A Flashback to Kandhamal Targeted Violence against Christians, 9 Years Later

Written by Teesta Setalvad | Published on: August 24, 2017

2007-2008, Kandhamals. Orissa - A Flashback Nine Years Later


Photographs Courtesy: Communalism Combat

In sustained and well planned attacks, Christians and Christian institutions and religious places were attacked by members and office bearers of various wings of Hindu supremacist and racist organisations (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-RSS/Vishwa Hindu Parishad-VHP, Bajrang Dal-BD) and Bharaitiya Janata Party -BJP) on the eve of Christmas 2007, forcing poor Dalit and Tribal Christians to flee to forests. In February of the next year, extremist left organisations wrote communications that the state intelligence bureau accessed declaring their intent via-a-vis the Hindu rightwing organisations. From August 24,2008 onwards after Swami Lakshmananda was killed in an attack on his ashram, a bloody and vengeful funereal procession covering 220 kilometres was organised and allowed by the state administration, taking his body in a motor cavalcade, in which Praveen Togadia, international general secretary of the VHP and BJP ministers from the state cabinet participated.

"Before the mob came we heard the sound of people approaching. The sound of hatred. Our lives, our faith, our existence is under attack and neither the neighbours, the police nor the state care." – Dalit Christian woman in Kandhamal

The  hate-filled speeches inspired bloody mobs to attack and kill 59 persons (list of victims can be accessed at www.cjponline.org) and attack dozens of hamlets and villages on the way. Brutal rapes were also part of the sub-text.; 50,000 were rendered refugees in their own land, 15,000 are still internally displaced.

Like clockwork around the same time, in the southern state of Karnataka where the saffron flag had flown on the state’s assembly for the first time in the previously held elections, 57 Churches were attacked systematically in Mangalore, Udipi and other parts of the state. The attacks, thoroughly documented by Justice Saldanha in his report, on an Inquiry requested by Transparency International and PUCL, Karnataka, presents a dangerous tale of how the highest echelons of those in power, assisted by some communally minded policemen, not only allowed mobs to attack Christians at prayer and desecrated their places of worship, but worse also systematically destroy any evidence of the attack as soon as they had taken place. Independent media were also made targets and other sections, wooed through monetary considerations by the state government, were complicit or silent. Action against the perpetrators has not taken place with the state government in a malafide action simply withdrawing all criminal cases against the RSS, VHP, BD and BJP. The officially appointed Justice BK Somasekhara Commission that released its report in January 2011, has been an eye-wash.


Evidence gathered by this writer (Teesta Setalvad) shows how from October 1988 (Phulbani Orissa), 1989 (Kalahandi, Keonjhar and Phulbani) 1991 (Ganjam and Cuttack districts), 1983 (Balasore) the Church leadership had been appealing to the state administration and union government authorities on the issues of mob attacks on Christians and their religious places. Worse venomous hate speech by the leaders of these mobs though monitored by the State and Central Authorities had not been prosecuted under Indian Criminal Law. Even closer to the date, from October 2003 we (Communalism Combat) have been warning about the build up by the sangh parivar in Orissa.

Similarly before widespread attacks on Christian Churches in 2008, the atmosphere in the southern state for all minorities, Christians and Muslims was being corroded with the then state minister for home GS Acharya proudly acclaiming that “Narendra Modi was is his ideal.” . Modi has been named the “sole architect of the state sponsored genocide in Gujarat by the Concerned Citizens Tribunal headed by Justices VR Krishna Iyer and PB Sawant, former retired Judges of the Supreme Court of India, Crimes Against Humanity—Gujarat 2002.

