05/12/2011, 00.00
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Orissa: still no justice for Christian victims of 2008 violence

by John Dayal
Out of more than 3,000 cases, only 327 have made it to court with 1,597 suspects acquitted. Almost three years after anti-Christian pogroms, trials are marred by all sorts of irregularities.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Only one conviction for every 20 cases in connection with the brutal anti-Christian violence carried out by radical Hindus in Kandhamal (Orissa) between August and October 2008. Out of 3,232 criminal cases filed, only 828 complaints were actually converted into First Information Reports (FIR). Of these, only 327 went before a judge ending in 167 acquittals and 86 convictions on minor charges. Another 90 cases are still pending. According to official figures, 1,597 suspects have been acquitted, a number that does not include the thousands who could not be arrested and tried.

After almost three years and two Fast Track Courts, justice is still not being done in India. Even when complaints reach the courts, Christian victims are still subject to all sorts of abuses. From how the evidence is presented and witnesses cross-examined to the intimidating presence of Hindu ultranationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) goons in the courthouse as well as the behaviour of judges and defence lawyers, everything indicates a trial process tainted by anomalies and irregularities.

Victims’ lawyers have no role in court other than feebly protesting from time to time to the judges. Threats are openly proffered in the courtroom against relatives of the dead and eyewitness. When complaints are made about that, judges usually dismiss their concern by saying, “We have sent the orders to the police”, which never responds. Video footage and photos by taken mobile phones have not been examined either during the investigation phase or during the trial itself. Neither the Directorate of Prosecutions nor the police have tried to pursue or upgrade certain cases.

The violence that broke out on 24 August 2008 has left India with a weighty legacy. Half of Orissa’s 30 districts were involved. Six thousand houses were burnt in 400 villages. About 296 churches and smaller Christian places of worship were also torched. Over 56,000 people became internally displaced persons, with about 30,000 living from three months to a year in government refugee camps. Over 20,000 men, women and children have spent days hiding in forests. Over 10,000 are yet to return home. About 1,000 have been warned or threatened by their neighbours that they can return home only if they become Hindus. Some are living in what can only be described as ‘Christian ghettos’, one of which is on land provided by the district authorities who find themselves powerless to repatriate Christians to their villages. The rest have left Kandhamal in fear, or in search of jobs, as they do not have any livelihood now in a district where they face an economic boycott.

The government of Orissa has acknowledged and admitted to 52 deaths in Kandhamal during the violence of 2007 and 2008, including 38 Christians. Hindu casualties include Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati, vice president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), whose assassination by Maoists led to the violence of August 2008.

According to Christian sources, 91 people died during the pogrom, 38 died where they were attacked, 41 succumbed to their injuries, and 12 died in police action. These numbers do not include the cases of suicide and deaths caused by posttraumatic syndrome among the very young and the very old who witnessed the violence close-up and then spent long periods in refugee camps or slums.

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