Crying for Justice

Excerpts from the report of the National People’s Tribunal on Kandhamal

Orissa witnessed unprecedented violence against the Christian minority in August 2008. On August 23, 2008 Swami Lakshmanananda, along with four followers, was killed, probably by a group of Maoists. Immediately, anti-Christian violence began on a big scale. The way it began, it seemed as if preparations for it were well afoot. It was systematic and widespread. It sounded as if the preparation was already there; just the pretext was being awaited.

Christians are a tiny minority in India. Contrary to the perception that British brought Christianity to India, it is one of the oldest religions of India. Its spread has been slow. Not much was heard against this minority till the decade of the 1990s when suddenly it started being asserted that Christian missionaries are converting. Anti-Christian violence has been occurring more in the remote interior and is accompanied by another phenomenon, that of Ghar Vapasi (return home), which is the conversion of Adivasis into the fold of Hinduism by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)-Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram.
It is from 1996 that this phenomenon of conversion/anti-Christian violence has captured the attention of all of us. Suddenly, as if from nowhere has descended the ‘threat of conversion to Christianity’ by force or fraud. Simultaneously, attacks on priests and nuns increased in distant interior places. It has been a peculiar phenomenon that while these attacks in remote places were being undertaken, the Christian institutions in cities – schools, colleges and hospitals – were hard pressed to cope with the demands on their services related to education and health.

The message has been spread that Christian missionaries working in remote places are soft targets and one can get away without much reprisal. Also, the anti-Christian mobilisation of Adivasi youth through cultural manipulation was the groundwork on which the anti-Christian violence could sustain. In the atmosphere created by the activities of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) progeny, local communal groups have felt emboldened to pick up any small issue and to make a violent incident out of it. Its frightening effect on the victims is tremendous. It also begins to polarise the local communities into Christian and non-Christian camps amongst whom the seeds of tension are sown.

The physical violence has been accompanied by cultural manipulation in these areas. The silent work to Hinduise Adivasis through religio-cultural mechanisms has been stepped up from the last three decades. People like Swami Aseemanand (Dangs, Gujarat), Swami Lakshmanananda (Kandhamal, Orissa), followers of Asaram Bapu (Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh), began their work in popularising Hindu gods and goddesses in the region.

The choice of gods/goddesses from the vast pantheon of the Hindu religion was a clever one. Here Shabri (symbol of poverty and deprivation) was the main goddess, the idol for Adivasis. Temples in her name were started and regular Kumbhs (mass religious congregations of Hindus) were organised in her name. Kumbhs have been a tradition in Hinduism at fixed intervals of time on the banks of holy rivers, the Ganges in particular. Modifying that tradition, these Kumbhs were organised in Adivasi areas. Here the work of conversion to Hinduism, the spread of hate against “foreigners”, particularly Christians, was spread. In addition, an atmosphere of terror was created against those who do not toe the line of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram.

Similarly, the god Hanuman, the foremost devotee of Lord Rama, was also made popular, by spreading his lockets and through different stories around him, in the Ekal (Vidyalaya) schools and Saraswati Shishu Mandirs. It created an atmosphere of divide in the Adivasi areas; Adivasis turned Hindus, the Hindu Dalits and upper castes versus the Christians. It is this atmosphere of divisiveness which has been at the root of the violence in these areas.

The role of state agencies has been no different in these incidents than what it has been in the anti-Muslim violence. In most cases, the administration has looked the other way when communal goons were on the rampage. The administration most often provided enough leeway for them to wreak havoc, indulge in intimidation, violence, and to get away with that.  

It is in this backdrop that when the Kandhamal carnage took place, the offences of RSS affiliates, the lapses and partisan behaviour of the state machinery, the lack of rehabilitation and deliverance of justice, came as a big jolt to the victims and became a matter of concern for human rights groups. The lack of proper investigation and other actions on the part of the state were the key for getting justice for the victims.

Thousands of Dalits and Adivasis belonging to the Christian minority community in Kandhamal district of Orissa were victims of organised violence that began in August 2008. According to government figures, during the violence from August to December 2008, in Kandhamal district alone, more than 600 villages were ransacked, 5,600 houses were looted and burnt, 54,000 people were left homeless and 38 people were murdered. Human rights groups estimate that over 100 people were killed, including disabled and elderly persons, children and women. An un-estimated number suffered severe physical injuries and mental trauma. While there are reports of a few women being sexually assaulted, many more such victims are believed to have been intimidated into silence.

Two hundred and ninety-five churches and other places of worship, big and small, were destroyed; 13 schools, colleges, and offices of several non-profit organisations damaged. About 30,000 people were uprooted and lived in relief camps and continue to be displaced. During this period about 2,000 people were forced to renounce their Christian faith. More than 10,000 children had their education severely disrupted due to displacement and fear. Despite the passage of time since August 2008, the situation has not improved. The state administration though continues to claim that Kandhamal is peaceful and has returned to normalcy.

The National People’s Tribunal on Kandhamal
The National People’s Tribunal (NPT) on Kandhamal, held in New Delhi on August 22-24, 2010, was organised by the National Solidarity Forum – a countrywide solidarity platform of concerned social activists, media persons, researchers, legal experts, film-makers, artists, writers, scientists and civil society organisations – to assist the victims and survivors of the Kandhamal violence, 2008, to seek justice, accountability and peace and to restore the victim survivors’ right to a dignified life.

 The tribunal heard 45 victims, survivors and their representatives. The victim survivors of the violence narrated their experiences to the tribunal through duly notarised affidavits which were taken officially on record by the panel of jury members. Though the organisers intended that each of the victim survivors would orally present the contents of the affidavit before the tribunal, not all gave oral testimonies, for lack of time.

Except for one woman victim of sexual assault, who gave her testimony to the jury members in camera, all other persons deposed before the tribunal in open proceedings despite being threatened and intimidated against testifying. This report quotes from both the affidavits as well as the oral testimonies of the affected persons, who spoke in Oriya and English, assisted by translators.

In addition to the oral testimonies, the jury members considered all documentation related to each case, consisting of affidavits, court documents, medical and other supporting documents, as well as copies of reports and studies on the violence. A unique feature of this NPT was that the testimonies and depositions by victim survivors of the violence were supplemented by 15 expert testimonies of reports of field surveys, research and fact-finding, as well as statements to the tribunal… This report incorporates and draws upon the contents of all reports and statements presented before the tribunal.
Formal invitations were extended to the ministry of minority affairs, ministry of tribal affairs, ministry of women and child development, ministry of social justice and empowerment, National Human Rights Commission, National Commission for Minorities (NCM), National Commission for Scheduled Castes, National Commission for Scheduled Tribes and National Commission for Women to participate in the proceedings of the tribunal. However, there was no participation from the concerned ministries and commissions.

From August-December 2008, in Kandhamal district alone, over 600 villages were ransacked, 5,600 houses looted and burnt and 54,000 people left homeless. Human rights groups estimate that over 100 people were killed. Several suffered severe physical injuries and women were sexually assaulted. About 30,000 people continue to be displaced.

On the final day of the tribunal – August 24, 2010 – the panel members of the jury released an interim report which contained its preliminary findings.
The jury of the NPT was headed by Justice AP Shah, former chief justice of the Delhi high court. Joining him as jury members were Harsh Mander (member, National Advisory Council), Mahesh Bhatt (film-maker and activist), Miloon Kothari (former UN special rapporteur on adequate housing), PS Krishnan (retired secretary, government of India), Rabi Das (senior journalist based in Bhubaneswar), Ruth Manorama (women’s and Dalit rights activist), Sukumar Muralidharan (Delhi-based freelance journalist), Syeda Hameed (member, Planning Commission, government of India), Vahida Nainar (expert on international law, mass crimes and gender), Vinod Raina (scientist and social activist with a specific focus on right to education), Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat (former chief of naval staff) and Vrinda Grover (advocate, Delhi high court).

