Kandhamal: Under Whose Control?

The riot among the Hindus and Muslims occurred in Rourkela in 1964-65 had lasted only for three days. But, in Kandhamal it has been continuing since last 20-days. It can be considered as the worst ever communal violence witnessed within Orissa. When the Government claims that the situation is peaceful and under control, but the reality is complete opposite. People are left as completely terror-stricken and nobody from minority community feels safe in villages, prefers to stay back in relief camps.

On 11th September 08 the Orissa government informed the Supreme Court that the law and order situation in Kandhamal had "improved considerably" and was now under control. In this regards, a detailed affidavit was submitted by the Orissa Home Secretary T.K. Mishra on behalf of the government, in response to a writ petition filed by Raphael Cheenath, the Cuttack Achbishop. The State Government's Counsel also informed the Apex Court Bench, comprising Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justice P. Sathasivam, that all steps taken by the administration to maintain law had been taken. So far, the government has formed 354 peace committees to help restore harmony. Some 421 criminal cases have been instituted against the rioters and 629 persons involved in the violence have been booked. In the petition, the government also informed the Supreme Court that VHP leader Praveen Togadia's proposed kalash yatra was also barred from entering the district. It is yet to be informed of who the people in the peace committees are and how far they have earned the 'real' confidence of the villagers belonging to the minority community.

The Government and Sangha Parivar are trying to project the entire incident as a reflection of the age-old conflicts in between Adivasis and Dalits and situation under control. This is further palpable from the Chief Secretary's discussion with USA Consul General Ms Beth A Payne on 11th September. The Officer informed to Ms Payne, who has come to meet the Chief Minister Mr Naveen Patnaik and others for some commercial purposes at the Orissa Secretariat, – that it was not a communal violence against Christians, rather group clashes in between adivasis and dalits and now it is under control.

The question arises – what does 'situation is under control' mean, under whose control is it? The information as gathered from the field, it is under the control of the VHP, Bajrang Dal and their hooligans backed by BJP leaders. One civil society fact finding team returned today to Bhubaneswar after visiting the area. As we got from them through informal talks (they will present their official report after 1 or 2 days), they had to take permission from the district authority before entering into villages. The situation is unthinkably scaring and suspicious. Everybody is awfully waiting under uncertainty – as if, it may bring another big trouble next day. Even NGOs and reporters are under constant fear of being threatened.

The already ravished, terrorized, emotionally broken dalits and adivasis are being converted from Christianity to Hinduism in a well-planned manner. A villager (Christian) from Baliguda block called and informed today that they have been given a ultimatum by VHP people that they have to keep themselves prepared with two cocoanuts, non-boiled rice (arua chaula) and other items for attending re-conversion (sanskar) ceremony on 15th September 2008. In case they failed to do so, what will happen – only time can tell? 'In the meantime more than 1000 families have been reconverted within 15-days' according to a reporter, who does not want to disclose his identity.

A couple of days back, the leaders of VHP and RSS have announced to wipe out Christians from Kandhamal District shortly. This was reiterated by Sangha leaders on 11th September before press. Addressing media persons after his meeting with Sankaracharya, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad Chief, Ashok Singhal said while the crucifixion of Jesus helped in spreading Christianity worldwide, the killing of Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati would end conversions and cow slaughter. He reiterated his vow to put an end to conversions in the country. Also he told that recently thousands of 'forcefully or deceptively' converted people in Kandhamal are coming back to Hinduism after they realized that the Christianity can not give them security and protection. State VHP leader Mr. Subash Chouhan said that religious functions would also be conducted to reconvert all the converts into the Hindu fold. He also said a month-long campaign from September 23 would be launched in which the holy 'soils' from the 'samadhi' of Swami Lakshmanananda would be taken in a procession to all the villages in the Kandhamal where the Christian missionaries had converted a large number of native tribal population into Christianity.

