Real Life in India
Out-Castes for Christ[i]
Ten-year-old Namrata knows she’s running for her life. The Hindus have already begun attacking homes in the village. They’re literally out for blood—Christian blood.
Namrata scrambles and stumbles to keep up with her two sisters. Her eighteen-year-old sister, Trusita, is leading them through the night to the home where she works as a maid when she isn’t in school. Maybe they’ll be safe with the Das family—also a Christian household, but better off and less likely to be attacked than Namrata’s family, a family of agricultural day laborers. A family of Dalits.
Dalits. The lowest of India’s supposedly outlawed caste system. Dalits like Namrata are still treated as they’re often called: “untouchable.”
The Christians in Namrata’s village have heard rumors of a wave of violence overtaking Orissa state in recent days. Three days prior, a well-known Hindu leader was assassinated. A Marxist group has taken responsibility for the killing, but this inconvenient fact isn’t preventing Hindus from stirring up Orissa’s Hindu majority, convincing them that Christians were behind the assassination and are trying to take over the country.
In a sense, the Hindus’ fears aren’t totally unfounded. Faith in Jesus Christ has been gaining a strong foothold in Orissa, India’s poorest state. Orissa once reported only 2 percent Christian population. But since people have started coming to Christ by the thousands—especially among the Dalits and minority tribal peoples—even the Hindu nationalists have acknowledged that Orissa’s Christian population has reached more than one in four. They’re fearful of what would happen to India’s Hindu purity and domination if Christians belonging to the lower castes were ever to exercise their full voting power. Intimidation and physical assaults are the Hindus’ only hope for forcing these masses to return to Hinduism.
So when Namrata’s parents received warning earlier this evening that the Hindus had begun attacking Christians and burning homes here in their village, they were ready to take action. After sending their children off to the Das household, they fled to the nearby forest to join other Christians to wait out the attack.
The three girls arrive at the Das home safely and are welcomed by the family. But soon their fears come true; they hear angry shouts approaching, then pounding on the door. Even this home won’t escape the murdering marauders. The host family, along with Namrata and her sisters, hurry to hide in a small bathroom. The pounding on the door becomes more insistent, until they hear the door broken in and angry men entering, violating the sanctity of the home. Loud profanities. Smashing furniture, shattering crockery. Every crash, every shout makes Namrata jump. Each time a new wave of cold washes over her from head to toe. Make it stop! she wants to scream.
Then . . . smoke! The house is being set on fire!
Namrata wants to run. It’s so hard to hold still. But she knows escape is not yet possible. If anyone gives away their hiding place . . .
She has heard the stories, and throughout each long, terrifying minute her racing mind with its vivid imagination can’t help replaying each horror in graphic detail. Stories of rape, torture, brutal murder. Stories of people doused with kerosene and burned alive.
The smoke seeping into the bathroom adds to her growing dread. Unthinkably horrific, to burn alive. Will it happen to her tonight? What else might the maddened invaders do to her if they find her?
In the darkness Namrata and her sisters cling to one another.
And Namrata clings to Jesus. Only He can bring them through this safely.
Dear Jesus, she prays, please don’t let the men find us. Please protect us from the fire. She trembles in terror.
The noises gradually give way to silence. The cowering believers wait to be sure the attackers have actually gone. Slowly they open the bathroom door. Smoke billows in; they hear the crackling of flames, but no evidence of the attackers.
They stealthily emerge to a scene of roiling devastation. Flames lap and flicker here and there. Across the floors are strewn all the household’s possessions, mostly in unrecoverable pieces.
They venture to the broken front door and open it a smallest fraction. In the distance they hear angry shouts, frightened screams, crashes and crackling flames. But the attackers have moved on; they’re unlikely to come back.
While the others timidly make their way outside, ever watchful for danger, Namrata finds herself strangely fascinated by the ruin that surrounds her. She surveys the scene. Every dish lies in broken bits. Here a smoldering bed, there a pile of burning books. She walks past a dresser that is surprisingly intact.
Deafening blast! Instant inferno. Her body is thrust across the room, crashing against the opposite wall. All goes dark . . .
* * *
Namrata comes back to consciousness days later in a hospital eighty miles from her home. Her whole body hurts—especially her face. And what is all this white goo on her face? She touches it and starts to smile. But it hurts to smile. Why?
Her mother—overjoyed to see her daughter awake—explains. The attackers, before they left the house, planted a bomb in the dresser. It detonated just as Namrata was standing next to it. The explosion severely burned her face and left shrapnel wounds on her face, hands and back—over 40 percent of her body.
The day after the attack, her parents returned from the forest. When they first saw the Das home in charred ruins, they feared all had died in the flames. What joy to find that all were alive! Only to turn back to anxiety when they discovered the still-unconscious Namrata. They anxiously tended her on the long journey down from the mountains to the hospital at the coastal city of Brahmapur.