Context of communal politics in Orissa
The historic context of the Kandhamal violence is located in the spread of Hindutva ideology. In 2002, following the carnage of Muslims in Gujarat, Hindu nationalists gave a call to transform Orissa into Hindutva’s next laboratory. It is only since then that concerned individuals and groups began seriously studying the reach of Hindu nationalism in Orissa. Following the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 that killed over 2,000 Muslims and destroyed the community, a targeted attack on the Christian minority in Orissa was a disaster-in-waiting. The potential of manipulating the tense dynamics of the relationship between the Dalit and the Adivasi communities to serve the goals of religious fanatics made Kandhamal an ideal site for such an attack.

The sangh parivar has a visible presence in 25 of the 30 districts in Orissa. They consolidated their reach and influence with the support of the institutions of the government of Orissa, and Hindu nationalists in the state. In October 2002 a Shiv Sena unit in Balasore district in Orissa declared that it had formed the first Hindu “suicide squad” to train youth for high-risk assignments. The RSS operates 6,000 shakhas (cells) in Orissa with more than 1,75,000 cadres and a growing general membership. The VHP has more than 1,50,000 primary workers in Orissa. The Bajrang Dal has more than 60,000 activists working as leaders through 200 akharas (training centres) in the state.

The sangh parivar has amassed between 35 and 40 major organisations with numerous branches (including paramilitary hate camps and charitable, religious, educational, political and development organisations), with a massive base of a few million persons operating at every level of society, ranging from, and connecting, villages to cities, in their campaign to “Hinduise” Orissa.

Socio-economic profile of Kandhamal
Kandhamal is among the poorest districts of Orissa. It stands 29th out of Orissa’s 30 districts on the UNDP’s human development index. The Hindutva forces allege that because of low per capita income, the tribals of Kandhamal district have become easy targets for missionaries.
Kandhamal is located in the heart of Orissa. Present-day Kandhamal was formed as a district in 1994 from the earlier Phulbani district. It consists of about 2,415 villages. Because of its hilly forested areas, it has poor connectivity with other districts. Only 12 per cent of its total area is cultivable. About 71 per cent comprises forests and the rest is barren land.

Statistics presented to the tribunal on the livelihood of the people in Kandhamal prior to the violence indicate that 78 per cent of the population depended on daily wage labour and other ancillary jobs (including small businesses, private and government jobs) and 22 per cent of the population earned their livelihood from agriculture.

The Christian community is economically disenfranchised in Kandhamal. A majority of the Christian population, including local Christian leaders, are landless or marginal landholders with an average holding of half an acre per family. Christian leaders assert that the church does not convert under duress or offer money in lieu of conversions. In the 1960s and 1970s many Adivasis benefited from the services of education, health care and employment provided by the Christian missionaries. The exposure to Christianity in the course of such access to services may have led some to convert their religion.
Adivasis and Dalits are not religious but ethnic groups. Adivasis are primarily animists and do not fall in the category of religion as a social phenomenon in the same way as Christians, Muslims and Hindus. However, the sangh parivar considers Adivasis to be Hindus and where they have adopted religions other than Hinduism, they have become targets for reconversion. More than 90 per cent of the Dalits in Kandhamal, otherwise known as Panas, are Christians. The Dalits are poorer than the Adivasis and have no access to resources. However, Kondhs – the Adivasis in Kandhamal – are also a disenfranchised community; 78 per cent of the Adivasis in Kandhamal live below the poverty line.

The Panas are designated as scheduled castes (SCs), comprise about 17 per cent of the district population and hold nine per cent of the cultivable land. By contrast, the tribal Kondhs, who are designated as scheduled tribes (STs), own about 77 per cent of the cultivable land. To increase their access to land and to avail of benefits, the Phulbani Kui Janakalyan Samiti, acting on behalf of the Panas, moved the Orissa high court seeking an order to be categorised as scheduled tribes. Tribal categorisation would allow Panas to buy tribal land and provide them with benefits such as reservation of jobs, education, regularise disputed land, etc. Irrespective of the outcome of this plea, it is a cause for serious concern for the Kondhs, since any addition to the list of STs without increasing the benefits given to STs as a whole would eat into their rights.

The predicament of the Panas however is no less a matter of concern. An anomaly in the definition of scheduled castes in the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950 issued by the president of India is that the scheduled castes who convert to religions other than Hinduism are no longer regarded among scheduled castes. Subsequent amendments to the presidential order have permitted conversion to Buddhism and Sikhism without a loss of SC status but not conversion to Christianity or Islam. As a result, a scheduled caste person loses his/her SC status upon conversion to Christianity. Conversely, scheduled tribes have rights to land and reservations that they do not lose upon conversion to any religion.

The 1950 order has caused many Christian Panas to lose their rights to reservations and other benefits that they were entitled to as SCs. It is in this context that allegations are made against the Panas, of using fake certificates to avail of SC benefits despite conversion to Christianity. There is however no information on how widespread the practice is. The practice is nevertheless alleged to be prevalent in all states and is rooted in the unreasonable character of the 1950 order. While the sangh parivar claims the demand for reservation benefits by converted Panas to be the root of the problem, the fact that both Dalit and Adivasi Christians have been at the receiving end of the violence exposes the hollow nature of this claim.

Socioculturally, there is a tradition of friendly interaction in Kandhamal among people across boundaries – Hindus and Christians, Adivasis and Dalits. Both Adivasis and Dalits speak the same Kui language and despite the politicisation and subsequent construction of oppositional identities, there are intermarriages among tribal Kondhs and Dalit Kondhs. Hindus and Christians have also lived side by side and for many of them, it is the outside Oriyas (mainly caste Hindus, some of whom are members of the sangh parivar) who have instigated conflicts between Adivasis and Dalits or Hindus and Christians so that their continued exploitation of local resources and domination of local politics and economy remains unchallenged. In Hinduising the Kondh Adivasis and polarising relations between them and the Pana Dalit Christians, the sangh parivar engineered rivalries between these two communities.

A desecrated statue of Mary at Mount Carmel Convent, Orissa 2007

Violence in Kandhamal, December 2007
The violence in Kandhamal in December 2007 and that which commenced in August 2008 were interconnected as events in the Hindu nationalist targeting of the Christian minority community in Orissa. Between December 24 and 26, 2007 a total of five parish churches, 48 village churches, five convents, four presbyteries, seven hostels, one vocational training centre and one leprosy centre were burnt and destroyed. Over 500 houses were burnt, looted or destroyed; 126 shops/other properties were destroyed. Several were killed and injured.

Swami Lakshmanananda’s murder, August 2008
The purported trigger for the violence in Kandhamal commencing on August 24, 2008 was the murder of Swami Lakshmanananda the previous day. On the evening of Saturday, August 23, 2008 Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati was killed at his ashram in Jalespata in Kandhamal district along with four others, including three fellow leaders of the VHP. The swami had lodged a first information report (FIR) 48 hours prior to the attack, seeking adequate security arrangements, based on letters of threat to his life. The attackers, estimated at 30 gunmen, were suspected Maoist insurgents, based on the manner of the attack and a letter found at the ashram. The government announced a special investigation into the attack.

