic widows, who have lost their spouses as martyrs, can give this powerful message?”

Nayak told UCA News her husband was tortured and killed in front of her. Attackers torched their house and family members tried to flee, but her husband, the pastor, was caught and killed, she said amid sobs.

Asmita Digal, 25, narrated how her husband also was killed for preaching the Gospel. The attackers entered her house and poured kerosene on her mother-in-law before setting the place on fire. They offered to spare her husband if he converted to Hinduism, but he refused and faced death, she said, even though the Hindu zealots tortured him continuously. “Later they dug a pit and buried him alive.”

The widows underwent a free medical checkup offered by a Methodist hospital in Bangalore. They returned to Orissa on Dec. 9 after visiting a few places in the city.

Baptist Pastor Kavita Kumari Nayak, who led the group, told UCA News the situation in Orissa remains tense and Christians cannot return to their homes, particularly in Kandhamal district, where the violence was most acute.

“We have to continue to live in relief camps, eat meager food and live in fear. Maybe that is one way of witnessing to the Christian faith,” said the unmarried woman pastor.