Friday, January 25, 2008

Majoritarianism still has democracy's mask - by: Teesta Setalvad, Secretary, Citizens for Justice and Peace

BILKIS Bano's steely determination and victory, partial since policemen and doctors responsible for the criminal offence of destruction of evidence in a case of multiple gang rapes and murders, have been let off, exposes the dark underbelly of Indian democracy.
Democracy is not and cannot be reduced to brute majoritarianism, a crude game of numbers. In matters of conscience the majority has no place. And, the Bilkis case, the Best bakery case, the Eral and Anjanwa cases, the Gulberg Society carnage and similar echoes of macabre behaviour in Odh, Sardarpur and Naroda should deeply shake our nation's conscience. The response of those indicted for state-sponsored genocide and their growing, respectability and hold on positions of power should seriously question the writ of constitutional governance. Are some above the law and the Constitution? If so how does this fact reflect upon a 60-year-old democratic republic's experiment with equality and freedom?
Above all, it is the rule of law that ought to be a non-negotiable edifice on which a politics of the people, for the people and by the people is built. The law of numbers without the rule of law can fast reduce us to a mobocracy. In moments of time, even with a spiralling sensex, we appear to be just that. What is stark and chilling for me after the verdict was the question she directed at the Gujarat government, a query that should burn a hole in every Indian's heart. Why should there be fear after the judgement, she asked? Why can't I enter my village even now? Why is the Gujarat government not answering my cries and offering me protection?
That Bilkis received no answer caused no raised eyebrows even as each one of us knows what the answers are. We know also that those who have stood for justice in Gujarat are excluded from home and hearth. We know also that the man at the helm has brought back, only the day before yesterday, those men to head the Gujarat police who, like him, have been indicted for complicity in mass murder and destruction of evidence. We know it, they know it. We all know it. Indian democracy and the Constitution are being scoffed at in the face, Modi's way. It is knowing this, and accepting it without challenge that poses the most profound threat to Indian democracy today.
Prashant Bhushan
Senior Advocate Supreme Court
More a wake-up call for fixing the system
THE sentencing of 11 persons for life imprisonment for the gang rape of Bilkis Bano and the mass murder of several persons accompanying her has been widely reported as a sign that the Indian judicial system works. The Bilkis case was only one of the several hundred cases of mass murder and rape in Gujarat — during the 2002 post-Godhara carnage — waiting for proper investigation and trial. The Supreme Court, by a rare judgement in 2004, transferred the investigation of this one case to the CBI on a justified perception that the Gujarat police was not conducting a fair probe. They transferred the trial out of Gujarat on the basis that in the communally vitiated atmosphere, with the government supporting perpetrators of the mayhem, Bilkis would not get justice. There were innumerable reports of independent inquiry commissions and the NHRC, about how the Modi government abetted the carnage and has gone out of the way to protect the perpetrators.
Yet, it was only the Bilkis and Best Bakery cases, which were transferred out of Gujarat. Several hundred other similar cases have been closed by the Gujarat police or languish in farcical trials in the state. Even six other prominent cases of mass murder such as the Gulberg Cooperative Society case, where Congress MP Ehsan Jaffry along with hundreds of others were burnt alive, are languishing because their trial has been stayed by the apex court, and it has not found the time to hear the transfer petitions.
All this while there has been only one judgement from Gujarat where some persons have been sentenced. But this failure of justice in Gujarat is not the only such instance in the country. The anti-Sikh killings of 1984, the Bombay "riots" of 1993 and many other cases of such mass killings, particularly where the minorities have been targeted, have all remained unpunished. It shows the gross failure of the criminal justice system. That is largely responsible for extremism and violence. If one has had to watch ones family being butchered and then has to watch the perpetrators cock a snook at the justice system, it is not unnatural for one's rage to boil over into violence. So, while celebrating the Bilkis judgement as a blow for justice, one should regard it as a wake-up call to fix the criminal justice system in the country.