Despite the media’s announcement the next day, quoting police sources, that Maoist involvement in the killings was suspected, the sangh parivar, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Orissa, alleged that “extremist Christian groups” were responsible for the violence. They cited Lakshmanananda’s claims that Christians were trying to eliminate him for his opposition to conversion and had attacked him eight times in the past. On August 28, 2008 some media outlets, the VHP office in Gajapati district of Orissa and the Bajrang Dal received a letter from a Maoist group. Soon after the appearance of the said letter, Azad – a leader of the Maoist People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army – claimed responsibility for the murder of Lakshmanananda. A leader of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), Sabyasachi Panda, also claimed that they had killed the swami and four of his disciples. However, on October 7, 2008 the Orissa police announced that they had arrested three Christians in connection with the murders. As the media reported, there was no post-mortem done on any of the four bodies of the deceased persons.

While a Maoist group claimed responsibility for his killing, Maoist groups had largely not been operational in the riot-impacted areas. The swami had been involved in creating a confrontational situation between Hindutva workers, Adivasis and Maoists in the area. In mid-September 2008 national RSS leader, KS Sudarshan, alleged the involvement of “foreign hands” in the mobilisation of the church and Maoists against Hindus. Maoists began to be uniformly named as “terrorists” and certain members of the Christian community who were associated with Maoists were labelled “Christian Maoists”.
History of attacks against Christians in Orissa

A history of attacks against members of the Christian community in Orissa between 1986 and 2004 was presented by Fr Ajay Singh to the tribunal, illustrating that the 2008 violence in Kandhamal was not the first or the only instance of attacks on Christians in the state.
Many victim survivors who testified before the tribunal had suffered attacks both during the December 2007 violence as well as the August 2008 violence.

Between July and December 2007, Hindutva forces organised rallies that travelled across Kandhamal, raising sentiments against Christians in the district. In December 2007, massive attacks took place, causing several deaths, looting of, damage to and destruction of several hundred houses, churches, shops, educational and health institutions. The violence that commenced in August 2008 is thus a part of the continued attacks on Christians perpetrated by Hindutva forces.

Forms of violence
Physical violence
Some narratives of victim survivors before the tribunal contained references to multiple killings and brutal assaults, indicating the widespread nature of such violence. Indira Digal’s testimony below contained such references:
“On August 26, 2008 an armed mob of more than 4,000 people came again to the village, encircling the area from all directions… Christian people desperately escaped, running into forests, trying to save their lives. The culprits did not leave them any chance for running away. This time the rioters had plenty of guns in addition to axes, daggers, swords. They used their weapons, shot and killed two Christians, Prafulla Nayak, 55, and Ajaba Digal, 20. The murderers did not stop their atrocities and a woman named Sulochana received a deep cut on the head with a dagger.

“I, with other Christians, reached the Orissa State Armed Police camp at the school of the village. During this escape seven more persons [Prasad Digal, Gilap Nayak, Choi Nayak, Prafulla Nayak, Ratikant Digal, Ajab Nayak and one more] were shot and sustained grievous injuries. Later, they were taken to the hospital for treatment and were saved.

“In addition, some members of the mob caught hold of a young girl named Manini Digal, aged about 20. They removed her clothes and made her naked in public view. They even tried to rape her publicly but she protested and resisted. Thereafter, in lust and anger, they poured kerosene/diesel on her and set fire to her body. The lonely girl suffered alone with all these humiliations and pain while the antisocial people were enjoying her suffering. Though her life is saved, she is more than 60 per cent burnt and is under treatment…” (Indira Digal)

Many people were killed or grievously injured due to the assaults by violent mobs. A woman from Petapanga village in Raikia block narrated to a team from Nirmala Niketan College that her eldest brother was stopped by some people who asked him if he was a Christian. When he said yes, they killed him. When the family received his body, they found 27 stab wounds on it, all made by different weapons. There were also burns on his body. The family learnt that they stabbed him and then dragged his body around before trying to burn it.

There are several narratives which speak of sexual and gender-based violence. The attack on Sulokshana, a permanent resident of Barakhama village, Balliguda block, is one such case. Sulokshana said that when she was in her relative’s house, around 50 attackers entered the house and attacked all the people in the house. A 20-year old girl was being raped by five-six of the attackers. Sulokshana was hiding in the house but seeing the girl’s condition, she intervened to rescue her but was in turn also attacked. Sulokshana was sexually abused by the attackers who severely assaulted her on her abdomen. She was assaulted at five places on her head with an axe, became unconscious and was admitted to the government hospital at Phulbani for five days. Due to the severity of the injuries, she was subsequently transferred to a hospital in Berhampur. She has undergone three surgeries, including of her head and stomach.

The Jan Vikas, Orissa, report stated that although 86 people across the district were killed over a period of 120 days, proving how fearlessly and freely people were attacked, the government has confirmed a total death toll of 54 people who have been considered for death compensation. The Multiple Action Research Group (MARG), New Delhi, report, based on various figures stated by different sources, states that between 75 and 123 people were killed and many more injured.

Psychological violence
Among the facets of the psychological violence faced by the victim survivors is the continued threat, intimidation and insecurity, causing obstacles to their return to their places of habitual residence, forcing victim survivors to reside in hiding or preventing a life of dignity and peace upon their return.
The National Commission for Minorities, which visited Kandhamal in September 2008 and interacted with victim survivors in the relief camps, made the following observation in its report: “In every camp I visited, the main feeling was one of despair and hopelessness at the cruel turn of events. Practically everyone complained of the threats they had received that their return to their homes was predicated on their acceptance of the Hindu religion. I was even shown a letter addressed by name to one woman, stating that the only way she could return to her home and property again was if she returned to the village as Hindu.”

While all victim survivors suffered psychological violence pursuant to personal attacks or attacks/killings of their family members or by witnessing the brutal violence perpetrated on others, the mental trauma and other psychosocial problems faced by children and women has been particularly marked yet largely ignored.

Burning of residential premises
During the violence in Kandhamal residential property of Dalit and Adivasi Christians was burnt, destroyed entirely or damaged extensively. An illustrative example is that of Gajanan Digal of Shankarakhol village, Tikabali block, whose house was completely burnt down during the violence.
After conducting a household survey in Kandhamal district, Jan Vikas said that close to 5,000 houses were ruined – it puts the figure of fully and partially damaged houses at 4,864 while the government data states it to be 4,588.

Vandalism and looting of movable property
The vandalism and destruction of movable properties such as household articles, valuables, documents and certificates and looting of ornaments and cash was a recurring experience in survivor testimonies of the violence. Chanchla Nayak deposed to the tribunal as follows: “…a large crowd of about 3,000 people led by leaders of the Bajrang Dal such as Rinku Mishra, Chaita Bindhani, Dhiru Sahoo, Bhagwan Panda, began to attack and loot our houses. Once again we Christians tried to escape from the village, Barakhama. The rioters looted, destroyed and set fire to my house. All valuables of my family, including certificates, documents, money, ornaments and utensils, were completely destroyed.”

The importance given by victim survivors to their valuable documents is in complete contrast to the callous attitude of the police in registering such complaints, as is apparent from Rajnikant’s experience. Rajnikant Pradhan of Bapuria village fled from his house along with his wife as the violence started. In his hurry to flee, he could not carry valuable documents such as his vehicle registration papers, driving licence and his wife’s education certificates. He tried to register a complaint about the lost documents and household possessions at G. Udayagiri. He was asked to visit the police station a second time, only to be shunted to Tikabali police station and thereafter to Sarangada police station, on the pretext that Bapuria did not fall within the jurisdictions of the former two police stations. Despite repeated attempts, the police at Sarangada police station refused to register his complaint and are quoted to have informed him that they were taking complaints “only about those who have gone up (been killed)” and directed him to return to the relief camp.

Between July-December 2007, Hindutva forces organised rallies across Kandhamal, raising sentiments against Christians in the district. In December 2007, massive attacks took place, causing several deaths, looting, damage and destruction of several hundred houses, churches, shops, educational and health institutions. The violence in 2008 is thus a part of the continued attacks on Christians perpetrated by Hindutva forces.

