By Maya Palit
In December 2007, there was anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal, Odisha. In August 2008, a widespread pogrom against Dalit and Adivasi Christians in the region left 600 villages ransacked, 295 churches and other places of worship destroyed, 5,600 houses in shambles, 2,000 trees uprooted, and 54,000 people homeless.
Apparently attacks had been planned extensively. Arson, rape, looting, and forcing people to renounce Christianity were part of the party too. Several persecuted families fled to Bhubaneshwar and elsewhere, others were stuck in refugee camps. Widows are still waiting for justice.
A book by the eminent lawyers Vrinda Grover and Saumya Una titled Kandhamal: Introspection of Initiative for Justice 2007- 2015 has tracked the giant delays and ‘diversionary tactics’ at play in the battle for justice, relief, and rehabilitation for the victims. It points out the gaping lack of a witness protection programme, a factor which assisted the mass acquittals, and the dubious counter cases against victims. It also highlights the hesitation to admit that the violence was communal.
The National Commission for Minorities, stated categorically that Sangh Parivar organisations and the anti-conversion campaign fomented the violence, and suggested that there was an economic motive as well because Bahmunigaon a prosperous Dalit locality was ravaged.
But commission set up to investigate the 2007 violence took several years to revert with its inquiry report, while a second commission apparently chose not to emphasise the involvement of Hindutva groups in the violence. The judge overseeing the second is reported to have said “Communalism is not the primary reason for the riot.The problems began ages ago. It can be attributed to the bitterness of the two communities.”
According to the book, the National Human Rights Commission inquiry was contradictory in parts and also had dodgy aspects to it, like its portrayal of the murder of a 20-year-old woman: “Instead of condemning the heinous killings in strong terms and recommending accountability of the perpetrators, NHRC says they sacrificed their lives, covering up the heinous and barbaric nature of the killings.” When a brutal murder is refashioned as a sacrifice by a human rights commission, you realise you’re only scraping the tip of the iceberg.