Thursday, January 24, 2008



Dear Friends,


I certainly think that this is a very opportune moment for us to have this Consultation here in Delhi, in the context of  the increasing violence and isolation of the Christians in several parts of Orissa.  I want to thank Fr. Nithiya the Secretary of the CBCI Commission for Justice, Peace and Development, and all others concerned, for inviting me to this Consultation and for giving me an opportunity to present my views on the subject.


At the outset, I would obviously like to give you a bird's eye view of the Gujarat reality.   In a hard hitting article in the Frontline (January 18 2008), entitled " Why Gujarat ? "    noted columnist, Praful Bidwai states very categorically that the Gujarat reality "speaks of a deep social pathology in a State that has graduated  from a Hindutva laboratory into  a large scale Hindutva factory".  Bidwai provides the reader, of the way Hindutva has taken roots in Gujarat State and why, unless the reality is tackled at these roots, things may not necessarily change.


In order to be more focused, I would like to concentrate on the reality of the Christians in Gujarat.  Christians in Gujarat constitute a mere 0.53%  of the State's population which is today pegged as 55 million approx.  A good percentage of this population is migrant, with many of these doing white-collared jobs in the service sector like Banks, private enterprise, etc.  On the other hand, there are the local Christians  who are mainly drawn from the OBC, Dalit and the Adivasis.  Many of these, because of the quality education they received, are today in Government jobs and in career oriented employment like nursing, teaching, engineering, etc.


The Church in Gujarat has contributed greatly to education. Some of the best schools of the State are run by Christian Missionaries but they have taken education to the far flung and remote areas too.  Besides, the church is deeply engaged in health-care, development work and also in human rights.  Christians have also contributed significantly to Gujarati literature and even to the formulation of a grammar to learn Gujarati.  Since the early nineties, Christians have been the target of a well planned and concerted campaign by the Hindutvawadis.  This culminated in an all out and large scale attacks on Church institutions and personnel in December 1998 and December 1999. 


The then Prime Minister Vajpayee did visit the Dangs and he made the "right noises" when he was among the Christians; but he very cleverly defocused the whole issue when he called for a National Debate on conversion as he addressed the media just before he left the Dangs that day. 


So the bogey is  "Conversion".  And  this, over the years, has  been  a constant refrain  from the right-wing elements.  In 2002,  as part  of  its manifesto, the BJP promised  to bring in  an Anti-Conversion Law when he came to power.  It did so, and true to its promised,  it  brought out, in 26th March 2003,  the  Gujarat  Freedom of   Religion  Act,  which  must  be one   of  the  most draconian   laws  in  post – independent  India.     On  September 18th,   they   attempted   some Amendments to this Law, which  were even more farcical.  This current   Governor of Gujarat, rightly returned these Amendments.  However, from March 2003, till date,  the Government of Gujarat has not yet framed the byelaws which  are mandatory to govern  the implementation of any act.


The Act itself was directed towards demonizing the Christians and ofcourse, intimidating those who  might  want  to  embrace  Christianity.  So,  whenever  they get a chance, they rake up the issue of "Conversion" ad nauseam. 


Every year, just before Christmas, they organize a "ghar vapasi" programme to reconvert those tribals who have become Christians.  The truth of the matter, however, is that, those who are reconverted in this programme have nothing to do with Christianity but have been paid a pittance and ofcourse some liquor to participate in the event !


Christians  continue  to  be demonized in  the Textbooks which  have   been  brought out by the Gujarat  State  School Textbook Board.  The language used  is  extremely subtle but  enough to create the necessary prejudice in young  minds.  


It is a  well known  fact of  how Christians are subject  to regular  intimidation and  harassment from officials.  There was  a time in December 2003, when several well to do Christians from the Western upmarket side of Ahmedabad, were afraid to hang out their "Star" during the Christmas season. 