Namrata doesn’t leave the hospital until mid-October, a month and a half later. Her recovery is long and her face will be disfigured the rest of her life. What thoughts and emotions does she grapple with during the long months of her healing? Trauma and fear. Embarrassment and shame at the permanent marring of her once-pretty face. Anxiety about her health and her future.
And anger. Who wouldn’t wrestle with anger—even hatred—toward those who attempted to kill her entire family, who took away everything they owned, who damaged her body so horribly, whose continued threats still prevent them from returning to live among their friends and family?
The humble Dalit family spends a short time in an Orissa refugee camp before being relocated with the help of a Christian relief organization to the huge city of Bangalore, eight hundred miles away from their mountain village. Will they ever return? Or are they destined to live as wanderers, robbed of stability and security?
Perhaps Namrata strives mightily with these and other questions and emotions—a battle no ten-year-old should have to face. But in the end she rises the victor, for the autumn months prove to be a period of both physical and emotional healing. By the time she speaks with a news agency in December, she has achieved a settled peace that few mature adults reach, even after several decades of life experience.
Heed the words of a child: “We forgive the Hindu radicals who attacked us, who burned our homes.” Namrata’s attitude is nothing short of a miraculous demonstration of the Lord’s Holy Spirit living inside her. She’s grateful to be alive, trusting herself to the Lord’s care. Her deepest desire is that her attackers might discover the amazing love of Jesus, come to salvation and spend eternity worshipping in heaven beside her.
Namrata loves Jesus. And Namrata loves her enemies. If she could, she would take them by the hand and lead them to Him.
In more than a dozen of India’s twenty-eight states, violent persecution of Christians has been on the rise over the last many years. Christians by the hundreds are being murdered for their love of Jesus. Thousands more are beaten, tortured, raped and falsely arrested. Thousands of homes and churches have been burned.
The perpetrators are almost always Hindus. The police usually turn a blind eye to these activities, and sometimes it’s even the “law enforcement” authorities themselves who step in as the brutal aggressors.
More than fifty thousand Orissa Christians fled their homes during the months of death and fear in which Namrata was caught up. Many lived for years in the forest or under tarps in refugee camps. Several years after the violence, many thousands remain homeless.
Those are large, impressive numbers. Now look past the numbers to the mass of personal pain and loss they represent. The cumulative grief, the collective sorrow. The terror and agony of those attacked, the suffering of those bereaved. The persistent confusion and uncertainty for those who have lost everything. The years of toil to regain some semblance of a normal life.
Meanwhile, Indian Christians like Namrata wish nothing but good toward their nation and their persecutors.
Namrata’s face and body will never be the same. But while the outer Namrata might be wasting away, the inner Namrata is glowing brighter and brighter day by day.
“They were out of their minds,” she explains, believing the best about her attackers. “They do not know the love of Jesus. For this reason, I now want to study so that when I am older I can tell everyone how much Jesus loves us.” You see, Namrata has a plan for her life—a plan she believes comes from her Lord: She wants to spend the rest of her days sharing God’s message. “This is my future.”
Jesus is her inspiration. Pain is her strength. Love is her theme.
The future won’t be easy for Namrata or her family. The lowly Dalit family possesses virtually nothing in material terms. But they all maintain joyous hope because of the eternal spiritual wealth they possess in Jesus Christ—a wealth they gladly share.
“The world has seen my face destroyed by the fire,” Namrata says, referring to the picture of her scarred visage that has been posted across the Internet. “Now it must come to know my smile full of love and peace.”
Beauty. Submission. Obedience. Forgiveness. Relentless love. These are the qualities that grow and blossom within a girl with the maturity to match her appearance—that of a wizened older woman. It’s fitting that Namrata’s family name, “Nayak,” means “hero.” Let us allow Namrata’s example to inspire us to follow in her tiny bare footsteps.[ii]
[i] Some aspects of Namrata’s perceptions of events are fictionalized, but she and the events portrayed are completely real.
[ii] Sources: Nirmala Carvalho, “Orissa: Christmas of Namrata, the Little Dalit Disfigured by a Bomb,” AsiaNews.it, December 15, 2008, asianews.it/index.php?l=en&art=14009&size=A; Teresa Neumann, “Christian Girl, Disfigured by Bomb, Forgives Terrorists,” Breaking Christian News, December 20, 2008, breakingchristiannews.com/articles/display_art.html?ID=6162; “Será Possível Esquecer?” Voz da Verdade (Voice of Truth), November 4, 2012, vozdaverdade.org/site/index.php?id=2918&cont_=ver2; Elizabeth Scalia, “‘They Do Not Love Jesus,’” Patheos: Catholic Channel: The Anchoress, December 18, 2008, patheos.com/blogs/theanchoress/2008/12/18/they-do-not-love-jesus.