Destruction and damage of places of worship
Many churches and prayer halls were damaged and destroyed and the religious artefacts desecrated. The Jan Vikas survey indicates that at least 264 churches and prayer halls were damaged while the government data states that 196 such places of worship were damaged. The Jan Vikas and MARG reports contain many photographs of damaged and destroyed places of worship of the Christian community.

Fr Basil Kullu’s description of the manner in which the Catholic church at Madhupur, Bargarh district, was attacked by the violent mob is perhaps representative of the nature of violence perpetrated: “…They started destroying the Kanski Dungri Maria grotto (Mother Mary’s statue), which the faithful venerate and respect. Then they came to the church, broke open and got inside the church and destroyed, damaged and defiled sacred articles, statues, places of worship, etc. They also burnt all the valuable documents, utensils, household items, clothes, boxes of the poor SC/ST children who were in the hostels. In front of the police and the deputed magistrate the rioters destroyed, burnt and ransacked everything, whatever they could in two hours. Many valuables were stolen. They completely destroyed the church, priest’s residence, hostels, convent, dispensary and Maria grottos.”

In addition to residential property and religious (Christian) institutions, it has been reported that many philanthropic institutions such as schools, orphanages, old age homes, leprosy homes, dispensaries, tuberculosis sanatoriums and NGO establishments were also looted, razed to the ground, burnt down and damaged.

Forced conversions
The MARG report states that during the violence in Kandhamal that commenced on August 25, 2008 there were reports of thousands of Christians being chased and herded in groups into Hindu temples and forced to undergo ‘reconversion’ ceremonies with their heads tonsured. They were made to drink cow-dung water as a mark of ‘purification’ and some of them were forced to burn Bibles or damage churches to prove that they had forsaken the Christian faith.

The ‘reconverted’ Christians were forced to sign ‘voluntary declarations’ stating that they were becoming Hindus voluntarily – a condition required by the anti-conversion law in Orissa. Others speak of being forcibly reconverted in order to save their families, after having been called to meetings where deadly weapons such as axes, swords and iron rods were displayed. They were asked to sign a piece of paper saying that they were “renouncing foreign religion”. The ‘converted’ were also forced to loudly say “Jai Shri Ram (Hail Lord Rama)” and “Jai Bajrang Bali (Hail Hanuman)”.

Scale of violence
The Jan Vikas report categorically states that more than 25,000 people have been direct victims who lost their family members, houses, properties and livestock. Valuables were looted, trees were felled, wells and water sources damaged, crops and cattle stolen; and hundreds of philanthropic institutions such as schools, orphanages, old age homes, leprosy homes, dispensaries, tuberculosis sanatoriums and NGO establishments were looted, razed to the ground or burnt down; and public/community infrastructure such as hostels, hospitals, community halls and anganwadi kendras (women and child care centres) were considerably damaged.

In addition to the statistics, the scale of violence can be discerned from the many testimonies of victim survivors who referred to the size of the mobs that attacked their villages. Chanchla Nayak informed the tribunal that a mob of more than 4,000 people came to their village, encircling the area from all directions. Prakash Kumar Nayak stated to the tribunal that a mob of more than 3,000 people approached their village. Manyabar Nayak spoke of a mob of more than 2,000 rioters who approached his village. Narasingho Digal witnessed a mob of 500-600 people approach his village. Lalit Digal, permanent resident of Sindrigaon village, Balliguda block, narrated that a mob of about 5,000-7,000 RSS men entered the village and broke all the 36 Christian houses in about 10 minutes. Sandhya Rani of Rudangia village told the Loyola College, Chennai, team that a large mob of about 10,000 people attacked their village from all four directions, leaving them very little scope for escape.

One of the distinctive features of the violence in Kandhamal is the extreme brutality of the violence. Many victim survivors spoke of the brutality their family members were subjected to. Ranchi Pradhan of Tiangia village, G. Udayagiri block, narrated that her son Dasarotha Pradhan was killed for supporting Christians despite being an RSS activist. His hands and legs were cut off; some attackers assaulted him on his head with an iron rod. When he fell down and died in his neighbour’s house, the house was destroyed. However, his mother, Ranchi Pradhan, retrieved his body and protected it for three days from animals even as it started decomposing.

Attacks on senior citizens, children and pregnant women
The following testimonies indicate that senior citizens were not spared from the brutal violence:
“While running away from the house, I requested my old parents to come with us. But they told me that they are too old and unable to run. They also told me that nobody would harm the old persons. Thus both my parents stayed back at home and were brutally injured in the attack by the rioters… My wounded parents were taken to hospital at G. Udayagiri and then to the Medical College at Berhampur. Upon reaching Berhampur, my father breathed his last.” (Umesh Chandra Nayak)

A woman from Majumaha village in G. Udayagiri block narrated to a team from Nirmala Niketan College how her family had to leave behind at home her 70-year-old mother-in-law who could not walk, when they fled to the forest to escape from the violent mob. When they returned after three to four hours, they found that the perpetrators had stuffed chiwda (beaten rice) into her mouth in an attempt to choke her to death. She was in immense pain but alive. The family members tried to help her but were forced to return to the forest due to the threat to their lives. The old woman died alone, a painful death.
Similarly, children were not spared from being attacked during the violence. Sulokshana of Barakhama village said that her two small children were thrown around among the perpetrators as if they were balls.

Pregnant women were treated with extreme brutality during the violence. For example, the Loyola College report refers to an incident where a five-month pregnant woman was severely assaulted on her stomach and back with a piece of wood till she became senseless.

The jury, in its interim report, highlighted the brutality and heinous nature of the violence in the following words: “The jury records its shock and deep concern for the heinous and brutal manner in which the members of the Christian community, a vast majority of whom are Dalit and tribals, were killed, dismembered, sexually assaulted and tortured.”

Patterns, planning and preparation
The pattern of attacks on property and livelihood emerges from the following testimonies:
“When I returned from the relief camp after 10 months, I discovered that the rioters had burnt down two churches in my village, looted and set fire to all Christian houses. The rioters had looted paddy, goats, chicken and all valuables from Christian homes.” (Nalini Nayak)
Victim survivors’ testimonies repeatedly referred to the perpetrators wearing red headbands, carrying numerous weapons such as axes, daggers, swords, guns, crowbars, pickaxes, lathis, bows and arrows, lighted torches, bombs, petrol and kerosene barrels, trishuls (tridents), tangias (axes), pharsas (pickaxes), bhujalis (daggers) and bars.

Victim survivors also spoke to the tribunal of various aspects of planning and preparation for the attacks. Keshamati Pradhan, a social activist belonging to the Kuidina Forum for Peace and Justice, made the following observations to the tribunal: “It is sahukars [moneylenders] from the towns of different parts of Kandhamal who took the leadership in creating the violence, supplying weapons, arms and explosives like petrol and diesel to some of our people and also used them to create more violence in the district… The Hindu fundamentalists were collecting funds by means of illegal taxes from marketplaces.”

“The rioters were collecting rice and money from members of the Kui Samaj, some non-Christian SCs and STs, businessmen, traders and government employees of their communities since long.” (Premasheela Digal)

Preparatory meetings
Many affected persons referred to meetings held by perpetrators in/near their villages just prior to the attacks:
“The night prior to the attack there was a meeting at Majagada village organised by the accused persons. Next morning, the attackers, at around 6 a.m., came and pulled my father and started abusing, shouting in filthy language and dragged him…” (Narasingho Digal, whose mother, Priyatama Digal, was raped and killed and father, Meghnath Digal, was killed by a violent mob)

Survivor testimonies further referred to the complicity of public officials: “From August 3-20, 2008, I received repeated phone calls from Sohela police station inquiring about the registration numbers, places and number of different churches in my district. I also came to know about the series of meetings of the leaders and members of the Bajrang Dal and RSS which took place in Sohela town through a police official – Mr Sujit Kumar Pradhan of Sohela police station. The police were well aware of these gatherings, where the main agenda was about destroying the Madhupur church and killing me, as I was the church leader.” (Fr Basil Kullu)

A victim sits in the ruins of her home, Orissa 2008

Among members of the Christian community, human rights defenders who had established or worked in non-profit organisations are among those who have been adversely affected by the violence. These persons narrated to the tribunal the manner in which their residences and organisational premises were attacked, damaged, movable property looted, attacks and threats were made to their persons and, in addition, they were threatened by the mobs not to carry on with human rights activism.