“During the months of September to December 2008, and to a large extent in the months that followed, the BJP government in Karnataka had given the Bajrang Dal a free hand to run wild, particularly in the Karavali area….. Groups of young activists would be driving two-wheelers, jeeps and cars prominently flying saffron flags as an intimidatory gesture to all other communities….. What distresses me particularly is the fact that this infection had spread both to the Bar and to the subordinate judiciary in the whole of the area. A good percentage of the lawyers openly proclaimed allegiance to the BJP. “(Report of the People’s Tribunal Inquiry, Justice Michael F. Saldanha, retired judge of the High Court)

We have repeatedly documented and highlighted the divisive, disturbing and violent trends in Orissa and Karnataka from 1999 onwards but specifically after 2006. In December 2007, Christians in the Kandhamals were brutally attacked and several dozen churches were attacked.  Relief groups and civil society were barred from the area despite repeated pleas by organisations of the stature of CARITAS, EFICOR and the like, as well as personal appeals by Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar. John Dayal and Angana Chatterji, who was reported for Communalism Combat on Orissa since 2003 and was also a part of the Indian People’s Tribunal on Environment and Human Rights, also visited Orissa and reported.

"We need to tell civil society in India and abroad that the attack on Christians in Orissa is at par with the repeated mauling of Muslims in Gujarat and other states, and an integral part of the sangh parivar’s ideology." Dayal. We had brought these reports to our readers in the hope that our readers, all flag-bearers of sanity, put their heads together to make our struggle against this divisive politics more coherent and more effective.

2007 Christmas in Orissa



Photo Courtesy: Communalism Combat

Before the mob came we heard the sound of people approaching. The sound of hatred. Our lives, our faith, our existence is under attack and neither the neighbours, the police nor the state care." – Dalit Christian woman in Kandhamal

The crowd carried rods, trishuls (tridents), swords, kerosene. They used guns, a first in Orissa, weapons available in the market and makeshift local fabrications. Predominantly middle class caste Hindus participated in looting, destroying and torching property. They threw bombs to start the fire. The breakage was systematic, thorough. Women and men hid for days in forests in winter temperatures, later seeking shelter in the Balliguda town relief camp, returning to decimated Barakhama on January 2. Engulfed in soot and sorrow, people attempted to function amid charred remnants. A woman said: "Everything burns down and we are left with nothing. How little our lives are made (of). How alone we are, so far away from everything.“
(January 2008, Year 14, Number 127, Communalism Combat www.sabrang.com)


Report on the Justice Struggle in Orisa (Kandhamals-2010)
Case status of fast Track Court (03.03.09—to--01.12.10)
Complaints lodged-----------------------------------------------------------------3232
Case registered--------------------------------------------------------------------828
Total Number of cases (Vi+No.Vi) committed to the court no-2--------          277
Total Number of violence cases committed to the court-2------------- --        281
Total Number of No-Violence case committed to the court-2-------------        47
Number of case Acquitted (Violence case) -------------------- ------------       128
Number of case Convicted (Violence case) ----------------------------------     59
Number of case on pending trial (Violence case) ----------------------- -----   44
                                                        
ACQUITTAL & CONVICTION RATE.
Total Number of accused faced the trial------------------------------------1556
Number of accused convicted ------------------------------------------------269
Number of accused acquitted -----------------------------------------------1287
(Courtesy: Father Advocate Dibakar Parichha, Justice Peace Development and Communications in 2010)
 
     

The survivors were under threat not to return to their villages unless they agree to change their religion, withdraw cases against their attackers, stop eating beef and dalits stay within limitations imposed by the upper castes. About 15000 people are still living as refugees outside their villages.
 
Out of 3300 complaints filed by victims in the local police stations only 831 have been registered (as First Information Reports – FIRs). Many cases have not been investigated and the accused not prosecuted. In other cases, shoddy police investigations have already created a crisis in the dispensation of justice.
 
The accused have coerced, threatened, and cajoled the victims and the witnesses. There have been attempts to bribe them, both outside and inside the Fast Track Courts. The real perpetrators, like Mr. Manoj Pradhan (BJP-MLA Member of Legislative Assembly), are moving around scot-free and threatening the witnesses time and again, whereas hardly any steps are taken to protect witnesses or ensure their safety. The victims have expressed their deep distrust of the current justice delivery system.
 
There was no action against Orissa Administration officials who could not protect the lives of hundreds of Christians and who allowed Hindu extremist mobs to move around the district with an organised and armed crowd and to do arson, burning, killings uninterruptedly in the presence of police or those who allowed RSS leaders like Pravin Togadia to enter the area and deliver hate speeches.
 
