Unite! Let's Make Sure That Kandhamals Are Not Repeated
By Medha Patkar
13 March, 2015
On the last Kandhamal Day on August 25th, many organizations held public actions in support of the demands for justice for the victims and survivors of Kandhamal violence. CounterCurrents had published the call for action for observing the Kandhamal Day. In Kandhamal, the same event was observed on 28th. Many dignitaries, activists and leaders attended and spoke on the occasion. Over 5,000 people attended the public meeting. We are giving below the text of the speech of Medha Patkar on the occasion - Editor
Salute to all the comrade sisters and brothers, alive and present here in abundance. Greetings to people on the dais and all those who have gathered here from different organisations. Comrade Annie Raja, who has been the symbol of woman power is also with us. Annie stands for the rights of women labourers and fights against the oppression faced by women.
Saumya Uma , who guides women on how to fight legal battles when they face oppression and how to approach the courts when they face injustice, is also with us. Saumya has written a book voicing the women of Kandhamal containing stories of the suppression of women and how women are made the target of attacks even during the course of communal violence. She has given a voice to these women and this voice of Kandhamal women and will reach the nation and the world, as lessons from the grave history of Kandhamal, a history we would all wish not to repeat in secular India. We also have amongst us Charul and Vinay who have exposed the reality of the Gujarat genocide, the reality which Mr. Narendra Modi has been trying to hide from the public eye by spending 21,000 crore rupees to come to power. He is outside the jail, and Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi were arrested. However, what the voices of Vinay and Charul have done cannot be achieved even by a hundred speeches. Let us give them a loud round of applause. (Applause). We also have amongst us Pradeepto bhai and Subhasini Ali from CPI (M) and all these people who oppose communalism and casteism are today here with us, in solidarity with the people of Kandhamal.
The Solidarity Youth Movement, an organisation from Kerala which stands up against the oppression on the basis of caste, religion or oppression of people from destructive development, is also here with us .Where on the one hand companies like Cocla Cola corporation is depriving the people of water, others are snatching land from the villagers and destroying crops in the name of development. In such a situation, the Solidarity Youth Movement has risen and taken with them thousands of youth in Kerala on such issues related to development and globalization. Today we have with us T. Mohammad and his team from this youth organization. Hindu Muslim, Sikh Isai- Aapas Mein Hain Behen - Bhai (Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian - Are Sisters and Brothers). We also have with us Roy David, who has been advocating for Adivasi rights from cultural to political issues. Fr. Ajay Singh and his colleagues along with KP Sasi and his team are the reason behind all of us being here today.
I am very happy and I am equally sad. I am happy to see that even after six years of the Kandhamal carnage, you have so much enthusiasm, so much energy, courage and the strength to stand up against the Orissa government and the Government led by Narendra Modi. The fundamentalists (whichever religion they may belong to), the people who raped Sister Meena and those who destroyed over 300 churches, 6500 homes, and forced 56,000 people to leave their homes and live on the streets, who destroyed their fields and crops and other means of their livelihood, have turned masters into slaves. We have all come here to salute you and I have not been able to come here before, even though people spoke of the communal violence of Kandhamal from different places, will have to be punished. I had to come here with Thomas Cocherry earlier, but I missed that opportunity because I had to reach Nandigram. The second time, I was to accompany Sister Celia. That time also, I could not make it.
Kandhamal is one of the many places of communal violence that have been mentioned by Charul and Vinay. Be it Meerat or Mumbai, Surat or Ahmedabad, Jaipur or Kandhamal, Muzaffarnagar or Khandwa. wherever there are riots in the name of religion, humanity is under attack. Humanity is buried and man exposes himself as a barbaric animal. However, much we shun such incidents, it may not be enough. Whichever religion they may belong to, if they declare violence in the name of religion, incite people, be it Praveen Togadia or anybody else, we must deplore all of them.
It is very important that we understand, as per the question raised by Subhasini Ali that after all, what is religion? Religion is a way of life, religion means law; religion means some fundamental principles and nothing more than that. Some revere the form of Bhagwan or Allah, some offer namaaz and others do the rituals of puja and our Adivasi brothers find their religion in the trees and the mountains and the rivers. The Dalit community considers Dr. Ambedkar to be their deity. And Buddha, Kabir, Periyar, Vivekanand and Mahavir - none of them advocated for violence, rape, destruction nor doom, to be spread on the basis of their respective religions. But their followers have taken a path which goes against religion. And wherever this happens, it is not only the homes and the fields that are destroyed, religion itself stands destroyed. If saints and preachers have begun acting along the lines of Asaram Bapu and if rape and harassment happens within a religious institutions, then we can not forgive them.
It is therefore imperative to understand what actually happened in Kandhamal. What happened to the people affected by the incidents of violence here. Especially to women and children. Soumya ji will elaborate on the plight of women during the communal violence in Kandhamal. But what we have to keep in mind is that we are living in a male dominated society, which suppresses the voices of women, which becomes one of the main causes of communal violence. The voices affected by violence have not died. They have been buried deep down. The hurtful cries of women that we have listened to, at a time when we are being used as mere objects for oppression, must be heard. Sometimes it is religion which treats women as objects and sometimes it is the market that treats women as objects.
