Kandhamal Awaits Justice

(On 25 August this year, Kandhamal Solidarity Day was observed in Bhubaneshwar and many other places across the country. CPI(ML) PB Member Kavita Krishnan participated in the events at Bhubaneshwar, while CPI(ML)’s Odisha comrades were part of the organizing team for the events.)

6 years ago, the Sangh brigade unleashed orchestrated, widespread communal violence against the (mostly Dalit) Christians of Kandhamal district, Odisha. Homes and churches were vandalised and burnt, people massacred, women raped, and entire populations rendered homeless.

Now, after half a dozen years, justice is no closer to being achieved than it was at the time of the violence. In fact, the injustice and violence continues.

Survivor of the violence Ajaya Kumar Singh, who is one of the indefatigable organizers of the struggle for justice, has written that more than 3,300 complaints had been filed with the police in 2008, but only 820 odd FIRs were registered, of which charge sheets have been filed in only 518 cases. The remaining cases were treated as false reports. And out of these 518 cases, 247 cases have been disposed off. The rest of the cases are pending before the trial and session’s magistrate’ courts. Only one person convicted in the case of the gang rape of a nun is in jail, while the rest, even the life convicts, are out on bail. But 7 of the extremely poor youth arrested on false charges of the killing of Swami Laxmanananda are convicted and in jail, “despite the view of senior advocates that the conviction will not stand the scrutiny of the higher judiciary, based as it is on extremely weak evidence.”

The police deliberately tampered with FIRs filed by survivors to make them weak. This has led to some 100 cases being closed citing no evidence/witnesses. And out of 30 murder cases, all have resulted in acquittals except for a couple of cases.

These concerns were raised strongly in the Convention held in Bhubaneshwar. At the Convention, 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, was released. The study 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 study notes, “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 through the ordeal of giving her evidence in court against each accused.” What an ordeal for rape survivor!

The young dalit Hindu girl, who was gang-raped as her Christian uncle did not become Hindu, still waits for the judgement. The state has not even paid her compensation as per the Prevention of Atrocities Act.

Women left widowed by the violence, continue to live in destitution and fear, homeless because they do not dare return to their homes. The violence also pushed young children and adolescent girls into being trafficked as domestic labour and sex abuse.

The participants in the Kandhamal Day Convention strongly indicted the BJD Government for its role in facilitating the violence and the injustice. After all, BJP was in partnership with BJD at the time of the pogrom. Since then, the alliance has broken up, and BJD strikes a ‘secular’ posture. But its police and Government machinery does nothing to ensure the safe return of the internally displaced people, or to ensure that the guilty are punished – instead, its police is helping to frame innocent victims as ‘guilty’ in the Swami killing case.

Raising these concerns, Kandhamal Day was observed at New Delhi, Mumbai, Thane, Bangalore, Trivendrum, Kozhikore, Thiruvella, Hyderabad and many other places.

At Bhubaneshwar, activists from all over the country including Harsh Mander, Ram Puniyani, Saumya Uma, Sudhir Pattnaik, Annie Raja of CPI, Kavita Krishnan of CPI(ML), Charul and Vinay, Prafulla Samantara, Sasi KP, CPIM State Secretary Janardan Pati, Pramila Swain and many others joined Bhubaneswar in a daylong programme with the victim-survivors.

Two days later, more than 4500 survivors marched for justice and peace in Kandhamal itself, 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. A 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.

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