Kandhmal Carnage: Aftermath
By Ram PuniyaniJuly-Sept.2013
This August 25, 2013, it will be five years, since the biggest anti-Christian violence, biggest communal violence in the Adivisi [natives] area, will complete five years. What has been the plight of the victims of the violence after this ghastly tragedy? What is the state of justice to the victims?
Kandhamal violence began in 2008, after the trailer of the same was seen a year earlier in 2007. The pretext was the murder of Swami Laxmananand, Lakkhanand, who was working in the area for the last four decades. He was part of the RSS combine, VHP-Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram and was involved in the programs like Ghar Vapasi, a forcible conversion of Adivasis to Hinduism. RSS combine asserts that Adivasis were originally Hindus who fled to forests to avoid being converted to Islam in particular. This is a political construct and has nothing to do with the social history. [Adivas natives or tribals are animists not Hindus] The credit of the murder of Swami was owned by the Maoists, who said that this act was done to stop his activities related to spreading hatred in the area. Immediately after the murder, Pravin Togadia of VHP took out a procession with the body of Swami through a long circuitous route spanning 270 km. It was on this route that anti-Christian violence and
destruction of Churches and damage to property of Christian community took place. It is reminiscent of the Gujarat pattern, where the bodies of Godhra tragedy were taken in a procession to Ahmadabad by the functionaries of VHP-BJP., and the violence followed.
The victims of Kandhmal were poor Christians, most of who were dalits and living below the poverty line. Nearly three hundred Churches were destroyed and four hundred Christians were done to death. During this time, thousands had to leave the area and were forced to live in the poorly equipped refugee settlements. This violence was targeted against the minority Christian community. This violated the fundamental right to life, liberty and equality guaranteed by the Indian Constitution which was affirmed by many international covenants. The pattern of violence shows that the attacks were targeted widespread in the district of Kandhmal. Their execution was done with meticulous planning and preparation. The violence was preceded by various activities and the planning meetings were held by the perpetrators prior to the violence. Apart from this meticulous planning the financial and other forms of assistance were secured months prior to the violence. The violence meets the criteria of ‘Crimes against Humanity’ as defined in international law. The blatant brutality of the violence makes it fall within the definition of ‘torture’ under international laws.
The winter following the carnage was very intense and the facilities to combat the nature’s fury were far from adequate. The relief came much later but not adequately from the government sources. The Church tried to step in as a stop gap measure but the government blocked this humanitarian relief. On the intervention of the court,
government was forced to permit the Church to offer the aid to the victims. This also partly reminds us of Gujarat. Here too, the State washed its hands off soon enough and when the religious organizations tried to fill the gap!
The state of justice delivery system as such is abysmal. The communalised state apparatus blocks the justice at various levels. The story of this obstacle begins from the registration of cases, then to investigation and then to the court procedures, the role of public prosecutors and the willpower of the State. The whole chain shows that justice is hard to get by especially the way our democracy is being eroded by the communal ideology under various garbs. At this stage the National Human Rights Commission, Human Rights Law Network came forward and brought out good reports showing us the mirror of the prevalent injustice in Kandhmal. A People’s Tribunal was also set up under the Chairmanship of retired Justice AP Shah. Most of these reports indicted the communal forces for their aggressive stance and held the State Government responsible for various acts of omission and commission. Unlike in Gujarat, the BJP, which was part of ruling coalition, was dumped by Biju Janata Dal after which Naveen Patnaik, the Chief Minister could frankly speak about the role of BJP and company in their involvement in instigating the violence against Christians. The role of Hindutva organisations in the carnage was officially acknowledged by the Chief Minister. In response to a question posed in the Legislative Assembly, the chief minister of Orissa, Naveen Patnaik, admitted, on the basis of the State’s investigation, “members of the RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal” were involved in the violence. As per the Chief Minister, police arrested 85 people from the RSS, 321 members of the VHP and 118 Bajrang Dal members in the attacks. He said that only 27 members from these groups were still in jail.
Even till date the work of rehabilitation and justice to the victims is far from adequate. Nationally there are so many pressing issues of violations of the rights of minorities that Kandhmal issue has not been so much brought into focus by the human rights groups, which is a bit unfortunate. Despite other pressing demands on the time of
social groups, one must appreciate the dogged and determined work of some of the activists who are pursuing the struggle for dignity and rights of the victims of Kandhmal violence.
John Dayal, President of All India Catholic Union and member of National Integration Council points out, “The Chief Minister Patnaik appointed two judicial commissions…the commonality between the judges of these commissions is the haste in which they have expressed their high regard for the late VHP leader, Swami Laxmananand and their belief that the violence is not religiously motivated but a conflict over land issues between the Tribal Kondhs, mostly Hindu, and the Dalit Panos, many of whom have converted to Christianity, and who are demanding Scheduled Caste status.” Like most of the commissions of inquiry these commissions are also working at a snail’s pace to prove once more that a delayed report usually becomes useless as for as delivery of justice is concerned. The Christian community was so disgusted with the attitude of the commissions that initially they boycotted them but later seeing no other platform to express their pain and anguish have decided to be part of the same.
Today, five years down the line, the process of rehabilitation is far from satisfactory, a small number is yet to get the compensation. The compensation received is too inadequate to rebuild the life afresh. As far as justice is concerned while the inquiry commission reports are too slow, the fast track courts which were set up have been suspended. The proceedings of the cases is going on in an atmosphere where the guilty are openly threatening the witnesses, and many of them are reluctant to give evidence out of fear of the accused, who are on bail despite several serious charges against them. Quite like Gujarat, where many a witness turned hostile! In this scenario the State is backing off from rebuilding the Churches destroyed during the carnage. The plea being offered is how a secular State can spend money on places of religious worship. Again quite like Gujarat! When state is unable to protect a place of worship, why should it not come forward to re-build it?
Kandhmal is yet another reflection of the impact of communal forces within our system, the difficulty in rehabilitation for them and the lack of adequate justice for riot victims. This is what is the major phenomenon eroding our democratic plural ethos. More and urgent efforts need to be put in for these hapless victims of the carnage.
[Ram Puniyani, is a Writer activist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org]
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