08/27/2009, 00.00
INDIA
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Orissa: impunity in Kandhamal, where law and order have collapsed

by K.P. Fabian
One year after Hindu extremist violence, the future of Christians remains uncertain. The culprits are free to roam the district and discrimination against those who have returned to their homes continues. Government and police are inert. Signs of hope in some villages where Christians and Hindus together oppose extremist groups.

Bhubhaneshwar (AsiaNews) - K.P. Fabian IFS is a retired diplomat of the Indian government, ex-ambassador to Italy, Qatar, Finland and Canada. He is currently president of the humanitarian organization Indo-Global Social Service Society. In July of this year, Fabian took a trip to the district of Kandhamal in Orissa visited refugee camps, where many Christians are still housed, and met with the local superintendent of police, Catholic leaders and other Christian denominations. A year after Hindu violence he describes the situation of insecurity in which victims of the pogroms of August 2008 still live, the impunity afforded perpetrators and “the collapse of law and order in the district."

Normalcy is still a far off dream for the victims of the anti Christian violence in Kandhamal , fear still lurks in the heart of the people and while the anniversary of the killing of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati - which trigged off the large scale violence and the complete break down of the law and order situation in the district- went off without an incident, yet the question still remains about the future of the Christians in Kandhamal district.

 

The atrocities occurred because those responsible for it had planned and wanted it to happen and, equally, because it was abundantly clear to the organizers that the state government will not prevent them, and will not take action against them after they have carried out their plans.

 

It was utterly imprudent on the part of the state government to have permitted the procession carrying the dead body of the late Swami Lakshamananda to take a 250 km route over two days, stopping in front of churches and homes of Christians. In fact, a good part of the atrocities occurred with the Collector and the Police Superintendent standing by.

 

In Orissa the first attack on a church dating back to 1967, the first assault on a Christian community is 1984. We must also remember the government's reluctance to take legal action when Graham Staines, Australian Protestant missionary, was burnt alive with his two sons in January 1999 [see AsiaNews, 20/01/2009, Widow of Graham Staines: "Do not give up hope, pray for India"].

 

In December 2007 there were other attacks that preceded the one in August 2008. Even then, the Orissa authorities took no action against those who had promoted the campaign of violence against Christians. And of course the same people have implemented their plans in August, sure to go unpunished.

 

On my trip to Orissa I was shown the man who had raped Sister Meena; [see AsiaNews, 24/10/2008, Sister raped in Orissa accuses police of being "friendly" toward rapists ] he was riding a motor bike. I was told that his son too was part of the mob which had attacked Fr Thomas Chellan and Sr Meena [see AsiaNews, 03/09/2008, Orissa: after his calvary Father Thomas willing to go back to serve those who hurt him] . The justice system has broken down, even in the case when a cop was killed and a police station burnt down at Gochapada in Kandhamal all the accused were acquitted, this is clearly indication that the state is unwilling to even defend itself.

 
 

There is rampant witness intimidation and even if two or three such persons are arrested from a village the situation will immediately change for the better. It is because some people have good and solid reasons to believe that they are immune to law’s processes that the displaced cannot return to their villages.

 

Some of those who have returned to their villages continue to face severe difficulties. They are denied access to water and to firewood. They cannot even buy goods from shops owned by non-Christians. If they are daily wage-earners they cannot get even employment.

 

The Central Government should bring political pressure on the Orissa Government to act. It is the responsibility of the Orissa Government to send out a signal that those who are obstructing the return of the displaced will be dealt with sternly. All those responsible for violence against others and destruction of property should be brought to book. About 2,600 complaints have been made and about 700 cases have been registered, but the police has not taken consequential action and in some cases the alleged offenders have obtained anticipatory bail.

 

On a brighter note in at least three villages (Gohingia, Gundani, and Malikpadi) the Hindus and Christians got together and prevented the mob from attacking any one in the village and in at least two villages (Chanchedi and Gudrikia) those who attacked the Christians have apologized.

 
(With the collaboration of Nirmala Carvalho)
 
 
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