There were re major lacunae in the administration of relief to and rehabilitation of the victims of the mass violence. Improper identification and assessment of the houses as fully or partially damaged has been done, damaged houses have been left out of the lists, while lost or damaged household articles are not mentioned at all. Even the 837 families, who lost their houses during December 2007 violence, are yet to get any housing. The government has promised only Rs 50000 as compensation for fully damaged houses; still the actual disbursement till now has only been Rs 10000. Out of 6500 families which lost their houses 60 percent are yet to have a roof to shelter under. Not a single one of the destroyed NGO schools, hospitals, and offices has been compensated.
 
The administration has not made any visible effort to support a revival of dignified livelihood of the victims, to prevent large-scale migration and pauperisation of victim families, or to bring back dropped out children to school. The long-standing problem of landlessness and land alienation of the dalits and adivasis has been completely ignored. There have been almost no efforts to provide land rights to landless survivors, who are facing difficulties to get a shelter after they lost their houses during violence.

Who were the Guilty?

 The State in Orissa was responsible for the violation of Article 14 and 21 and 25 of the Indian Constitution and the situation in Orissa is reflective of an absolute breakdown of the rule of law and Constitutional Governance.

 Prayer houses of the minority community have been burnt, a 'nun' was molested and raped while police personnel watched and the entire law and order situation has completely collapsed.
The story of young Rajani Majhi of Padampur, Kanya Ashram, Bargarh, is gory. She was thrown to the fire alive and was burnt to death. The nun was raped in public on August 25, 2008 at 'K. Nuagaon' village under Baliguda police station.

It was not possible for these crimes to have been committed without the open and tacit support of the district administration and the state government; the criminals are reported to be activists of the Bajrang Dal which is a youth wing of sangh parivar and the  organization that enjoys the patronage and a symbiotic relationship with the political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which was, until yesterday, a coalition partner in the present government. The entire exercise of burning the churches and killing of innocent people, of minority community savagely, has been masterminded by the sangh parivar with the sanction of the BJP. However the state government as a whole supported these acts.

 SIB Inputs Ignored

 After the first bout of violence in December 2007, the Naxalites had reportedly written a letter threatening Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati with his life. This is in the possession and knowledge of the state administration. Yet, the State of Orissa, its chief minister, home minister, collector and SP of Kandhamal did nothing to control the anticipated fallout of the violence following the killing of the Swami.  Officers of the State Intelligence Bureau, Orissa shared the letter with this author in May 2008. Excerpts:

“This communal violence is being fomented by BJP keeping an eye on the coming election and since BJP is the coalition partner in the ruling govt. in Orissa, the Naveen Patnaik led govt. in the State as well as the police administration are extending all help to BJP in carrying out its nefarious designs. This is amply proved from the fact that Laxmananda Saraswati who was the mastermind behind the communal violence was accorded VIP treatment in the hospital although he was not injured during the attack on his vehicle. People must know that number of tribal girls are being regularly sexually harassed by Swami Laxmanananda in his Kanyashram at Tumudibandh….. It is obvious that being influenced by our struggle the dalits, adivasis irrespective of their caste, religion and education took part in the same counter attack on the rioters in Brahmanigaon area. However, the allegation that CPI (Maoist) was directly involved in the attack was not true. If at all our cadres would have joined in the attack then the attack would not have concentrate at Oriya Sahi (Brahmanigaon) which is inhabited by common Hindus, rather we would have targeted the top leaders of Hindu fundamental forces like Laxmananda Saraswati or other leaders of Sangh Parivar/BJP. The communal violence was carried out by the Sangh Parivar activists in order to suppress the emerging new leaders/contractors/businessmen among the dalit and adivasi community so that the exploitation being carried out by upper caste landlords and contractors would remain in force. The VHP as well as its patronisters i.e the upper caste landlords/businessmen fomented the communal violence in Kandhamal district only to safeguard their economic interest. The attack and loss incurred by each member of Hindu or Christian community in this communal violence is really painful, heart touching and needs to be condemned. We would request both the religious groups to refrain from their fundamentalist ideology and should strive to form a secular society.
(marked “SECRET”, Appeal by CPI (Maoist), Orissa State Organising Committee)
 
