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`No More Kandhamals!’ Kerala Expresses Solidarity!

By Binu Mathew & K.P. Sasi

27 August, 2015

On August 25, 2008 the biggest communal violence after Gujarat took place in Kandhamal in Odisha. Over 350 churches and worship places which belonged to the Adivasi Christians and Dalit Christians were destroyed, around 6,500 houses were destroyed, over 90 people were killed, over 40 women were subjected to rape, molestation and humiliation and several educational, social service and health institutions were destroyed and looted. More than 56,000 people have been displaced. Several cases of forced conversion to Hinduism by the Sangh Parivar have been reported. This organised communal attack which was the biggest on the history of Christian community during the last three centuries, also spread to different parts of Odisha and other states as well. It is a matter of shame that the relief and compensation provided by the Government for the victims and survivors of Kandhamal have been minimal.

In July 2015, Ram Puniyani and Dhirendra Panda while announcing a call to `Observe Kandhamal Day, Preserve Justice, Peace and Harmony and Protect Indian Constitution’ on behalf of National Solidarity Forum, wrote: `We appeal to all secular, democratic and peace loving citizens of this country to remember August 25, 2008 as a day which the largest democracy called India should not have witnessed. We appeal to you to organize public meetings, seminars, protests and other forms of campaigns so that `No More Kandhamal’ will be repeated in Indian History. We appeal to you to organize events for one week around August 25, 2015 to mark the memory of Kandhamal. We appeal to you to express solidarity to the struggle of the people of Kandhamal, in order to provide adequate pressure on the governmental institutions to provide justice for the victims and survivors.’

On the basis of this call, several groups organised events around Kandhamal Day in different parts of the country. The public action in Bangalore is on August 29, 2015 and in Kandhamal, it is on August 31 where Mani Shankar Aiyar, Brinda Karat, Kavita Krishnan and many others have promised to come to address a crowd of thousands of people.

Ajaya Kumar Singh, whose initiatives for justice and peace for Kandhamal survivors have inspired many groups, artists, intellectuals and concerned citizens all over the country, was invited by the Solidarity Youth Movement to initiate a public campaign in Kerala on 23, 24 &25, August 2015. We are providing a brief report on the public campaign in Kerala.

Addressing a large public gathering in East Fort, Thrissur, Ajaya Kumar Singh said: `Living an ostrich like existence in the face of growing communal fascism will lead the country to destruction’. He said the Hindutva fascist forces are repeating the same tactics that they used in Odisha in Kerala too. He was referring to an attack on Kaniyachal Church of God of India, near Thrissur on March 23. Although the home minster of Kerala promised to nab the victims in 12 days, nobody has been arrested until now. `The writing on the wall is clear, unite against communal forces or face a Kandhamal like onslaught on minorities in Kerala. In Kandhamal we had forests and mountains to hide. If such a thing happens in a largely urbanised Kerala where will you hide?’ Ajaya Singh asked. Ajaya Singh said the democratic polity of India is fast eroding. Even the judiciary is under attack from the fascist forces. Only solidarity and united fight for justice will prevent another Kandhamal being organised anywhere in India.

Speaking at the occasion, Poet Anvar Ali, Human rights activist Vasu. I Gopinath, K.P. Sasi, Binu Mathew, Sadik Uliyil, T. Shakeer Velam and others expressed their concerns on the struggle for justice and peace for the victims and survivors of Kandhamal, in the context of growing fascistic designs under the present government in India.

Well known artist of Thrissur, Prince, presented a memento of his work for justice, peace and harmony for the victims and survivors of Kandhamal, to Ajaya Kumar Singh.

Addressing another meeting in Kottayam on August 24, 2015, Kerala, Ajaya Kumar Singh said that it was to seek emancipation from the oppressive caste system that Dalits and Adivasis of Kandhamal adopted Christianity. Dalits and Adivasis comprise almost 80 % of the population of Kandhamal, a hilly district of Odisha. However the minority upper castes which comprise only 10% of population had a historic economic and political power over the majority of the population. When Adivasis and Dalits started to get good education and started demanding their rights for dignified living and justice, these upper castes felt threatened. They sought the help of the fascist Sangh Parivar and decided to teach these maginalised people a lesson. They brought lumpen elements from outside the district and started attacking the weakest sections in the Christian community. A process that started with the arrival of Swami Laxmananand Saraswati in 1967, who spat venom against Christians in all his speeches and threatened to exterminate Christianity from the region, culminating in the genocide of Christians in 2008. It was a slow process. The low intensity of violence against Christians that started in 1970 was not taken in its full seriousness. Kandhamal had to pay a huge price for it. Ajaya Kumar Singh called for a broader solidarity campaign among Dalit/Adivasi/and marginalised sections of the society against fascist forces that threaten the very idea of India as per the Indian Constitution.

Many Dalit speakers spoke on the occasion. K.K. Kochu, a prominent intellectual and writer on Dalit issues called for the marginalised sections of the society to create a common platform to demand the rights guaranteed by the constitution. He said that it is imperative that the weaker sections of the society should take collective action to avoid another Kandhamal to occur in India.

Sunny Kapikkadu, another prominent writer for Dalit justice said that the the marginalised sections of the society should come together. Building fraternity of the marginalised sections should be the first priority. Only such a movement can prevent another Kandhamal occurring anywhere in India.

An exhibition of drawings of artist Shashi Memury on Kandhamal was held in front of Kerala secretariat in Trivandrum. Inaugurating the event Shuaib Moulavi, Imam of Palayalm Juma Masjid said that it was a series of communal riots that catapulted Narendra Modi to power in India. Modi can survive only through communal violence. He said that the main lesson that Kandhamal communal violence teaches us is that only through universal brotherhood and communal harmony, diverse cultures of India can survive. It also reminds us that we should always be vigilant about the vicious designs of the communal forces.

Addressing the gathering in Trivandrum, Fr. Eugine Perera said that Kandhamal reminds us on the urgency of building broader coalition against fascist forces in the present context of growing communalisation.

N Madhavan Kutty, consulting editor of Desabhimani, said that oppressed classes should join the struggle against fascism led by the left parties. National and state leader of the fishing community, T. Peter, supported the event and expressed his solidarity for the struggle for human rights of the Kandhamal victims and survivors..

Visit of Ajaya Kumar Singh strengthened and soldified Kerla society's solidarity to the survivors of Kandhamal violence said Sadiq Uliyil, general secretary of Solidarity Youth Movement. He said that it also reminded Kerala society to be ever more vigilant about the emergence of fascism in India.

The overall events in Thrissur, Kottayam, Thiruvananthapuram and discussions in Calicut left deep impression on the participants on the issues faced by the Dalits and Adivasis in Kandhamal. It was felt that wider and stronger pressures must be organised all over the country to pressurise the Government for providing justice, peace and harmony in Kandhamal. More participation from the left and secular forces as well as religious leaders on this issue is needed. The criminals must be put behind bars and innocents must be released and guilty officials should be prosecuted. Proper compensation to suffering people must be provided. The villagers of Kandhamal who are still afraid to come back to their villages due to the threats of Sangh Parivar must be protected. The rule of communal fascism must end.

Binu Mathew is the Editor of Countercurrents.org and K.P. Sasi is the Associate Editor



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