Kandhamal After 6 Years: Waiting For Justice And Peace!
By Ajay Kumar Singh
29 August, 2014
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly” - Martin Luther King Jr.
Nine Kandhamal communal violence affected minor girls rescued by Catholic Nuns from closed doors Mumbai Fish processing firm, where they were not allowed to come out of the company as their agent has taken their salary and escaped as reported in media on 29th of July 14. This is not solitary news. Another national daily, Times of India on 2nd of August 14 reported that 16 girls of which 8 are below 14 years rescued from the railway station while they were allegedly being trafficked. Just this week, on the eve of Independence Day of the country i.e. 14th of August 14, Odisha Sun Times reported about 11 women workers while on being illegally trafficked to another state. These are not isolated cases of within this month; but news of how girls have been rescued as far as from brothels in New Delhi and buyers in Uttar Pradesh, a trend that was unheard of pre-communal violence of December 2007 and August 2008 that hit Odisha especially of the hill district Kandhamal district.
The anti-Christian violences that took lives a total of 39 persons, including 2 police personnel and 3 rioters while the Human Rights groups estimate to over 100 persons killed, including disabled and elderly persons, children, men and women. The communal frenzy engulfed more than 600 villages at least 6500 houses were looted and burnt with 54000 were made homeless; 315 churches and worship places razed and gutted in fire; 35 schools, philanthropic institutions including leprosy homes, tuberculosis sanatoriums; and a dozen of non-profit organisations were looted, damaged and burnt down. It was estimated that more than 10,000 children dropped out of schools due to displacement and security while thousands were pushed to unhygienic relief camps for nearly three years.
Kandhamal: a snapshot before harmonious co-existence ruptured
Kandhamal, a hilly with 71% forest coverage is one of the poor districts of Odisha. Orissa Human Development Report 2004, United Nations, Government of India and Odisha Government puts 92% of adivasis (Scheduled Tribes) and 87% of dalits (Scheduled Castes) with sharing the population of composition of 52% and 18% of populations while dalit Christians as minority community add up 10%; the lower class in India as below poverty line with dismal human development indicators.
Christians constituted nearly 20% of the district population and have had harmonious and fraternity existence as they share the same socio-cultural and economic heritage until 1970s.
Anti Christian violence did begin with isolated incidents like the attack on the villagers of Kattingia in 1986 in Kandhamal, a series of burning of 19 churches in 1986-87 in Kandhamal, the Catholic Health Centre of India near Latur (1996), burning of Bibles and attacks on the Christian congregations. But most shocking was the burning alive of Pastor Graham Steward Stains (1999, January) along with his two sons, Philip and Timothy, aged 9 and 7 years, who were sleeping in a jeep after a village festival.
It was the entry of hinduvta brigade orchestrated systematic hate campaigns against the ethnic christians that gave into religious divide resulting sporadic violence with impunity and strikes. Then the devastatic tsunami of hatred engulfed not just Kandhamal; but the state crippling life and livelihood with untold and unheard violences. The nightmare continues and the survivors haunted; yet struggling for basic amenities and hoping for secured dignity and justice.
Kandhamal: Wither Democratic Rights?
India is proud of its pluristic heritage and the constitution is social secular democratic republic. The leadership never fails to remind the citizens of its great heritage nation.
During the communal violence in Kandhamal, there have been more than 3,300 complaints, but only 820 odd FIRs were registered. Among these complaints, only 518 cases charge sheeted. The remaining cases were treated as false reports. And out of these 518 cases, 247 cases disposed off. The rest of the cases are pending before the trial and session’s magistrate’ courts only. It is reported only one person in Sister gang rape case is behind the bar, the rest even the life convicts are on bail in the anti-Christian violence; while the alleged killers in Swami murder cases, 7 are behind the bars since the beginning despite senior advocates view that the conviction would not stand the scrutiny of the higher judiciary as it is on a very weak/no evidence based.
Crippling of Criminal Justice Delivery:
First Hand Information (FIR), Investigation, Prosecution and deposition of witnesses are key to better judgement.
