To remember violence against Dalits & Christian Adivasis, NSF to commemorate Kandhamal Day on August 25

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The National Solidarity Forum (NSF) on August 25 will remember the victims of targeted violence against Christian Adivasis and Dalits that occurred in Odisha in August & September 2008. The day is remembered to express solidarity with all victims of hate and violence in India. The NSF has also announced Kandhamal Human Rights awards for activists and groups working for human rights in the region. 

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The National Solidarity Forum (NSF) has instituted two annual awards in honour of the victims and survivors of the mass violence against Adivasi and Dalit Christians of Kandhamal and several other districts in Odisha, and some states including Karnataka, who were killed in August-September 2008. The award, given to an individual, carries a cash component and a plaque. The award for non-governmental organisations and groups recognises long and sustained work on issues of human rights and civil liberties, development, harmony and peacebuilding, NSF convenor Dr Ram Puniyani said.

“The awardees will be announced soon,” he said.

The National Solidarity Forum was constituted by over 70 organisations and groups which came together in the wake of the violence of 2008 and worked on various issues relating to trauma, counselling, rehabilitation and advocacy for justice.

NSF commemorates Kandhamal Day on August 25 every year with mass meetings in Kandhamal, Bhubaneswar, New Delhi and other places.

In 2020, the meeting was held in virtual mode due to the Covid-19 pandemic, featuring human rights activists and noted civil society personalities discussing the challenges faced by marginalized communities with particular emphasis on the right to life, livelihood and freedom of religion and belief.

The commemoration of Kandhamal Day and the Awards function will be held in virtual mode this year.

Former Chairman of the National Law Commission and Chief Justice of Delhi High Court, Justice AP Shah, former Chief Election Commissioner SY Qureshi, and the noted film and literature personality, Javed Akhtar, will be the chief guests and lead speakers. Bhasha Singh, Dr Ruth Manorama, Dr Aruna Gnanadason, Dayamani Barla, Henri Tiphagne, and Dr John Dayal will be part of the National Webinar. The theme for the year 2021 is “In Defence of Human Rights and Democratic Freedoms.”

In a statement, NSF said, “The malevolent violence in the Kandhamal and adjoining districts of Odisha in 2007 and 2008 stands out for its organised attack on an entire population of Dalits, Adivasis Christians, women and children among them, whose life, liberty and human dignity were violated with impunity.”

In the violence, over 100 Christians were killed, several of them from the Clergy, and over 75,000 displaced. More than 5,600 homes were destroyed, apart from 360 Churches and other places of worship, and public institutions including schools, social services and health institutions which were looted and destroyed. “More than 40 women were raped, molested and humiliated. Several cases of forced conversion to Hinduism were reported. The education of 12000 children was disrupted. Many continue to suffer psychologically from the trauma of the violence they suffered,” NSF said.

A study conducted by Supreme Court Advocate Vrinda Grover and Law Professor Dr Saumya Uma, found the conviction rate to be as low as 5.13 % of the cases brought to court. It was a mere 1% of the reports made to the police by the victims and survivors.

The struggle for relief, rehabilitation and justice continues in courts and government forums, NSF said, adding, “Kandhamal violence is a unique case of multiple violations of basic human rights and dignity of the most vulnerable groups. Justice is yet to be done and rights to be restored.”