I always remember, when the riots broke out in Maharashtra’s Nasik district in Malegaon, we reached on the next day. Both the religious groups claimed that their women had been violated and that was the reason why they participated in the riots. But this was far away from the truth. We went around the villages and spoke to people from both the communities. We spoke to Nian Ahmed from Malegaon and the leaders from Bhavsar. There was vast difference between what the men and women had to say on the issue. The Hindu women from Bhavsar colony said that although men bearing weapons had come after them, they were given protection by the Muslim women living in the neighborhoods. And in Nihalnagar, the Muslim women said that they were given protection by the Bhavsar colony consisting of Hindu women. This is a reality that happens every time. The weak is targeted by the fundamentalists who use religion for their expression of power and violence spreads further. `Why should we keep quiet when our women are under attack and when our religion is under attack’, they asked. But the reality was different.
In Kandhamal, Dalit Christians and Adivasi Christians were targeted. The efforts by Christian missionaries were overlooked. The violence erupted when claims such as murdering of Swami Laxmananda were made, which resulted in the riots and the aftermath. On what basis were such claims made? If people have been wronged, or if it is felt that the missionaries were committing mistakes, there is a legal system in the country. They can resort to such action. Why violence? As Annie Raja mentioned, Praveen Togadia was nearby. He arrived immediately on the 25th here. The State decided when the police should arrive. Whether it be the resistance during the Narmada Bachao Andolan or the struggle of the slum dwellers in Mumbai, when the people’s resistance is met by the police, the resisting community always gave the slogan “Sarkar Humse Darti Hai, Police Ko Aage Karti Hai” (the government is afraid of us, the people. And that is why they have sent the police)
But the police is either not sent to the location or removed from the location of the incidents of violence. This is what happened in Gujarat. The government was missing as a state authority for three days. Nobody would like to speak about those three days. Nobody would like to remember about those three days. Because the person responsible for this is now the prime servant of the country. But remember this, if there is violence, then both the Government and the religious fundamentalists should be questioned about their actions. Where were you? What were you doing? And what have you done? And in Kandhamal also, both should be questioned. We should not remain silent about this. And who had the power of the Government in Orissa at a time when Orissa was governed by BJD-BJP? It is natural that both colluded to not put an end to the violence. There may be a relief now, that the BJD-BJP alliance is not as strong as before.
Our rally was around Biju Patnaik’s statue, I observed that a photographer had climbed on a tree and wanted an angle to show that the rally was behind Biju Patnaik’s statue. It is disheartening that the BJD which was formed on Biju Patnaik’s name did not stop the communal carnage in Kandhamal. Under the BJD government, the violence was not put to an immediate stop, not before thousands were destroyed and displaced. And even after 6 years, due compensation has not been given and the criminals have not been arrested!
The police force was nowhere to be seen. The police officials responsible for facilitating violence were not given punishment. Those who raped Sister Meena have yet not been punished. The displaced have yet not been rehabilitated. So, can we shout these slogans? Naveen Patnaik Government, Hosh Mein Aao (Wake Up, Naveen Patnaik Government!). Orissa Sarkar Hosh Mein Aao! (the Government of Orissa, Wake Up). These voices must reach Bhubaneshwar. You have come here with such courage, you know there are video cameras around and we must make sure that these voices reach Naveen Patnaik – a man who says that he believes in dialogue. He has spoken to Annie Raja at some occasions, so this would have reached the Modi government- but are you afraid? Then why don’t you join me in shouting this slogan? I am not singing a song, it is a only a slogan. Let us shout with all our strength: Orissa Sarkar Hosh Mein Aao - Hosh Mein Aao Hosh Mein Aao (the Government of Orissa, Arise and Awaken).
It is important that we make ourselves heard, because This issue is not limited to Kandhamal. There are conferences everywhere on the unity and integrity of the country. The symbol of our national unity, the tricolour national flag, is unfurled every 15th of August and 26th of January. The Constitution of India drafted by Babasaheb Ambedkar has guaranteed the right to life, secularism and fraternity. Despite all of this, what is necessary is that the rulers understand that without secular values in our society and in politics, the integrity and unity of our country, social-political and economic equity, our development and democracy and our identities are also under threat today. These principles would not be secure if secularism and equal treatment to all religions are not realized. Whether it be the Maoists or anybody else responsible for the killing of Swami Laxmananda, without investigating on the matter, the violence had erupted within two days. Who was responsible for that? Who was instigating this violence? As it happened in Gujarat, one train, the Sabarmati Express was set on fire. After that, thousands of people were killed. To investigate the issue it took many years. It was clear that the episode was plotted. Today, some journalists were asking me, each year, in the month of August, the VHP people organize rallies and say that Christians are the culprits. The people who came with you also are also organizing rally saying that the Sangh Parivar are the culprits. Whom should we believe? Brothers and sisters, our demand is here. Here is a list of demands from the People’s Tribunal on Kandhamal. People from many political organisations gave recommendations. Many sensitive and secular groups came to visit and enquire about the human rights issues in Kandhamal. They did not take the side of any one group. Here are their demands. All their demands are in these books. Please read them (shows the Report by the People’s Tribunal on Kandhamal to the audience). Here, it is written, what action should be taken, what are the laws to punish the criminals. The law may have been from the British era, but it has been here. And people are not getting justice. Because politicians are doing politics in the name of the religion. Whichever group’s number is higher, their votes are more. The Christians are only 3%, Muslims are 13%, Adivasis are 9%, and 14% in Gujarat. Why should they support them. When the political parties think in this angle, then although there may be ample evidences and records, people are not going to get justice and culprits will never be punished. Innocents are put behind the bars.