 That when this threat was in their knowledge and the Maoist/Naxalite outfits claimed open and public credit for the massacre of the Swami, the State of Orissa by remaining silent and allowing its coalition partner the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) and ministers, their sister organizations like the Bajrang Dal (BD) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) to spin their own tale on who was responsible for the violence, amounted to nothing short of barefaced and open collusion in the violence against tribal Christians and Dalit Christians in the Kandhamals. The culpability of the entire administration is shameful and there for any reasonable person to see.
 
Since December 2007, despite pressure from the BJP, Bajrang Dal and the VHP six platoons of the CRPF had been stationed at Kandhamal and these paramilitary central forces could have been immediately used for the protection of life and property from August 24, 2008 until now but their failure to act was because, in law the Collector (District Magistrate) is empowered to issue the command to enlist their support. The command was not issued by the Collector as a deliberate act of collusion by the Collector to allow violence and atrocities.
 
The role of the Chief Minister, Shri Naveen Patnaik, the elected head of a Government has betrayed his duties as laid down under Article 163-165 of the Indian Constitution where he is responsible to the Governor for the protection of the fundamental rights of all citizen regardless of caste community, tribe of gender. Besides the Chief Minister as head of an elected Government has failed as the highest in-charge of command and in-charge of Home Ministry and law and order and to provide firm and non-partisan leadership to the state and to give unequivocal instructions to prevent inflammatory processions carrying of Swami Laxmanananda body more than 222 kilometers to inflame passions, allow a  ‘bandh’ from organization whose  records in maintaining law and order is bloodthirsty as best.
 

There was a collective failure to

 
(a) Failing to contain the BJP Ministers in his Cabinet from Participating in the Inciteful Funereal Procession that allowed mobs to commit multiple offences of murder (120B, 114r/w 302 IPC;
 
(b). Allowing DGP and through them the SP and DM to carry the dead body of Swami Lakshamananada and inflame communal passions (153a, 153b, 505 IPC, defiling places of worship 295 IPC, malicious acts to outrage religious sentiments, obstruction public servant in discharge of duties (160 IPC) .
 
 

Agent Provocateurs Allowed to Spew and Incite Hatred



 
A procession was allowed on August 24, 2008 that accompanied the dead body of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati to every nook and corner of Kandhamal, stopping outside churches, shouting incendiary slogans, which sowed the seeds of communal tension against the minority Christians. The rioters went on rampage by destroying the house of the minority community. Similarly the corpses of the unfortunate victims of the Godhra mass arson that took place in S-6 of the Sabarmati Coach were paraded in different parts of Ahmedabad to inflame cadres of the VHP and BD to commit brute violence thereafter.
 
 

Bandh in Orissa Called by Sangh Parivar

 On August 25, 2008 a call was given by the Sangh Parivar for Orissa Bandh. The chief minister who is head of Home department, did not take any effective steps to protect the life and property of the people by deploying military force in sensitive places, Instead  allowing the things to go on its way. As a result, a well thought out plan was executed for ethnic cleansing. In the process, the innocent lives were savagely smothered like moth without any respect for human values.
 

The Case of Rajani


 An innocent girl, Rajani was pushed to the burning Sevashram alive, which proved their fit of insanity and madness to hoist a saffron flag on the cross atop the church, which is a smirch in our Constitutional goal of inserting secular in preamble and antithesis to the solemn wish in article 25 i.e. freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion.
 
In the medical report submitted by Dr. Sangita Mishra and Smita Marandi in the nun rape case was suppressed for 39 days from the public, The S.P. Kandhamal was forced to admit before the public in a press conference that the medical report reveals that she was raped. Till then neither the accused persons had been nabbed nor any enquiry to that effect has been conducted by the government in power through their investigating agencies and remained as sphinx to the inhumanly bestiality shown by the activists of the Bajrang Dal in killing people and hiding the dead bodies in the dense forest and at the same time successfully manipulating the press report to project before the public at large that every thing is under control and no barbarity was being committed by the rioters.
 
