Against communal violence in Kandhamal

Hindutva forces on rampage

Against communal violence in Kandhamal

Newsletter Sep – Dec 2008 

Since August, the violence and the unspeakable suffering unleashed on Christian adivasis and dalits has continued unabated in the Kandhamal district of Orissa. Started under the pretext that senior VHP leader, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati who had been spearheading the anti-conversion movement, was murdered by Christians, the violence by the Hindutva brigade continued long after a Naxalite group claimed responsibility for the killing. The state government, instead of using its machinery to deal with those perpetrating the violence, continues to claim that the situation is ‘under control’. After all these months, over 50,000 people have not been able to return home. 

The violence by Hindutva forces in Kandhamal repeats patterns of communal violence in other parts of the country.

On 22 January, 1999, the Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two minor sons Philip and Timothy were burnt to death by a set of people led by a Bajrang Dal activist, Dara Singh. On 9 September, 1999, Fr. Aruldoss was also killed by fundamentalist groups in a village Jamudhi near the place where the Staines’ were murdered. Incidents of violence on Christians by the Hindutva brigade have been erupting repeatedly in Orissa and yet been portrayed as generalised tension between communities. However, this is clearly an act of attempted subjugation by the dominant caste over dalits and adivasis. Antagonism against other religions has been expressed by these fundamentalist forces through hate speech and their call for the use of force to suppress any challenge to their supremacy. A divisive culture is being created against adivasis and dalits who, in this area, have been followers of Christianity for the last two or three generations. They have access to their places of worship, free from the traditional practices of untouchability and discrimination.

Education and the knowledge gained through exposure emboldened the dalits to fight and raise their voices against the dominant castes who, led by the VHP and its allies, have been taking drastic steps to suppress this awakening. This violence is not only an indication of the failure of the state machinery but also the hegemony of the Brahminical rightwing Hindutva ideology over the officials of the State, who are supposed to be neutral.

This widespread violence has lead to large scale displacement of people who have lived there for generations. After so many months of violence, those who do want to return and lead a ‘normal’ life are forced to convert to Hinduism and even pay a fine. In many instances, even after doing so, people are not feeling safe and moving to other cities in Orissa or to other states. Conditions in relief camps are so dismal that people are also moving out of them, in sheer desperation. Amidst burnt and looted homes and churches, saffron flags are proclaiming their ghastly ‘victory’.

The saffron brigade’s violence has, as usual, not spared women and children. There is the case of a nun ‘Sister M’ who was gang raped, an orphan who was burnt alive and several others who have been raped or murdered. Given the apathy of the State and police, it is nearly impossible even to file an FIR or find a safe space. Sister M took a step by moving out of Orissa and talking to the media about the incident. Because of this, she is under further threat by right-wing elements and is unable to go home. The aggression experienced by victims who speak out, as well as the inability of those displaced to go back to their homes indicates a pattern that has been seen all over the country where communal violence has taken place, either in Gujarat or in the recent violence against north Indians in Mumbai.

Many progressive organisations and individuals in Delhi, including Insight, NCDHR, Saheli, Institute for Social Democracy, Kashipur Solidarity Group and All India Federation of Trade Unions, joined hands under the banner of the Kandhamal Peace Initiative to demand justice and peace in the area. Memoranda were submitted to the National Commission for Minorities, the National Commission for Scheduled Caste and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes. Women's groups have also written a letter to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.

We demand that the government should take immediate steps to stop attacks and intimidation of Christians and be on guard to see that violence does not spread to new areas; act immediately to initiate legal action against the perpetrators of arson, rape, murder and molestation against Christians, Dalits and Adivasis; punish the police and other government officials for their willful negligence of duty and politically partisan acts; to take prompt and adequate measure for compensation and rehabilitation of the affected families.