Few minutes ago I met a person, whose uncle is in jail. He says his uncle was innocent. Call him. He was dragged from home in connection with murder of Swami Laxmananda. He says he knows nothing except labour. He works as a labourer and owns a small piece of land. He was asking me how he could get justice. I do not know how much truth there was in his words. But I feel he is speaking from his heart. Why there has been no investigation? Why? Why nobody asks this question? This is my question.
So therefore Patnaik Government has to be responsible for providing justice. They are elected by the people. They are electing you. And you must carry on with your duties. Within the framework of the constitution and the laws, you have to punish the violent elements. We must restore the rights of the innocents. When we know of names, their villages, when everything is there, at least register their statements. Register all complains as FIRs. By now even the police is aware of various judgements made by the Supreme court. Recently, in the Nirmala Devi v/s Uttar Pradesh case, the Supreme Court gave judgement on registering the complain as an FIR. If it is not done, then we have to declare war against them. Until and unless thousand such cases are registered as FIRs, we are not going to rest. Only on the completion of this work can we move ahead. Friends you have done the right thing today morning, by inviting Solidarity Forum, SFI, Communist Party of India and others. Many more parties will come. We all will go and meet Pranab Mukherjee. You have a memorandum; we will make it more powerful. We have the coordinator of the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), Prafulla Samantaray. He was unable to attend today’s meeting, but he have his support and Brother Lingaraj is there. People struggling at POSCO are here, brother Prashant is here, we have many friends from Odisha, from Baliapalo, Kashipur, Koraput, Balangir and people who are fighting against the 84 projects at Kainjhar, Nayagam, Nuagam, Nayagarh and other Organizations of Phulbani. If at least one representative from each Organization is ready to come to Delhi, then we can reach President’s house. Today there is Pranab Mukherjee, we do not know of tomorrow, what will happen tomorrow. Today Governor Zamir is there. I am declaring from here, NOW is when we do something. He is a man of Pandit Nehru’s era. For national integration, he at least will take steps against communalism. Honourable Governor, take immediate action. Your tenure may end soon. The time of Sheila Dikshit is over, of Shankar Narayan is over, you only have a few days. Do something worthwhile for the people of Kandhamal. If time permits we will meet him at Bhubaneswar.
It is of utmost importance to understand that the people of Odisha are suffering violence in many forms. Displacement in the name of development, snatching away of land, water, forests from the Adivasis and the hidden natural resources being exploited, like steel from Keonjhar. Is what happening with POSCO not violence ? The sea shore has to be provided to KC Paul Company. The aluminum company was brought to Kashipur. How many names and instances are needed to make this point clear? How many names need to be taken? Dams are constructed in areas like at Sutlej, people are displaced from their homes, treated unjustly and tortured. But the people of Odisha and their courage are astounding. I salute you with my heart. Whenever I give this slogan `Vikas ke Naam Vinas Chaliba Nahi’ ( No Destruction Will Be Allowed in the Name of Development), a new energy comes to me, a new strength! c Shall we give this slogan: No Destruction In the Name of Development (chorus)! This is a very important message.
There were messages in the songs of Charul and Vinay. Comrade Annie Raja also brought to the front how in the name of caste, the state divides the society. They divide it into pieces. They even divide farmers against farmers. In the name of party, people are divided. Farmer against farmer and labourer against labourer are all common division strategies. Various castes are pitched against each other. When people become mere pieces and are pitted against one another, their capacity to fight and unite against injustice reduces. Their land, water, forests and rights, all become unsafe. Therefore my friends, let me stop my speech by saying that it is time that the displaced people and the marginalized people come together as a strong force, so that these forms of injustice can be effectively dealt with in a united manner.
Medha Patkar is an Indian social activist. She is the founder member of Narmada Bachao Andolan and was National Convener of National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM), an alliance of progressive people's organisations. She was a representative to the World Commission on Dams, to research the environmental, social and economic impacts of the development of large dams globally.
(Transcribed and Translated by Chandra Kanta Naik, Social Activist from Odisha and Edited by Ananya Gaur, Media Student, Tata Institute of Social Sciences)
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