Kandhamal Awaits Justice

(On 25 August this year, Kandhamal Solidarity Day was observed in Bhubaneshwar and many other places across the country. CPI(ML) PB Member Kavita Krishnan participated in the events at Bhubaneshwar, while CPI(ML)’s Odisha comrades were part of the organizing team for the events.)

6 years ago, the Sangh brigade unleashed orchestrated, widespread communal violence against the (mostly Dalit) Christians of Kandhamal district, Odisha. Homes and churches were vandalised and burnt, people massacred, women raped, and entire populations rendered homeless.

Now, after half a dozen years, justice is no closer to being achieved than it was at the time of the violence. In fact, the injustice and violence continues.

Survivor of the violence Ajaya Kumar Singh, who is one of the indefatigable organizers of the struggle for justice, has written that more than 3,300 complaints had been filed with the police in 2008, but only 820 odd FIRs were registered, of which charge sheets have been filed in only 518 cases. The remaining cases were treated as false reports. And out of these 518 cases, 247 cases have been disposed off. The rest of the cases are pending before the trial and session’s magistrate’ courts. Only one person convicted in the case of the gang rape of a nun is in jail, while the rest, even the life convicts, are out on bail. But 7 of the extremely poor youth arrested on false charges of the killing of Swami Laxmanananda are convicted and in jail, “despite the view of senior advocates that the conviction will not stand the scrutiny of the higher judiciary, based as it is on extremely weak evidence.”

The police deliberately tampered with FIRs filed by survivors to make them weak. This has led to some 100 cases being closed citing no evidence/witnesses. And out of 30 murder cases, all have resulted in acquittals except for a couple of cases.

These concerns were raised strongly in the Convention held in Bhubaneshwar. At the Convention, a study “Breaking the Shackled Silence: Unheard Voices of Women from Kandhamal”, researched and scripted by Saumya Uma on the status of women in Kandhamal 6 years after the violence, was released. The study documented “not less than 40 cases of sexual assault of various kinds and threats of the same. We know that sexual violence and threat of sexual violence was rampant, but it has taken so many years for the women survivors to talk about it. Only 2 cases were registered – Sr. M and young dalit Hindu girl – that speaks volumes about the functioning of the criminal justice system in Kandhamal. Concerns of women’s security, mental and physical health, livelihood, right to land and housing continue, as they lead lives of secondary citizenship. Witnesses and complainants continue to be threatened, and many remain in hiding. It was very difficult to track them to speak to them”.