The 'reconversion programme' has been planned and being carried out very systematically in association with many influential persons and institutions. The VHP Supremo – Mr.Singhal had a closed-door meeting with the Puri Shankaracharya, Swami Neeschalananda Saraswati, at his mutt at Puri for over an hour. Also he had meets with the CM and the leaders of RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal and BJP separately.

When the Government claiming the situation is peaceful and normal in Kandhamal, then why did the District Collector of Kandhamal, Krishan Kumar asked the State Election Commission to postpone the urban local bodies' poll in the area scheduled to be held Sep 19 since the situation had not become completely normal.' The situation is under control but in some areas, it continues to be tense,' he said. 'More than 20,000 people have been living in 18 relief camps and many of them have said they don't want to return home at this moment because they still fear a threat to their lives,' Although the ban order is still in force across the district, thousands of women blocked several roads Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to demand the release of those (VHP people) arrested on rioting charges. This demand was put before the Orissa CM by none other than Mr.Ashok Singhal. These women, mostly tribals, often take to the streets defying prohibitory orders, admitted by Mr.Kumar. Why the administration is not able to stop these and arrest the RSS, VHP, BJP leaders who are mobilizing these women to organize such rallies near relief camps and creating atmosphere of terror and insecurity for the people in camps.

People belonging to minority communities either in relief camps or villages or outside are under constant fear, insecurity. They do not have other choices than to 'reconvert or die'. Now, the freedom, dignity and right of the adivasis and dalits are in the hands of VHP and BJP leaders and their hired hooligans. The Constitutional rights of a section of Indian citizens, who are said to be the original inhabitants (indigenous communities), are under captivity. Not to speak of taking up any actions to ensure their rights, the Government looks helpless before the designs of fundamentalists. The suspicion of the minority communities about the State of siding with communal forces and compromising its constitutional responsibilities as secular and democratic polity is gaining more ground. Of course the Civil Society still hopes 'the Navin government is not a collaborator, but a helpless and mute spectator'.

The Government and BJD-BJP leaders have strongly refused to accept the demand for CBI enquiry into both the murder of Laxmanananda and that of Christians. Actually whatever level of importance is given for the enquiry of Laxmanananda case, is below expectation. Comparing to it, a little has been done to trace out the murderers of innocent Christians during subsequent violence. The affected people are sometimes threatened by the hooligans not to file their FIRs against their leaders and followers and also discouraged by the local Police at some other time. After 15-days many people have not been able to file FIRs. There is no special arrangement by the administration for filing FIRs by affected ones, security of victims and protection of witness. Even the District authority is not allowing the Civil Society to help in providing legal aids to these hapless people, while the perpetrators of the violence are moving freely and intimidating the poor adivasis and dalits.

In the meantime, the Sangh Parivar prepared a list of about 140 people from Christian community alleging them to be the killers of Laxmanananda without any substantial proof and distributing it among its supporters with a purpose to punish them in case the Government fails to do the same and Mr.Singhal submitted the list to the CM. It has created danger for the lives of these people. The 'rule of the Sangh Parivar' overpowers the 'rule of law'. Immediately after the killing of Laxmanananda, disregarding the views of the Police DG, CM; they declared the Christian Community as responsible for the crime and also they announced the punishment that the 'Hindus would react severely'. And also they implemented the punishment by killing women-men, lynching disabled persons and children, burning Christian houses, shops, churches. The Sangh leaders decided not to undertake autopsy of the bodies of Laxmanananda and his disciples, the Administration obeyed it. The Sangh and BJP made the Government not to go for CBI enquiry. The VHP leaders expressed unhappiness over the investigation into the killing of Swami Laxmanananda by the Crime Branch and alleged that the Government was shielding the culprits. Eighteen days after the death of the Swami police are yet to identify the killers, he said. But they did not show slightest interest about the killing of innocent people subsequently and also they do not want it to be given to the CBI for enquiry. Then, what should we expect now from the Constitutional authorities, opposition political parties and civil society??

(The write-up is based on media reports and field information.)




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