Participation of women as perpetrators
A distinctive feature of the violence in Kandhamal is the mass mobilisation of women who formed violent mobs and perpetrated the attacks. Narratives of victim survivors before the tribunal referred to mobs of women attacking their villages. Women who were local leaders of Hindutva organisations had also reportedly convened preparatory meetings in villages where Hindus were instigated to attack Christians.
Destruction of evidence
Another distinctive feature of the Kandhamal violence of 2008 was the systematic destruction of evidence of the attacks. The jury of the tribunal specifically observed as follows in the preamble to the interim report: “The deliberate destruction of evidence pertaining to these crimes came to the attention of the jury.”
Some of the killings (attacks) narrated by the victim survivors to the tribunal, in which the evidence had been deliberately destroyed, are as follows:

  • The body of Parikhita Nayak was cut into three pieces and burnt by pieces of wood, straw and kerosene; his half-burnt body was buried.
  • The body of Rajani Majhi, the warden of an orphanage at Padampur, was burnt and, according to Nicholas Barla, who testified before the tribunal and quoted Fr Edward Sequeira, the lower part of her body was completely burnt so as to destroy all evidence of alleged gang rape.
  • Ishwar Digal’s body was cut into three pieces and thrown into the river by the attackers, as witnessed by his wife, Runima Digal.
  • Premasheela Digal’s uncle-in-law, Kantheswar Digal, was killed by cutting his throat and his dead body was thrown into the river and recovered only after some days by the police.
  • The collector of Bargarh forced Fr Basil Kullu to remove all evidence of damage to and destruction of the Madhupur church and hostels and even sent some persons to clear the debris that was lying in the compound, indicating the nature and extent of the attack.

Attacks on Hindus who assisted Christians
It was brought to the notice of the tribunal that Hindu villagers who supported or protected Christians during the violence or tried to facilitate their return to the villages after the violence were also attacked. For example, the testimony of Iswar Digal refers to the killing of Sidheswar Pradhan, a non-Christian local RSS leader aged about 60, who was trying to offer protection to the Christian people and calm down the situation during the violence.

Kamala Sahoo, a Hindu Dalit woman who was a social worker associated with a non-profit organisation named Pollishree, narrated to the tribunal that her house and office were damaged and properties looted. Her son’s shop was also burnt after all the valuables were looted.
Satyabhama Nayak, a resident of Badapanga village, told a team from Loyola College that she had protected priests and nuns from the attacks by providing them food, shelter and clothing and that due to this, her neighbours discriminated against her and refused to assist her in any way.
The alleged sexual assault and brutal killing of Rajani Majhi, an Adivasi Hindu girl, is an instance of other attacks on Hindus. Nicholas Barla, an advocate and human rights defender from Sundargarh district of Orissa, stated to the tribunal details of the burning to death of Rajani Majhi, who was an inhabitant and warden at an orphanage run by Fr Edward Sequeira in Padampur, Bargarh district.

The tribunal also heard, in camera, the testimony of a survivor of gang rape and multiple sexual assaults. The victim survivor, whom this report will refer to as AB, is a Hindu woman who was gang-raped and sexually assaulted as revenge for her Christian uncle’s refusal to convert to Hinduism.
Couples who had inter-religious marriages were also targeted for attacks and threats of attacks. For example, a Christian woman and her Hindu husband were reportedly threatened and asked to leave Rudangia village, Tikabali block – a Hindu-dominated village that they resided in – or they would be killed.

The perpetrators
Almost all the victim survivors who testified before the tribunal described the perpetrators, their religious and organisational affiliation (RSS, BJP, VHP, Bajrang Dal), their appearance, the weapons they were bearing as well as the slogans they were shouting when they perpetrated the attack.
The perpetrators were not only men, as is usually the case, but, according to testimonies, consisted of mobs of women too, mainly from the Durga Vahini (women’s wing of the VHP).

Almost all victim survivors who testified before the tribunal have identified and named some of the perpetrators from the mob, including those who led the mobs, by name. The report of Nirmala Niketan College too finds that more than half the women interviewed were able to identify the perpetrators and that they were from the same village or local persons.

Forcible conversions from Christianity to Hinduism
Testimonies of victim survivors of the violence, presented before the tribunal, repeatedly referred to threats of being killed if they did not convert to Hinduism. Some such narratives are produced below:

  • “We Christian families were made to gather together and Gaurango Kanhar, Basant Kanhar and Subhash Kanhar threatened to kill us if we did not become Hindus. Due to fear for life, we agreed to become Hindus. Two of our Christian families, under threats, got converted to Hindu religion. Rest of us eight families were forced to sit at the yagna [sacrificial rite] conducted by Hindu priests. We have been warned not to go to church.” (Narahari Kanhar)

The narratives of victim survivors presented before the tribunal also indicate that coercion to convert to Hinduism extended from villages prior to and at the time of the violence, to relief camps set up by the government.
The testimonies presented before the tribunal indicate that there were many victim survivors and their families who were eager to return to their villages from the relief camps partly because of the poor conditions in the camps and partly because their land, property and sources of livelihood were in the villages. However, many who attempted to return to their villages in the hope that normalcy had returned and that they would be able to reintegrate within their communities faced severe threats to convert to Hinduism. Those who did succeed in returning to their villages continue to live in fear of forcible conversions to Hinduism and impending attacks.

Role of the state and democratic institutions
There have been many questions raised about the role and responses of the state while the violence was being unleashed on the Dalit and Adivasi Christians of Kandhamal and other districts in Orissa. Was the state a helpless and powerless victim of the perpetrators? Was it a silent spectator and a mute witness to the orgy of violence and destruction? Or did it actively collude with the perpetrators to violate the human rights of the victim survivors?

Did the state and district administration diligently discharge their responsibilities to prevent the violence and protect human lives and properties, as mandated by the Constitution, domestic and international law? What was the role played by democratic institutions that have been established to safeguard the human rights of the people?

“The biggest question is: why was the procession with the dead body of Lakshmanananda and the communal forces allowed openly by the district administration, covering more than 175 km by [road from] Jalespata to Chakapad, when curfew under Section 144 [Code of Criminal Procedure] had been clamped? Who gave the order? Why was it not stopped and controlled? It was noticed that wherever the said procession went, the dead body was kept in front of Christian institutions and houses and there were inflammatory speeches against Christian communities. At that moment a group of fundamentalists went to kill and burn the houses of Christians…” (Mohini Nayak)

The NCM was also unequivocal in holding the state accountable for failure to prevent the funeral procession of Swami Lakshmanananda which inflamed passions and incited violence. The NCM, in its September 2008 report, observes as follows: “It was obvious that public reaction to the murder of a prominent religious leader like the swamiji would be extreme. Yet when options to be followed after the murder were being considered, there is little evidence that high-level political and official leadership offered guidance and support to the local district administration. Given the near certainty that a procession of over 170 km with the body of the slain leader was bound to arouse huge passions, it would have been proper for the senior leadership of the state to try to persuade the swami’s followers to avoid a long procession and bury him in the ashram where he was murdered. A reasoned analysis of the pros and cons does not appear to have taken place.”