Deleterious Role of the Media
 
The mainstream newspapers in the Oriya language particularly the Dharitri and the Samaj, who have the largest circulation within the state and outside are the privy in hiding the real fact and fanning the communal tension and hatred against the Christian minority and other disadvantaged people, even though a calculated massacre was going on with impunity with a sole motive of ethnic cleansing of Christian minority in the plea of retaliation of the killing of 'Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati'. (For those interested do contact us at [email protected]/[email protected] for a detailed note on Media Review in and around December August 25, 2007 and August 22, 2008)
The State administration has remained a mute spectator to this macabre incident.
 
The result of the state’s callouness killed 59 persons and rendered over 50,000 people homeless and out of this 26,000 people are in different relief camps managed by the State.  A few hundred if not thousands of the victims fled to other states and some have remained in the houses of relatives in the different part of the state.  FIRs have not been registered thoroughly nor investigations carried out thoroughly.
 

Togadia Procession Allowed

 When the district of Kandhamal was burning in the aftermath of killing of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati on August 23, 2008, the state did not feel any pangs of conscience in allowing the V.H.P. leader   Pravin Togadia and state level leaders to enter into the Kandhamal to pay homage to late  Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati on August 25, 2008 and making provocative statements that ignited violence and hatred and encouraged a spirit of retaliation against the minority.
This was the incitement required to propel the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal members to launch an attack on the minority. (Media records of such inflammatory speeches)
 
This further surcharged the atmosphere and the sangh parivar activists being inspired by the speeches of the Togadia burnt the houses, killed the innocent people of the minority community and burned the churches. When there were reports that a Central Minister, Sri Jaiswal was advised to return to Delhi on the plea of security, how come Togadia was allowed to enter in to the Kandhamal, wherein already communal tensions had been  smouldering. The speeches of Togadia acted like a spark and as a consequence, the Hindu fanatics targeted and killed several people and torched the villages and churches on the same day in the different parts of the Orissa and particularly Kandhamal.
(Reference: news report in The New Indian express dt. August 27, 2008)
 

Cost of Targeted Violence

 Even though official reports of the Orissa government state reveals that that 10,000 people have already returned back to their homes from the relief camps to settle in their villages, to date, in 2011, as many as 15,000 persons are homeless still either living in inhuman camps which the state does not admit to or still in other states. In the immediate aftermath of the violence, those who dared leave the relief camps to go home in the forests have been butchered and some young girls even raped. Reports of missing persons have come to the light from the G. Udayagiri relief camp. The claims of the state government that the rehabilitation has been either successfully completed or is being carried out on a war footing are totally misleading. The fact remains that the houses of the people have already been burnt and they have been threatened of dire consequences if they dare to return to their houses. Further more the threat of forceful conversion by shearing their head and drinking cowdung water, is still looming large over their head.

 About 62 FIRs have been filed in between 2006-2008 relating to forceful conversion from Christianity to Hinduism in the Kandhamal in violation to the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967 and Rules. (Photos of death and destruction)

 Should not those in responsible positions in power and the administration and police and inciters of hatred and violence like Togadia been effectively prosecuted?
 The IIC Baliguda was further responsible for suppressing the rape case of the nun for 33 days and also remained a mute spectator to the massacre and burning the villages and Churches. This is empirical proof on the ideological designs and pressures on the district police and administration by the sangh parivar and moreover threatens the basic tenets of transparency and the rule of law that decree that when a crime is committed, the guilty must be punished.
 Thus along with the IIC of Baliguda, G Udaygiri, Tikabali, Raikia and Pasara, the S.P. of Kandhamal and D.G. of Police are also liable for penal action for these intentional and calculated lapses that violate a citizens fundamental rights to equal protection before the law under the Indian Constitution; that violate their statutory duties under the Cr PC and the Administrative Service Rules governing IPS and IAS officers.
 
Hence, they should have been suspended and criminal prosecutions for criminal negligence for the loss of lives of members of the minority community be launched against them. That normal departmental proceeding may be initiated against them but these should not be a camouflage for a full fledged criminal prosecution in full public view that is required to restore the confidence of the people in the state.
 
