The Sangh silences the Songs of Christmas

Image Courtesy: PTI

It is not Peace if forced by the Bully

A craftily called bandh call by an Adivasi outfit, that is a front for the Sangh Parivar paralysed transport and forced shops and markets to close, ensuring no prayers at yuletide for the Christians of many villages in the Kandhamals

Kandhamal remains once more, in the headlines on the Christmas and New year of 2015.[1] While the mainstream media reported ‘peaceful’ Christmas celebrations, these reports chose to ignore the fear and insecurity caused by the intimidation let loose on December 25, 2015, Christmas Day,by local leaders belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Christians of Barkhama village, 13 kilomteres from Balliguda, the sub-divisional headquarters in Kandhamal district woke to find that the main road had been blocked with heavy stones and felled trees and a mob of more than one thousand persons led by local leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Rastriya Sevaka Sangh physically present to prevent any visits to the Church or celebrations. This bandh call given by the Adivasi outfit — Kui Samaj Samanwaya Samity (KSSS) –is a front of the RSS-VHP and is the same outfit which called for a bandh both in 2007 and 2008. During the Christmas of 2007, brute violence was unleashed against the local Christian community, which further triggered the anti-Christian violence in the districts after August 25, 2008, the worst communal violence against Christian community in India, to date.
The terror-stricken leaders of the Christian community immediately informed the local police personnel as well as Special Forces deputed for Christmas celebrations. While they cleared the road, Christians were not allowed to attend Church. The community remembered the community; yet as youth leader of the village, Kartik Nayak puts it, “We could not celebrate Christmas; in place of happiness and peace, we have to live in fear and insecurity.” Christians from the district have sent a memorandum to Naveen Patnaik, Chief Minister, Odisha to ensure protection and guarantee them a life of dignity. No FIR has yet been lodged by the police authorities.
Barkhama was not an isolated incident this Christmas. The bandh affected several parts in the district. The bandh call given by this outfit was responded with many of its supporters’ (or others in fear) downing shutters of shops in the area. Buses stayed off the roads in several towns such as Tikabali, Sankarakhol, Sarangada and Barkhama ensuring that Christians living in far-flung areas could not attend Church. Christians in the area do not own shops nor have access to private transport. Thus, if bus and shop owners, participate in any bandh, Kandhamal comes to a halt. Some of these tactics played a significant role in contributing to communal violence in 2007-08 too. It may be recalled that almost every attack on Christians in this area has followed this pattern: felling of trees and blocking the roads so that the police or force could not reach the place of attacks.
The mainstream newspapers that ran the headlines declaring peaceful Christmas celebrations need to also report the successful intimidation by Sangh Parivar outfits that, in actuality, prevented Christians from celebrating Christmas; newspapers need to accurately report the fear and insecurity as well as the intimidatory tactics (which the Special forces and the Police did not counter) blocking the people’s fundamental right to attend prayer services. The district administration should take punitive action against the offenders so that this is not repeated.
The Hindu reported, ‘No untoward incident or road blocking reported from any part of the district, says SP Kunwar Vishal Singh. Kandhamal Superintendent of Police Kunwar Vishal Singh is quoted as saying that until evening no untoward incident or report of road blocking had come from any part of the district. Around 1,000 State police personnel were on duty round-the-clock since last 36 hours to maintain law and order. Apart from these, Special Operation Group (SOG) and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were involved in combing operations in remote pockets of the district’. How is it then that, despite police and special force, the rule of the Mob ensured that they could force buses off the roads and ensure the shutting down of shops? And what of the memorandum submitted to the authorities, should that not have been reproted?

The Kui Samaj Samanwaya Samity (KSSS), that was at the forefront of this bandh call, was initially only backed by the BJP/RSS. Now, its leaders have formally joined the BJP. For the past eight years, the BJP/RSS has been stoking communal sentiments by mobilising around the Christian feasts like Christmas, and attacking their fundamental rights, in a brazen attempt to garner votes. They succeeded by winning two of the three Assembly seats in 2009, in the first State Elections after the Kandhamal violence.
For the Christians of Barkhama village, this is not the first time that they have been a target. The first was in the early 2000s, the second one in 2007. The third major attack took place in August 2008. The village has more than 350 Christian families. In the first attack, they say, “We lost our houses and besides some people were injured; during the second attack on us, we lost two Christians and not even single house was spared; but reduced to ashes. Despite the presence of Special Forces, RSS members attacked us and killed two Christians; women too were attacked. Further houses were destroyed. Our houses are yet to be repaired and we are yet to get back to normal day to day living (after 2008); and here they are planning to attack us again! We are not sure what would happen to us. We are frightened and hence, we have asked the state administration to take necessary measures to protect our life and property”.
“Eight years after Kandhamal burst on the international news scene on Christmas Eve of 2007 with the first large scale targeted violence against Christians in centuries, the political manoeuverings of the Sangh Parivar in the forests of Orissa remain ominous. The Christian community sees them as coercive, threatening and malevolent”, says John Dayal, member National Integration Council (NIC), of the Government of India. Dayal is also past president of the all India Catholic Union, who has investigated Kandhamal violence from December 2007.
In 2008, targeted violence against Orissa’s Christians had continued for several weeks. For the first four days of intense violence, Hindutva forces went on the rampage and killed over 101 Christians. Dozens of people went missing, never to be located again. More than 56,000 people had been displaced. The violence lasted for four months. The destruction of villages was immense with 415 villages destroyed in Kandhamal alone and 40 in a neighbouring district. Over 350 churches and worship places which belonged to the Adivasi Christians and Dalit Christians were destroyed, around 6,500 houses were burnt or demolished, over 40 women were subjected to rape, molestation. Several educational, social service and health institutions were also destroyed and looted. There were several reported cases of forced conversion to Hinduism by the the Sangh Parivar during and after the violence. [One nun was gang raped in front of a crowd of over 300 people, while nine policemen looked on. This nun ran towards the policemen asking for help but they did nothing, simply standing and watching the spectacle; the incident happened a stone’s throw away from the Nuagaon police station.]
It may be recalled that both Justice Basudev Panigrahi and Justice AS Naidu Enquiry Commissions into Kandhamal Violence and the killing of Laxmananand Saraswati have submitted their reports to Orissa  government during the Christmas week itself.  The contents of the report(s) are yet to be made public. Justice AS Naidu has been quoted as saying that it was the Maoists who are behind the killing of the Swami in August 2008; while the Panigrahi Commission apparently points to the ‘conversion’ factor being a reason for the anti- Christian violence in December 2007.  It is unfortunate, that while BJP/RSS looks for crude opportunities to politically benefit from bartering on hatred and violence, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) that broke away from the BJP following the Kandhamal violence remains a mute spectator. Even today, eight years down.
(The author is a civil rights activist based in Orissa)


[1] Kandhamal was first noticed nationally after the attacks on Christians during the Christmas of 2007 and August of 2008; See Christmas Mourning; Murder and Mayhem; Living the Nightmare




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