Kandhamal (Agenzia Fides) - The anti-Christian massacre campaign in Orissa in 2008 is ten years old: it is the biggest wave of violence against believers in the history of the nation. Today the population of Kandhamal district, in the Indian state of Orissa, the scene of massacres, calls for justice.
"We hope you remember the genocide in Orissa in 2008. Just eight days after the celebration of Independence Day, India witnessed the biggest attack on a religious community in its history. Since 2009, people in Kandhamal celebrate a Memorial Day for Victims on 25th of August", says the "National Solidarity Forum" team, a network of over 70 Indian organizations, including activists, priests, religious, lawyers, Christian and Hindu faithful.
According to data reported to Fides by the "National Solidarity Forum", during that wave of violence, 393 churches and places of worship belonging to Adivasi Christians (tribals) and Dalits were destroyed, about 6,500 houses were razed to the ground, over 100 people were killed, over 40 women were victims of rape, harassment and humiliation and several educational, social and health institutions were looted. Over 12,000 children lost the opportunity to get an education. More than 56,000 people were forced to flee from Kandhamal and take refuge in the forests. Several cases of forced conversion from Christianity to Hinduism by the Hindu extremist group "Sangh Parivar" were reported. The displaced people of Kandhamal today are scattered in different parts of the country. Many of them cannot go back to their villages of origin, and have been forced to make a living by finding a home and work outside their district of birth.
"It is important to note that people from Kandhamal never carried out or responded with violence: after ten years of violence and abuse, Kandhamal's survivors are still struggling for peace, justice and harmony", notes the Forum in a note sent to Fides.
As also reported by the Catholic Church in Orissa, the compensation provided by the government for the victims and survivors of Kandhamal was minimal. There were over 3,300 complaints, but only 820 cases were registered in court. Among these proceedings, 518 cases were recognized as admissible by the Court. And out of these 518 cases, 247 cases have been set aside, without recognizing any guilty, for various reasons, such as lack of evidence or witnesses. The rest of the cases are still pending in the courts of first instance, while many trials have already been resolved with an acquittal. If the original complaints presented are considered, then only 1% of the cases found a procedural conclusion.
On August 2, 2016, a Supreme Court ruling acknowledged that the quantum and extent of compensation were not satisfactory for the victims of Kandhamal. "Therefore, those who have been excluded from the compensation list must be immediately included, including compensation for the families of many who have been killed, compensation for the destruction of houses and property, compensation for buildings and churches, for institutions and NGOs", notes the Forum.
The High Court found the fact that 315 cases of community violence had been archived disturbing and asked the state government to re-examine these 315 cases. But this process has not yet been activated. To ensure justice for the survivors of the Kandhamal massacres, the "National Solidarity Forum" for the victims of Orissa today calls for: a task force to monitor cases and trials; the protection of witnesses against intimidation; a free and fair investigation to reopen the archived cases.
"Today, none of the criminals responsible for the violence are in prison: murderers, rapists, looters are on the loose, while seven innocent Christians are still in jail unjustly", accused for the murder of the Hindu leader.
In this context, the "National Solidarity Forum" and the Association of Kandhamal survivors launch an appeal "to those who believe in secularism, democracy, justice, peace and harmony, to observe a Day for the victims of Kandhamal on August 25, 2018" or in the days close to that date. The Day will be observed on August 28 in Kandhamal and on August 29 in Bhubaneshwar, in the presence of over 10,000 people.
It is also requested to establish a "Committee for Minorities of Orissa" to "avoid future tendentious decisions and to protect harmonious and participatory decision-making processes, towards citizens of any religious faith". (PN) (Agenzia Fides, 7/8/2018)