The Jan Vikas report stated that Praveen Togadia, a national leader of the VHP who had been barred from entering different states for his role during the Gujarat carnage 2002, was allowed by the Orissa government to visit the state and the district during a very sensitive period. He arrived on August 25, 2008 and was escorted to travel a 300-km distance by road from Bhubaneswar to Jalespata and lead the procession.

It was further brought to the notice of the tribunal that the Orissa government failed to prevent hateful rumours from being propagated, which had the impact of inciting violence against the Adivasi and Dalit Christian community. The report counters each of the baseless rumours that served to increase the scale, intensity and barbarity of the violence that was unleashed.

Dereliction of duties
The following testimonies presented at the tribunal highlight the failure of the local police in promptly responding to violations and protecting human lives and property:
“On August 27, 2008… some miscreants with lethal weapons entered my house… forcefully dragged my husband, tied him to a nearby tree and burnt him alive in my presence… The incident was reported to the local police station by my son but the police did not turn up… Desperately, I watched the dead body for five days and also tried to protect the body from the dogs which almost consumed half of the body of my husband… The police came after 10 days and the body was taken out of the grave and post-mortem was made. Though I had mentioned specific names of the criminals involved in the incident and the GR case was registered vide No. 263/2008, no main culprits were arrested… No appropriate investigation was conducted… no initiative was taken to recover my looted property…” (Priyatama Nayak)

“Personnel of the local police camping in our village did not do anything to save us. Roads were blocked by rioters by felling trees. Personnel of the CRPF [Central Reserve Police Force] and Rapid Action Force [RAF], camped four km away, ran and reached to save us. If they had not arrived, all of us would have been killed and the whole village would have been destroyed.” (Christodas Nayak, whose wife was brutally killed by a violent mob)

In a group interview conducted by Loyola College at Katipada village, the victim survivors said that the homes of 32 Christian families in the village were burnt down. Villagers escaped to the forest and stayed there for three days. They said that the police officers from Balliguda police station were present during the attack but did not help the villagers and that they were silent spectators to the violence because they had some connection with and supported the attackers.

Dereliction of duties of police personnel has been officially acknowledged by the fact that five police officials were reportedly suspended in Sister Meena’s case [of gang rape in Nuagaon] for “misconduct and negligence of duty” on the basis of a joint report filed by the Kandhamal collector Krishan Kumar and superintendent of police (SP) Praveen Kumar. Further, in a letter written by AK Upadhyaya, who works as deputy inspector-general (DIG)-training at the Biju Patnaik State Police Academy, he accuses and names 13 police officials, including former director general of police (DGP) Gopal Nanda, of dereliction of duties in protecting the life and properties of the Christians in Kandhamal. He further recommended withdrawal of medals that had been awarded to four of them.

One of the distinctive features of the violence in Kandhamal is the extreme brutality of the violence… The jury, in its interim report, had recorded its shock and deep concern for the heinous and brutal manner in which the members of the Christian community, a vast majority of whom are Dalit and tribals, were killed, dismembered, sexually assaulted and tortured.

Refusal to register FIRs
Many victim survivors and witnesses deposed before the tribunal that the police had refused to register FIRs or had registered them in a delayed/incomplete manner so as to allow perpetrators to escape accountability. The police had also reportedly failed to take action pursuant to registration of FIRs, including arrest of the accused.

Indifference to the intimidation of victim survivors
According to reports presented before the tribunal, threatening of victim survivors and witnesses has been rampant and has reached an unprecedented level in the context of the Kandhamal violence, leading to a sense of extreme insecurity. Victim survivors narrated to the tribunal their experiences of approaching the authorities for protection from intimidation by perpetrators and their supporters. The following extract is an indication of the state response:

“I have already informed about the ongoing attacks and threatening in writing and also approached personally all the officials concerned like police in-charge officer (OIC), block development officer (BDO), tehsildar, district magistrate and SP, Kandhamal, but no appropriate action has been taken so far. I have also informed the matter to the chief minister of Orissa, DGP and also hon’ble governor of Orissa about the administrative inaction and protection of my life…” (Priyatama Nayak)

Collusion and complicity
In addition to failure to prevent, wilful negligence and dereliction of duty to protect, loss of lives and property, another aspect of state responsibility for the violence in Kandhamal is that of collusion and complicity of government officials prior to, during and in the aftermath of the violence.  
Testimonies of victim survivors indicate that the police and the district administration had prior knowledge of the impending attacks.

“The police and the district administration were aware of the strategies of the rioters before the incident took place because the rioters were organising meetings and rallies in the presence of the police and district administration in many places.” (Premasheela Digal)
Fr Basil Kullu of Madhupur church informed the tribunal that he came to know about a series of meetings of the leaders and members of the Bajrang Dal and RSS which took place in Sohela town through Mr Sujit Kumar Pradhan, a police official attached to Sohela police station. The main agenda of these meetings was how to destroy the Madhupur church and to kill the church leader Fr Basil Kullu. He said that the police was well aware of these gatherings, as Mr Pradhan had taken photos and prepared a CD of it. He questioned as to why nothing was done to prevent the violence despite prior knowledge of the attacks.

Fr Basil Kullu further informed the tribunal that he was repeatedly questioned by officials of Sohela police station about the Madhupur church that he headed, from August 3-20, 2008. He said that it was no coincidence that intensive inquiries about the church were made by the police a few days prior to the attacks and that the inquiries were perhaps a part of the preparation to attack.

Testimonies also pointed to police supporting, shielding and protecting the perpetrators prior to and subsequent to the violence:
“I gave complaints to the police, naming the culprits, but the police are protecting the criminals… The riots are well-planned and executed by the fundamentalists… The police are not taking sufficient action against them.” (Dashrath Digal)
“OIC, Tikabali, Mr Mahapatra, and one Mr Jena (police person) told me two months prior to the communal violence: ‘Your Christian leadership will not work anymore.’ Both of them were silent supporters of such fundamentalists… When the riot was going on, the RAF and CRPF were not utilised by the local police. Some RAF told us that the local police misguide us: When the message is given that in the east the village is burning, then the local police was sending the CRPF and the RAF to the west side. Due to the support of the local police, the communal forces went on killing and burning the Christian community.” (Mohini Nayak)

State participation in the violence was summed up by the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights in the following words: “The local government by and large not only stood by and silently watched as the horrendous events were unfolding but in several ways, according to the eyewitnesses, facilitated the gangs indulging in the destruction of human life and valuable property. What followed by way of administrative action – controlling the situation, relief measures for the afflicted and punishing the guilty – could only be described as formal, ritual motions to satisfy the letter of the law.”
Threatening of witnesses and destruction of evidence

Testimonies of victim survivors further highlighted the active role of the local police, tehsildars, BDOs and other local government officials in threatening of witnesses and scuttling of justice and accountability. The testimony of Mohini Nayak is a case in point:
“I am a leader of a women’s group. My house was destroyed by a mob of 300-400 persons led by Manoj Pradhan, the local MLA… As I was giving evidence in court against Manoj Pradhan, I was intimidated and threatened. The tehsildar of Raikia, Mr Reba Sankar Mohapatra, is threatening me, telling that ‘If you give witness against Manoj Pradhan, I will initiate a case against you on Regulation 2 of 1956. So you better withdraw your case.’ Mr Debabrata Jena, the BDO of Raikia, threatened me to withdraw the case against him otherwise he would cut my name from the dealership list and I would be in a problem. The local officers warned me that I and my daughter will be raped in public and forced to leave the village if I gave my testimony as a witness to the crimes committed by Manoj Pradhan.” (Mohini Nayak)

Victim survivors also testified to the fact that the collector had actively connived with the perpetrators by destroying evidence of the violence at the site of violence.
“Only on August 27, the collector, Mr Suresh [Prasad Padhy], came to see but he was not at all feeling sad and was telling that they were thieves, not any religious fanatics. When I asked for police protection, plainly he said: ‘I cannot give for 15 days.’ Instead, he forced me to remove all the things immediately, what was lying there, burnt and scattered. Surprisingly, he sent some people to clean and remove things which were lying in the compound as debris.” (Fr Basil Kullu, chief priest of Madhupur church which was attacked)
Another manner in which public officials participated in the violence is by making false allegations and threats of imposing false charges on victim survivors in order to silence them and prevent them from pursuing justice.

