August 25, 2013 will mark 5 years since mobs of Hindu extremists attacked Christians living in Orissa, India for three months straight. The past 5 years has not seen much improvement for the Christians affected by the violence. On a recent trip to India, ICC was able to survey the Christian community of Orissa and Kandhamal and document their continued suffering. Many have not received assistance from the government and continue to be excluded and harassed by local Hindu radicals. Many have received no justice for their homes that were destroyed and the family members they lost in the violence.
8/16/2013 India (Two Circles) – This August 25, 2013, it will be five years, since the biggest anti Christian, violence, biggest communal violence in the Adivisi 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 victim?
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 from last four decades. He was part of the RSS combine, VHP-Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram and was involved in the programs like Ghar Vapasi, the forcible conversion of Adivasis to Hinduism. RSS combine asserts that Adivasis are originally Hindus who had to flee to forests to avoid being converted to Islam in particular. This is a political construct and has nothing to do with the social history. The credit of his murder of Swami was taken 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 the procession with the body of Swami through a long circuitous route spanning 270 Kilometers. It was on this route that anti Christian violence and destruction of Churches and damage to the 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. With this thousands of them had to leave the areas and were forced to live in the poorly equipped refugee settlements. This violence was targeted against the minority Christian community, it violated the fundamental right to life, liberty and equality guaranteed by the Indian Constitution, and affirmed by many international covenants. The pattern of violence shows that the attacks were targeted, widespread, in the district of Kandhamal. 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. Church tried to step in as a stop gap measure. But initially the Government blocked this humanitarian relief on the ground that it will be given only to the Christians. On the intervention of the Court, Government was forced to permit the Church to offer the aid to all the victims. This also partly reminds one of Gujarat. Here also the state washed its hands soon enough and then the religious organizations tried to fill the gap!
The state of justice delivery system as such is abysmal. The communalized 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 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 Kandhamal. 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 Biju Pattnaik, 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 organizations 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 state’s investigation that “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.