Fast Hand Information (FIR)
One could imagine out of 3330 odd complaints, only 820 FIRs were registered. The rest was thrown to the winds despite nearly 1500 complaints which the victims’ survivors lodged before the police station. “The police merely put their stamp and sign on the letter to give an impression to the victims that FIRs had been registered; but deliberately did not enter in the case diaries. Worst still, there were erroneous details entered in with less serious offences thus making the case rather weak”, said advocate Dibakar Parichha., who handled cases on behalf of Catholic Church.
It was common knowledge that the many names of the perpetrators, the police would deliberately omit them in the FIRs and charge sheets. The glaring example could be from Sister M gang rape case where two-three hundred involved; only 33 people were charge sheeted and sent for a trial.
In 100 odd cases were closed citing no evidence/witnesses makes a mockery of the investigation. It is reported that out of 30 murder cases, except for a couple of cases, there are acquittal. There were allegations of imaginary statements were recorded and produced in the courts without visiting the crime sites or meeting the victims survivors concerned.
The acquittals of the accused in majority cases are the test of the performance and efficiency of the cases. There are reports of when prosecutors instead of objecting the when witnesses harassed or arguing for the cancellation of the bails of the accused, the prosecutors remained silence calls for the transparency and efficiency into question.
Deposing of Witnesses
The witnesses testified; yet there were adverse judgments. In some cases, the witnesses could not withstand the intimidation and threats. In other cases, besides the counter case threats, monetary gains without witnesses’ protection scheme in place too did the trick to turn hostile as the poor and tiny minority members in majority community saw present survival is better option rather than protracted justice system.
Fast Track courts have been wound up abruptly half way by the Odisha government on 31 March 2013. The pending cases are now transferred to local courts that would drag process for prolonged period with no renewed emphasis of urgency and importance. Earlier, the Fast Track Courts too known Fast Track to Injustice as it did secure justice for victims’ survivors.
It may be recalled seven innocent Christian persons were allegedly picked up randomly in Swami Lakshmananda murder cases, and these people have been convicted, and life sentence awarded to all of them, based on very weak evidence. It may be noted that Maoist has claimed the responsibility of killing the Swami.
Women and Children: Stories of fear, trauma and assault cases
National Alliance of Wonen (NAWO-Odisha), ccommissioned a study “Breaking the Shackled Silence: Unheard Voices of Women from Kandhamal researched and scripted by Saumya Uma on the status of women in Kandhamal 6 years after the violence and it has documented “not less than 40 cases of sexual assault of various kinds and threats of the same. We know that sexual violence and threat of sexual violence was rampant, but it has taken so many years for the women survivors to talk about it. Only 2 cases were registered - Sr. M and young dalit hindu girl - that speaks volumes about the functioning of the criminal justice system in Kandhamal. Concerns of women's security, mental and physical health, livelihood, right to land and housing continue, as they lead lives of secondary citizenship. Witnesses and complainants continue to be threatened, and many remain in hiding. It was very difficult to track them to speak to them”.
The author captures the agony of struggle for justice, “In Sister M's case, 3 persons have been convicted by the Sessions court at Cuttack - one for rape, two for molestation. Out of 33 persons, only 9 have faced trial so far. Trial against all other persons remains pending. Since the cases have not been clubbed together and the accused persons are arrested and charge sheeted at different points in time, Sr M has to go thru' the ordeal of giving her evidence in court against each accused. It is an absolutely crazy situation for any rape survivor!”
In Case of another young dalit hindu girl, who was gang—raped as her Christian uncle did not become hindus, she awaits for the judgement. The state would have done the least is to pay compensation as per Prevention of Atrocities Act.
Kanakalata, 35 years old widow cannot hold her tears as she witnessed the brutal murder of her husband along with her tiny kids then 5 and 7 years old. She fears for her life and is not able to return back to the village. “We, widows except for two are too scary to return to the village as the murderers are out on a bail and could eliminate us. We are lurking in danger”, says young woman widow. Having lost her breadwinner husband, she joins maternal relatives occasionally for some income to maintain the family. She is tossed between life and livelihoods; insecurities and injustice accompanying her thoughts besides two young kids to take care of.
