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Orissa: Hate Speech Targets Christians

04/13/09 India (Evangelical Fellowship of India) – Evangelical Fellowship of India condemns the use of hate speeches to fan communal feelings in the Kandhamal district of Orissa by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidates.

Ashok Sahu, the BJP’s candidate for the Kandhamal Lok Sabha seat, according to media reports, made certain objectionable comments that can spread communal hatred during an election speech. A compliant was lodged against him on the directions of the Election Commission of India after examining the video recording of Sahu’s speech. The sections, under which Sahu has been charged, deal with spreading enmity and hatred among religious groups. Earlier, Sahu had reportedly justified the anti-Christian violence and blamed Christians for Saraswati’s murder – despite the fact that Maoists had claimed responsibility for it.

The BJP has also fielded Manoj Pradhan, a local party leader who is in jail facing charges of murder, arson and rioting during the violence, in the G Udayagiri assembly seat in Kandhamal.

With election due on April 16 and 23, in Orissa – for 21 parliamentary seats and 147 state assembly seats, this attempt to further polarize the voters is deeply disturbing. After the ruling Biju Janata Dal party broke up its 11-year marriage with the Hindu nationalist (BJP) over its role in the August-September 2008 violence in Kandhamal district, the BJP has made the killing of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati – which was used as the pretext of the violence – its main poll plank.

Elections are taking place at a time when 3,187 people are still in relief camps, and hundreds are believed to have fled the district. The district administration reportedly sent the people in relief camps back to the villages, sometimes forcibly, with dry ration which may last for a few days. The victims who returned have faced social boycott and threats to their lives and property. Many others fled the district in search of security. Though over 2,500 criminal complaints have been filed in connection with the August-September 2008 violence, approximately 750 have been converted into formal complaints (First Information Reports). The main accused in many cases continue to roam free. Media reports suggest that some of the accused are even contesting elections as candidates of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hoping to convert the deeply polarised masses into vote banks.

Across Kandhamal, approximately 5,031 Christian homes, 150 churches, mostly in villages, and 90 institutions were destroyed, vandalized and torched. Homes and institutions were robbed; cash, jewellery, machinery and other valuables were looted. The human toll is reported at 75 – though many believe the actual toll is much higher.

Evangelical Fellowship of India calls upon civil society to:

1. Demand the state and Central governments to restore the rule of law to dispense justice and ensure peace in Kandhamal by taking action against those who incited violence against the tribals, Dalits and minorities.

2. Support the victims of the violence in their struggle for justice and peace and promote an environment of dignity and freedom to choose their faith and occupation.

3. Pray for peaceful elections and that the people in Kandhamal will be able to exercise their franchise fearlessly and will resist attempts of political parties/candidates to create vote banks by fanning communal feelings