In a  letter  to  the faithful of  his Dioceses  in November 2007, the Bishop of Ahmedabad, Rev. Thomas Macwan, very strongly highlighted issues  of how Christians were at the receiving end in the State.  A case in point was the very sudden  take over by the Government of the Leprosy Hospital run by the SMMI Sisters  for  almost  sixty years.  The Sisters were  unceremoniously dismissed inspite of faithfully and lovingly serving the leprosy patients all these decades.  It is not easy for a  Christian to get  a Government job today  because of  the widespread prejudice.  This holds good every for educational institutions of repute, where one is denied admission on grounds of religion but definitely not directly.


One can go on citing example after example, of what is happening in Gujarat to the Christian and other minorities.  The fact is that fascism has come to stay, and unless there is a strong united response from various sections of society, India will head to becoming a Germany during the regime of Hitler.


The reality of Orissa has tremendous similarities to Gujarat.  Many of us could see it happening.  In an article which appeared in the Asian Age (January 7th 2008), well know anthropologist, Angana Chatterji from the California Institute of Integral Studies states that "independent investigators charge that the violence was planned, that the police had prior knowledge of Hindutva groups intent to riot".   This strikes a similar bell to the role of the police and the administration during the Gujarat Carnage of 2002.  The fact that the National Commission of Minorities has said that the riots were premeditated, speaks volumes for what is happening in Orissa today.


For the past several years, we have been circulating a simple handout to help our institutions and our people to "Be Prepared.".  I would like to distribute this leaflet at this moment.


As conclusion to this presentation, I would like to state the following :


1. This Consultation must immediately put together an Independent Citizens Tribunal (like the one we had in Gujarat in the wake of the Gujarat Carnage of 2002).  The members of this Tribunal should, for obvious reasons, be only non-Christians.  I have some names to propose. 

2. The Christian Church MUST join hands with wider civil society, with human rights activists, academics, intellectuals and others.  We MUST work in tandem with others.

3. We need to use the media as effectively as possible.  Everyone thinks that all is well in Orissa, like the reply I received from the Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister of Orissa.  Both, the print and electronic media have to be contacted to reveal the truth of Orissa.  The situation in Gujarat would have been much worse, were it not for the role played by good sections of the media. 

4. Internationalize the issue.  Human rights violations in any part of the world cannot be the concern only of those people or of that country.  In this age of globalization, one needs to tell the story of Orissa to audiences far and wide.  Only when we internationalize the Gujarat situation, only when Modi was treated as a persona non grata by the US, Canada and other Schengen countries, only then did the violence abate. 


I am hoping that this Consultation will take seriously, the words of the Holy Father, in his message for the World Day of Peace 2008, "Sixty years ago the United Nations Organization solemnly issued the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948-2008). With that document the human family reacted against the horrors of the Second World War by acknowledging its own unity, based on the equal dignity of all men and women, and by putting respect for the fundamental rights of individuals and peoples at the centre of human coexistence. This was a decisive step forward along the difficult and demanding path towards harmony and peace". 


Hopefully, this Consultation at the start of the Christian Unity Octave will give us the ability to interpret the signs of the times and the courage to stand up for truth and for justice, very specially on behalf of our less fortunate brothers and sisters in Orissa and in Gujarat.



(This presentation was made at a Consultation organized by the CBCI Commission for Justice, Peace and Development in New Delhi on 18th January 2008)



(* Fr. Cedric Prakash sj is the Director of "Prashant", the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace)











Monday, January 21, 2008


The attack this morning, on the NDTV Office in Ahmedabad by a group of right-wing Hindu extremists, needs to be strongly condemned in no uncertain terms.
The Constitution of India guarantees freedom of speech and expression to all its citizens.  No one therefore has the right to take law and order into their own hands. 
We call upon the authorities in Gujarat to book those responsible for this attack immediately and to ensure that these fascist and terrorist forces are contained.