Relief and rehabilitation
The public officials reportedly committed grave dereliction of duty through acts of commission and omission with regard to relief and rehabilitation too. Some aspects are as follows:

  • Preventing rescue, relief and rehabilitation activities in Kandhamal;
  • Failure to respect the rights of victim survivors in the relief camps;
  • Forcible return of victim survivors to their villages; and
  • Negative role of public officials in village-level peace committees.

Processes of justice and accountability
Failure and delay in registration of FIRs
Testimonies presented before the tribunal repeatedly spoke of the refusal of the police to register FIRs. Extracts of some testimonies are reproduced below:
“I had sent the FIR to OIC, Sarangada police station, with copies to the subdivisional police officer, Balliguda, SP and collector, Kandhamal, and DIG, Berhampur, by registered post on September 26, 2008. But my FIR has not yet been registered by the police station at Sarangada. The kingpins and the culprits are moving freely and no stringent action has been taken against the accused persons as yet and still there is danger to my life.” (Paul Pradhan)

“I was attacked during the 2008 riot and my house was burnt. I lodged an FIR in the local police station, Tikabali, which was not registered against the accused persons… I have repeatedly sought help from the local police station for my protection but no action was taken in spite of my petition dated May 19, 2010 against the criminals with specific names like Dahia Mallick, Sudhira Pradhan, Ajiban Mallick, Mantu Gauda and Biranchi Behera. My petition was not registered and no action was taken against the accused persons.” (Gajanan Digal)
One of the major actions that the police are duty-bound to take, in pursuance of registration of the FIR, is to arrest the perpetrators. Many victim survivors spoke to the tribunal of the failure of the police to arrest perpetrators despite the fact that the perpetrators were named in the complaints to the police.

False complaints against victim survivors
Victim survivors testified before the tribunal that they had been harassed through the lodging of false and baseless allegations against them or threatened that they would be arrested on false charges if they demanded accountability and continued pursuing justice:
“While we were in the relief camp, the secretary of the Sritiguda gram panchayat illegally entered our camp and told us to become Hindus… He contacted the police and instigated a false case against me for which I was arrested and was in the police station at Balliguda. I contacted the SP and at his intervention, I was set free from the police station. But the false case against me is still going on.” (Manyabar Nayak, resident of Kritingia village, Sarangada block)

Investigations, prosecutions and trials
The factors that have contributed to the scuttling of justice are highlighted in the letters of Sampradayik Hinsa Prapidita Sangathana (Association of Victims of Communal Violence in Kandhamal). The association wrote a letter to Mr Naveen Patnaik, the chief minister of Orissa, where aspects of justice processes in the two fast track courts are highlighted. The relevant paragraphs are reproduced below:

“We are not satisfied with the legal procedures undertaken in the two fast track courts established at Phulbani which seem to be in a hurry to dispose of the cases without proper trial and witness examination…
“In most of the cases finalised in the fast track courts at Phulbani, the accused are acquitted. The quality of the police charge sheets is doubtful and therefore we demand a CBI [Central Bureau of Investigation] inquiry into the cases for proper delivery of justice to the innocent people.”

Intimidation of victim survivors and witnesses
The narratives of victim survivors before the tribunal repeatedly referred to intimidation of witnesses with the purpose of scuttling processes of justice. Extracts of some such testimonies are produced below:
“Even in the judicial trial, I was repeatedly threatened by the miscreants not to give witness against the criminals and also pressurised to withdraw the case. Even in April 2010 the miscreants threatened my relatives, to kill me and my family members and also not to allow me to construct my house though it was on patta land, if I don’t withdraw the case… I am in a terrible condition till today. No action has been taken to arrest the criminals and also no protective measures have been arranged for the safety of my life, to lead a normal life in my native place.” (Priyatama Nayak)

Some spoke to the tribunal of how they were forced to live in hiding while pursuing the cases in courts that they were testifying in:
“I have been threatened against giving evidence in the court regarding the murder of my brother… in fear, I do not live in my village and am living in hiding with my family.” (Bipin Nayak)

While some victim survivors have testified in court and continue to live in fear, others spoke about their inability to testify in court if they were not given adequate protection:    
“I have been threatened by Shri Gobardhan Pradhan who is a leader of RSS, VHP and BJP… I am quite unable to give evidence in this case unless I am provided sufficient security.” (Rama Rao Nayak)

Some victim survivors spoke to the tribunal about how they had complained to the judge and the police about the threats and intimidation yet did not receive any assistance:
“Myself and my elder brother have gone to Phulbani to give witness in the fast track court-1. We were threatened by Biswanath Kanhar, Pabira Kanhar and Ajibana Mallick, saying that ‘we will kill you if you give evidence today’. I had complained before the judge and the hon’ble judge advised me to give a complaint to the government advocate. Till now, my life is in danger and the circumstances are not allowing me to go to Phulbani to give a complaint against the above-mentioned people.” (Antaryami Digal)

Acquittals and sentencing
Victim survivors also narrated to the tribunal that due to the destruction of the bodies of the victims, the perpetrators have been convicted for less severe crimes. An illustrative example is the brutal killing of Ishwar Digal. Runima Digal testified to the tribunal that she witnessed her husband’s body being cut into three pieces and thrown into a river by a violent mob. When she managed to take the SP to the spot, nothing was found there. She said: “I identified the accused and had to force the police to arrest the perpetrators. Still only one person was arrested and prosecuted… He was punished for five years for abduction and not for the actual murder, as the prosecution could not prove the murder. None of the people who killed my husband has been made accountable till now. The other accused are absconding.”

Crisis in the justice delivery system
A report of a meeting convened under the banners of the Common Concern and Orissa Manavik Adhikar Suraksha Abhijan on the justice delivery crisis highlights the varied dimensions of processes of justice and accountability that victim survivors have had to contend with.

  • “Public prosecutors (PPs) are mostly found biased against the victims;
  • In comparison with the skills, influence, clout and number of advocates favouring the accused persons, the strength of advocates needs to be improved;
  • Faulty and biased methods of police investigation, framing the charge sheets and presentations in the courts weaken the cases;
  • Absence of social and physical security of the victims and witnesses inside and outside the court;
  • The provision that in GR cases only public prosecutors can argue, while the victim parties cannot appoint their own advocates privately, does not help the victims in cases where PPs are biased;
  • Show of extra favour to the accused by some judges harasses the victims and their counsel;
  • Lawyers counselling the victim parties are persuaded not to continue their legal assistance;
  • Witnesses are threatened/allured to turn hostile;

Absence of democratic and left parties in comparison to the dominance of the BJP and RSS helps the culprits and corrupts the atmosphere of the courts.”

Relief and humanitarian assistance
Preventing rescue and relief work
The MARG report highlighted the fact that an “appalling feature” of the Kandhamal violence is the blockage of relief material to victim survivors and the prevention of rescue, relief and fact-finding work among them for several months subsequent to the violence. In the context of the December 2007 violence, a notification by Manish Kumar Verma, the collector of Kandhamal, banned the entry of non-profit organisations and humanitarian agencies, including church groups, into the district. The directive was finally quashed by the Supreme Court in May 2008.

