India: Memory of Kandhamal, Orissa

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August 24, 2009


Divine Love and Human Repentance

It might be considered natural for mothers in Kandhamal, Orissa to
teach their children hate and revenge! For it was the evil in people
that led to the barbaric killing on 23rd August 2008, of Lakhmanananda
Saraswati, the vice-president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. It was
followed by almost 5,000 houses being torched which rendered over
50,000 people homeless, about 1,200 people continue to live in relief
camps even a year after the massacre. How many children will grow up
listening to stories and grow up with revenge and hatred not only
inscribed in their names but woven into the very fabric of their

However, for reconciliation to take place the inscription of hatred
must be carefully erased and the threads of violence gently removed.
This is one important lesson of Jesus' proclamation of the reign of
God. Christian struggle against the oppression in Kandhamal must be
guided by a vision of reconciliation between the oppressed and the
oppressors, otherwise it will end in "injustice-with-role-reversal."

To be a leader you need social power, to have social power you need a
following, and to have a following you must take on the cause of the
oppressed. While Jesus had no ambition to political leadership he
undoubtedly kindled hope in the hearts of the oppressed and demanded
radical change of the oppressors, as any social reforms would. But
Jesus built into the very core of his message, God's unconditional
love and people's need for repentance. From the perspective of
contemporary discourses on Orissa killings of innocent these two
things together-divine love and human repentance addressed to the
victims represent the most surprising and, as political statements,
the most outrageous and at the same time most hopeful aspects of
Jesus' message.

Victims need to repent of the fact that all too often they mimic the
behaviour of the oppressors, letting themselves be shaped in the
mirror image of the enemy. They need to repent also of the desire to
excuse their own reactive behaviour either by claiming that they are
not responsible for it or that such reactions are a necessary
condition of liberation. Without repentance for their sins, the full
dignity will not be restored and needed social change will not take
place. If victims do not repent today they can become perpetrators
tomorrow who, in their self-deceit, will seek to pardon their misdeeds
on account of their own victimization?

At the same time the dominant values and practices must be broken also
in the hearts of the privileged, they certainly need to repent. This
is like stating the obvious, however it must be asserted, for the
privileged used the ideological machinery to script narratives that
shift blame away from themselves.

The message of Jesus insists that repentance is not only necessary for
the oppressor, but that for them it means more than just purifying
desire and mending ways, more even than making restitution to those
they have wronged. A genuine repentance of the oppressor will lead to
restitution which seeks to offset the injustice of the original

Genuine repentance may be one of the most difficult acts for a person,
let alone a community, to perform. For good reasons, Christian faith
thinks of genuine repentance not as a human possibility but as a gift
of God.

However, this does not absolve the State of its responsibility to
protect its citizens. The Government authorities have a divine
responsibility to prevent evil and to do justice. The government both
at the Centre and the State have to ensure that the systems are in
place to provide justice to the victims to ensure lasting peace in the

Rev. Dr. Richard Howell
General Secretary
Evangelical Fellowship of India
New Delhi, India

Evangelical Fellowship of India (established 1951) is a charter member
of World Evangelical Alliance, an accredited NGO with the Economic and
Social Council of the United Nations