The compensation for the relative of the death victims case which has been announced but has not been given in several cases because of the non availability of the post mortem report to the legal heir of the deceased. Since they have lost their earning member of the family, they need should have been paid immediate compensation which can be given without post mortem report with a condition that the relative of the victim will submit an indemnity bond and incident of death could be ensured by the evidence of the eye witnesses.
 
That apart the compensation of the package declared by the state is paltry sum in commensurate to the trauma, the victims of riot have suffered due to the death of their bread earning member of the family. Commensurate packages should be paid to what has been paid elsewhere. In the case of the Gujarat genocide of 2002, also, the Gujarat government's pathetic package was buffeted by a central government package that gave s 5 lakhs for every life lost and Rs 1.25 lakhs to every injured person. Hence the State Government may be directed to review its package of compensation and re-assess it in view of the severe psychological and socio-economic jolt to the family members of the death victims.
 

 Demands for an Independent Commission were never met.
 

To restore faith among the victim community. The following specific suggestions are made to create an independent body in the district level and also in each block to facilitate the peace process
 
  • Immediate creation of 'Help Line' and also 'Citizen's Committees' headed by a local (ST/SC/Religious Minority) community leader essentially human rights activists in each block and at district level to collect first hand information
Proper documentation of Victim and Deprived Families
  • Appointment of Sensitive Officers from the SC/ST/Minority Communities in all affected areas
  Review and appointment of Officers ST/SC concern sensitive to the issues and make changes as per the advice of he said committees as per ST/SC Atrocity Act 1989 and
 

 Was there a Chain of Command Responsibility in the Violence Against Christians in Orissa?
 

  • The Political Leadership in Orissa represented by the cabinet of ministers  especially cabinet ministers from the BJP who sanctioned participated in the violent procession following Swami Laxhmanananda’s murder under its Constitutional Obligation and Oath to protect the lives and properties of all, irrespective of caste creed or community (Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, Article 163-165 of the Indian Constitution)
  • The State of Orissa under its Constitutional Obligation to Protect lives of all irrespective of caste, gender, community and class (Article 21 of the Indian Constitution)
  • The Union of India, represented through its Secretary of Home New Delhi under its Constitutional Obligations specifically under Article 355 of the Indian Constitution (Duty of the Union to Protect States Against External Aggression and Internal Disturbance: It shall be the duty of the Union to protect every State against external aggression and internal disturbance and to ensure that the government of every State is carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution).

Excerpts from Asma Jahangir’s Report. She was the Special Rapporteur for Religious Freedom, United Nations, 2009 after her visit to India:

“…11. A number of Indian states have adopted specific laws which seek to govern religious conversion and renunciation. Five states have passed and implemented the so-called Freedom of Religion Acts (Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh). Similar laws have been passed but not yet implemented in two other states (Arunachal Pradesh and Rajasthan). All of these laws stipulate that “no person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religious faith to another by the use of force or by inducement or by any fraudulent means nor shall any person abet any such conversion”. The term “force” is defined to “include a show of force or a threat for injury of any kind including threat of divine displeasure or social excommunication”. These laws carry penalties of imprisonment and fines with harsher penalties in case children, women or persons belonging to the Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes are forcibly converted. Furthermore, in some states anyone converting another person from one religion to another is required to obtain prior permission from state authorities thirty days before the date of such intended conversion  or submit a related intimation . In other states with such laws, anyone intending to change his or her religion needs to give prior notice  or intimation after the conversion ceremony.
  •  
18. Widespread violence in the Kandhamal district of Orissa in December 2007 primarily targeted Christians in Dalit and tribal communities. The Special Rapporteur received   credible reports that members of the Christian community alerted the authorities and politicians in advance of the planned attacks of December 24-27, 2007. The police, too, had warned Christian leaders about anticipated violence. In its report on the events of December 2007, the National Commission for Minorities confirmed that “destruction on such a large scale in places which are difficult to access could not have taken place without advance preparation and planning”.
19. The situation in Orissa has reportedly deteriorated again after August 23, 2008, when Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, a local leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), and four other VHP members were killed. Although a Maoist leader had claimed responsibility and the Christian leadership had condemned the killings, organized mobs subsequently attacked Christians in Dalit and tribal communities. By the end of September 2008, more than 40 people had allegedly been killed in Orissa, over 4,000 Christian homes destroyed and around 50 churches demolished. Around 20,000 people were living in relief camps and more than 40,000 people hiding in forests and others places. The Special Rapporteur was profoundly alarmed by the humanitarian situation in relief camps where access to food, safe drinking water, medical care, proper sanitary arrangements and adequate clothing were reportedly lacking.
 