However, the quashing did not cause any embarrassment to the district authorities who, subsequent to the August 2008 violence, once again prevented relief agencies, non-profit and charitable organisations from conducting relief work among the victim survivors. On the impact of the ban, the report stated that the state not only abdicated its responsibility towards providing relief measures in a prompt and adequate manner but also ensured that help did not reach the devastated victim survivors and that the attacks against the vulnerable population continued.

Annapoorna Digal narrated that her family had stayed for many days in the jungle without any food and clothing. When they approached a relief camp in Balliguda, they were sent back to their village by the camp officers who told them that there was no place to keep them and that the water in the camp had been poisoned. Subsequently, 30 kg of rice, one kg of dal and a vessel were delivered to their house by the camp officers.

The Jan Vikas report observes that while the administration claimed that the victims are well cared for and protected, these camps were devoid of basic facilities. All religious, cultural, civil and political activities were prohibited in these camps and permission denied to nuns, priests and local nurses for months. Many reports speak of appalling conditions in relief camps and clearly suggest the state government’s indifference to the plight of victim survivors.

The Orissa state government’s act of forcibly closing relief camps before the victim survivors felt secure enough to return to their places of habitual residence or resettle elsewhere is violative of the right of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to safe return or resettlement with dignity, states the MARG report.

Forcible return of victim survivors to their villages
The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom/ Women in Security Conflict Management and Peace report, based on the visit of a team to relief camps in January 2009, clearly indicated that state officials were attempting to return the victim survivors to their villages with little regard for their security and that there was a “very strong uneasiness” among victims to return to their villages according to this deadline.

The state government had announced a compensation package that included an ex gratia payment of Rs one lakh to the next of kin of the deceased persons. After the August 2008 violence, the ex gratia payment was announced as Rs two lakh per deceased person, to be paid from the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund. Compensation for injury caused during the violence does not feature in the compensation package announced. The central government announced an additional Rs three lakh per deceased person as an ex gratia amount, entitling the next of kin of each deceased person to a total of Rs five lakh.
Referring to the compensation amounts announced, enhanced and awarded in other similar contexts, including the Gujarat carnage of 2002, anti-Sikh violence of 1984 and the Bhagalpur violence of 1989, the MARG report concludes that there are substantial disparities between amounts awarded by the state and central governments in other contexts of communal violence and that of Kandhamal. It highlighted the fact that there are no uniform criteria or principles laid down for compensation to victim survivors of communal violence, as a result of which the grant of compensation is determined arbitrarily by the concerned state governments.

Almost all the victim survivors who testified before the tribunal spoke of the wide disparity between the actual financial loss suffered by them, the compensation they were entitled to and the compensation amounts paid.
Compensation for places of worship
The MARG report states that initially the state government had been reluctant to compensate for damage to/destruction of religious institutions, stating that it was against the secular policy of the state to pay any compensation for the religious institutions. Due to the insistence of the NCM, which advocated for monetary compensation to aid the work of repair/reconstruction of the buildings, and directions of the Supreme Court, it announced a (measly) scheme for compensation.

Recommendations are generally made to the state government of Orissa unless otherwise recommended to other authorities.

Socio-economic and cultural rights
1. Apply the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and other livelihood schemes of the state and central government to the affected community without any discrimination on the basis of caste, religion or gender.
2. Implement widow pension schemes and provide government jobs to individuals from families that lost their members in the violence on compassionate grounds. Reinstate/reappoint victim survivors engaged in government jobs prior to the violence and transferred to areas that they perceive to be safe and secure. Soft loans should be provided for commencement of small businesses.
3. Ensure that relief camps meet the minimum international standards of health, hygiene and privacy for IDPs… Provide medical and psychological, particularly trauma, counselling to the victims/survivors, with special attention to the needs of women survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.
4. Incorporate a separate section in the state policy on relief and rehabilitation that conforms to Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989, as the guiding principle for all relief and rehabilitation work.
5. Recommend that the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes assess the needs of children, Dalits and Adivasis respectively from the affected Christian community in Kandhamal and make recommendations to appropriate agencies at the state and central levels for ensuring their rehabilitation at the earliest.
6. Address educational needs of the children who have suffered displacement as a result of the violence.
7. Address the long-standing problem of landlessness and land alienation of the Dalits and Adivasis in a comprehensive manner through land reform and redistribution.

Legal and judicial process
1. Identify unreported cases of sexual and gender-based violence and include the offence of sexual assault in FIRs in cases where it has been ignored and ensure that they are effectively investigated and prosecuted.
2. Inquire into the acts of all public officials named in this report and pursue stringent disciplinary, administrative and other legal action against them for grave dereliction of duty and for collusion and complicity in the crimes committed by the perpetrators.
3. Strictly enforce Sections 153A and B of the Indian Penal Code to proactively prevent programmes planned by Hindutva forces within the state, that are divisive, propagate hate and incite violence against religious minorities.
4. Constitute a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to re-examine the already registered FIRs for accuracy, examine registrations of fresh FIRs, the trials that resulted in acquittals due to intimidation and/or lack of evidence and recommend the trials that need be transferred or fresh trials be conducted outside Kandhamal.
5. Appoint special public prosecutors who discharge their duties with professional competence and integrity. At the appellate stage in the Orissa high court a special panel of lawyers to represent the victims of the Kandhamal violence be constituted.
6. Recommend that the State Legal Services Authority set up a legal cell to assist victims in their legal cases and interactions with the police and courts.
7. Provide protection to victims and witnesses before, during and after the trial process, according to the guidelines provided in the judgements of the Delhi and Punjab and Haryana high courts. Take proactive measures to prevent threats of sexual and gender-based violence to women survivors and their daughters and pay attention to the needs of the child witnesses involved in various proceedings related to the Kandhamal violence.
8. Accord special protection to human rights defenders and adequately compensate the damage to their residential and organisational properties.

1. Adopt, at the very minimum, the 1984 anti-Sikh and 2002 anti-Muslim Gujarat compensation package to enhance the compensation already announced. In addition, victims of sexual and gender-based violence should be included as a ground eligible for compensation and employment.
2. Recognise the right of the internally displaced persons to return home and create enabling conditions to facilitate such safe return in accordance with the UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-based Evictions and Displacement 2007 and the UN Guiding Principles on Internally Displaced Persons should be effectively implemented.
3. Formulate and implement policies to provide victim survivors full reparations which include compensation, restitution, rehabilitation…
4. Include movable properties in the scheme of compensation.
5. Focus on revival of dignified livelihood options for the affected families and facilitate a resumption of the livelihood they had pursued prior to the violence.
6. Include members of the affected community, particularly women, in all confidence building and peace building initiatives by the state and district administration…

Minority rights
1. Protect the right to religious freedom and clarify that this freedom means and includes the right to remain animist, areligious and/or atheist, and make any form of forced conversion or reconversion illegal.
2. Formulate a policy/programme to urgently address the issue of institutional bias against the minority Christian community in Kandhamal and other parts of Orissa, through a combination of perspective building and stringent action that is intended at upholding the rule of law.
3. Review the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act to ensure that it does not violate the right to religious freedom as guaranteed by the Indian Constitution and international law.
4. Review the definition of the scheduled castes in the presidential order of 1950, on the basis of the discrimination experienced by members of scheduled castes even after conversion.
5. Implement the recommendations of the National Commission for Minorities, issued in the reports of January, April and September 2008, with immediate effect.    

(The final report of the National People’s Tribunal on Kandhamal, August 22-24, 2010, was released in Bhubaneswar on December 2, 2011.)

Archived from Communalism Combat, January 2012 Year 18    No.163, Cover Story  



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