Fr. Cedric Prakash sj
PRASHANT  -  A Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Orissa: Anti Christian Violence by Ram Puniyani


Gladys Stains is a name etched in our memory for wrong reasons. Her husband and two sons were torched to death around a decade ago in Keonjhar Manoharpur Orissa. She wrote to Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh recently, to ensure that communal peace is restored in Orissa. This she did in the backdrop of the scattered attacks on Christians, over 40 churches torched in Orissa (24 Dec. 2007). In the violence which broke out, many of the people have been severely injured. Some of the priest and laity have run for shelter, leaving their homes and hiding in the forests in the biting cold. All this has happened in the Adivasi area in and around Phulbani and Kandhamal. The timing is around the Christmas celebrations, 2007.

It is no coincident that the BJP is part of the ruling coalition in Orissa, and those involved in the vandalism are part of some or the other organization directly affiliated with the RSS. The major such are Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, Bajrang dal and their local variants. While the media reports are sketchy, the Citizens Inquiry team, which was to visit the area has been denied permission to visit the districts and was escorted out of the area.

The attacks on minorities and weaker sections is launched for short term or long term political goals, but the care is taken that a pretext is manufactured and then the attacks are unleashed. In this case it has been said that Swami Lakkhanand was attacked by Christians and so the retaliation. One is supposed to believe that a Swami from the majority community, with sizeable following, will be attacked by the section of miniscule minority !

The Christmas season is the chosen time for anti Christian attacks. Earlier also such occasions have been chosen for beating and attacking the Christian community, notably in Dangs in 1998. This time in Phulbani area the declarations being made by the Swami and associates is that the presence of Christians will not be tolerated in the Adivasi areas.

The visible attacks on Christian minorities started from 1996. The areas selected for these attacks have spread over from Gujarat, Dangs on the extreme West, to the Orissa on extreme east of the tribal belt. It is in these areas that anti Christian violence have been going on in scattered form since then. Most of these acts of violence have a bit different characteristic, i.e. unlike the anti Muslim violence which is more in the cities and occurs as spurts of killing hundred or thousands in a single go, here the cauldron is kept boiling continuously, The intensity is that of a slow but sustained intimidation and attack.

The most ghastly anti Christian violence was that done by Bajrang Dal activist, Dara Singh, who instigated the Adivasis and led the burning of Pastor Graham Stewart Stains. He and his organization kept propagating for months that pastor has come from Australia for converting the gullible Adivasis to Christianity, that his work amongst the leprosy patients is just a ploy to do his 'real work' of conversions. The Wadhwa commission, appointed by the NDA Govt. with Advani as the Home minister, in the aftermath of this brutal killing, concluded that the pastor was not involved in any conversion activities and that the percentage of Christian population in the area has remained static despite the Pastor working in the area.

At national level the attacks on Christians have been investigated by different civic groups, compiled in 'The Politics behind Anti Christian Violence' (Media House, Delhi) Most of the reports conclude that the attacks have been deliberately stepped up in the Adivasi areas. The main targets of these attacks are the Christian missionaries working in the area of education. The contrast is very glaring. The city based Christian mission institutions are upheld and respected for their contribution in the area of education, while in the Adivasi areas the same are being hounded out. The reports also observe that the RSS affiliates have been trying to do anti Christian propaganda along with Ghar Vapasi (re-conversion in to Hinduism) campaign. The major work of Ghar Vapasi has been undertaken in the BJP ruled states, or in the states where BJP has been sharing power. The subtle assistance of the state machinery in the anti Christian tirade is always at the service of RSS affilaites. The Ghar Vapasi asserts that Adivasis are basically Hindus, who had to flee to the forests to escape the conversion by Muslim invaders, so they are 'nationally' Hindus, who have forgotten the Hindu rituals and gods and so have fallen low in the hierarchy of Hindu religion. This ritual of re-conversion is supposed to religiously restore them to their old Hindu glory !

