Thursday, December 22, 2011




22 December 2011

This is the fourth Christmas that many people of Kandhamal in Orissa will “celebrate” in terror, a  few thousand of them without a real roof over their head, scores of widows and orphans remembering  the denial of justice which has seen the killers of the head of the family walk away merrily after being set free by the sop called Fast Track Courts

Justice still remains an overwhelming issue for about everyone of the 56,000 people who had to run for their lives first on 24th December 2007 and then again from 24thAugust 2008. They need not have had to flee if they had obeyed their attackers, changed their faith to Hinduism and burnt a Bible as a token of their leaving Christianity. They did not. Four hundred villages were purged of all Christians, more than 5600 houses and about 295 or so churches burnt, a hundred or more killed -- the exact number will never be known -- some women, including at least one nun raped.

The tension remains, exacerbated this season with the murder of a law assistant who was uninvolved in protecting witnesses. In another tribal district, Keonjhar, twelve houses were burnt in a  scenario eerily,  and frighteningly, similar to the one in 2007 and 2008. Adding to the apprehension is the call by a  local group for an agitation, a  Bandh, during Christmas week.

A few days ago, in Bujlimendi village, Arabbakka gram panchayat, Tikkabali block of  G Udayagiri Tehsil, the house of Kaleswar Digal, 45, was sleeping with his family which includes three children, when his house was set on fire just after midnight. The family escaped, but the house, including their animals, were destroyed. There are 25 Christian families in this village of 100 houses, now living in palpable fear.

The murder was of Rabindra Parichha, a legal activist who had been working with the Evangelical Fellowship of India for justice in Kandhamal. He was killed on 15th December  evening  at Bhanjanagar, Ganjam District, which adjoins Kandhamal. A former village chief and a local leader, Rabindra was a popular figure in the region. His family lives in their home in Bhaliapara, in Raikia block of Kandhamal. The police have not been able to say why he was killed. His body bore multiple injuries. Cause of his murder is not known.

Rabindra Parichha is the third Christian leader to be killed during this year. Pastor Saul Pradhan of Banjamaha (Raikia) was the first Christian killed during 2011. The police version is that he died of too much liquor and the cold. Pastor Minoketan Nayak of Midiakia (Baliguda) was killed on 26 July. Police say that he died in a bike accident.

The police have not acted on reports that Manoj Pradhan, member of the state legislative assembly and prime accused in several cases of murder has been moving from village to village instigating anti-social elements and allegedly urging  them to “finish off” all Christian leaders of Kandhamal.

The police are also deaf to reports of hate speech. On 23 July, a large rally at Phulbani saw a lot of hate speech, and slogans such as  "Hindu-Hindu: bhai-bhai _ Anya sab desh-drohi" [Hindus are brothers. Everyone else is a traitor]. The police was present, but took no action.
The "Kui Samaj", a front organisation of the right wing hyper nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party which was once in an alliance in the State government, has called for Kandhamal bandh for five days from 23 to 27 December, throwing the Christians into a state of panic. They have memories of the 2007 violence which also took place in the backdrop of another such strike, or bandh. Bipra Charan Nayak, convener of the Survivors’ Associations of Communal Violence, has demanded that the district and state authorities take note of the latest strike call and act swiftly and sternly. The memorandum, to the government said “We remind you that every year, Kui Samanyaya Samittee in nexus with extreme element of Sangh Parivar gives Bandh Call creating mental trauma among the peace loving Christians of Kandhamal. We demand that such practice be stopped.”

The All India Christian Council, one of the several groups working in rehab and justice issues said “Although we are for the freedom of expression and do not wish to curb demonstrations and political activity by any group, even by those who are against Christianity and the Christian people, it is the duty of the government to ensure that there is no excuse for confrontation or violence. In Kandhamal, we have had bitter experience. Out community has been deeply wounded, specially in the aftermath of bundh calls during and around Christmas. We are therefore apprehensive of such bandh calls. The Orissa government and the Kandhamal administration must restrain all mischievous and fundamentalist elements and ensure the Christmas is peaceful.”

Not that the region outside Kandhamal is peaceful. On 8th December 2011,  a Hindu group attacked 3 tribal Christian families at Chandikhole, a suburb in Jajpur district close to Keonjhar district. When the people went to the police station, they were detained on charges of “conversion” of Hindus.

The saddest commentary on the governance in Orissa is in the narrative of the dispensation of justice, specially in the fast track courts where not a single person has so far been convicted of murder – mostly because the witnesses have been coerced into silence and the police has made sure  there is precious little forensic evidence from their shoddy investigations

The following is the current Status of communal violence cases of 2008-2009 of Kandhamal district. Do remember that more than 3,500 persons filed complaints to the authorities.:

1.      CASES REGISTERED BY THE POLICE                                     :  827
2.      NO. OF CHARGE SHEETS                                                           :  512
3.      NO. OF  FINAL REPORTS SUBMITTED                                    :  315
4.      NO. OF CASES ENDED IN CONVICTION                                 :  68
5.      NO. OF PERSONS CONVICTED                                                  : 412
6.      NO. OF CASES ENDED IN ACQUITTAL                                   :  140
9.      NO. OF PERSONS ACQUITTED                                                  :  1900
10.  NO. OF CASES PENDING TRIAL                                                  :  304
11.  NO. OF ACCUSED PERSONS ARRESTED                                  :  1607
 [Acknowledgments: Fr Ajay Singh, Fr Dibya Parichha, Br Marcose, Pastor Harish Arshaliya, Rev Vijayesh Lal]