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Kandhmal: Peace process versus communal clash

ICC Note: This article is an analysis of the background causes of the Orissa violence from an Indian source that offers a suggestion for how to keep it from happening in the future.

CJ: Santosh Kumar Biswal
01/15/09 India (Merinews) – THE LONG-AWAITED speculation came to an end. And Orissa Christian leaders expressed relief after Christmas celebrations in the eastern Indian state took place peacefully. In a bid to avert any untoward incidents, both the state and the federal governments had made elaborate security arrangements in Orissa after Christian leaders sought security for their people, especially in Kandhmal district, most affected during seven weeks of anti-Christian violence this year. The district, which was under communal riot for days, has already limped back to normalcy and is readying for peace processing. Politicians, social workers and activists are all together to bring back peace in this tribal district of Orissa.

Who is to blame for continuous peace break in Kandhmal district of Orissa? Some point their fingers at Hindu extremists and others at Christian missionaries for caste conversions of gullible and illiterate tribal people in the remote localities of the district. Whatever is the cause, but the poor and innocent tribal people are the worst hit at the receiving end. And the woes of these hapless tribals go on without any flaws.

The reaction to Saraswati’s killing was bitter between the scheduled tribe (ST) Kandhas and the scheduled caste (SC) Panas of the district, many of whom have converted to another religion. There are allegations that Pana group has obtained false ST status. The conversions need to be viewed in perspective: in 1991, there were 4,69,509 Hindus and 75,597 Christians in the district. The numbers increased to 5,27,757 and 1,17,950, respectively, in 2001. Fortunately, the violence was localised unlike in Godhra and events after Indira Gandhi’s assassination.

The situation brewed several questions: why did so many conversions take place in Kandhmal? Why there is tension between Kandhas and Panas based on the latter’s allegedly false ST status? Why are Maoists present in Kandhmal and the adjacent Gajapati and Kalahandi-Balangir-Koraput (KBK) districts? Why did the violence not spread to the urban parts of Orissa? Why was the state government unable to stop the violence?

A common thread running through these questions is that Kandhmal is one of the most backward districts in India. It’s mostly hilly and forested comprising 51.51 per cent ST and 18.21 per cent SC population has very low connectivity to the rest of the state as well as the country. The district is a collection of 2,415 inhabited villages with only two small towns: Phulbani and G Udaygiri. These characteristics have attracted missionaries, something that in turn attracted Saraswati and his organisation. It is also ideal for the Maoists to hide, as well as recruit from. The deprivation of the population encourages conversions and accentuates the sensitivity to reservation status. The lack of connectivity and the hilly and forested topography made it easy for miscreants to block roads by felling trees, thus delaying outside help from reaching disturbed areas in time. The large number of villages made it impossible to have adequate forces watching over each village.

What is the solution? In the short term, the problem can be controlled by the use of force, diligent law and order enforcement and relief measures. That, however, cannot go on forever. Methods such as village-level peace committees and peace message conveyance through street plays will, of course, help. But sooner than later, the core issues of backwardness, lack of connectivity and the presence of Maoists have to be adequately addressed.

Non-government Organisations are heading towards to bring about changes in remote areas of Kandhmal areas. They are trying to provide basic amenities, which are dire need of food, medicine and cloth. “We are making all efforts to our level best to dole out all essentials things to riot-hit people of Kandhmal district. We are not promoting religion, rather we are assisting them as per ethics of humanity,” Sambit Mishra, media and communication coordinator of one NGO working in the district told.

There is a queue of political leaders to the Kandhmal district as the election for assembly is nearing. Congress, BJP, BJD, CPI (M) and CPI have demonstrated peace march separately here to attract the inhabitants of this tribal area. However, it may be noted that the BJD-BJP government in the State is yet to convene an all-party meeting to initiate peace process in Kandhmal. To initiate the process of unity of non-BJP parties over the matter of communal harmony, the CPI (M) and the CPI had mooted the idea of joint peace marches at a meeting held in Bhubaneswar.

The Kandhmal district administration closed down the relief camp at Phulbani even as chief minister Naveen Patnaik maintained that the government would review the situation before withdrawal of paramilitary forces from the riot-torn district. Christian community has demanded the CRPF deployment till general elections in the state.

Leaders of the Christian community had demanded that the CRPF be deployed till the end of general elections in the state. Naveen government has urged the Union Home minister to extend CRPF deployment in the district till January-end.
Other Articles by Santosh Kumar Biswal

The period of Central force deployment to be expired on December 31, has been a headache for both administration and intelligentsia.

It’ time to support riot-victim people and rebuild Kandhmal district on the lines of peace and communal harmony and initiatives are being sought from diverse quarters of life irrespective of caste, creed and all. The mud- slinging attitudes of ill-minded people should be kept under scanner and culprits found in this connection must be prosecuted without any delay. The clarion call of the hour is to pave the way for communal harmony which can be possible by fostering peace and love in the hearts of these people… [Go To Full Story]