The case of Orissa was specifically investigated by India Peoples Tribunal, led by Justice K.K.Usha (retired) of Kerala High court in 2006 (Communalism in Orissa) This tribunal forewarns about the shape of things to come. " The tribunal assessed the spread of communal organizations in Orissa, which has been accompanied by a series of small and large events and some riots…such violations are utilized to generate the threat and reality of greater violence, and build and infrastructure of fear and intimidation." It further notes that minorities are being grossly ill treated; there is gross inaction of the state Govt to take action. Outlining the mechanism of the communalization, it points out, "The report also describes in considerable detail how the cadre of majoritarian communal organizations is indoctrinated in hatred and violence against other communities it holds to be inherently inferior. If such communalization is undertaken in Orissa, it is indicative of the future of the nation… the signs are truly ominous for India's democratic future." (p 70).

In these Adivasi areas swamis have made their permanent Ashrams, Lakkhanand, in Orissa, Assemanand in Dangs, and followers of Asaram bapu in Jhabua area to name the few. Also Hindu Samgams, congregations, are being held, the culmination of which was the Shabri Kumbh in Dangs where thousands of Adivasis were brought. In those areas the Hindutva organizations spread the intimidating rumors that those who do not attend these functions will be dealt with in due course. Interestingly these are precisely the areas which are the poorest; these are the areas where the problem of land, education, water and food is the highest.

Anti Christian violence is in the continuation of RSS agenda of Hindu Rasthra, Pehle kasai Phir Isai (First the Muslims then Christians). There is an additional factor in the anti Christian violence. One concedes that there may be many a Christian groups who might be focusing on the conversion work, within the bounds of Indian constitution, of course. But one has to note that in India, over all population of Christian minorities is declining over a period of last four decades, ( 1971-2.60%, 1981-2.44% , 1991-2.34%, and 2001-2.30%). While Christianity is a very old religion here, during last nineteen centuries or so only 2.odd percent have become Christians.

The major problem is that the effort of missionaries to reach education to the adivasi areas. Educated Adivasi, empowered Adivasi will be more aware of her rights and that's precisely what RSS combine cannot stand.

That the tiny minority can be a threat to the huge majority of Hindus is quiet a concoction. There is a need to deal these violations of human rights firmly, there is a need to curb the hate other propaganda in these areas and of course the need to promote modern education and other welfare schemes in these areas. Christmas which should be a festival of joy is being turned into an annual ritual of violence and mayhem by the RSS combine.


Issues in Secular Politics
January 2008 I
For circulation/circulation


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Nandigram Is Not Gujarat..... By Kamal Mitra Chenoy