But were the Guilty Punished?

The sangh parivar seeks to build a cadre comprised of Hindus, men and women, and targets Christians, Muslims, Adivasis and Dalits and other disenfranchised and progressive and secular groups in Orissa….

The sangh has amassed between 35 and 40 major organisations with numerous branches (including paramilitary hate camps) in 25 districts in Orissa, with a massive base of a few million operating at every level of society, ranging from, and connecting, villages to cities, and Orissa to the ‘Hindu nation’…... The sangh has inaugurated various trusts and branches of national and international institutions in Orissa to aid fund-raising, including the Friends of Tribal Society, Samarpan Charitable Trust, Sookruti, Yasodha Sadan and Odisha International Centre.
The RSS operates 6,000 shakhas in Orissa with a 1,50,000+ cadre. RSS graduates take an oath affirming allegiance to the RSS as national duty: ‘I will devote my body, mind and money (tana, mana, bhana) to the motherland.’ The sangh also hires paid operatives to undertake mob activity. Led by the RSS, Vidya Bharati (known as Shiksha Vikas Samiti in Orissa) directs 391 Saraswati Shishu Mandir schools in Orissa, including in Balangir, Kalahandi, Koraput, Malkangiri, Nabarangpur, Nuapada, Kandhamal and Rayagada districts, with 1,11,000 students preparing for future leadership.

Training camps in Bhadrak and Behrampur aim at Adivasi youth. Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram runs 1,534 projects and schools in 21 Adivasi concentrated districts. The sangh has initiated 1,200 Ekal Vidyalayas in 10 districts in Orissa to target Adivasis. In March 2000, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Biju Janata Dal (BJD) coalition came to power. In October 2002, a Shiv Sena unit in Balasore district formed the first Hindu ‘suicide squad’. The Hindu Suraksha Samiti organises against Muslims. Revolting slogans, ‘Mussalman ka ek hi sthan, Pakistan ya Kabristan (For Muslims there is one place, Pakistan or the grave)’, perforate neighbourhoods. Ignoring Signals at Our Own Peril.
  
“The violence against Christian minority communities in Orissa in August-October 2008 was not unexpected. In Orissa, since the mid-1990s, a formidable mobilisation has been established by Hindu nationalist groups, including in Kandhamal district. These groups have acted with egregious impunity with adverse impact on society, economy, culture, religion, polity and security in the state. The sangh parivar ‘family’ of Hindutva, Hindu supremacist, organisations has a visible presence in 25 of 30 districts in Orissa. The sangh parivar has amassed between 35 and 40 major organisations with numerous branches (including paramilitary hate camps) in 25 districts in Orissa, with a massive base of a few million operating at every level of society ranging from, and connecting, villages to cities in their campaign to ‘convert’ Orissa for the ‘Hindu nation’… “

“During the 2008 violence in Orissa various militant Hindu nationalist organisations acted with impunity. The violence was led by the following groups – the Bajrang Dal, VHP and RSS. Following the riots and extended violence against Christian communities in Kandhamal district of Orissa in August-October 2008, the Government of Orissa and police, military and paramilitary forces deployed in the state failed to respond effectively, efficiently or appropriately. This posed a serious threat to democratic governance in the state and the ability of government to ensure the security and sanctity of peoples and groups made vulnerable through majoritarian communalism as perpetrated by Hindu nationalist organisations in the state. The central government in New Delhi as well failed to respond in a timely and effective manner and with due concern.”
Professor Angana Chatterjee to United states Congressional Task Force on religious Freedom in December 2008 published in February 2009 issue of Communalism Combat
 

Both Orissa, Karnataka and Gujarat have a history of targeted violence against the religious minorities clearly suggesting a deliberate complicity of the State in non-punishment of the perpetrators.