Young girls: Drop outs, child labour and trafficking
.The violence has had catastrophic effect on the young children especially the adolescent girls. Be it nine Kandhamal communal violence affected minor girls rescued by Catholic Nuns from closed doors Mumbai Fish processing firm, where they were not allowed to come out of the company as their agent has taken their salary and escaped or 8 are below 14 years rescued from the railway station while they were allegedly being trafficked. There are instances such as where Delhi High Court intervened to rescue a girl form the abductors, who sexually abused the work and forced her into work without any pay carry a story in the aftermath of communal violences. Quite alarmingly, the minor young girls, whose education was disrupted and the helpless and ignorant elders hoping to salvage their life and livelihood fall prey to trafficked rings. Each person has a scar; a trauma that haunts them down.
Displacement: fear and Insecurity: refugee: internal displaced persons
Praful Digal of Budrukia village under Balliguda police station mustered courage to return to the village despite his house was destroyed twice previously in December 2007 and August 2008 communal violence. The small time farmer wanted to bury his past history of violence and to pick up the thread for future as he constructed a house for the third time. He was warned, “We do not want a Christian presence in the village; you better leave or face the consequences”.
The fanatics concluded presumed that Mr.Digal would not yield into their demands and pulled down the house in the late night on 12th of April 14. The destruction of their house came as a shock to the family for whom returning to their home village remains a dream. Unfortunately, the threats accompanying this most recent attack have left the family with little hope of realizing this dream. Three people were arrested, but were immediately released on bail. The fanatics instead of accepting their folly; threatened to kill him and would slap counter case with “land grabbing’ if he still remains in the village. Christians are refugee in their own land. Saumya Uma, A law researcher activist, who visited last month sums up, “While many survivors have returned to Kandhamal, they continue to live in fear and are subjected to threats of violence. Some have been accepted into the village after being forcibly converted to Hinduism. Some have compromised with their perpetrators, and decided not to follow up on their criminal complaints, prioritising issues of immediate survival over that of justice. Those who live outside Kandhamal have been having a tough time making ends meet, living on daily wage labour mostly. Deprived of land and housing, which they owned in their village, in places like Bhubaneswar, where many live in the slums of Salia Sahi, cost of living is extremely high”.
Religious Freedom: Quintessential of human dignity and Identity in jeopardy
The test of human dignity and identity is a human conscience. It is better articulated in it religious freedom and practise. As long as one does not violate another human dignity and rights, one’s is protected and promoted. Odisha communal violence has just done that crushing the very cornerstone of human dignity and identity. One is killed, maimed, gang-raped just because one lives upto one’s conscience without subscribing to another another’s conscience and beliefs. Today it is in the state of chaos, fear and insecurity haunting the place. The other is enemy. It is crime against humanity.
Why this large-scale and mindless violence sustains? Why girls and women reduced into commodity to be trafficked? Why at will, people could launch sexual assault without any impunity? What does it reflect? Who are responsible for it? Is there any way out? Lastly, Why We Observe Kandhamal Day?
The answers to the queries and quests could be derived from the way the democratic institutions functions and the citizens ability to make them accountable for it.
The democratic institutions have failed to salvage the rights leave alone protect and promote it. The failure of criminal justice delivery system, the trust deficit and biased executive to prevent and protect the most vulnerable ethnic religious community as well as establish the rule of law gave the radicals to strike at will with impunity. Even the watchdog of human rights, National Human Rights Commission has submitted the report after six years and that too terribly biased against victims survivors speak of collapse of democratic organs of the state.
The change of guards in the centre adds up nothing, but owes. The victims’ survivors demand for impartial and independent federal probe is in catch 22 situations as the non-state actors, who were perpetrators, have become in the legitimate state power corridors.
Challenges before the Church today:
As the ethnic-religious minority community is struggling to come to terms with the sustained hate campaigns and violence for 40 years; it has no capabilities to engage the civil society groups leave alone the democratic organs to reclaim citizen rights. The community remains grateful for all the support and goodwill that it has received during the crucial times. Since it is the biggest attack on the Christian minority in the Independence India and the community is still reeling under fear and trauma, insecurity and injustice. The local church is unprepared for the violence and cannot engage the concerns of such magnitude violence. The Church in India could gain a lot if there were a National Coordination with ecumenical and civil society interface to engage the democratic organs to secure justice, peace and development of the community. We would fail the dalit and adivasi Christian community if we cannot show solidarity and action. The violence is the district continued abated; rather increased systematically when the Church fail to draw message from the sustain attacks. With the change of powers in the centre, when the non-state actors have become legitimately in the governance apparatus, delay would be catastrophic.