One of the more shocking outcomes of the tragic events in Nandigram, has been the widespread comparison of it to the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat in 2002, by intellectuals including academics, artists, activists and columnists. It is argued that both events were unleashed by charismatic leaders leading ideologically driven cadres. Further, both States West Bengal and Gujarat are carrying out neo-liberal reforms, and both Buddhadev Bhattacharya and Narendra Modi have as a consequence of their policies gone against the dominant sections of their parties, Buddhadev because of his open attitude to economic reforms and Modi because of his current ignoring of the Hindutva agenda. They are able to do this because of their dominance in their respective parties, and popular support. Because of these purported commonalities, it is alleged including by prominent scholars of modern India and secular columnists that Nandigram is, as it were, Gujarat 2002 in another form.
These comparisons may appear beguiling, but are profoundly deceptive. What happened in Nandigram may be described as a turf war over secular issues including the possibility of a SEZ, and the consequent displacement of thousands of people. Faced with popular protest in February 2007, the West Bengal CM promised that the Salim Group would not be allowed to establish a chemical hub there. But even then supporters of the Bhoomi Uchched Pratirodh Committee [BUPC] including Trinamul and Congress cadres instead of celebrating their victory, established a 'liberated zone' from which hundreds of CPI(M) cadres and sympathizers, and government officials were driven out. In order to restore the functioning of the administration, in March the police tried to intervene and in the consequent firing 14 people tragically lost their lives and many more were injured. In the violence there in many cases both attackers and the assaulted have been from the same community, including large numbers of Muslims. The 'trigger' for subsequent violence in Nandigram in this instance is quite different from what happened in Gujarat.
In Gujarat, there has been repeated communal violence against the Muslims, and even Christians, led by the 'sangh parivar' since 1969. For example, from around Christmas 1998 upto the first week of January 1999, in the tribal areas Christians had their churches, prayer halls and buildings torched. Despite dozens of FIRs filed no corrective action was taken. But in areas like Vyara a chilling slogan was painted: "aaj isahi, kal kasai" [today the Christian, tomorrow the butcher (Muslim)]. Immediately after Godhra in end February 2002, Modi echoed by L.K. Advani declared it an ISI planned attack, and Modi insisted that the charred, largely unrecognizable bodies be brought to Ahmedabad. After that there was a systematic pogrom against Muslims leaving some 2,000 dead and tens of thousands homeless. Rioters had precise information about Muslim properties and residences obtained from Government sources. This could not have been obtained within hours. Obviously the carnage had been preplanned well before Godhra. The failure of the Gujarat judiciary to try the accused has led to the Supreme Court to transfer some major cases to Maharashtra.
These two incidents in Nandigram and Gujarat are obviously miles apart, one a secular dispute over a development strategy and fears of displacement, and the other a preplanned massacre of Muslims in a State with a history of communal pogroms since 1969. Consequently, the CPI(M) cadres cannot be equated with the Hindutva brigade. The first are secular radicals dedicated to building an egalitarian and socialist society, the latter to building a "Hindu Rashtra" in which all non-Hindus will be inferior citizens. Thus the facile equation of both as cadres ignores the widely divergent, and even antagonistic ideologies. The purported similarities between the two CMs are equally far fetched. Buddhadev is a Marxist who is trying to use possibilities within the system including the controversial SEZs to push industrialization within his State. But as in Singur his government tries to give the maximum compensation possible including vocational training. This is because the Left Front government is also sensitive to the problems of the peasantry and the unregistered bargadars [tenants]. Gujarat's record of rehabilitation of the displaced, especially the displaced by the Narmada dam or communal riots, is nowhere as good. So here again the similarities are superficial.
The comparison of the two leaders as both charismatic is equally misleading. Buddhadev is charismatic among all sections and communities in West Bengal, despite the widespread anger and disenchantment because of Nandigram. On the other hand, Modi is feared and hated by the minority communities: Muslim and Christian. He may be charismatic among the Hindutva brigade, some of whom in the VHP and Bajrang Dal may be disillusioned by him, but not across the spectrum. So one is a Left leader, respected for his non-dogmatic thinking, while the other is a Hindu communal leader who has further communalized his State. Buddhadev is answerable to his State committee, central committee and Left Front partners, some of whom have been publicly critical of Nandigram. There are less democratic checks on Modi, thus the revolt by Keshubhai Patel, Gordhan Zadaphia and others.
All these facts are fairly well known. Then why this blatantly false equating of Buddhadev and Modi? It appears that the BUPC campaign of vilification of the Left Front, and Buddhadev in particular including exaggerated accounts of atrocities including gangrapes have been largely bought by the media. The Trinamul campaign as well of the Congress, traditional opponents of the Left Front has also been partially successful. But public, and media memory is short. Just months ago, the Trinamul legislators led by Mamta Banerjee ransacked the West Bengal Assembly. Nandigram has come as a godsend to the Trinamul and Congress to vilify the Left Front government. But what better way to destroy the West Bengal CM's record that by equating him with Narendra Modi? Of course, this is not the intention of many intellectuals who make the comparison in good faith, and are genuinely appalled by Nandigram. But no matter what the judgement of Nandigram is, the comparison to Gujarat apart from completely misrepresenting what happened there, is a gross belittling of how the minorities have suffered in Gujarat, repeatedly, and especially in 2002.
Courtesy: Asian Age, 26 November, 2007 

