New Delhi: Nearly eight years have passed since communal violence in Kandhamal claimed the lives of 82 people, mostly Christian adivasis and dalits, damaged 6,000 houses and displaced 56,000 people in 2008. The government, however, officially recorded only 39 deaths. In addition, 395 churches were destroyed and two cases of sexual assaults against women were reported. Close to a 100,000 children in the area also dropped out from school in the area due to displacement and insecurity. Victims of the violence say that several cases have been closed without adequate justice being served and compensation provided has been much lower than is required.
The Kandhamal Nyaya, Shanti O Sadhabana Samaj, an organisation of victims, met with the President on September 7 and presented a memorandum urging immediate action. The association has also received cross party support from CPI (M)’s Brinda Karat, former Congress Minister Mani Shankar Aiyer and Kavita Krishnan of the All India Progressive Women’s Association. Addressing a press conference in Delhi on September 8, Father Ajay Singh brought to light several facts that media reports at the time of the violence did not cover.
Of the 3232 complaints lodged, only 825 FIRs were filed by the police and only 605 led to chargesheets. 302 cases were closed arbitrarily citing lack of evidence as the cause. Of the 35 murder cases that were taken into account, 33 cases were closed. 11,000 rioters named in the complaints were granted anticipatory bail, while 3,254 persons were acquitted due to the arbitrary closing of cases. Only 10 people have been convicted in two murder cases and all are currently on bail. Fr. Ajay Singh noted that not only was the violence extremely sectarian in nature, but the failure of the justice system continues to reflect the power of the communal forces in the state. Attacks by right wing groups have also been carried out on 13 NGOs that attempted to provide relief packages to the victims.
The Samaj’s memorandum has also stated that the despite the Maoists admitting that they were responsible for the August 23, 2008 killing of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati – used by the Hindutva groups as a pretext to attack Christian villagers in the district – seven innocent dalits and adivasis were arrested for his murder. They were all denied bail and convicted to life. At the press conference, Karat noted that she had met the seven who are currently in Phulbani district central jail. “If one goes through the judgment, the ridiculous testimonies of the witnesses come across clearly.”
The compensation received for the damage of property has been extremely inadequate – a mere Rs 20,000 for a partially damaged house and Rs 50,000 for a fully damaged house. Many of these areas are in remote places and therefore the compensation does not adequately account for cost of materials and their transportation to rebuild houses. According to Karat, “deteriorating standards of living have become a norm in Kandhamal.” Attacking the absence of witness protection in the state, she said, “While the BJP and RSS have been wiped out of Orissa electorally, the power the sangh parivar wields on the ground has allowed them to intimidate many witnesses that want to testify.” One of the victims, Kanaka Rekha said, “I witnessed the murder of my husband, but I haven’t been able to testify. A BJP MLA was involved in the murder and that is why there has been a lot of witness intimidation.” The Biju Janata Dal state government has avoided meeting the delegation of the victims repeatedly.
The delegation has demanded Rs 7 lakh as compensation to each family, Rs 15 lakh to rebuild damaged village churches, Rs 30 lakh for the parish churches and the reopening of cases that have been closed, as well as a special package to enable children to finish their studies.