New Delhi :
Kandhamal Day was observed in the national capital as well as in major cities and Tribal areas on Monday to demand justice for the victims-survivors of the anti-Christian violence in the Kandhamal district of Orissa in 2008.
State chief minister Naveen Pattnaik had told the Legislative Assembly that the violence was carried out by activists of the Sangh Parivar.
In New Delhi, the rally was held at Jantar Mantar, marked by performances by artistes and speeches against communal violence, for justice and harmony by social, civil society, gender, Dalit, Tribal and religious freedom activists and leaders of Christian groups.
Similar programs were held in Kandhamal, Bhubaneswar, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and other cities.
The 2008 violence which continued for three months was recorded as the most severe persecution of the community in 300 years. The National Peoples Tribunal recorded that over 56,000 children, women and men, all of them Dalits or Tribals, were displaced and forced to flee into the forests as mobs burnt down over 5,600 houses, 300 big and small churches, schools, hostels and medical centers.
An estimated 120 men and women were killed, many hacked to death by axes and machetes and several burnt alive. The murdered men included Christian priests of several denominations. At least three women were gang raped, including a Catholic Nun.
Speakers said urgent action must be taken to confront past crimes and bring the perpetrators of the Kandhamal communal violence to justice. Inasmuch as these issues are ignored, impunity will continue and the indulgence of divisive communal mentality.
The criminal justice, relief and rehabilitation systems have all failed the victim-survivors.
Out of 3331 complaints, only 800 or so FIRs were registered. Out of those, only 518 cases charges-sheeted. Just 247 cases have been disposed off with a high number of acquittals. Out of 30 murder cases that have been tried so far, only 2 resulted in conviction for murder, and about in four for lesser offences (than murder). All others have resulted in an acquittal.
The demands included immediate release of all victims facing fabricated charges including the use of draconian law UAPA and legal action against against all culprits who have been responsible for violence in Kandhamal.
They also asked for stern action against politicians and organizations directly or indirectly involved in the violence or facilitated the communal violence.
Relief and rehabilitation have been extremely tardy with the authorities failing in their duties to provide assurances of long term security, as well as resources and opportunities including employment to rebuild their lives. The victims have approached the Supreme Court of India for relief.
Compensation to all affected people as well as institutions in Kandhamal and institution of a high level Special Investigation Team instituted to enquire into the roles of the administration and the police machinery in the riots were part of the demands.
The trigger of the violence that commenced on the 24 August 2008 came about by the killing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Lakshmanananda Saraswati in his ashram. The Maoist leadership admitted to the killing, the RSS in Orissa averred the crime to Christian groups. Seven Christians were accused for the murder of the Lakshmanananda despite the lack of evidence against them.
The absence of justice and the chaotic system has crated a situation of impunity. As a result there are increased incidents of rape and murder of women and girls in Kandhamal in recent times. The lawlessness and impunity have contributed to that. The lack of security has seen thousands of people unable to return to their villages, while an estimated 10,000 have had to become migrant labour in other states.
The atrocities that happened there bear similarities to other communal violence such as the slaughter of Muslim minorities in Gujarat (2002) and Muzaffarnagar (2013) and the 1984 anti-Sikh carnage. An unsettling fact about these attacks is that they have been pre-meditated, targeted and systematic. It is an onslaught on religious minorities, aimed at disrupting normalcy of life and eradicating their religious identity, culture and heritage.