Monday, January 07, 2008

Riots in Orissa - By Angana Chatterji


December 25 2007: Seven churches, Catholic, Protestant, Pentacostal, Independent ... burned in Barakhama village, Kandhamal district, central Orissa. December 23, 2007: Hindutva (Hindu supremacist ideology) affiliated Adivasi (tribal) organisations organised a march, rallying, "Stop Christianity. Kill Christians." A Dalit (formerly "untouchable" groups) Christian leader testified, "We went to the local police and informed them of the situation. They assured us that things would be under control. On December 24, in the daytime, we heard voices of Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Shiv Sena people, chanting, 'Hindu, Hindu, Bhai, Bhai'; 'RSS Zindabad'; 'Lakshmanananda Zindabad.' They shut down shops. That night they felled trees to block roads, severed power and phone lines. On the 25th, we went to the inspector-in-charge of police again. On the 25th, at 2.30, about 200 of us sat down to Christmas prayer at our church, and around 4 p.m. we heard the mob approach."
The mob, about 4,000 persons, many bearing symbolic tilaks (religious mark on forehead), belonged to various Sangh Parivar (Hindu nationalist, militant) groups, named above, inciting local Hindus into rioting. Estimates state 20 per cent of the mob comprised people from Barkahama, 80 per cent from surrounding Baliguda, Raikia, Phulbani, as far away as Beherampur. "They broke the door to our church. We ran. We fell and kept running." Women and men were intimidated and assaulted. Cries rent the air. "Christians must become Hindu or die. Kill them. Kill them. Kill them. Gita not Bible. Destroy their faith."
The crowd carried rods, trishuls, swords. They used guns, a first in Orissa. Predominantly middle class caste Hindus participated in looting, destroying and torching property. Handmade bombs started the fires. Breakage was systematic. Women and men hid for days in forests, later seeking shelter in Baliguda town relief camp, returning to decimated Barakhama on January 2. Engulfed in soot and sorrow, people attempted to function amid charred remnants. A woman said, "Everything burns down and we are left with nothing. How little our lives are made (of). How alone we are, so far away from everything."
In Baliguda, in one church, furniture was dragged out, lit into a grotesque sculpture. The private violated in public, made spectacle. A Catholic church burnt, opposite the street the fire station witnessed the incident, but did not intervene. A cow, dragged from a shed, set afire, was beaten to death, identified as "Christian."
Targeted: Bammunigaon, Bodagan, Daringbari, Goborkutty, Jhinjirguda, Kamapada, Kulpakia, Mandipanka, Nuagaon, Phulbani, Pobingia, Sindrigaon, Ulipadaro villages. Convents, presbytery, hostels, a minor seminary, vocational training centre. Organisational offices, as that of World Vision. Two churches in Chakapad. Christian religious services were not permitted in Phulbani. A Hindutva mob surrounded Tikabali police station, two jeeps were torched.
Independent investigators charge that the violence was planned, that the police had prior knowledge of Hindutva groups' intent to riot. The pertinent district collector and superintendent of police have been transferred, not discharged. A Judicial Review Commission (JRC) chaired by a former (not sitting) judge has been appointed by the government of Orissa to investigate the riots. Its power or legitimacy is in question. The Central government did not appoint an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation, even as it is apparent that the very administration that failed to contain the riots and delayed deploying adequate forces, and whose officials at the district level may have been involved in its execution, cannot administer justice.
Hindutva activists have lobbied the JRC to organise its terms of reference premised on the claim that an attack on Lakshmanananda Saraswati, a Hindu proselytiser, by Christians in Bammunigaon started the riots. This timeline is falsified. Sources state Hindutva groups planned Christmas day strikes, organised vandalism of Christmas symbols, and incited rioting. Christians in one area responded with reciprocal, not proportionate, violence. Dominant rationale reduces this to majority vs minority communalism. Rather than focus on systematic targeting of Christians, their overwhelmingly peaceful submission to Hindutva's violence, and vast structural injustices and differences in relations of power between majority and minority, the scrutiny appears to be focused on the failure of all Christian groups to simply submit to dominance.
