Despite the passing of 7 years, many of the victims of the 2008 anti-Christian riots that swept across India’s Odisha state continue to face injustice at the hands of the criminal justice system. For most, no justice of any kind has been metered out by the frustratingly slow and biased court system. Many individuals accused of serious crimes like rape and murder remain free while many of the Christian victims of the violence remain displaced. Will true justice ever be given to these persecuted Christians?
9/11/2015 India (UCANews) – She is bubbly, shy and has sparkling eyes. Her thin frame and charming smile give an indication of a carefree girl in her late twenties. But she is scarred for life.
Sapna* is a victim of a horrific sexual attack. She was gang raped during anti-Christian violence in 2008 in Kandhamal district of the eastern Indian state of Odisha, formerly known as Orissa.
The violence was triggered by the killing of a Hindu spiritual leader, Laxmananda Saraswati, and four associates on Aug. 23 of that year.
Though Maoists claimed responsibility for the killings, Hindu hard-liners blamed Christians and unleashed a wave of deadly violence against the community.
Sapna was targeted despite being a Hindu because she has relatives who are Christians.
“My maternal grandparents are Christian and I paid the price for that,” Sapna told ucanews.com.
She said she initially wanted to die following the rape but now “I want justice for myself and see those who did it behind bars.”
However, seven years later, nobody has been convicted in connection with the gang rape although the case is still pending in the Orissa High Court.
A girl of small dreams, Sapna knows her community now sees her as spoiled goods because of the attack. She believes she will likely never marry.
“I want to get married and have a family but no man will take me as his wife,” she said. “I am being punished for something that’s not my fault.”
The 2008 violence, spread across 600 villages, simmered for four months and claimed more than 90 lives.
Some 350 churches and 6,500 homes were looted and burned, forcing 56,000 people to flee.
According to activists supporting the Kandhamal victims, some 10,000 people have not been able to return home for fear of persecution. Some are in slums in the state’s major cities, while others have migrated to other states.
Out of the 827 cases registered in connection with the violence, 273 have reached court, while only 492 of the 4,000 accused have so far been convicted.
Seeking justice and frustrated by the slow pace of the Indian judicial system, some of the Christian survivors held a press conference in New Delhi on Sept. 8 to highlight their plight and their fear of persecution.
A day earlier, the survivors, who call themselves the Kandhamal Committee for Peace and Justice, met Indian President Pranab Mukherjee to seek his help.
“He assured us he would look into the matter and promised to raise it with the Indian government,” Father Dibakar Parichcha, legal counsel for most of the survivors, told ucanews.com.
The state’s criminal justice system has failed survivors of the riots, he said.
The victims want authorities to reopen cases that have been arbitrarily dismissed, and to find out why many complaints made to the police around the time of the violence were not pursued, he added.
Brinda Karat, a former member of India’s upper house in parliament, voiced her support for the victims.
She said the judicial system had failed the Kandhamal Christians on two fronts, pointing to the swift arrest and convictions of innocent men for the killing that triggered the violence and the slow pace of justice for the subsequent victims.
Not only had they not received justice for violence meted out to them she said, it was “unfortunate to see seven innocent poor Christians being convicted for the killing of the Hindu spiritual leader Laxmananda Saraswati.”
She said it speaks volumes of the criminal justice system in the state when these men are behind bars despite Maoists openly claiming responsibility for the killing.