Kandhmal Carnage: Aftermath




Ram Puniyani,

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.

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 Kandhamal violence.

John Dayal, President of All India Catholic Union and member of National Integration Council points out that “The Chief Minister Pattnaik 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 commission 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 witnesses turned hostile! In this scenario the state is backing off from rebuilding the Churches destroyed during carnage. The plea being offered is how a secular state can spend money on the 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 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 was a professor in biomedical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and took voluntary retirement in December 2004 to work full time for communal harmony in India. He is involved with human rights activities from last two decades.He is associated with various secular and democratic initiatives like All India Secular Forum, Center for Study of Society and Secularism.)