As criminal justice delivery system rather failed to restore the confidence among the victims’ survivors in democratic institutions and has no deterrent effect on the perpetrators to prevent from possible violence. It is now more than six years; yet, the government has not even announced the package of rehabilitation that it offered for anti-sikh violence and Gujarat violence. The community has to go to Supreme Court to get relief and now has gone for rehabilitation package to rebuild their lives and future, instead of suo motto offering it.
The violence has taken not just on toll on the livelihoods, which were not accounted for even compensation, but also on psycho-social health of the communities. Its impact could be seen now; be it elders, young and children. Those who have been assaulted, abused physical/sexual were not paid attention to.
This anti-christian violence has thrown some lessons and challenges for the Christian faith and practice. This calls for calls for systematic research and documentation as to prepare engage the state and non-state actors as well as for the formation houses.
Civil Society Groups Space:
Community based some NGOs who worked for the victims’ survivors in the aftermath of communal violence in December 2007 were particularly targeted and their offices destroyed. The government although compensated meager amount to some of the churches and public institutions; refused to compensate for the NGOs. Saumya Uma, a law researcher, who has exhaustive interactions in this issue says, “This indicates not only a callous attitude of the government, but something more sinister – a political unwillingness to facilitate support and assistance for the victim-survivors of the violence and help them rebuild their lives”.
There is used to be any state level NGOs and Forum to accompany the victims’ survivors. There are very countable committed individuals to support survivors in their struggle.
Yet, the campaign for justice and observance of Kandhamal Solidarity Day is initiated by civil society groups rather than Christian groups. This is very welcome step. Civil society organized solidarity different parts of the country; such as New Delhi, Mumbai, Thane, Bangalore, Trivendrum, Kozhikore, Thiruvella, Hyderabad and host of other cities and countryside.
Intellectuals, political persons, activists such as Harsh Mander, Kavita Krishnan Ram Puniyani Saumya Uma Sudhir Pattnaik, Anni Raja, Charul Vinay, Prafulla Samantara,Sasi Kp, Kedar Mishra, Eminent Film Singer Praful Kar and his group to sing for Solidarity, Dr.Debi Prasan Patnaik, Abp Dr.John Barwa, Justice Choudhury PK Mishra, Dr.Bibhuti Patnaik, Dr.Mohini Patnaik, Baishnav Parida, MP, Jacob Pradhan, MLA, Com Janardan Pati, Pramila Swain and many others joined Bhubaneswar in day daylong programme with victims survivors.
Medha Patkar, Annie Raja, Subhasini Ali, Saumya Uma, Charul Vinay participated in the solidarity march in Phulbani, district headquarters of Kandhamla with a resolution : No More Kandhamal; Never Kandhamal Again. More than 4500 survivors marched for justice and peace and submitted a memorandum with seven demands to the President of India.
1. Appropriate legal action against all culprits who have been responsible for violence in Kandhamal.
2. Protection of faith, culture, language, values and religions of Adivasis and Dalits of Kandhamal.
3. Stern action against politicians and organizations directly or indirectly involved in the violence or facilitated the communal violence.
4. A high level enquiry into the human rights violations of the Kandhamal victims and survivors by reputed secular personalities with credentials, into the role of the administration and the police machinery and necessary actions to be initiated against the omissions and commissions of the police and the administration
5. Proper compensation to all affected people including individuals, business as well as institutions in Kandhamal.
6. Immediate release of all victims facing fabricated charges against village level Christian minority including the use of draconian law UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act).
7. We demand for the complete package for dropout children, widows, old age and orphans for their sustainable development in the district in the aftermath of Kandhamal Anti-Christian violence.
Ajay Kumar Singh is from Kandhamal, himself a victim of the violence
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