The Kandhamal riots were not unexpected. Saraswati has been overseeing Hinduisation there since 1969. Adivasis, Dalits, Christians, Muslims are targeted through social and economic boycotts, forced conversions to Hinduism, and other violences. The Orissa Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act, 1960, deployed against Muslims; Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967, against Christians. In 1999, Mayurbhanj Catholic priest Arul Das was murdered, followed by destruction of Kandhamal churches. In 2004, Raikia Catholic Church was vandalised, eight Christian homes burnt. In 2005, converting 200 Adivasi Christians to Hinduism in Malkangiri, Saraswati stated, "How will we ... make India a completely Hindu country? This is our aim and this is what we want to do." In 2006, celebrating RSS architect Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar's centenary, presided by Saraswati, seven yagnas (sacrifices) were held, culminating at Chakapad in Kandhamal, attended by 30,000 Adivasis. Between July-December 2007, Hindutva rallies across Kandhamal raised anti-Christian sentiments.
Hindutva leaders rumour, "Phulbani-Kandhamal is a most important Christian area in Orissa with rampant and forced conversions." The Christian population in Kandhamal district is 117,950, Hindus number 527,757. Sangh leaders claim, "By VHP data there are 927 churches in Phulbani district built on illegally taken land." Church leaders respond there are 521 churches. Orissa Christians number 897,861, 2.4 percent of the state's population. Constitutionally authorised, the Hindu Right inflates conversions to Christianity. This circulates in retaliatory capacity even among progressive communities, who fixate on conversions as contributing to the communalisation of society, debilitating to the majority status of Hindus. Muslims are seen as "infiltrating" from Bangladesh, looting livelihood opportunities, dislocating the "Oriya/Indian nation," non-Hinduised Adivasis and Dalits as "unruly."
Hindutva legitimates violence as patriotic response. The Sangh uses local militarism (Kandhamal) as consort to state controlled militarization (Kashipur, Kalinganagar). Hindu cultural dominance organises Hindu nationalism. Orissa amalgamated as a Hindu state between 1866-1936. The absence of structural reforms and assertion of Hindu elites define post-colonial governance. The Sangh has proliferated into 10,000-14,000 villages, operating 35-40 major organisations, with a massive base of a few million. A Balasore district Shiv Sena unit formed the first Hindu "suicide squad." The Hindu nationalist BJP-BJD coalition yields power. The Hindu Suraksha Samiti organises against Muslims. Revolting slogans, "Mussalman ka ek hi sthan, Pakistan ya kabristan (For Muslims there is one place, Pakistan or the grave)," perforate neighbourhoods.
In Kandhamal, Hindu militant groups, neighbours, police, chief minister, Central government acted with egregious impunity. People remain missing, death counts inaccurate. The police refuses Christians seeking to file first information reports. The Baliguda relief camp is skeletal. Despite continuing tensions, police presence has abated. Confidence building steps are absent. Relief, compensation, reparation are incommensurate with the extent of social, psychological, and economic losses of communities. Political parties, focused on politicking the issue, fail to respond to immediate and long-term needs of people.

Angana Chatterji is associate professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at California Institute of Integral Studies.

Friday, January 04, 2008


We condemn the continued attacks on Christians and Christian institutions in Orissa and in other parts of the country.  It  is a matter of grave concern and deep shock. 
This is not the first time that Christians are being attacked in the State of Orissa.   The unthinkable burning to death of Dr. Graham Staines and his two little sons already figure high up in the list of inhuman acts in World History.
Earlier, on the night of December 20th in Gujarat,  some Catholic Nuns, Priests and students were brutally attacked  in a village near Kawant, Baroda District.
It is the Constitutional duty of every Chief Minister, to safeguard the rights and freedom of every single citizen of one's State.
We hereby call upon the Chief Ministers of the concerned States, to ensure that such terrorist acts are put to stop immediately and those responsible for these heinous crimes are brought to book.
Further, we call upon the Central Government and statutory bodies such as the National Human Rights Commission and the National Commission for Minorities to intervene immediately so that the situation does not worsen and that communal harmony and peace prevail. 
Fr. Cedric Prakash sj


29th December 2007