Why do we wait until it is too late?

Between the late eighties and 2002, the build up in Gujarat at the societal and state level violated Constitutional provisions and Indian Criminal law. Yet we waited until the genocidal carnage that took 2,500 lives spread over 19 districts of the state before we acted/reacted. Selected censuses of Muslims and Christians (1996-1998), driving out Muslims after violent attacks in Randhikpur and Sanjeli (October 1998—Welcome to Hindu Rashtra, Communalism Combat). Between 1998-1999 Christians and Christian Institutions were targeted across the state of Gujarat. Remember the attacks on churches in the Dangs that led to a terror filled Christmas in the Dangs in December 1998 when 16 Churches were attacked and Christians were made to live in terror?

Swami Aseemanand was the leading perpetrator his ashram a nest for hate spewing cadres and Dangs in south Gujarat is a district where Christians and their institutions have since lived in terror.
The Shabhri Kumbh here is held every year – a pretext for the sangh parivar’s continuing terror tactics through “re-conversion” and the land of tribals is being sold by a visceral state government to media corporate Since 1996, media reports have drawn repeated attention to such hate campaigns. But all the vitriol has suspiciously escaped police action under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Gujarat, and now Uttar Pradesh, are living examples of life for Indians under ‘Hindu Rashtra’.
Senior officials in the police, like the DGP of Gujarat, CP Singh, have stated on record that “organisations like the VHP and Bajrang Dal are clearly behind the violence” (see CC, October 1998). Concrete evidence in specific cases points clearly to the moral and ideological backing that the sangh parivar renders to the assailants. But our watchdogs and institutions fail to make the connection or see the pattern.

In early 2000, the then newly appointed RSS Sarsanghchalak, KS Sudarshan, declared that an ‘epic war’ was in progress in India between Hindus and ‘anti–Hindu forces’; in Mumbai, Bal Thackeray’s Saamna has been spitting venom since his newspaper came into existence. And yet these persons escape the long arm of the law.



What is responsible for this selective amnesia? How is it possible for us to react to rights’ violations in individual cases but turn a blind eye to the bloody and devious design that underlies them?

On June 22, 2000 a Bajrang Dal leader, Dharmendra Sharma, sah-sahayojak for the Braj region, makes front page news declaring that Christians are now “bigger enemies” than Muslims. (The Times of India, June 23, 2000).

Clarification, if any were needed, that Muslims remain the Bajrang Dal’s and the VHP’s enemies! “Maar peet to kya, hum sab kuch karne ke liye taiyar hain” (“We are prepared to use violence. There is no limit”), said Sharma, leaving no room for any confusion. 

The remark prompted an expression of outrage from India’s then attorney general, Soli Sorabjee. He opined that such elements should be put behind bars. The National Human Rights Commission demanded details of attacks on Christians from the central and state governments. But only weeks earlier, the remark of the all–India Bajrang Dal convenor, Dr. Surendra Jain, calling for “a second Quit India movement” to drive away Christian missionaries had passed unnoticed and unchallenged. (The Afternoon Dispatch and Courier, May 27, 2000).

Life in Gujarat for a Muslim or a Christian has been a suffocating reminder that he or she no longer enjoys the precious privilege of being regarded as an equal Indian. This is the reality since the late 1980s. Muslims residing in ‘cosmopolitan’ localities in Gujarat are forcibly evicted; Muslim children have to compulsory attend school and even give examinations on Id day. Christmas can often not be celebrated in public and Christian Institutions are persecuted by the authorities. Discrimination and bias has insidiously crept into the marketplace of ideas, avenues of livelihood, educational institutions, the administration, the police, the judiciary. All in all, the quality that we used to proudly describe as Indian values has fast eroded. 

(The text and images of this article are excerpted from a 2011 powerpoint presentation researched by the author)